Mouthpiece buzzing: getting on pitch

When you start buzzing with your mouthpiece, one of the most obvious drawbacks of this configuration is the lack of definite pitch. Unlike playing your trumpet, there are no overtone slots (or valves) to orient yourself. You will need a reference pitch. This can come from a number of convenient sources:

  1. a keyboard (usually a piano)
  2. a tuner “drone” (I like the Tonal Energy app)
  3. a recording

The effective use of a reference pitch assumes that you can match pitch. Therefore, if you are having problems with this, it is vital that you work on it until you are reliable.

I love to work with a piano when playing the mouthpiece, because of the precise, but flexible, way that the piano can provide any reference pitch that you might need to match with your mouthpiece buzzing. However, you do need a piano and some basic piano skills. If you are primarily a B-flat trumpeter, you will want to be confident in transposing as you play the piano (play the piano down one whole step).

With the prevalence of robust tuner applications for smartphones (like the Tonal Energy app), most of us have a convenient “drone,” when a keyboard is not available (or when a student can’t easily play the piano). I will typically set the drone to the tonic or dominant (or perhaps both) of the tonality of the passage I am practicing with the mouthpiece. Make sure you have a good sense of pitch as it relates to the drone pitch.

Another excellent source of a reference pitch is a recording. As you play along, you can hear not only the melody that you are working on, but also the harmony. If you can find a good recording of your piece on YouTube, you can slow it down with the controls on the little “gear” icon at the bottom of the screen (the “settings”), then go to the “playback speed.” Choose a manageable speed that will work with the somewhat more cumbersome mouthpiece.

Of course, if you have perfect pitch, you could play the mouthpiece with your own sense of pitch.

Tomorrow I will write about WHY I think playing the mouthpiece with a reference pitch is the most effective way to practice mouthpiece buzzing.



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