How important is a good mouthpiece to performance?

Clarinet/Saxophone Students

The mouthpieces that are supplied with beginning instruments are designed to meet the specific needs of inexperienced players.  Beginning players have not developed their air stream and breathing to the point where they can provide a sufficient amount of air to produce a full-bodied tone for any duration.  Lips and facial muscles (embouchure) are also not developed to the point where they can firmly cushion the reed and mouthpiece while blowing.  To compensate, mouthpieces are designed with a short, shallow opening to be used specifically with a very thin reed.  The result is that with very little air, a beginner can instantly produce a thin, rudimentary tone in the low and mid range of the instrument.

Although these mouthpieces are beneficial for beginners, beyond a certain point (sometime in middle school), they begin to work against the student and actually restrict the student’s development.  Beginning mouthpieces limit the amount of air that a student can put into the instrument.  They are also not designed to play well in the upper range or to provide a full tone.  Developing students who stay on beginning mouthpieces usually either don’t put enough air into the instrument, causing bad intonation (playing out of tune) and poor tone, or they try to unnaturally force air into the mouthpiece, resulting in unhealthy tension in their breathing and embouchure, tight thin playing, or unfocused tone.

Most private teachers agree that the proper mouthpiece/reed combination is the single most important factor contributing to good tone.  Unfortunately, most students are never encouraged to move from their beginning mouthpiece to a mouthpiece that will help them to develop better range, intonation, and tone quality, ultimately providing a more fulfilling and less frustrating experience on their instrument.

Brass Students

Brass students change mouthpieces to improve sound and intonation, change tone color, increase range and endurance, add volume or flexibility, increase comfort, and to extend playing life.  Playing habits of a student and the type of playing a student does will determine the mouthpiece to use.

Brass players change mouthpieces depending on the ensemble in which they are playing or they decide on one mouthpiece that will best suit all playing situations (Symphonic Band, Marching Band, Jazz Band, etc).  Some mouthpieces enable students to play more easily in the upper register (for lead players in Jazz or 1st part players) while other mouthpieces produce big sounds in the lower register.  Mouthpiece considerations include the size of the rim, cup, bore, and shank.


  • Students are encouraged to change mouthpieces with the help of their private teachers or Music Director.
  • Students should test several models in order to find the most comfortable and best sounding mouthpiece.
  • No mouthpiece should be purchased unless it both audibly improves sound and is comfortable for the player.