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I've just picked up trombone, for the first time. I find it really enjoyable to play, but I'm having trouble with my beard and mustache. As far as I can tell, it doesn't affect the sound at all, but after a while playing, the area above and below my lips - at the top and bottom of the mouth piece, starts getting itchy, due to the pressure. I don't get this with trumpet, I guess because of the smaller mouth piece.

I'm wondering if anyone has any experience playing trombone (or tuba perhaps) for extended periods with a beard? Do you become accustomed to the sensation, or does it remain irritating? Do different beard lengths have different effects? Does it ever get to the point where the hair affects your sound?

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Nowadays I always get a close shave before playing the tuba in a gig. I started doing this when I realized that after longer breaks from playing I had trouble getting a distinct attack and tone when I had facial hair around the lips. I also had trouble playing pedal-notes. I then experienced getting a close shave as "gaining" one or two weeks of practice, quickly eliminating most of the troubles.

Regarding your questions:
1) As I recall I did get accustomed to the sensation.
2) I remember that some shorter hair lengths - before you get the softer feel - were more irritating.
3) As stated, at least when out of form, I experienced facial hair to have a massive negative impact on my tone and control.

However for instance Calle Jacobsson - one of Swedens premiere tubaists - has a fashionable beard around his mouth and it does not seem to affect his excellent playing or tone.

You'll have to experiment yourself. :-)

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The troubles I describe are, for me, lesser on a trombone/bass trumpet or euphonium mouthpiece and non-existing on a trumpet mouthpiece. –  Ulf Åkerstedt May 20 '12 at 9:04
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I can't speak definitively on this since I haven't had a full beard and mustache before, but I've always made a point to keep what facial hair I do have out of the way of my mouthpiece placement. Not knowing the full magnitude of your facial hair, it's hard to make specific suggestions, but I wouldn't want a lot of hair cushioning the mouthpiece against my lips. You do need to use at least enough pressure to create an air seal between the lips and mouthpiece, and if there's hair in the way there's a possibility for irritation.

Every body is different, of course--different tolerances for irritation, different mouthpiece placement, different facial hair. Personally I use a medium-high placement, so the soul patch I had at one point didn't affect my playing.

That said, I do know a handful of trombonists who played with significant facial hair. More experienced beard owners should offer input.

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I have played trombone with varying degrees of facial hair. I just trimmed the area around my lips so that I could sort of tuck the mouthpiece under my moustache in order to contact only skin for a seal. It was fairly easy, and with care to let the upper hairs grow long and hang over that area, unnoticeable. There was no real difference in my playing when I did this.

When I WASN'T careful to do that, well, then it resulted in the differences others have mentioned.

As @Ulf Åkerstedt mentioned, trumpet players won't have an issue, but tuba players might have more of an issue.

Experiment with trimming the area closest to the lips, while combing the moustache up and out of the way!

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