Tube or mouthpiece?

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  • #7298
    Avataragargara
    Participant

    Some websites claim that using a mouthpiece instead of a tube or hose allows for greater control and expression. However, I can’t find any concrete evidence for this. (While searching the forums, I noticed this question come up a couple times, but couldn’t find any definitive answer.)

    At first I started playing with the tube with the melodica in front of me. As a keyboardist, I’m not used to playing with my fingers sideways, and I like being able to easily play with two hands. However, I saw a video of Hermeto Pascoal playing an amazing jazz melodica line, and he was blowing directly into the instrument. I began to wonder if that was the better way to do it.

    So what do you say? Tube or mouthpiece?

    #7299
    AvatarMelodica-Me
    Participant

    Hello Agargara and welcome to the forum. I personally prefer to use a mouth piece than a tube, actually I don’t like the tube at all. I sometimes use the long extension tube on my Hammond melodeons, they provide a little extra room for air storage than straight into the melodica with just a mouth piece, this helps when playing and holding long notes. It really depends on the player and what feels best for him or her. Even on my Vibrandoneon that uses an s curved tube, I designed and had a special mouth piece receiver made that would hold a French horn mouth piece. My Eolina uses a s curved tube with a duck bil type mouth piece. I really do not like this and I am working on a design for that one as well. I play the melodica as a wind instrument and not like a piano, by the way Been playing piano since 1968 and melodica almost as long. I used to use a long tube taped to my mic stand and would sit the melodica on top of my keyboard so I could play one hand on my Fender Rhoads and lead on my melodica.
    Melodica-Me
    Monsters of Melodica

    #7300
    Avataragargara
    Participant

    Hello Melodica-Me,
    Thank you for the reply!
    That’s really informative. It does make a lot of sense to play the melodica as a wind instrument rather than as a piano. I think as I learn better wind technique, I’ll get a better idea of what kind of mouthpiece I should use.

    #7301
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Hi, agaragar. See if you notice the sensation of vibration from the melodica when you play with a short mouthpiece or, even better, directly into the instrument. For me, this more direct contact and feeling of the instrument is an important part of the aesthetics of playing the melodica, as I’m sure it is with other wind instruments. It goes the other way as well, as what you are doing with your mouth and lips is applied directly to the instrument. If you watch more videos of Hermeto Pascoal, you’ll see that this is obviously an important feature of his playing.

    When I first took up the melodica, I determined to get away from my bad piano habit of depending on being able to see the keyboard. The tube encourages the bad habit.

    #7302
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Welcome Agargara,

    In my experience, the more connected I am with the melodica, the more control and satisfaction I get from playing it.

    The closer my mouth is to the reeds, the better control I think I have.

    In addition, you must think not in terms of your breath and the instrument as separate elements, but rather one big integrated air chamber starting at the bottom of your lungs through to the exit hole of the note you are playing. Everything along the way (lungs, diaphragm, throat, mouth shape, tongue position, breath control, mouthpiece/tube, length and volume of the air chamber in the instrument, and more) influences the sound and expressiveness you can achieve. It is all one big resonating chamber.

    Sing or hum as you blow into your melodica and hear and feel what happens. You can begin to set up resonances.

    Some melodicas seem to have very short, small-volume air chambers. Others, relatively speaking, have very long and voluminous air chambers.

    For reasons that are too long to explain here, and because the regulars have heard it too many times, I use a mouthpiece that looks like this.

    Image of Mouthpiece

    It is as short as possible but allows some movement of the instrument. Like Melodica-Me, I am also working on a custom mouthpiece and will describe it when it is done. Been working on it for a year, so don’t hold your breath.

    So which is better, tube or mouthpiece? Short is best in my mind. If I could, I would blow directly into the hole and the giant air channel/chamber of the melodicas I play. But that limits me moving the melodica around. So for now, I use the above mouthpiece/tube combo.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #7304
    AvatarKevin
    Participant

    I’m probably in the minority among the members but I only play with the tube.
    I grew up playing organ not piano. I recommend the experience to any melodica player. The piano has almost no relation to playing the melodica. but I also played trombone throughout high school which gave me a feeling for wind instruments.
    I think of the melodica as a small reed organ or harmonium.

    When I first had a melodica I used the mouthpiece but years later when the videos became easily accessible on the internet I noticed many of the “top professional” players were using the tube. I thought if they aren’t embarrassed to play that way neither am I. It really freed me up to hold the instrument how I wanted. and not worry about whacking my teeth, I could take advantage of two-handed techniques and I was able to see the keyboard, very important since the keys are non-standard size.

    As far as the instrument responding differently, I don’t think so. I think that notion is all in their head! :p Seriously the proximity of their head to the reeds. Holding the instrument up in the air near the ears sounds very different than placing it on a table or holding it in your hand away from your body.

    I know that experience from plectrum string instruments. Fine guitars don’t sound well to the player the majority of the volume should be projecting from the front away from the player who is behind the amplifying box.

    However, I have a simple experiment to find out if it’s true:

    Play your melodica for a bit through the mouthpiece. Then plug in the hose and hold your melodica at the same angle and distance a mouthpiece would put it. See if you notice a difference in the sound or expressiveness or any other variable.
    Alternatively you could record mouthpiece and hose playing being careful that the microphone is the same distance and angle wait a bit then see if the recordings sound different?

    Or you could play for someone to see if they hear a difference.

    One more thing I will add is I usually don’t use the mouthpieces on the end of the hoses. I usually pull those off and blow into the end of the tube. just a personal preference. I don’t think it alters the playing in any way.

    #7307
    Avataragargara
    Participant

    Thank you all for your responses! I tried Kevin’s experiment of playing through the mouthpiece and then playing through the hose at the same angle and distance, and didn’t notice a big difference in sound or expressiveness. However, I’m a total beginner as a wind player, so who knows!

    I think I’ll stick with the hose for now, since it allows more flexibility in placement of the instrument. As my technique improves, however, I’ll continue to experiment with the mouthpiece. I’m also fascinated in trying out different mouthpieces as some on these forums have mentioned…perhaps some of my musician friends will lend me their mouthpieces for experimentation.

    #7308
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Whatever works for you! I suggest at some point checking out some of Lowboy’s past postings on his technique innovations to see whether you’re interested in trying out some of his techniques and considering possible implications for mouthpiece/tube alternatives. He has posted quite a few demo sound clips.

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