Well there are several right answers about the topic of “Do we buzz when we play?”
I know some good players who can NOT free buzz. I know some good players who can NOT free buzz very well. I know some good players who can buzz.
First there is a vibration setup in the air in the tubing of the trumpet. And that vibration is responsible for the sound that we hear. Now how does that vibration start? If we wrap our lips around the leadpipe and blow all we get is a hiss. We can hear the air move but there is no vibration or tone. So then the lips have a part to play in this.
Players who can NOT free buzz need to get feedback inorder to produce a trumpet sound. This feedback is from the return of the waveform that they blew into the mouthpiece. They blew air through the lips it met some resistance and some of it returned to the lips adding a slight amount of back pressure to all of the lip surface. This helped them to complete their buzz and a note was produced.
The resistance that sent the wave back is actually from multiple sources:
1. The bottom of the mouthpiece cup
2. The mouthpiece throat
3. The mouthpiece backbore
4. The ambient air pressure in the horn
5. The taper in the leadpipe
6. The soft boundary at the end of the bell
What does the feedback actually do?
Well it closes the lip aperture enough to force a buzz to happen.
How does that affect trumpet playing?
From low g to g on top of the staff it has little affect. As you ascend from g on the staff up it requires more and more feedback to make the buzz. There is a point where the mouthpiece and the horn can NOT add enough feedback for the range to go up any more. The waves no longer return as the soft boundary is now past the end of the bell. The player resorts to feedback in the form of arm strength and mouthpiece to lip pressure to close the aperture. Now the problem begins. Endurance, tone, range and everything else is hampered. Depending on your setup and playing requirements this problem can range from minor to very serious.
Why free buzz the lips?
If the lips already have a small enough aperture that you can buzz then NO feedback is needed. That includes arm strength and mouthpiece to lip pressure. I want to state for the record that there are people who can free buzz a high c and many can even free buzz a super c. However the ability to free buzz a middle c means that there is less need for pressure. The higher ones are just gravy as it were. There is always a point where the lips need some feedback. But if that happens over super c then that player has one heck of a lot of endurance. Although it is hard to break old habits and learn to free buzz; that ability makes playing the trumpet easier.
Is it for everybody?
Well if you are happy with your endurance then it may not be worth the effort to you to learn this. If you have playing concerns then it is worth the effort.
Subject: Lip buzzing and playing problems
I’ve seen a number of good players that could not buzz or at least not well. I’ve also seen lip buzzers that were lacking in other skills and were not good players. Some of this has to do with the players perception of what they are doing.
Total playing comes about when every trumpet related act is done in the same manner. This includes lip buzz, mouthpiece buzz, low c , high c , 2 octaves over high c, long tones, stacatto notes everything played with the same embouchure.
One problem here is that few people look at themselves playing so it is very easy to end up taking minor short cuts. At the Stevens Embouchure Clinic every student was taped so that they could see the changes that they were making.
Some people will buzz easier in a smile embouchure and some in a lip overlapping embouchure so they try to adopt it. This false buzzing does not help. It really needs to be the same embouchure that you actually play. Most players who have limited themselves because of embouchure end up with 4 and sometimes 5 different types of embouchures that they use.
They have a
1) lip buzzing embouchure,
2) a pedal tone embouchure ( meaning they can NOT play pedals with the normal setting ),
3) the real embouchure ( low c – g on top of the staff ).
4) a shifted setting when several high notes are played in a row ( they will take a breath here and reset the chops ) and finally some even have an
5) I’m tired setting that they play.
It is easy to start this type of thing and is also very deceiving as these changes are used to help in times of stress. You are not watching yourself and you are working your rump off to play NOT constantly checking to see if you are playing only one setting.
There are several senarios that can be seen here.
1 For some they remember the need to take a breath to accomplish a register change. It is a chance to complete the embouchure shift. Thousands of people do this without knowing that it is a shift. This limits your overall playing. Why can they play some lead charts well and others don’t come out right? Some songs don’t have breaks in the places needed for the embouchure shift to take place. They change registers too often or too fast. This works both ways a low setting not hitting the top notes and a high setting not allowing the lower notes to sound.
2 For some there is a consistent but limited range. They play great from low g to around high c ( I’ve seen some stall out at g on top of the staff). For some reason no matter who they take lessons from or how much they practice the range never really changes. This is really the same as player 1 only he has not picked up the squeel setting yet.
3 This player is fine except the playing time is always limited. However if high playing is involved then the time is shorter.
4 This player has a real problem with endurance. Some days with the right warm up he can play fine. But other days if the warm up was wrong the time limit is 20 – 30 minutes. If he pushes for it the next day is bad. If he misses a couple of days he is lost.
Players 3 & 4 will sometimes talk about pumping up the chops. And if they are pumped they play differently than normal. They can feel yesterdays playing still affecting the lips 12, 24, sometimes 48 hours later. This is not pumping up it is swelling caused by bruising the lips.
Player 4 is different in that he has to keep a certain amount of swelling in the top lip to play at all. That’s why a weekend off leads to a bad day or two. They sometimes make a lump, knot, or flap swell up to get the lips to buzz.
These are alike in that they are all using an open aperture embouchure setting. They are not making the lips touch always. Some like player 1 cheat by means of an embouchure shift. Player 2 accepts it and lives with it. Both 3 & 4 use mouthpiece pressure to control the lip aperture.
The lip aperture is a result of the air. You start off with the lips close and touching a rush of air forces them apart and forms an aperture. The muscle tension tries to restore the normal touching and a vibration is set up. If the lips are apart before the air is delivered then pressure is used to make the lips close. The rim of the mouthpiece presses the soft lip muscles into the teeth and continues to press until they are flattened out and finally touch. This can be checked by using a mouthpiece visualizer. If it is really used like you are playing. However the above 4 playing types all describe the problem already.
How did this start?
Well some players part the lips when they take a breath. Others part them as they place the mouthpiece. They stick the tongue through the lips to moisten the lips and mouthpiece rim. The problem is they don’t make a mental effort to close the lips before the mouthpiece pins them in place.
What is the cure for all of these problems?
Buzzing Not with the mouthpiece but just the lips. It is 4 times harder. The mouthpiece is a crutch it cuts the vibrating surface of the lip in half and adds feedback. The portion under the rim and outside of the mouthpiece can’t buzz. Think about a guitar string when only half can vibrate the sound is an octave higher. Also the mouthpiece adds some back pressure from the backbore and throat bore. This helps to increase resistance so you can play higher. When you buzz your lips the entire surface gets a workout. That is why it strengthens your chops faster than playing. ( This is an exercise to use for about 4 weeks to learn a closed lip setting. This is NOT a life long practice.) Also no mouthpiece means no mouthpiece preasure. That means no swelling, pain, damage…
Lastly some players can not buzz their lips because they use too open an embouchure. They depend on mouthpiece pressure to flatten out the lips and push them together in order to play. These players need to make the lips touch.
When using a visualizer you try to buzz as you normally play and check several things. You can see your aperture as it is created by blowing the lips apart. You can see if your aperture is centered or if it is way off. You can see if you have a cushion or not , pinched lips, lips collapsing into the mouthpiece and other things . And when you stop buzzing you can see if your embouchure is touching or if you use pressure to close the gap.