I am prompted to write this because of a discussion that is happening on a sax-talk website.
An amateur player wants to know why his highly regarded alto mouthpiece just “shuts down” suddenly while he is playing. The responses, all well intentioned, are a collection of “the usual suspects”:
‘You must take more mouthpiece”
“You need a bigger tip opening”
There is one response that gets closer to reality. It suggests that the issue may be connected to a certain facing length.
Now, “taking more mouthpiece” may relieve the problem, but that is, in fact, a workaround. It masks the problem, almost certainly. “Take more mouthpiece” almost always screams “workaround”.
“Bigger tip”? Well, that’s another workaround, and it works because it brings a completely new facing into the equation. It is just as easy, and more honest, to say “spend another $300 and see how that works for you”.
“Practice” is the worst of the responses, as it says “the problem is you”. Maybe ( one in 500) , but likely not actually true.
So, why DOES a mouthpiece suddenly ‘shut down”?
It most often has to do with one or both of two things: the facing and/or the reed itself.
But, it isn’t exactly the facing “length”. Rather it is the facing “curve” and, actually, it is the facing curve at one or more specific spots along the curve.
The other culprit, so to speak, is the reed itself. If the reed is pliable and bends easily ( soft or light ), it will have a hard time on a poor facing curve for a lot of players, beginners or not.
The problem can be eliminated by, again, one or both of these changes (often both for a student):
A corrected facing curve
Perhaps a little firmer reed choice.