Buzzing For Real

This month I want to talk about buzzing the mouthpiece, which I am a big believer in, and which I think many people have the wrong method of going about. The object of the buzz is to maximize the efficiency between air flow and lip vibration. When I hear most people buzz it usually sounds like there is a lot of stress in the sound. I hear lots of tongue on slurs to nail the pitches. The way I buzz and teach buzzing is to take a dynamic which will give you the most resonance with the least amount of physical effort, something that Arnold Jacobs always advocated. That means something like mezzo-piano.

Start with a normal articulation on the first note and then with no tongue, slur, sliding and glissing from note to note. The object is to get a continuous air flow with a completely relaxed body. Instead of landing on pitches, you pass by them. Of course you always want to buzz a tune and be accurate buzzing the correct pitches, but the gliss with the air gives you a steady air stream and more resonance, which is the secret to a great sound. Don’t worry, your horn will make all the differentiations you need, along with legato tongue. The soft dynamic gives you a chance to get into a Yoga-like relaxed state, like being in a Japanese-style garden, with quiet water flowing over smooth rocks, in a completely tranquil atmosphere.

The mouthpiece alone makes us buzz the pitches we want to play, something that we don’t always do on the horn. If you buzz a middle C on the mouthpiece and the slide is in 1st position, a D will come out, but it will have a bad sound. I am always telling people they didn’t buzz the pitch they were trying to play, but the note came out anyway because it was the closest thing to that partial. If you don’t buzz the pitches on the horn you want to play you will get a bad sound. The mouthpiece buzz makes you buzz the right pitches and that is why it is valuable, but only when done in the manner I describe. If you spend enough time on the mouthpiece, buzzing relaxed and getting efficient with the amount of effort-to-result concept, you will feel that the mouthpiece has become almost part of your embouchure.

Hey, let’s talk about something practical, like mute changes. There are many times when we have very fast mute changes that don’t give enough time to pick the mute up and stick it in the horn. I think the best way to approach this is to be able to play muted passages with your left hand holding the mute in, like a wah-wah on a Harmon mute. You have the mute in your lap and you grab it with your left hand and put it in and hold it, with the bell resting on your wrist. This gives you the support for the right hand moving the slide. If you play an F attachment you won’t be able to use the valve, but you can make very fast mute changes this way. If there is a mute change that is even too fast for this method, (and there are some,) then it is possible to even hold the mute in the left hand but not put it all the way into the bell, and then to mute or open it fast merely by pulling it out an inch or two with the left hand. Interestingly, there is one piece in the literature that I know of; the sixth symphony of Carl Nielsen, where there is no time to put the mute in, on a solo passage, and the composer instructs the second player to insert the mute in the bell of the first player at the critical moment. Quite an ingenious solution.