A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Mouthpiece

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MOUTHPIECE (Fr. Bec, Bocal, Embouchure; Ger. Mundstück). That portion of a wind-instrument which, as the name implies, is inserted into the player's mouth, or applied to his lips. Mouthpieces may be divided into those of the Flute and Flageolet, Cupped mouthpieces as in brass instruments, and Reed mouthpieces single or double.

The simplest of all forms is that adopted in the Nay or Egyptian flute, in which the stream of air is directed against the thinned edge of the tube itself. [See Flute.] This edge in the ordinary flute is modified into a lateral orifice, the instrument being held transversely. In the Flageolet, the column of air is directed by a channel against a transverse edge similar to that of a flue-pipe in the Organ. From the beakshaped termination thus given to the mouthpiece, the instrument derives its name of 'Flute à bec.'

Cupped mouthpieces are applied to the outer surface of the lips, not inserted between them. The lips thus stretched across the calibre of the cup form a kind of double reed, closely resembling the Vocal Chords of the Larynx. Each instrument of this class has a somewhat different form of cup, which is described under their respective headings. In the older examples, however, and in those used by uncivilised tribes, the cup consists of a simple hole, at the end of a cow's horn for instance, or in the side of an ivory tusk, communicating with the medullary cavity. The transition from this to the shaped cup can be well seen in the Swiss Alpenhorn, in which a small globular cavity, like the mouthpiece of the Trumpet, is rudely carved out of the wooden strips of which the long tube is built up. In more finished instruments of this class, the mouthpiece is turned out of Brass, Ivory, Aluminium, or Silver, with a rounded cushion-shaped edge for the accurate and painless pressure of the lips. Glass has also been used, and of late the cushion has been made of vulcanized India Rubber. The weight and elasticity of the material employed, like the shape of the cup, exert a certain influence over the pitch and quality of the notes produced.

The single-reed mouthpiece is used in the Clarinet and in the Saxophone. It is described at length under the former heading. It may be noted here that it can be applied, though rather ineffectually, to the Bassoon and its diminutives. The Dolcino or small bassoon, in the B♭ of the four-foot octave, was actually played in military bands by means of a single reed as late as the early years of the present century.

The double-reed, consisting of two parallel vibrators, constitutes the mouthpiece of the Oboe and Bassoon family. It is probably the oldest mode of producing sound in existence. Such reeds are found in the sepulchral chambers of Egypt, lying beside the pipes to which they have evidently been fitted. Mr. William Chappell has succeeded in replacing a similar sound-producer in facsimiles of the original pipes, and has obtained from them a scale fairly agreeing with that probably employed by the Egyptians, and borrowed from them by the Greeks. In the Bagpipe both the single and double reed have been employed since ancient times. These are described in detail in the article on that instrument.

[ W. H. S. ]