The "snow day" that we experienced in North Texas today gave me ample opportunity to think about this week's blog post. I understand that today's topic might ruffle a few feathers, but often, the most impactful statements are those that challenge our thinking and force us to look inward for the answers. Many ideas or notions are repeated ad nauseam until they become "fact," and this is a slippery slope in teaching. It is my belief that a dichotomy exists within musical organizations. They come together to reach a common goal, but in order for each student to give their level best, they must be put in the best possible position to succeed.
A widespread trend in choosing an instrument or other equipment is the notion that "in this band program, we play XYZ trombone, with XYZ mouthpiece." This concerns me for two reasons:
One size simply doesn't fit all. Can you imagine giving a pee-wee football player the same gear that Aaron Rodgers wears in games? It might make a cute picture, but when you send the kid out on the gridiron in that gear, they will stumble all over themselves despite hours and hours of training and preparation, simply because the gear they are wearing doesn't fit them.
Depending on the items listed, it may be cost prohibitive. There are many quality instruments available that don't break the bank, and quite possibly might sound better than the "cadillac" of approved equipment. I would hate for a student to not be included in such an incredible art form because they can't afford a trombone or mouthpiece that is too advanced for their ability level in the first place!
Despite my belief in the very high quality of their product, you will never see me forcing a student into a particular model of Edwards trombone. In fact, several of the current Getzen trombones are all that most students will ever need. The same can be said for instruments from nearly every other American maker!
"By matching brand and model of instrument, we will match timbres across the section."
I think that there might be some truth to this, but in most cases, the matching of timbres will happen at the interface between trombone and trombonist, at the chops. How many times have the Chicago Symphony low brass or the New York Philharmonic trombone section been referenced by band directors hoping to conjure up a specific sound in their student's heads? The reality is that neither of those sections all play the same instrument or mouthpiece! At any given time, these incredible musicians play whichever instrument best allows them to do their job. Take the time to build in fundamental practice as a section to foster a like-minded approach to playing the instrument, and allow each student to make the necessary adjustments to "fit in" to the section sound.
"A (insert very deep popular euphonium mouthpiece name and model here) will provide my players with a dark sound that blends well in the ensemble."
Remember the Aaron Rodgers "One Size Fits All" approach we mentioned above? Yes, the sounds will blend, but such a large mouthpiece also introduces several problems.
On the contrary, a balanced mouthpiece size allows for a balanced approach to improvement on the instrument. In my experience, there is one size of mouthpiece that is a great place to start, but is by no means the only option. The "5G" size will allow the students to have a range of tonal colors, a balance of fundamental and overtone, and most importantly, will force the student to shoulder the responsibility of developing good manners in playing. This size of mouthpiece has a 25.55 mm cup diameter and a medium-wide, semi-flat rim. Consult the information in this document from the Bach company about their mouthpieces. The player, not the mouthpiece, is responsible for maintaining a great sound. The player, not the mouthpiece, is responsible for reigning in the articulation to the appropriate firmness for each situation. I choose a "5G" range because for so many, it just happens to work so well. Perhaps it has the "Golden Mean" of measurements for most adolescent oral structures. Even with this size that appeals to so many, it may not always be the answer. Similar information can be found from other mouthpiece makers, such as Doug Elliott and Greg Black.
There are so many great products available to the consumer that making a purchase can be baffling. Parents and students trust the music educators in their lives to help guide them through the process in a straightforward manner. While that is an admirable goal, please consider providing a list of options for the student to consider, so that every student...regardless of size, shape, age, or income level has a fighting chance to succeed.