Recently there has been a lot of discussion on the Internet regarding the pros and cons of mouthpiece buzzing. I can offer no definitive opinion but I can share 66 years of observation and some history.
On the west coast of the USA, Los Angeles, California, where I grew up and where I began my life in brass music, there were two very major teachers at the time: James Stamp, who was a trumpet teacher and Robert Marsteller who taught trombone and tuba. Both men were great and beloved by their students and have to this day left a legacy among their students and their student’s students.
Mr. Stamp was the culmination of generations of brass basics, which he modified and which have been collected into what many feel is the essential collection of brass basics, included in this collection are numerous exercises to be played just on the mouthpiece. Brass players all over the world use these exercises today.
Mr. Marsteller, on the other hand held the opinion that mouthpiece exercises were harmful and lead to stiff non-fluid playing. I, being a Marsteller student, followed his doctrine for several decades. In that period I had the pleasure to teach Christian Lindberg who had come to Los Angeles for a year to study with Ralph Sauer and me. When the question of mouthpiece practice came up in a lesson I recommended that mouthpiece playing could have negative results. In a recent short online discussion on mouthpiece practice, Christian demonstrated very convincingly, by playing the same passage before and after buzzing, that buzzing had a negative effect on his sound quality. I don’t know how much my advice of 40 years ago influenced his opinion but I am sure that his very clear opinion today was reached through carful thought.
In my last years with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra I began working with the mouthpiece and found the benefits were very little and that stiffness was apparent, but there was something more that is very important. Quite simply, buzzing is not beautiful; it makes a sound that is not dissimilar to the buzzy sound we hear when an oboist or a bassoonist make squawks on their reeds; there is no resonance, or at most very little resonance, on the mouthpiece alone. The beauty of our sound is dependent on resonance and the micro-adjustments we make seeking that resonance are the same adjustments we need to develop an efficient embouchure.
By adding a little extra length to the mouthpiece, 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) will create significantly more resonance. Similar to adding a little extra tubing is a devise called the BERP. It is available for all brass instruments and the resistance is adjustable, which, in fact, also adjusts the resonance.
Whether buzzing is benificial or not it's up to each player to determan for him or herself. After 66 years of experiminting I have personally come to the conclusion that it is not. I urdge all players to not take my word for it. Experiment and make your own decision.
March 8, 2019