To clean or not to clean. That is the question I likely get asked the most when giving clinics. The answer is of course . . . Clean. No matter how well you rinse your mouth prior to playing, there will still be a build-up of proteins and minerals inside the mouthpiece when your session is completed. Over time this build-up can not only be create an unattractive white crust (or worse), but can also change the interior geometry of your mouthpiece. These changes can affect response and pitch more than you might imagine.
I once had a young student who could not play up to pitch to save her life. After working on air focus, tongue placement and embouchure, I finally looked through the bore of her mouthpiece and discovered a clogged mess that would frighten even the most experienced plumber. After several vinegar treatments and some serious excavation, she could finally find her way to 440. (I may also suggest that her overall health improved after removing the proverbial petri dish from her piece).
The moral of the story? Simple daily cleanings will help you avoid becoming “that girl”. Below is a list of Dos and Don’ts that I’ve collected over the years. These will not only help you keep your piece in excellent performance shape but help prevent premature problems.
DO: Rinse mouthpiece at least once a week with lukewarm water and maybe a bit of soap to cut through the proteins.
DON’T: No matter how tempted you are to get that mess clean, do not use hot water. The temperature can cause the hard rubber from which your piece was made to shift or warp.
DO: Use a very soft cloth (micro fiber ) to provide a bit more scrubbing power if needed. Sometimes a SOFT bristled toothbrush works as well. Just be careful to keep the head from striking the walls or baffle.
DON’T: Use any product called mouthpiece brush sold in care kits. These have bristles that are far to hard and the unprotected, wire stem is just a major scratch waiting to happen.
DO: Allow your mouthpiece to air dry after cleaning or playing.
DON’T: Run a swab through the mouthpiece to remove any excess moisture. Continual swabbing can erode the interior of the mouthpiece causing a change on response, color and intonation.
It is generally accepted that at some point during your playing career, you will be on the hunt for a new mouthpiece. Though the reasons for your search may vary, it is important to arm yourself with some basic knowledge of mouthpiece geometry and how it impacts performance before you begin wading through seemingly endless supply of options. Below is a bit of a primer that will help guide you in the direction of the mouthpiece that best suits your needs. It covers the VERY BASIC aspects of mouthpiece design. I will be adding greater detail in the weeks ahead.
The Tip Opening: The more open a mouthpiece is at the tip, the greater the resistance to and flexibility (softer) needed from the reed.
The Facing Curve: Begins above the bottom of the window and ends at the tip opening. The greater the arc (shorter) of the curve, the greater the resistance.The shallower this arc (longer), the less the resistance.
The sidewalls of the chamber dictate the shape or “focus” of the sound. Generally, the more narrow the walls, the more focused the sound (and greater the resistance) while wider walls create a broader sound (and more free blowing). A – Frame sidewalls prove a good hybrid and provide good focus with warmth and flexibility. I use parallel walls for my Z series mouthpieces and an A for the JC series. My student JCII pieces feature a modified or slight A that allows for greater ease of blowing while still providing a good core sound.
As a general rule, the straighter and more shallow a baffle, the more brilliant the sound while deeper and more concave baffles produce richer and darker tones.
Working as I do with many used and vintage mouthpieces, I come across some pretty interesting things growing in, on or around the piece. Since they need to be clean and sterilized when they are sold or returned to a client, it is important to have a cheap, easy and chemical free method of both cleaning and sanitizing the mouthpieces. In most cases, simply a little warm water and mild soap with do the trick but for those more extreme cases, you can follow the process below.
- A small glass or vial. (I use a prescription bottle that just fits the mouthpiece but leaves the cork outside of the bottle)
- White vinegar
- An old toothbrush (medium to hard bristles)
- Antiseptic mouthwash
- Partially fill the vial with a mixture of 3 parts white vinegar to 1 part water and place the mouthpiece in tip down. Be careful to keep the cork well out of the vinegar unless you enjoy your mouthpiece smelling like a salad.
- After soaking in the vinegar for 3 -5 minutes, remove the mouthpiece and gently scrub with the toothbrush to remove any build-up in or on the mouthpiece. Repeat if necessary. If the build up is really stubborn, switch to an undiluted vinegar.
- Once the piece is clean, rinse well with water and place tip down in a similar vial partially filled with antiseptic mouthwash for about 30 seconds. Again, be sure to leave the cork well out of the vial.
- Remove and rinse with clean water. If you need to dry the piece, use a soft micro-fiber cloth or swab.