The Horn is Just a Speaker
If I was to ask a student the question, “If the music for a vocalist comes from their vocal cords, where does the music come from for a brass player?”, they would most likely answer, “Their trombone/tuba/trumpet/French horn.” However, the noise all happens from the smallest piece of the instrument – the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece is where the music happens; the rest of the horn serves as an amplifier/speaker.
I cannot stress enough to my students to warm-up with buzzing exercises on their mouthpiece, practice buzzing their etudes/repertoire on their mouthpiece, and just buzzing for the fun of it. There are benefits for this: increasing embouchure endurance (being able to play longer), ear training, and being more familiar with certain notes/intervals. If I have a student that is having trouble accurately placing notes and intervals in their brass lessons, I have them try this cycle:
- Pick a measure or set of notes that is giving the most trouble.
- Play each note one by one (out of rhythm) to hear what they should sound like. Or if possible, play them on a piano.
- Remove the mouthpiece.
- Buzz those pitches on the mouthpiece, making sure they are accurately being placed and heard.
- Put the mouthpiece back into the horn.
- Try playing part that was giving difficulty.
- Repeat if necessary.
If this is properly done, usually the part that seemed difficult becomes much smoother to play. Click here for a video that explains the benefits of lip and mouthpiece buzzing!