A Well Balanced Soprano Mouthpiece : What Does That Mean?
There are a very few things that go into making a truly well balanced soprano mouthpiece, and here they are:
A table that allows the reed to rest firmly in place
A facing curve that allows the reed to vibrate with total integrity
A chamber that allows the sound to propagate without impediment
If it sounds too simple, that’s because there are two components which must be added to the mix before it’s all over:
A specific player
A specific soprano saxophone
And that is where the simplicity ends and the complexity begins. But that complexity isn’t infinite. It is knowable and it is controllable. In other words, we deal with it.
A flat table is simple and has no real connection to “who” is playing or “what horn” is being played. It is simply a starting point for every well balanced soprano mouthpiece, regardless of the “who” or the “what” of it.
The facing curve has no real connection to “what horn” is being played but has a VERY real connection to “who” is playing. The right facing curve MUST deal with “who” is playing and the very real tendencies of the player in terms of air column and embouchure.
The chamber has a VERY real connection to both “who” is playing and “what horn” is being played. It is precisely where all sorts of issues arise, such as stuffiness, resistance, intonation, uneven tone or response across the range of the horn, recalcitrant notes or areas of the horn, shutting down, thinness or lack of projection.
Now, can a player deal with a facing that isn’t optimal for him or her? The answer is yes, if they either remake their physical connection to the horn (not terribly hard to do) or develop “workarounds” for specific issues that arise because of the less-than-ideal-for-them facing. In other words, practice playing on a less than ideal set-up. Players have done that for a hundred years.
However, that is precisely where the “soprano is a beast” myth originated, by players who were making themselves crazy with workarounds. So, I wonder why anyone would opt for that. My way of putting it is this: sure, you can learn to ride a bicycle with square wheels if you want to, but WHY would you want to?
Now, while dealing with a less than optimal facing might be doable, dealing with an incorrect chamber is not, unless you really are a masochist. For one thing, if you change horns, you’ll need to develop a whole new set of workarounds again, and learn to use them on demand in complicated passages that will expose all kinds of problems.
The chamber is the place where intonation can be made precise across the range of the horn. Change horns and the “workarounds” will be more a matter of initial tuning and a matter of a change in feeling and response. Those changes can be quite small but they can also be big changes. You already know this if you’re an experienced saxophonist. Put your tenor mouthpiece that you love on somebody else’s horn and you recognize the changes right away, for better or worse. It doesn’t matter if it’s better or worse; it is different and it is different because of the mouthpiece chamber.
Of course, our response as players usually has been: ‘man, I don’t like this horn at all”, because we’re sure it’s the horn. I mean, we already know we love the mouthpiece. But it isn’t necessarily the horn; it’s the combination of that mouthpiece and that horn more likely. And it’s the chamber, almost certainly, that is bringing those changes in feeling and response.
So, what is a rebalanced soprano mouthpiece? It’s one that has been optimized, as mentioned above, to create the best acoustical environment for you and your horn, with the tonal character you wish to achieve and without the things that have or will stop you from realizing the music you want to make.
Virtually every commercial soprano mouthpiece made fails in more than one of the areas I’ve mentioned: table, facing, chamber. That is a sad but real fact and it is deadly on soprano saxophone.