Each year I ask my clarinet and saxophone students, "How would you like to sound better on your instrument instantly without making any effort?" Of course the way to do this is to upgrade from a beginner stock mouthpiece.
The difference between a decent mouthpiece and the one that comes with a student instrument is dramatic. When students hear the difference in their sound they enjoy playing even more, which often leads to increased practicing. Also, if parents purchase the mouthpiece they become more invested in their child's music-making and are more likely to encourage practicing.
Using a better mouthpiece not only motivates students, it is critical for their musical development. Particularly when they begin expanding their range and developing their upper register.
So how do I get my students to upgrade?
1. Mouthpiece Tryout Day
Every November I reach out to our music store rep and ask him to bring a variety of quality clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces ranging from $25-100. Each student comes to the band room when they are available to play on each one. I have a preset letter to the parents explaining why having a good mouthpiece matters, and listing the model and price for the one each student chooses. If it is an expensive one I will usually list a second choice. Of course the mouthpieces are sanitized before each student tries them.
Why November? This is when people start thinking about holiday gifts!
Contact me if you would like a list of mouthpieces we recommend.
2. Build an inventory of good mouthpieces
Start buying good quality mouthpieces that you can lend out to students who aren't able to buy one themselves. If you buy a couple each year and take good care of them you will be able to outfit your entire section within a few years. Use mouthpiece patches to protect them and be sure to keep track of them.
Some of my students actually bought their own after using the school's mouthpiece for a few weeks. This allowed me to loan it out again and have more students playing on good equipment.
3. While you're at it...
When students and parents are in the process of upgrading mouthpieces I use the opportunity to remind them of the importance of using quality reeds and a good ligature. We also recommend using a reed case and rotating 3-5 good reeds.
Encouraging students to upgrade their mouthpieces has helped many of my students improve their performance and enjoy band even more. Not to mention the band sounds better too!
Here are two quick tips to help make sure your students' instruments are in good working order.
1) Have a full set of mouthpieces readily available so you can play on students' instruments to make sure they are in good condition.
Sometimes young students don't realize that something is wrong (sticky pad, small leak, etc.), and they could develop bad habits as a result. By putting your own mouthpiece on the instrument and playing it yourself you can quickly assess the problem and recommend a repair.
2) Use a standard woodwind repair letter.
I created a letter that includes all the info students and parents need to get a repair done. It has checkboxes for common issues so I don't have to rewrite the same letter every time a student's instrument needs to be fixed. Oftentimes parents don't know what to do in this situation and the problem may persist. The letter is a great way to help students and parents, and also educate them a little about basic instrument care.
A couple years ago my colleague and I were looking for the easiest way to organize reeds for those moments right before rehearsal or a concert when a student suddenly needs one. It turns out the best solution was under $20 at Home Depot.
Tips for Band Teachers
Practical ideas for your elementary and middle school band class.