I have just started to learning how to play a brass instrument.
The instrument that I have is a transposing instrument that can easily be tuned into either Bb or A with some slides. (I think I will be using the Bb tuning most often.)

When I am playing for example a written C: it will sound as either a Bb or an A, depending on the position of the tuning slides. But as I understand it, in either case I should be thinking of the note C.

One of the recommend exercises is to buzz into a free mouthpiece (without the instrument attached) at certain pitches etc.

When I am buzzing into just the mouthpiece:
Should I be thinking of the notes that would be written for the transposing instrument (in either tuning),
or should I be thinking of the actual concert pitch sounds that I am making?

  • Although the tuning slide lets you perform a concert Bb or concert A with no valves depressed, if you extend the slide to concert A tuning, the depressed valves will be out of tune because the length of tube they introduce is calculated using the open length of the instrument set to Bb tuning. – Brian THOMAS Feb 5 at 13:01
  • The particular instrument that I have doesn't have any valves - It's a coach horn. – Elements in Space Feb 5 at 13:03
  • Trombone then? With no left-hand trigger/rotor? Same thing applies in principle. If you have your tuning slide set to A, then each of the six extended positions will have to be slightly further out so you're not fighting the slot. – Brian THOMAS Feb 5 at 13:06
  • I can't extend it either. It's just a humble coach horn. Only notes in the harmonic series are available: Written: C G C E G ... sounding Bb F Bb D F ..., or A E A C# E ... – Elements in Space Feb 5 at 13:14
  • There's not much music written for coach horn. An instrument with valves (or a slide) will increase your musical mileage! I've played posthorn galop with my Brass Band but that was using an Eb post horn rather than a Bb. – Brian THOMAS Feb 5 at 22:02

Brass instruments are great. I hope you have lots of fun learning how to play, and that they open doors for you.

To try to answer the question, the way the mouthpiece behaves when it's not inserted into the instrument is very different to the way it behaves when it is inserted.

When it is inserted, the instrument imposes "slots" on the pitches you can produce, which means it drags you to a resonant peak, for instance if you have no valves pressed you can most easily play C, G, C, E, G, Bb C... Unless you're really determined, you won't be able to play a good note in the gaps between those slots.

But there are no such slots when the mouthpiece is out of the instrument. You can swoop between pitches no problem. It's a nice exercise to go from as low as you possibly can to as high as you can, without the sound breaking up in between.

When the mouthpiece is inserted, don't fight the instrument. If you've set the tuning slide to Bb tuning then when you play your lowest open, non-pedal note, it's a concert Bb. Try to play right through the middle of the note, so you're not bending it flat or sharp; not fighting against the slot.

Sheet music for transposing instruments is helpfully transposed for you. The composer knows what concert pitches are required, and writes on the sheet music the notes that you have to perform on your instrument to produce those concert pitches.

So on a Bb instrument, you'd perform a written C (first ledger line below the stave in treble clef notation) and the sounding note would be a concert Bb.

Usually you're thinking about performing the notation, so you're thinking that you're playing a written C, and not thinking that you're performing a concert Bb

But over time as your experience grows you can mentally switch between thinking about the notated pitches and concert pitches, and for brass players it's a valuable skill to be able to perform from music notated in concert pitch without first having to write it out into transposed notation.

  • 1
    This is great information but I’m not sure if it answers the question – Todd Wilcox Feb 5 at 13:37
  • I usually find a doorbell, or even a key, is more effective in opening doors... – Tim Feb 5 at 14:36

Answering the last first. There is a (very) limited number of proper notes you will be able to produce. They will all be a product of your changes in embouchure. The practice idea with just the mouthpiece is to help you to form the tightness/looseness of that embouchure. No known notes will emanate, in musical form, so don't try to make them. Just get used to how your embouchure can be changed, making different raspberries! Part of the idea is to produce notes which don't waver off pitch, and sound good in tone. So it's more than just the lips - it's the lungs and breath control being practised.

Let's talk in concert B♭. The lowest note it will produce will be B♭. From then, going upwards, pitch wise, the harmonic sequence kicks in - (B♭), F, B♭, D, F, and more when you're good - or lucky! With the A tuning, everything will come out a semitone lower. Now, as a transposing instrument, the dots provided will compensate for that, so if, for example, you were expected to play a concert C, the dots would show D (for the B♭ tuning).


My suggestion is that by buzzing at a particular pitch, you will be encouraging the instrument to 'speak' at that pitch when the mouthpiece is connected. Therefore you should buzz at the frequency you want to hear, regardless of the natural pitch of the instrument.

  • I have been practicing buzzing the note that I want to hear, but I don't know whether to think of it as it sounds: Bb, or as written for the instrument: C (or Db) – Elements in Space Feb 5 at 13:25

Massive over-thinking! It's a coach horn. It plays (if you're lucky) five different notes. If you want to practice buzzing the pitch you'll be playing, fine. Buzz that pitch. It doesn't matter a jot what you call it.

If you're going to be performing on this instrument from notation, I suppose it makes sense to think the note you're reading. But you really need to be thinking pitch, not note name.

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