Step-up Mouthpieces for Students: Clearing Up the Confusion with Mark Ponzo

What is the general age/level range of your students?

Mark Ponzo: Middle school through graduate students.

 


What do you feel is your student’s idea of the function of a trumpet mouthpiece?

MP: They have no idea… it just comes with the horn. I’m not sure that many of them think about mouthpieces until someone else says what they’re playing, and then they think that is the solution to their problem. They sometimes don’t even know at first that there are different sized mouthpieces out there. It’s like the people who influence them most are not their private teachers, it’s their band directors who are often trying to step them up to larger mouthpieces before they’re ready, and their friends who want to go to smaller mouthpieces to play high notes. That’s what I see. For the average student, regular practice is necessary to make a difference in changing mouthpieces. The kids who practice start to realize that it needs to be fitted to you and be the right size for what you are doing.

 


What do you feel is the function of a mouthpiece, and which is best for your students?

MP: When I get to choose for the student, I’m looking for a mouthpiece that suits their general playing needs. As they get older, they start to play in jazz groups and marching band, so their range requirements tend to extend, but they still want to get a good sound in concert band, so finding a mouthpiece that does both is good for them. I tend to gravitate the middle school ages toward a 5C, and the high school students to no bigger than a 3C.

 


What makes the American Classic line so great for step-up ready students?

MP: What I like about the American Classic mouthpieces is that it has a great centered sound, and it’s comfortable. The rim isn’t too sharp, and it’s flat enough that I feel comfortable and I can produce a good quality sound. And then the intonation is really even. It’s a really good balance between all aspects. Any mouthpiece, like any instrument is a compromise, you know. So you’re looking for the most reasonable compromise – and the price is great. Compared to some of the other mouthpieces out there, it is really reasonably priced, and the quality and consistency of the mouthpieces are really very good.

 


How do you navigate them through changing mouthpieces?

MP: Typically I don’t even address the mouthpiece a couple years into their study. For the serious student I’m more interested in getting them into a new routine, with a good sound, and not focusing on the other tangibles that can distract them. What I do often times is to have them play a low C on the horn and then pull away and buzz the same note and maintain that buzz, and of course they can’t. I then ask them, so what is creating that pitch if you can’t physically create that pitch with the muscles of your embouchure? How are you playing 2 octaves higher than that note? … So then you’re relying too much on the pressure of the mouthpiece, relying too much on the resistance of the instrument as opposed to your ability and strength to play the note. And that is true on any sized mouthpiece. So getting them onto that concept teaches them to start focusing on the embouchure, focus, and strength, and less about what they are blowing into.

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