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I would like to learn how to play multiphonics on brass instruments. (I am referring to the kind of multiphonics that are produced when singing/humming a note whilst playing another note.) I gave it a try and I am experiencing two difficulties:

  1. How can you sing and play a note at the same time? I started by humming a note but as soon as I wanted to buzz my lips at the same time, I automatically stopped humming.
  2. How can you play and sing a different note? I think that you automatically would sing and play the same note because when you play without singing, you kind of mentally imagine the note that you are playing.

Do you have any advice for these two difficulties, or any exercise to learn how to play multiphonics on brass instruments?

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    I'm not a brass player (hence why I'm not posting this as an answer!), but I can get these multiphonics to work on a brass instrument (sometimes!) It just takes practice. Even as I sit here typing, I can buzz and hum at the same time. And yes, it is difficult to "think" of two notes at the same time - I would suggest picking pairs of notes to buzz and hum and alternating them at shorter and shorter intervals, until you can do them together... – Bob Broadley Apr 3 '16 at 18:22
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    @BobBroadley I disagree with you a little there concerning oblique motion. That type of motion requires a bit of independence, which comes with time. I would suggest that parallel motion is much more accessible to the beginning multi-phonic-player. FWIW, I've submitted an answer (me being a brass player). – jjmusicnotes Apr 4 '16 at 7:15
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As a brass player myself, I'd like to extend some tips for learning how to perform multiphonics on brass instruments. These tips are presented in a specific sequential order.

1.) Practice buzzing your lips while humming (without the instrument) The first thing you need to do is begin getting use to the sensation of doing those two things at the same time (it's more difficult on the instrument). Practice humming while buzzing until you can do it without much mental effort.

1a.) Add your mouthpiece Optionally, once the buzz/hum concept is understood, you can add the mouthpiece alone to begin simulating the effect for how your lips feel when buzzing while humming into a mouthpiece.

2.) Sing through your instrument with mouthpiece, without buzzing. Sing throughout your entire range. Where possible, try and sing the overtone series for the pitch of your instrument. Feel / hear how your vocal frequencies "slot" into the appropriate tones corresponding to the overtone series. This step is important because you feel a similar "slotting" feel when performing multiphonics.

2a.) Optional: Just for fun, change valve combinations and sing overtone series for each different note.

3.) First note: I highly recommend your first multiphonic to be either a unison or an octave, depending on your instrument. A tubist would likely prefer and octave, a trumpet player likely a unison. The first multiphonic should be an "open" one, that is, without valve / slide combinations. Continue practicing this interval until you can hear it and reproduce it.

3a.) Repeat step 3, but now seek to sing/play unisons/octaves through all valve/slide positions.

4.) Repeat step 3, but this time attempt to sing a perfect-fifth higher than the note you are playing. ^^NOTE^^ It is typically easier to begin playing first, and then add the singing after.

4a.) Sing a perfect-fourth below the played note. Once interval is secure, slur down to a perfect-fifth below played note.

5.) Sing major third / tenth above played note. Again, repeat all of these until they become easy.

6.) Sing major sixth above played note.

7.) Sing major seconds and sevenths above played note.

^^NOTE^^ It is easiest to play multiphonics either monophonically or homophonically with parallel motion. The other types of motion: similar, contrary, and oblique, are more difficult and required additional practice because they require a modicum of independence between your vocal chords and your lips. Moving intervals in parallel motion requires less independence and is therefore more accessible.

^^NOTE^^ Practicing multiphonics is like anything else: riding a bike, patting head / rubbing tummy, 3:2 or 4:5 polyrhythms, or whistling - you really just need to mess around with it until you get it. Be patient, give it time (especially when you sleep between practice sessions - it's the best way to learn new things.)

Good Luck.

  • ^vote (twice if possible!) with a note: To minimize muscular interference during multiphonic baby steps to step 1 above, I began with the most relaxed notes to buzz/play and sing, fairly low in their respective ranges of course, regardless of pitch relationship and disrespectful of embouchure or timbre. (After that, the most disruptive muscular interference continues to be giggles from tickling sensations and smiles from exciting results.) – lauir Apr 18 '16 at 14:15

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