‘Radical’ Embouchure Experiments, III – Lip Buzzing


When it came to lip buzzing or free buzzing I was never very convinced of how it could ever benefit my playing, or others for that matter. For years I had chronicled in practice journals a noticeable difference in embouchure formation between mouthpiece buzzing and lip buzzing and for this reason I had ruled it out, thinking too that it might even be detrimental.

Here again I should probably re-iterate the intentions of this series.

  • This is not a treatise and is not intended to be,
  • this is an open journal of a recent and dramatic improvement to my playing,
  • and this method may not work for anyone else but me.

Lip buzzing

Since deconstructing my approach a few months ago, my opinion has shifted and lip buzzing is now a regular part of  my daily routine. With the comfortably rolled lower lip in place, my buzzing more closely resembles what is going on with the mouthpiece in place.

A method that helped me get started:

  • playing a gentle, sustained note on the mouthpiece
  • slowly pulling the mouthpiece away until the free buzz appears
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For the second step I peel away the mouthpiece, meaning that I slowly take away the top portion of the mouthpiece in a downwards arcing motion while the mouthpiece stays anchored on the lower lip – like a hinge. For me this helped to stabilize the embouchure while being able to observe things in the mirror and on video.

The wiggles

The goal in this anchor-technique is to sustain the pitch of the note throughout the peeling away process.  At some point I hope to make a quick video of this to clarify. This anchoring technique is how I got started on the path to free buzzing, which I now do every day.

At first the muscles were rebellious and would wiggle uncontrollably. A big part of the process for me then was to not resist these wiggles. There was an understanding that the muscles might do this at first – convulse and rebel as they recondition and settle into place. Over time, this typically goes away.

Mouthpiece buzzing

While lip buzzing is something less often prescribed in the horn world, mouthpiece buzzing is a fairly common and accepted practice. My ‘radical’ twist to it involved two techniques:

  • air attacks
  • nose breathing

Somewhere long ago I heard a quote attributed to Arnold Jacobs about the tongue getting in the way of things. To paraphrase, about 90% of brass players problems stem from the tongue getting in the way in some manner. For this reason I am convinced that air attacks – gently blowing notes into place with no tonguing – are a great way to solve a lot of problems.

I generally stick to two techniques for air attacks:

  • a gentle, tapered entrance that crescendos into place
  • a popped, instant-on entrance that more closely resembles the air-shape behind the normal tonguing action

A process of elimination

What I like most about air attacks is that they eliminate a major element from tone production and allow the practitioner to simplify the re-building process.

Taking this one step further, nose breathing techniques remove another potential stumbling block – the formation of the embouchure after taking a breath through the mouth. In combination with air attacks, nose-breathing can also radically simplify tone production. The combination boils things down to the basic movements, of air and embouchure only.

Part IV

To some I imagine that these things may indeed seem very foreign – perhaps even a little radical. Of course there really is nothing terribly new or radical in what I am chronicling here, and in future installments I hope to clarify in more detail some of the ideas suggested.

Part IV

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