PaulTdot wrote: ↑
Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:59 am
I have experimented with mouthpiece buzzing and free buzzing a great deal, including long periods of time where I didn't mouthpiece buzz at all. (I was once called in to teach a brass pedagogy class, and the students were working on some mouthpiece buzzing, so I tried to demonstrate for them and was rather embarrassed to discover I couldn't do it anymore! Now I do quite a bit of again, years later, because finding space to play the horn during the pandemic is difficult.)
In NYC, I ran into some players who believed there were two "types" of brass players: the "long tone players" and the "mouthpiece buzzers". They claimed to be able to hear the difference, and appreciate both sounds/approaches. The "long tone players" grounded their playing in long tones, always on the horn. The "mouthpiece buzzers", on the other hand, had their basis for their technique grounded in a lot of mouthpiece buzzing. I suppose you were supposed to know by how a person warmed up, or something like that. I'm pretty skeptical of that, but there is no doubt that there are incredible players who use mouthpiece buzzing extensively as well as incredible players who never do it, and the same goes for free buzzing.
I think that free/lip buzzing and mouthpiece buzzing are both potentially useful and potentially harmful: it really depends on what you're lacking in your playing, and what you need to reestablish balance, as well as, most importantly, HOW you do it.
I think of both approaches as cross-training: as in Doug's analogy (I also have a shorter right leg!), running on a slope could be really helpful or really harmful, depending on your anatomy and your technique. You have to be extremely mindful, because both are possibilities.
Ultimately, playing the horn is your goal: it does you no good to develop techniques or skills that work well on, say, just the mouthpiece, if it doesn't transfer to the horn. (Or indirectly support your playing.)
Personally, I find free buzzing (if taught and done correctly; being particularly mindful of upstream players, who can't buzz as they play, as well) almost magical. A great way to develop consistency, balance, and strength, as well as to learn what balanced "embouchure firmness" feels like, which helps with mouthpiece placement as well as some chop problems. When I've been able to teach a beginner to free buzz correctly, they can often play about 2 octaves on the instrument with the sound of someone who's been playing for years. (Although they need to build up the endurance to be able to play! You can watch endurance in beginners, muscles engaging and then failing within *seconds*. Quite remarkable!)
I teach my students not to buzz for more than a minute or two - get a good workout and get out. (In my own practice, I've experimented with up to 2 hours (!!!) of free buzzing on occasion. It's possible and builds a ton of strength, but it's also easy to experience some real strain, so I don't recommend this to anyone. I benefited from it, but I had to be quite careful.)
Mouthpiece buzzing, on the other hand, I'm more cautious about. It helps to add some resistance to the mouthpiece, especially if you want to buzz lower. It's possible to do things with the mouthpiece that work and are completely different from what you do on the horn: I once developed an extended register on the mouthpiece, but couldn't replicate it on the horn (this was a cue for me to stop mouthpiece buzzing, and why I quit it for many years).
Mouthpiece playing is great for opening up the sound, working on your ears and pitch, and endurance. Carefully assigned to a player who might be having trouble getting a good sound despite otherwise solid mechanics, it can help open up their sound, or help identify pitch issues.
These days I use mouthpiece buzzing (with the lessened resistance) to compensate for having to do most of my playing with a practice mute (with extra resistance), and that has been working to maintain the balance. I've also experimented with doing long sessions of over an hour. Again, great for strength and endurance; a killer way to "get back in shape" if you need to.
However, it's *really* easy to develop technique or mechanics on the mouthpiece that don't transfer to the horn (or worse, do, when they shouldn't!). I don't recommend it unless you are confident of a number of factors in your playing (and those factors would mean that you'd benefit from it, which isn't always the case). Lip buzzing + playing the horn is much safer, and just playing the horn might be safest (but you'd be missing out on the benefits of lip buzzing!).
In both cases, I think the danger zone is the lower register. Stay away from there unless you are *really* sure you know what you're doing. It's too easy to do entirely unhelpful things in order to get those notes to speak, and I'm doubtful that there's ANY benefit to doing so at all. All my buzzing (lip and mouthpiece) is middle register and up. Lip buzzing is best done quietly and with control. Mouthpiece buzzing, on the other hand, is good to do at a healthy volume, with a strong sound, and... carefully, because that's a lot of strain on your chops - playing a "strong" sound on a mouthpiece is like playing ff or fff on the horn (just try transferring that buzz to the horn and you'll see!), with all the attendant dangers and issues.