Bubbles and Clicks and Bumps (and Mouthpieces), Oh My!

Although I don’t use these terms at all in my teaching, bubbles, clicks, and bumps are an important thing for teachers and students to be aware of. These terms are used by horn player (and composer/conductor) Gunther Schuller to describe various imperfections in articulations, slurs and the slotting of notes.

A nightmare for any horn player.

Over on the Horn Matters blog, John Ericson goes into some great detail about these different kinds of articulations in his latest blog post (he also covered them in 2009 here).

One of the most interesting things in John’s latest post is his observation on how different equipment – especially mouthpieces – can change the frequency of these articulation transgressions.

Specifically, he notes that very slight differences in one of my favorite mouthpieces (Houghton H-1) have a noticeable effect on both how the horn sounds and how it plays. Interestingly, mouthpieces with a slightly deeper cup or a larger bore seem to be less susceptible to bumps, clicks, and bubbles (all other things being equal, of course).

John also notes that the mouthpieces that seem to be a little bit more bump-resistant have a slightly “duller” or “more foggy” sound. I also don’t know under what specific circumstances he was trying these mouthpieces, and how big that difference would be in a small or large ensemble situation vs. solo playing.

This sound change isn’t especially surprising (since the bump-resistant pieces have a deeper cup/bigger bore) but it is good knowledge to have if you’re looking to balance easy of articulation and slurring with a brighter, more “present” sound.

There is usually an optimal balance between the mouthpiece cup/bore and the horn, and different horns work better with different cup shapes (this is why 2-piece mouthpieces are great). If you’re trying out mouthpieces and finding you’re getting lots of extra sounds in your articulations and slurs, it’s worth trying something just a bit bigger or deeper.

It’s worth noting, though, that you don’t hop on the Mouthpiece Wheel of Doom (a hilarious term coined by jazz hornist Mark Taylor) in trying to fix technique problems. While there is value in optimizing your equipment, don’t let mouthpiece or horn swapping fix good old-fashioned fundamental work.

Read the whole article over at HornMatters.com