Here’s one that came to me a while back. I called it the Case of The Flat Top End.
I have a client who could not play his Sopranoplanet mouthpiece in tune on his soprano. The top end would be WAY FLAT, which is an unusual occurrence, to say the least. I had him send it back to me and…it played perfectly in tune. So, what the heck was happening?
As I always do when players have a problem with a mouthpiece, I try to recreate the problem. I rarely doubt that the player is wrong about the problem. I usually consider that “something” is happening and it’s my job to find out what that “something” is.
Sure, enough. I could recreate to flat top end and that told me what was happening. In this case, it had two parts and the biggest part of the issue was NOT with the mouthpiece but with the player, I suspected. And here is what I suspected:
Many players that double on soprano come from tenor sax. Many tenor sax players have a tendency to “open” up their throat/oral cavity when they go high on the tenor. They do it for resonance mostly, to get a fuller, bigger sound up there. Well, if they do it soprano, all hell can break loose with intonation. Here’s why:
Abruptly enlarging the oral cavity changes everything about the player/piece/horn connection and it is comparable to pulling the mouthpiece further out on the cork. The player has enlarged the effective volume of the instrument, thereby retuning it lower.
But there is a second part involved, and that is in the mouthpiece. There are facing curves which “promote” that kind of enlarging of the effective length, and there are facings which mitigate AGAINST that happening.
In other words, a certain facing curve will lessen the effect of a player making that kind of abrupt change.
So, I made the facing change and also told the player what I thought he was likely doing and the problem that it was almost certainly causing. I sent the piece back to him. Here is the email I got back:
“You NAILED it: how the hell did you do that?!?”