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I've been doing some buzzing exercises on my mouthpiece where I do octave slides from Bb on the second from bottom line of the bass clef, moving up in semitones. My highest is the octave slide starting on the first D above the bass clef. For some reason, I've been stuck on that note (the D the octave above the first D above the bass clef) for a couple months now. For some reason I feel as though I physically cannot make my aperture any smaller; my embouchure any tighter. When I play into my trombone I can play the F a minor third above that (albeit not very cleanly).

In summary, my question is this: Is there anything I can do to be able to buzz higher (and in turn increase range)? Why is my range smaller on my mouthpiece as opposed to on my trombone? And lastly, will expanding my buzzing range strengthen my higher trombone range?

Thanks in advance.

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There are lots of things you could do. I'll mention a few here (see bottom of my answer) but you should talk to a teacher or a live trombone player for more specific exercises for you. The big important thing for you (and other people) to realize is that range works two ways: if you want to play high, you have to learn how to play low. You must increase your range on both sides if you want to really improve.

Making your embouchure "tighter" is part of your problem right there. In order to make a sound, your lips need to move. If you are making your lips tighten, your making it harder for them to vibrate. If they can't vibrate, they can make the sounds you want.

Small aperture = yes

Tight lips = no

Your range is smaller on the mouthpiece as opposed to the trombone because of back-pressure. When buzzing into the mouthpiece alone, you have very little resistance. You are not used to / trained to play with zero resistance, and thus, your lose to top (and bottom) of your range. If you covered half the shank opening with your pinky, I'm sure you would find buzzing to be a bit more comfortable.

Yes, expanding your buzz range (and buzzing daily) will not only improve your range, but it will improve your tone as well. There is an old saying that if you want to play high, you have to play high (not "play high", though I've never tried it myself, so I can't rule it out completely). In other words, if you want to play trombone 1 music, then you need to practice your material high.

Common Techniques

  • Play all études as high / low as you can - after playing them as written, play them 8va, then play them 8vb, then transpose them if you can.

  • Take up Jazz - Jazz soloing for low brass especially can often be fairly high. Certainly, the charts can be pretty high (especially the top parts).

  • Cycle through all major scales, chromatically shifting in each direction. Start with a comfortable note in the middle of your range, say, D3 (third line bass clef). Play as many octaves of D major scale as possible. Return to D3, now play D major as far down as possible. Now repeat, however this time when you go up, you start from Eb3, when you go down, Db3. Then, E3, C3; F3, B2; F#3, Bb1 etc etc. Repeat as necessary until you've found and played the very extremes of your range.

  • Repeat the above exercise but this time doing Jacob's Turns. If you're not familiar, here is a Jacob's Turn (#'s represent scale degrees, "^" represents "below" the octave: 1, 2, 1, ^7, 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 |(pause) 8, 9, 8, 7, 8, 6, 5, 3, 1.) Repeat 1 turn for one key, up and down chromatically. Using a combination of these past two exercises, my tuba range was very comfortably A0-D5.

  • When trying to reach a new note in either direction, it is important that you only try three times. If you can't do it after the third try, you are too tired for that day / practice session.

  • Keep a journal. Write down what you did / accomplished and keep track. Helps you remember and appreciate how much you've done and keeps you focused.

  • Back pressure is almost certainly the cause. Great comprehensive answer! – Josiah Jul 10 '15 at 15:16
  • Thanks for your very in-depth answer! I think now that you've brought it to my attention that back pressure is probably the reason why. I'll try the Jacob's Turn and see how that goes. Thanks again. – Rilezod Jul 11 '15 at 7:06
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It's really hard to diagnose something like that over the internet. We all have widely varying embouchures. One person may need to have their placement be really low (very little upper lip in the mouthpiece like Kai Winding or trombone shorty) or very high (the opposite, like Joe Alessi), or off center vertically... or it could be fairly centered (like Marshall Gilkes). And then the direction and the method of motion differs from person to person as well.

There are several schools of thought on this, the big pedagogues that a lot of brass playing stem from are Remington, Reinhardt, Caruso, Farkas, and Jacobs, among others. Some seem to work well for certain players, but seem to not work at all for others. I was taught by a lot of Remington players for a long time, and it wasn't until I started studying with a Reinhardt style teacher (Doug Elliott) that my playing began to take off.

In my particular circumstance, the way that I set to play the Bb an octave above written treble Bb is optimal for my embouchure, and so when I warm up, that's the first note I play and I bring that set down with as little motion as possible. When you do it right, there's actually very little in the way of strain because high playing. For others, starting somewhere closer to the center or bottom and bringing that set up or outward to minimize motion is ideal. Again, diagnosis is impossible without seeing someone.

In the Caruso camp, the very, very general idea is to not think about what you're doing, but to focus on letting your body figure it out. Sam Burtis has a great book available on exercises you can do to figure out where you need to go to make your particular equipment work. One of the key beginning exercises is to play multiple octave scales without removing the mouthpiece from your lips. At all. Even to breathe. You breathe through your nose and do not remove any part of the rim from your lips. This minimizes motion and forces you into a set that works for the range you are working with. I find that works very well for a lot of my students.

As far as for if buzzing is good or bad... there are a lot of opinions about this. It seems like a lot of Remington and Jacobs teachers swear by it whereas Reinhardt guys find it to be borderline useless. I know Doug Elliott only recommends freebuzzing that's done properly. His idea of properly is never below middle F (4th line bass clef) However, it's quite an exercise in futility explaining how to properly freebuzz over text. If you want to pursue freebuzzing, I'd highly recommend contacting someone who is in the Reinhardt camp like Doug Elliott or Dave Wilkins.

That said, one useful exercise that may help your situation is to play a pitch on the instrument and then remove the mouthpiece while you are still playing that pitch. Hold the pitch constant throughout the procedure. Then do the opposite. Buzz a pitch into the mouthpiece while inserting it into the horn, again keeping a consistent pitch.

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