I can buzz with the mouthpiece alone, but not WITHOUT the mouthpiece, and if I DO succeed in buzzing without the mouthpiece, it has nothing to do with how I play. Is it the free buzzing TECHNIQUE that's at fault, or am I doing something wrong?
Buzzing without the mouthpiece is not the problem.
Buzzing INCORRECTLY without the mouthpiece IS the problem.
If you buzz for long periods of time, and by a "long" time I mean over 30 seconds, without relating what your lips are doing to the limitations necessarily produced by the rim, your lips will assume positions that are not effective on the mouthpiece. Usually the embouchure will spread beyond the confines of the rim, or one (or both) lips will roll under too much,the equivalent of a woodwind player playing on too thin or flimsy a reed. Both of these tendencies can be highly counterproductive.
IF, however, you CONSTANTLY relate what you're doing to the mouthpiece, everything will eventually sort itself out. Play a note on the mouthpiece (or a cutoff rim, or on your horn), then, while continuing the note, take the rim away. Free buzz a note, then add the mouthpiece while still buzzing. If it doesn't work both ways, figure out WHY, and experiment with it until it does. It can do nothing but help. It will produce great balance and strength, and help you to UNDERSTAND what's happening when you play a note.
I've been practicing free buzzing (buzzing the lips without the mouthpiece or horn) in an attempt to supplement my daily mouthpiece exercises. I have found that I can free buzz up to a high B natural (in the octave above middle C), but can't even approach that using my mouthpiece or my horn. Does you have any ideas why this is happening?
I know I've said this earlier in this article, but I'm going to reiterate it, because it's so important when using these approaches.
Whether you're buzzing on the mouthpiece OR free buzzing...ALWAYS RELATE WHAT YOU'RE DOING TO THE HORN. Do it every 5 or 10 seconds - every few minutes at the most.
The idea is, that the embouchure is a compromise between what your body (lips, mouth, teeth, oral cavity, facial musculature), mouthpiece, and horn want to do naturally. Most people just play the horn, and never explore what the other compromising systems really tend to need.
SOME people overpractice one or the other form of buzzing, and can't bring it back TO the horn. Free buzzing can INFORM your trombone playing. If you patiently and consistently relate it to real playing, eventually your embouchure on the horn will change to include some part of that approach - whatever really works.
This takes time. It took me several years (once I discovered how to do it well) to integrate free buzzing into my playing and practice/maintenance routine, but the rewards were more than worth the time and effort, in my opinion.
As always, feel free to E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments about this or any other articles I've written for the Online Trombone Journal. My available E-mail answering time is increasingly limited, but I try to get back to everyone who writes with an interesting question.
About the Author...
Sam Burtis attended Ithaca College and The Berklee School of Music. He has been a working musician in New York City since 1969, playing tenor trombone, bass trombone, tuba, valve trombone and euphonium in just about every idiom and situation available to a professional musician in New York during that time. He is also a composer and arranger, writing and transcribing for such musicians and organizations as The Lee Konitz Nonet, The Charles Mingus Band, The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, Tito Puente, and the Chico O'Farrill Orchestra.He is currently forming his own ensemble to play his compositions. He is also a free-lance musician, playing studio, theater, concert, and jazz club work regularly in and around New York City and throughout the world.