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Archives  | Classifieds  | JFB  |  Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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Here's a version of the most common mouthpiece buzzing question:

I just can't seem to play the horn the same way I buzz the mouthpiece. When I buzz the mouthpiece, buzzing seems free, easy and flexible. When I try to play exactly the way I buzz, my sound comes out thin and strained. Also, my embouchure is asymmetrical when I play the horn (right corner sags), but it is NOT so when I buzz. I buzz a half-hour each day with a B.E.R.P. in the car. Is there any help out there?


PLEASE don't buzz when you don't have the horn handy for comparison (at least until you've become very proficient at matching how you buzz and how you play), and PLEASE don't use B.E.R.P. or any OTHER resistance aid. (Yes, I know it's easier, it just isn't BETTER.)

Loosen the mouthpiece so it's not stuck in the receiver and play an easy note on your horn. (Third partial F is usually a great place to start.) While playing the note, gradually remove the mouthpiece, sustaining the note (if possible). Note any changes in the angle of the mouthpiece to your face.

Without removing the mouthpiece from your embouchure, buzz the same note. (Breathe through your nose or the corners of your mouth for this exercise.) While sustaining the buzz, replace the mouthpiece in the receiver, BEING VERY CAREFUL THAT THE ANGLE OF THE MOUTHPIECE TO YOUR FACE DOESN'T CHANGE. It's likely that this will result in a horn angle to which you are not accustomed. This is not only OK, it's GOOD.

Continued practice in this manner will probably change your horn angle to one that's more natural to your face. Experiment, learn what YOUR face needs. If the angle is initially uncomfortable, persevere. Your arm and shoulder muscles are MUCH stronger than your face muscles, and can sustain changes in weight and angle much better.

DON'T use artificial resistance on the mouthpiece. Build your embouchure so that IT provides the resistance.

DON'T practice in the car, at least not at first. You need to find a compromise between your mouthpiece approach and your horn approach. (Also, it's a TERRIBLE excuse if you have an accident or get a traffic ticket, plus it messes up the windshield.)

DON'T do it for one-half an hour a day...ESPECIALLY all at once. Start with only a few minutes a day, and work your way up gradually. Get a feeling for what's happening, then transfer it to the horn. Use this approach, once it begins to work, for ALL the things you practice. Rochut, scales, flexibility, whatever, throughout whatever ranges in which you can buzz.

The last question on mouthpiece buzzing has to do more with the problems one encounters when the buzz doesn't match the way you play.

I read with great interest Sabutin's erudite thesis on embouchure. I have one important question: Is the buzz on the mouthpiece always supposed to equal the note on the horn? This doesn't happen for me. Am I doing something wrong? I can get a clear buzz but the buzz note doesn't equal the note on the horn and vice-versa.

Yes, it is supposed to equal the note on the horn, and no, you're not necessarily doing anything "wrong."



IF (big "if" here, there are other ways to go that work very well for many people) you wish to use buzzing as a technique to improve your playing, you should learn how to buzz with just the mouthpiece (no extra resistance), and further, you should learn to be able to insert the mouthpiece into the horn while buzzing without having the note, OR the feeling of PLAYING the note, change at all.

Conversely, you should be able to play any note ON the horn, and while continuing to play that note, (These techniques involve some pretty fancy balancing tricks with the slide, as one hand has to hold the horn while the other holds the mouthpiece...I use a towel in my trombone case to rest the end of the slide), be able to withdraw the mouthpiece from the horn while continuing that note, again without any change of pitch or feeling. I have gotten to the point where I can do this through five octaves, more or less.

Start with your simplest middle range notes and exercises, and progress to more difficult areas of endeavour. ALWAYS relate the mouthpiece setting IMMEDIATELY to your horn (by inserting the mouthpiece without removing it from your mouth, and, if possible, continuing to play while you insert it), being very careful when you insert the mouthpiece to put it into the horn in such a way that the shank goes in parallel to the receiver, thus ensuring that your horn is at its most natural angle to your face when you play.

This approach has the triple advantages of:

  1. Taking the responsibility of focusing the note away from your hardware and putting it directly on your musculature and mind.
  2. Helping you to use an angle between your face and your horn that is more natural to your own particular physiognomy, less dictated by the weight of the horn.
  3. Putting the responsibility of producing the proper resistance on your physical set-up, your lips and air cavity, rather than on the mouthpiece and horn. YOU dictate what's happening, not your equipment.

(I have to emphasize here that if, on the other hand, you DON'T wish to approach the horn this way, it doesn't make a bit of difference whether you can or can't buzz, nor whether or not your buzz changes pitch in or out of the horn. Many very fine players absolutely CAN'T buzz a note, and I've known a few people who were virtuoso buzzers but lousy brass players. This is just one approach among many, and the one that I have most successfully used and taught. "Y'pays yer money and y'takes yer chances" as the carnival barkers used to say.)

Are you closing off part of the shank, to simulate the resistance from the instrument?


That defeats one of the purposes of buzzing. It makes it easier, it's true, but with a bit of patient practice one can learn to play the mouthpiece without stopping the bottom at all. Closing off part of the shank simulates the resistance of the horn, which can be thought of in ONE approach to the horn (again, not the ONLY or even necessarily the most CORRECT approach), as a crutch, used because the embouchure hasn't developed enough strength to provide that resistance for itself.