Mouthpiece buzzing tends to be a divisive topic among brass player, same as lip buzzing.
Some brass players are for it and others and really against it.
Have a look at the in-depth guide on lip buzzing I wrote before this, if you haven’t, so that you can find out what lip buzzing is, why you should lip buzz as a trumpeter, and how to lip buzz step-by-step, before getting into mouthpiece buzzing.
Lip buzzing and mouthpiece buzzing exercises usually go hand-in-hand.
Like lip buzzing, mouthpiece buzzing is something I happen to think can be really beneficial provided we go into it with our eyes open.
Let’s dive right in.
What is mouthpiece buzzing? How often (or long) should you practice mouthpiece buzzing?
Anything you can play on the trumpet, can be played on the mouthpiece.
In fact, it is important to play on the mouthpiece pretty much every time you play, it trains your ear to recognize pitch, and it also allows the lips and your ear to get used to centering the pitch on the mouthpiece.
You don’t need to do much, 2-5 minutes, or even less, a day, will suffice.
Brass playing, especially trumpet playing is very physical — muscular even.
You want to train those muscles.
So, buzzing on your mouthpiece, even if you do it every session is not a waste of time. In fact, it is fantastic use of your time.
Why you should mouthpiece buzz as a trumpeter
What is often overlooked is that mouthpiece buzzing is not exactly the same as what we do when we are playing with the horn attached.
In fact, there is a number of really great, really famous, players who like to use the demonstration that if you play a note on your trumpet and then keep blowing with the mouthpiece in place, and then remove the instrument, there’s no buzz.
This is what you hear as proof that you shouldn’t mouthpiece buzz.
On one hand, that’s absolutely correct, if you are playing efficiently and not overblowing, that is what happens. you don’t buzz your lips on the way in, as it were.
On other other hand, however, mouthpiece buzzing is a really useful exercise.
It’s a little more work for the muscles of the embouchure, but, more importantly, it gives you really useful feedback that you can hear, about whether you are moving your air correctly.
Just like lip buzzing, we use it to strengthen our embouchure and get our air working well.
But then, because adding the resonance of the instrument back into the system helps us, we can spend the rest of our time enjoying the fact that playing our instruments has gotten a bit easier.
That’s why I’m in favor of mouthpiece buzzing.
How to mouthpiece buzz (steady note buzz exercise)
First, we’re going to start by making a steady buzz (a long tone).
- Hold the mouthpiece by the shank between the finger and thumb of your weaker hand
- Blow a steady airstream and let the lips vibrate. How you form your trumpet embouchure does not change at all. The emphasis here is on steady — let the lips vibrate steadily through that airstream.
- Keep your airstream moving fast and strong.
- Firm muscles to keep the note steady. You might have to fight to keep it there because the muscles are going to want to move while the air’s moving. Try to center the airstream in on one pitch at a time.
How to mouthpiece buzz (siren buzz exercise)
Next, we’re going to try to make a something similar to an ambulance sound. We’ll try to go up and down from the note we make.
- Play a note like the exercise above.
- Increase the airspeed and tighten the lips very very softly to make a higher pitched buzz. Decrease the airspeed and loosen the lips to make a lower pitched buzz. Start with the note, go higher and then come lower back to the note.
- Make the note go up and down like a siren.
When you do this exercise with just the mouthpiece alone, it makes a nice, clean, smooth siren. On the trumpet, it’s going to click from one note to the next.
So if you try to siren buzz on trumpet, you will get a click as the note changes from open C, for instance, to open G, and back again.
If you are on a trumpet, you want to make a siren happen pretty quickly.
Top 5 protips for trumpet mouthpiece buzzing
Here are the top five protips to get the most benefit from mouthpiece buzzing.
Protip #1 — Start with proper breath and support
Since mouthpiece buzzing requires more effort than playing our trumpet, it is especially important that we breathe and support properly when we do it.
Yet that’s the first thing that seems to get overlooked.
Take a nice deeo breathe, engaging your core, so your chest rises up as the air is inhaled. Then hold your chest up as you buzz or play.
Protip #2 — Don’t overblow, don’t blow too hard
All brass players have a tendency to over blow. That’s particularly easy to do is you have breathing and supporting well.
We feel like we have all this air at our disposal.
It’s useful to remind yourself how little air can actually fit through the mouthpiece.
Seal your lips around the mouthpiece and vary the blow until you find the sweet spot where the air goes through most freely. This is air quantity that we should be using whether we are buzzing or playing.
It should feel much more like a release of air than blowing.
You’ll be surprised how long you can sustain the mouthpiece buzz for, when you get it right. It will be so much easier since you are releasing a very gentle but even stream of air.
Protip #3 — Don’t press your embouchure too hard
A common tendency trumpet players have when they go to buzz the mouthpiece is that they use far too much mouthpiece pressure.
This is partly fixed by observing protip #2 — don’t overblow.
But, it is also down to the way we hold the mouthpiece.
To guard against using too much pressure when mouthpiece buzzing, you should hold the mouthpiece by the shank between the finger and thumb of your weaker hand.
If you’re right-handed that’s your left hand.
If this grip is new to you, then you’ll probably find that your buzzing range is smaller to begin with, but, stick with it.
Protip #4 — Don’t buzz too loud, buzz softly
Again this ties in with the tips we’ve looked at earlier.
I see way to many trumpeters who try to buzz way too loud.
Try to buzz as gently as softly as possible and let the lips relax into a response as much as you can.
Lip buzzing or mouthpiece buzzing is, by definition, adding excess lip pressure above what you’ll be using when you play the trumpet attached.
Learning the feel for a gentle buzz will, in time, lead to a fuller buzz, which will translate to an easier response on the instrument.
Protip #5 — Focus on intonation
It’s really important to focus on good intonation when you’re mouthpiece or lip buzzing.
Check pitches against the most accurate (stable) source. This could be either on a keyboard or by playing them on your trumpet before buzzing, listening carefully and then trying to match them.
There are three basic types of things we tend to mouthpiece buzz—sirens, long tones, and melodical scale fragments like stamp drills, for instance.
Good intonation should be applied to all of these.
If you’re buzzing sirens, then test either end of pitch range your buzzing in and try to match it.
If you’re buzzing long tones, first match the pitch and the focus on releasing the air evenly so that the pitvh stays constant.
If your buzzing more melodic exercises play the entire phrase first to get the pitches, then buzz, then play on the horn again, if necessary.
Bonus Protip — Don’t overdo it
The last thing I should mention is that you don’t overdo it, particularly if you are new to it.
Like I mentioned earlier, it is more effort than playing your trumpet with the horn attached, so there’s a chance you can overwork your chops if you’re not used to it.
Pay close attention to how your lips and embouchure feel when you’re buzzing and rest, then move on.
If you start to feel tired a few minutes buzzing, then finishing fresh will be much more beneficial than buzzing for a half our, for instance, and tiring yourself out.