Mouthpiece buzzing: connecting notes

When my oldest son was taking violin lessons, he was taught how to change hand positions. This is called shifting. His teacher, a fantastic Suzuki-trained teacher, had him, at least in the beginning, maintain finger contact with the string as he shifted. This sounded a bit messy, but helped him to learn how to do the shift well.

This reminded me of how we trumpeters connect slurred notes on the trumpet. In the intermediate stage of our development, we start to learn more about slurs. We want them to be clean, so we frequently make the mistake of stopping the air between the slurred notes. Instead of clean slurs, we should primarily be focused on a continuous connection between the two slurred notes. Later on, when we are more comfortable with our note connection, we can try to clean the slur up.

Mouthpiece practice is so helpful in setting up this air-connection between notes. When we are “slurring” between notes on the mouthpiece, our first impulse is often to gap the air to provide a boundary (an articulation) between the notes. When we do this, the results sound like huffing, bumping or gapping. Instead, allow yourself to lightly glissando between the defined notes. Focus on fluidity, connection and a steady airstream.

Let’s say you are playing a slurred scale-like passage on the mouthpiece (like the James Stamp mouthpiece pattern in his warmup book: C,D,E,F,G–,F,G,F,G,F,E,D,C). Think of your focus as being divided equally between matching pitch and “glissado-ing” between the notes. You should be able to definitely hear the pitches, but you should hear the smooth glissando transition from one note to the next.

When you go back to playing the trumpet, you should now be set up to slur notes in a continuous and musical way.

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