You beginners out there undoubtedly want to blame your playing struggles on your equipment. I’m no different. Wouldn’t it be great if finding the right ‘thing’ turned you into a legitimate candidate for a principle position in a decent orchestra? Ha.
So is there ever a time when an equipment change is warranted for a relatively new hornist? I’d like to think so. I did see an improvement in my playing when I got my new horn. Did I need a new horn? No. Is it a placebo effect? Maybe. I’ll never know but I can say that I’m very happy I bought the horn. If your horn is in really bad shape in my opinion it’s a good idea to replace (or possibly repair depending on the damage) the horn. A bad horn can make it very difficult to move forward though it’s said that professionals can make any horn sound good. If you are playing a single horn maybe it’s time for a double. If you can afford a new horn AND your expectations are realistic I say go for it. You will make some vendor very happy. Just remember that for the large majority of you it’s you and not your equipment. Also, if you don’t have a teacher, get one before you buy anything. A teacher is far more valuable than any change in equipment.
On to mouthpieces. Most hornists, no matter what level they play at, are on a quest for the perfect mouthpiece. It’s like the quest for the Holy Grail. Typically they have an arsenal of mouthpieces stashed away somewhere. At this point in time I have eight.
When I first got my Yamaha out if its case, there was one mouthpiece in it; the Yamaha mouthpiece that came with the horn. I used this mouthpiece for months. Then I found an old Bach 11 mouthpiece lying around. Hmm. Maybe this mouthpiece will help my playing. I tried it and, guess what? I played better. In fact it was a ‘wow’ experience. But (there is always a but), a few days later I was playing almost exactly like I was before the change. So I put the Yamaha mouthpiece back in the horn. Another ‘wow’ experience. I spent a couple of weeks going back and forth between the two mouthpieces and didn’t really see much of a difference. The mouthpieces themselves are different. The Yamaha has a pretty thin rim and the Bach has thicker rim. This is visually obvious and they feel different as well.
Then I talked to Lynn, my teacher, about mouthpieces. This was in November 2008 before I bought the Hoyer. She was well aware of my constant frustration – lots of clams, no endurance. I didn’t think I was making any progress and my tendency is to try new equipment. She suggested a Farkas MC mouthpiece. The Farkas MC and the MDC are mainstream mouthpieces and are recommended frequently.
I bought the Farkas MC mouthpiece and I also bought a Bach 12. (I have no idea why.) I tried both of them, had the ‘wow’ experience with both of them, and settled on the MC with the admonition from Lynn to stop switching. The ‘wow’ experience is typical when changing mouthpieces. My guess is that it has something to do with slightly changing the way the muscles are used by the embouchure. Whatever the reason, it leads to a false sense of success.
I used the MC mouthpiece until I got the Hoyer. The Hoyer came with its own mouthpiece and Scott Bacon, the proprietor of Siegfried’s Call where I bought the horn, said to use the Hoyer mouthpiece. Sometimes, especially with European horns and US mouthpieces, the horn and the mouthpiece just don’t work well together so it made sense to try the Hoyer with it’s own mouthpiece.
I used the Hoyer mouthpiece for about 6 weeks through the middle of February. It has a narrower rim than the Farkas MC and I felt more fatigued with it than with the MC. When I use the MC with the Hoyer the intonation problems get a touch worse and the horn gets sharper.
At the end of January I ordered a custom mouthpiece from Tom Greer. I spoke to Tom at length about the Hoyer playing sharp and he suggested making the mouthpiece shank a touch fatter. When the mouthpiece is inserted it will sit slightly farther out extending the length of the horn just a tad which will make it play a bit flatter. I ordered a rim closer to the MC in style than the Hoyer mouthpiece. My new mouthpiece showed up in mid February. I’m forcing myself to only use it and to stop blaming my bad days on any mouthpiece.