I am a music educator and professional musician based in western North Carolina.

I am a music educator and professional musician based in western North Carolina.

You’re Not An Auditory Learner

One of the most persistent myths in education is that students have a “learning style.” This misunderstanding is so pervasive that most teachers believe that their students will learn best when materials are presented to them in a manner that matches their supposed modality (most commonly broken into visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic). Unfortunately, this has not been shown to have any effect on student success. In fact, it’s an unnecessary approach that takes time away from presenting the materials in a manner that is consistent with the subject matter. In other words, the topic being studied should be presented correctly.

Music requires an auditory component. Some students are going to do better than others in picking up things by ear, but that doesn’t mean that students who take longer should be presented that material in a “visual” way. Some students sight read more easily than others, but that doesn’t mean that teaching music literacy in a kinesthetic manner is better for them. We are all visual learners, auditory learners, reading learners, and kinesthetic learners. We’re all analytical and intuitive.

Here’s a fun video I recently came across that describes the learning styles myth and goes into some details about the research that has (and hasn’t been) done on it.

I’ve written a bit about this topic before. It’s one of those things that a lot of people get hung up on, in spite of the evidence that it doesn’t work.

Happy Independence Day

It’s Independence Day in the U.S. The Asheville Jazz Orchestra performed our annual Patriotic Big Band Concert last night after a 1 year hiatus. He’s a chart we performed honoring all the men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, a medley arrangement I wrote for the San Luis Big Band.

We recorded it last year during the pandemic by having everyone record their parts individually at home to a click track, and then I assembled each part in GarageBand. Some of us had nice microphones, some of us just used cell phones, so the sound is a little different on each player. All things considered, I think it came out OK.

Happy Independence Day to all my U.S. readers!

J.C. Higginbotham’s Solo On “Mint Julep”

Over a year ago I had started rehearsing with a band that was going to be performing Jelly Roll Morton’s tune, Mint Julep. I began transcribing J.C. Higginbotham’s solo from Morton’s recording, but when the pandemic hit we stopped getting together and I forgot to finish transcribing the solo. While recently going through some notes I found my transcription half completed. It’s not a terribly difficult solo to transcribe, so I powered through and got it finished. Here’s the recording for you to listen to Higginbotham’s solo.

I like this solo because it’s different from Kid Ory’s style from the same time period. Where Ory would have taken more of a “tailgate” approach, Higginbotham’s solo is more trumpet-like.

Here’s a PDF link to the solo if you want to print it out for yourself. As always when I post a transcription, I suggest that you don’t trust my work. The real value in learning solos isn’t so much to be able to play the notes from the page, but to train your ear and really pick up on the nuances that the soloist uses. There’s a lot in this solo that isn’t really possible to notate, but by repeatedly listening, singing, and playing along with the recording you’ll start to pick up on them and be able to incorporate them into your own playing more naturally.

Happy Memorial Day

Here in the U.S. it is Memorial Day today, when we take time to remember the men and women who have died in service to the country. In honor of them, here is a video of the Asheville Jazz Orchestra’s recording of Armed Forces Medley.

I wrote this arrangement back in 2006 for the San Luis Valley Big Band. The AJO recorded this in 2020, with each player recording their part separately and sending me their recording. I then assembled them all together into the full band.

Brass Embouchure Pedagogy Workshop 5/22/21 Info

If you registered for this Saturday’s (5/22/21) brass embouchure pedagogy workshop I sent out an email with the Zoom info this morning. If you didn’t get it, please check your spam folder first and see if it didn’t make it through your filter. If you don’t see it, please contact me and I’ll send it again.

As of this morning there was still one open slot for the workshop. If you’d like to join us please fill out the form here and I’ll send you the info. There may be some folks who need to back out before Saturday, so I’ll also put together a wait list.

The Evidence On Mouthpiece Buzzing Efficacy

Back when I was a high school and college music student my brass teachers never really emphasized nor discouraged mouthpiece buzzing. It didn’t seem to be a point of controversy. I knew that a lot teachers recommended it, but I didn’t really consider it more than doing it occasionally. As a doctoral trombone student, my mentor, John Seidel, did have certain exercises that he used that involved buzzing on the mouthpiece. These days there are many high profile brass performers and teachers who actively discourage it while others argue that it’s extremely valuable.

