Like Kenny Rodgers said, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," and this applies to working big band repertoire. You can spend significant time choosing repertoire to fit your ensemble, and I often choose challenging music, but at some point you have to decide if you double down or if you fold 'em and acknowledge that the chart does not fit the band. There could be various reasons why a chart will succeed with more work, either communally or individually. Or, it may never "swing," but at some point you must make that call and be confident in your decision.
For the longest time, I thought that it wasn't the horn or the mouthpiece, it was the player, and this is largely true. However, finding the most suitable equipment for your playing style and, for lack of a better word, physique, can make a huge difference in sound and easy of playing. When I started playing the trombone, I was given a Bach 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece and I played that bad boy for years. Nothing wrong with that. I learned later that there are other options and eventually switched to a Bach 11C, which seemed to fit my King 3B well. Now, the title of this blog is misleading, because I am not a mouthpiece master. I do not warm-up on the little cup nor do I know the ins-and-outs of rim size, cup depth and aperture widths. I am now a mouthpiece guy in the sense that I know the importance of this piece of equipment. I also know that I need to do some serious study of the things previously mentioned, as I have run into a dilemma. I had to change mouthpieces again. My Bach 11C was breaking up the sound of my new horn: Courtois "Extreme." I tried the Courtois 6 1/2 MP and loved the deep, dark sound but found that I needed more help with the upper register; I often play lead trombone. After trying Al Kay's mouthpiece, I thought I had found the match for my horn, but it did not feel right on my lips, and that, I found, is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a horn player (this was advice given from a fellow musician). Find a mouthpiece that feels right on the lips, and then manipulate the other variables, e.g., cup depth and aperture width, to find the sound and feel you are looking for (amount of back pressure). For me, I have gone back to the Bach 11C and am dealing with the risk of overblowing, because I just like the way that mouthpiece feels on my lips. I will now venture to find another mouthpiece with a similar rim. As I learn more about the mouthpiece, I will check back in and write another blog. Maybe then, I will become a mouthpiece master too.
Dr. Michael Kearns
Musician, educator, husband, father, web designer ... my life is like a mosaic with each piece vying for my attention.