Making Weird Noises on Brass Instruments
Post by: April Sutton
"Uhhh, what was that?" The conductor asked.
Everyone snickers. The conductor shrugs and turns back around.
"Maaaaaamaaaa," the sound of a crying baby echoes through the orchestra.
No, the violinist didn't forget to take their child to daycare, and the bassoonist wasn't faking a baby voice. But a trombone player did, by buzzing on the opposite end of the mouthpiece shank and covering/re-covering the cup/rim! There are countless ways to make atonal sounds on brass instruments. Some of the more common extended techniques include: flutter tonguing, blowing air through the horn, and singing through the horn. You can take a trombone slide, cover both holes of the mouthpiece receiver and slide receiver, vigorously pull the outer slide off, and make a loud POP! You can also flip a brass mouthpiece upside down, blow at the hole of the shank at a 90 degree angle, and make a whistling noise.
Okay, this is interesting, but why is any of these silly atonal noises relevant enough to write about? Besides annoying your parents at home, these techniques are actually found in written neoclassical/avant-garde music. I remember excitedly saying "Uh, yes!" to play a piece with a trombone quartet. When I was handed the music, my jaw dropped. There was barely any music notation on the page, but instead a bunch of squiggly zig-zagged lines and a bunch of written text saying to have an "angry mouthpiece argument!" Check out that performance here!
You can check out more examples of these crazy sounds at The Horn Society website, which has an entire selection of sound clips of some extended techniques on brass instruments. If you're curious about some history to how/when these extended techniques started being used, here's an article by Matthew Burtner of New Music USA. Asking your brass teacher to let you try out some of these techniques during your brass lessons will not only help you understand your instrument, but also definitely make for some fun practice time!