Lip buzzing or free buzzing is one of the topics that causes the most controversy in the brass community. Most trumpeters are either for or against it.
It is a hugely polarizing subject.
In this guide, I’d like to explain to you why you should lip buzz as well as how to lip buzz — something which I don’t think is properly understood.
Let’s dive right in.
What is lip buzzing?
Lip buzzing refers to the way in which brass players often begin their journey on their instruments, rightly or wrongly, by producing a buzz with their lips.
Some chidren might call that “blowing a raspberry” but we are looking to create a controlled musical note with their lips.
Why should you lip buzz as a trumpeter?
The why of lip buzzing is pretty straight forward.
Lip buzzing is one of the fastest and easiest ways to work on the form of your embouchure and set up a balance of strength and agility.
It provides you with all the endurance you’ll need so that you can instead focus on the response of the lips to air flow.
It is something you should do every day.
The important thing to remember about lip buzzing is that, for all the benefits, it is not exactly how our lips function when we play.
It’s a great way to develop form and endurance because it’s a much more strenous activity for the muscles involved. We have to create all the necessary compression to make the sound from the body without any help from the resonance of the instrument.
That also means that it is something that is very easy to overdo. I think that’s part of the main reason why so many people are against it.
So as to avoid overdoing it, you should lip buzz very sparingly, especially when you are starting out with it.
I’ve been lip buzzing many years, but it’s still not something I spend more than about 3 minutes on a day. If you’re new to it, you shouldn’t do it for more than 30 seconds a day to begin with.
How to lip buzz (exercise)
Before I get into the specifics of how to lip buzz, I should share some reasons why my approach is a bit different — that’s pretty simple too.
I think we, generally, try to lip buzz much too high.
Personally, the highest note I regularly lip buzz is a low C at trumpet pitch. That doesn’t mean I restrict the range of my lip buzzing, far from it.
I still cover a range of two to three octaves every day as I lip buzz.It’s just that that low C is the ceiling — that’s the highest I’ll go.
Buzzing this way sets up the perfect conditions in my embouchure, the center of my lips maintain reasonable tension without getting too tight or pinched, and the corners develop a good supportive grip.
My feeling is that the level of work required to lip buzz a low C is about the same as playing a high C on the trumpet.
Remember, because of the resonance, the system doesn’t work the same with the instrument attached. How to lip buzz is not something that is typically explained in any detail by any teacher.
Here’s what I’ve worked out and how I do it.
I believe that this method avoids the common pitfalls which tend to turn people off lip buzzing.
Step #1 — Close your lips in a natural relaxed position by saying “M”
The first thing you need to do is close the lips in a natural relaxed position by saying “M”. Saying “M” closes the lips naturally.
The overall position of face and jaw should remain relaxed at this stage, the teeth slightly parted, and it shouldn’t feel like you are pushing your jaw forward or backward.
Step #2 — Part the center of your lips, blow a gentle stream of air
From this position, part the center of your lips and blow a gentle stream of air freely. We’re not blowing hard at all.
It should be no problem to sustain the airflow for about 10 seconds.
If you, generally, play off center, direct the air to part the lips somewhere close to your usual aperture point.
Step #3 — Grip the corners of your mouth to get a buzz
This will turn from an airstream into a buzz by gripping at the corners of your mouth.
I feel the grip vertically along with the corners pushing towards the center, so the middle of the lips move forward slightly.
This should generate enough lip tension to form he buzz.
A more extreme version of that push would be the famous Maggio method of a chimp blowing a kiss.
If you are not sure about it, try doing it a couple of times to get the feel.
When I demonstrate this I tend to default to a low C on the trumpet, just through years of practicing it. Whatever pitch you find to begin with is fine.
While you try to find the pitch a couple of times, remember that is not something we want to do for too long, especially to begin with.
Really not more than about 30 seconds.
So try it a few times and then leave it until tommorrow.
Basically, any way that you can do this and get a sound is pretty much correct with one exception — sliding your bottom lip under or over your top lip.
The practice goals of lip buzzing
In terms of practice goals, the first is to see how close to low C you can buzz. If you naturally started higher, see if you can buzz it lower, and vice versal.
Particularly, if you’re trying to move higher, try not to pinch at the center of your lips, we want to grip at the corners so that the middle of the lips are free to vibrate.
Once you’ve established a pitch close to low C, work on sustaining that pitch without wavering. this helps focus your airtstream in response.
Once you get used to that start buzzing in smaller intervals, half steps or semitones to begin with. Use this intervals to work gradually downwards.
I like to buzz a pitch, bend down and then return.
Doing that will help develop your corner support as you change registers which I think strengthens your embouchure in the right way for overall playing.
I work this gradually downwards chromatically.
Once you can comfortably move down somewhere close to an octave, start to increase the size of the intervals or create a more elaborate pattern to buzz, then keep returning to the starting note each time and moving down chromatically.
Keep in mind that all of this is developed slowly — just 30 seconds a day to begin with, so it’s going to take some time to work on it.
I hope you will try this exercise out, particularly if you’ve been against lip buzzing in the past.
The Benefits of lip buzzing for trumpet
It’s easy to get confused about what lip buzzing is good for, and whether it’s good for anything or it just makes you overly tight.
Let’s look at some of the ways lip buzzing is a benefitial thing to do and some top benefits of doing lip buzzing everyday.
Benefit #1 — Lip buzzing helps establish good form
The main reason we do lip buzzing is because it helps establish good form.
If we we’re doing any other kind of exercise, other than playing the trumpet, say, curling and working out the biceps, the first thing a good instructor will do is make sure that you are using good form.
The problem with having a mouthpiece on our face is that sometimes it can obscure what is actually happening form-wise with the lips.
We want to make sure that our lips are able to support themselves in the role of producing a sound.
Granted, the resistance is going to be a little bit different — lips alone compared to lips with mouthpiece and trumpet, but basically, the mechanics are exactly the same.
And that’s whether you play trumpet, trombone, or french horn, basically, the mechanics are the same in terms of how the lips work.
The beauty of lip buzzing without the mouthpiece is we can actually see what’s happening. We can see the problems with our embouchure without the mouthpiece pinning everything together.
If we are relying only on the mouthpiece to hold the lips together, we are missing a big part of fundamentally what should be helping us play the trumpet.
I wrote a fantastic 4-step guide on how to form a trumpet embouchure a while ago. Read that if you need to see how to form an effective and efficient embouchure properly, if you’re having difficulty with that.
I hope you will try this out, particularly if you’ve been against lip buzzing in the past. I hope this was helpful.