Fundamentals: mouthpiece buzzing

Compared to free buzzing and visualizer buzzing, mouthpiece buzzing is the big kahuna. It’s more well-known. As a practice aid, this has been talked about for a long time. James Thompson, former principal in Montreal and Atlanta and now professor at Eastman, is a strong advocate for mouthpiece buzzing. James Stamp’s teaching on the West Coast was famous for an emphasis on mouthpiece practice, and his many great students (Roy Poper, Boyde Hood, Thomas Stevens, Håkan Hardenberger, Malcolm McNab and many more) have carried on his concepts. Their resonant sounds are a testament, in part, to the value of good mouthpiece practice. Jules Levy, the famous cornet soloist, who could not afford a cornet when young, played just a mouthpiece for years before finally getting an instrument–and then his playing took off from there.

Nevertheless, young students are typically not aware of the benefits of mouthpiece practice, let alone how to practice the mouthpiece. Many older students or professionals who try to incorporate mouthpiece practice into their routine often fine some good results at first, and then they experience diminishing returns–too much stiffness in their tone can happen. In my opinion, bad experiences with mouthpiece practice comes from doing too much, too soon, and from having flawed concepts.

In my opinion, mouthpiece practice is not really about honking some loud notes to get the lips flapping. I like to view it more as a transparent window into the embouchure and the primary component of tone production. This is where positive work can be done everyday in the warmup and throughout the day when needed. But you can’t really experience improvement with mouthpiece playing if you make no effort to play the mouthpiece better.

Over the next few days, I’ll explore four main points that I think will help your mouthpiece practice:

  1. Pitch matching
  2. Tonal concept
  3. Connection between notes
  4. Integration with trumpet practice
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