During some of the studio class meetings, I sometimes speak briefly about a topic. One recent topic: resistance.
It has occurred to me that there is an implicit connection between two popular practice tricks:
- Blowing through a practice mute
- Buzzing on a mouthpiece rim
In case you are not familiar with these tricks, I’ll describe them briefly.
The “practice mute trick” was first revealed to me in Denis Wick’s book Trombone Technique. As described in his book…
This mute has the added advantage that, being made of metal, it gives a metallic ‘buzz’ when played loudly. For obvious reasons, most players do not normally practice at maximum volume. When occasionally they are called upon to play fff, all kinds of distortions of pitch, sound quality, and rhythm occur. If ten minutes or so per day are set aside for fff practice, using the practice mute especially in the low register, and always maintaining careful control of the sound by listening to the ‘buzz’ of the mute, considerable improvements in other areas of playing will be achieved. The glottis is better controlled and the overall tone quality improves dramatically.
Trombone Technique, p. 68
The use of the buzzing rim has been advocated by many teachers. One recent excellent video by Toby Oft has been a hit with my students.
The connection between these two techniques is resistance. The mute dramatically increases resistance above that normally posed by the trombone. Conversely, buzzing on the rim offers significantly less resistance.
We can’t break bad habits, we can only build good habits and let the bad ones wither away. Often the way to do this is to trick the body into a different approach. After blowing loudly against the resistance of the mute, we remove that mute and the notes tend to ‘fall out’ of the bell. Often the sound is bigger but the effort is less. When it works it’s a wonderful feeling.
When we buzz on the rim, we often find it difficult to produce a sound partly because the resistance is reduced. Students who are used to ‘dialing up’ the pressure to start a note usually struggle the most with rim buzzing. By learning to get a good sound on the rim, we also learn to blow more gently and perhaps realize that the instrument itself doesn’t need such force of air.
This simple diagram plots the different degrees of resistance to the blowing action. Higher is more resistance, lower is less. The line represents the normal resistance of your instrument.
In the end, the goal doesn’t change: blow freely with a pure buzz.