Upgrading Your Mouthpiece
Most people usually begin playing on a plastic mouthpiece which is durable and affordable. They are easy to play on and offer, most usually, a bright tone. The mouthpiece that comes with most clarinets is likely to be of this style but cheaply made with little attention to detail. Even as a beginner it is worth considering a small upgrade just to make learning that little bit easier. Popular choices would be Yamaha’s 4C, which provides a well balanced tone throughout the octaves; Buffet’s Urban Play, which is free blowing and comes in an array of different colours too; or, there is Clark Fobes Debut which is slightly more resistant with a focussed sound, encouraging good breath control.
Upgrading Your Beginner Mouthpiece
Changing mouthpieces is one of the best ways to improve your sound and there is a vast range to choose from. It is important to understand that mouthpieces come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes including different facing lengths and tip openings. These affect the resistance and response of the mouthpiece which ultimately affects the sound you produce. Most upgraded mouthpieces would be made from ebonite which is a form of hard rubber that allows for a warmer and richer tone than a plastic mouthpiece. Brands such as Bari and Yamaha offer student level mouthpieces made of Ebonite for those looking to improve their sound whilst learning. These mouthpieces are a nice upgrade for those who don't enjoy the sound of their plastic mouthpiece but still want that easy playability to help them while their embouchure develops.
For those looking for something a little more advanced, the best thing to do is to try out a variety of mouthpieces to see what works best for you. Points to consider are: how clear the sound is; how responsive it is in terms of loud and soft; and whether the sound is thin or rich. Equally a mouthpiece must be easy enough for you to play from top to bottom. There is no point in playing a mouthpiece that sounds good but is tiring or difficult to control, you would be much better off developing your sound on an easier to manage mouthpiece. If you are looking for your first upgrade then you will want something with a fairly moderate tip opening and facing. Some popular choices would be from Vandoren's extensive range of ebonite mouthpieces, where the most popular upgrades would be: the B45, BD5 or 5RV; Clark Fobes' Nova Range - which are hand bored to give excellent intonation and response; or Selmer's Concept and Focus models.
It is also worth noting that there are mouthpieces that are more suited to certain styles of music. For example, those looking for a brighter and more punchy Jazz style sound may look towards Otto Link, Vandoren JB or Meyer Mouthpieces. It would also be worth considering a mouthpiece made of a different material, such as Pomarico's crystal mouthpieces which provide a very focussed and clear sound. The crystal provides a much more ringing and clear cut sound which is popular for all sorted of contemporary styles.
Caring For Your Mouthpiece
Once you have upgraded your mouthpiece, it is important to take care of it. Make sure after playing, you use a small swab or cloth to get rid of any residue and saliva. This keeps the mouthpiece as dry as possible after playing and prevents the build up of any gunk and grime. Mouthpiece Cleaning sprays are formulated to keep your mouthpiece free of any bacteria but can be harmful to some softer materials. Alternatively, use a Mouthpiece Saver, which goes in the mouthpiece and soaks up any moisture. Keep away from soaking your ebonite mouthpiece in warm water or using any particularly strong chemicals on it, as this can bring out the sulphur and cause the mouthpiece to turn brown and smell funny.
It's advisable to get a mouthpiece cushion which sticks to the top of the mouthpiece where your front teeth rest. This will protect the mouthpiece from any damage from your teeth as well as protect your teeth from the vibrations of the mouthpiece and act as an anchor for your embouchure. Once the clarinet is packed away, storing your mouthpiece in a mouthpiece pouch will make sure the mouthpiece is protected during transport, as a single dent or crack can really effect how it plays, especially along the fragile tip rail.
Upgrading your mouthpiece is a big step and is worth spending some time on. We have a wide choice of mouthpieces available for play testing including the models mentioned above and more! We also have plenty of sound testing rooms at Clarinet and Flute London, so pop along and try some out today!