I’ve written about this topic before (here and here), but until recently I haven’t gone out of my way to get a decent look and see what empirical evidence is out there for and against mouthpiece buzzing. I did a quick search in a college library catalogue for “mouthpiece buzzing,” limiting it to sources published since 2000, to see what would come up in the academic and professional literature. I ended up finding 35 articles/papers that had something to say about mouthpiece buzzing, of which only 29 actually addressed whether mouthpiece buzzing was useful for teaching and practice. By no means is this a comprehensive literature review, but rather gives us a snapshot into what sort of information is available and what the state of current research is on the topic.

Rather than summarizing each reference, I instead just looked at the following five criteria:

  1. Does the article/paper empirically research the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing?
  2. Does the article/paper speculate on the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing with relevant and/or accurate information?
  3. Does the article/paper avoid speculation on the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing using anecdotal, irrelevant and/or inaccurate information?
  4. Does the article/paper properly cite sources or otherwise logically reason out its arguments for the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing?
  5. Is the article/paper pro-mouthpiece buzzing, con-mouthpiece buzzing, or neutral?

Note that I’ve phrased the questions in the above criteria in order to make “yes” answers show that a resource would be a helpful reference for objectively looking at the effectiveness of mouthpiece buzzing. Likewise, any “no” answers mean that this paper or article would not make a very good objective reference. That’s not to say that the paper isn’t good, it just won’t be able to objectively answer the question on whether or not mouthpiece buzzing is a positive or negative practice approach.

I also feel compelled to point out that I mostly skimmed these papers and articles, glossing over things that weren’t relevant to the topic of mouthpiece buzzing. It’s entirely possible that I missed or misunderstood some points in this literature and so you should take my evaluation of them with a grain of salt.

Results

You’ll see in the below chart that the vast majority of papers and articles I found simply state their opinion on mouthpiece buzzing without citing any sources or backing it up with logical speculation. It largely seems that almost everyone simply assumes mouthpiece buzzing is useful and the rational comes down to either tradition or anecdotal support. Some of them contain surveys of literature and/or brass teachers that endorse mouthpiece buzzing, but this is a poor method to judge the effectiveness of a pedagogical approach – if the pedagogical tradition is already biased towards mouthpiece buzzing then we can assume most players and teachers will be similarly biased. That doesn’t necessarily mean that mouthpiece buzzing is bad, but the reasons for it are flawed. As you’ll note in my chart below, very few people have subjected mouthpiece buzzing to an honest test.

Likewise, you’ll note that the vast majority of the literature I found falls into the “pro” camp towards mouthpiece buzzing, while only two ended up as “neutral.” I didn’t find any resources that were definitely against mouthpiece buzzing in this search, although I know of a few high profile teachers or players who are against it. A literature search for the term “mouthpiece buzzing” is probably going to be biased towards papers and articles recommending it, since authors who are against the practice are not likely to mention it at all if they are recommending another method.

A very large number of these resources got a “no” answer on Criteria 3 (does it avoid inaccurate speculation) because it claimed that the instrument functions as an “amplifier” for the buzzing lips. While this may be a good analogy for teaching and there is an element of truth to it, the actual physics behind the standing wave inside the instrument makes that idea too simplistic to logically speculate on the efficacy of mouthpiece buzzing as a practice method. This is one of those ideas that’s been repeated for so long that a lot of brass musicians accept it without question.

As an aside, one of the reasons I restricted my search to resources written in the 21st century is because in a recent Trombone Chat forum conversation one participant lamented that much of the discussion there revolved around pedagogy from 50 years ago or longer (specifically, that of Arnold Jacobs). That said, a great deal of the articles and papers I found cited Jacobs or even were specifically devoted to his pedagogy. Jacobs’s pedagogy is still dominant, at least in English language resources. While I feel there’s much that his approach has to offer players and teachers, there’s also much that needs revision and too often it’s the later that gets cited in support of certain pedagogical practices (you can read more of what I’ve written about Jacobs’s pedagogy here).

Out of the literature I found, there was only one study that made an attempt to measure whether or not mouthpiece buzzing is an effective practice tool, “The Effect of a Researcher Composed Mouthpiece Buzzing Routine On the Intonation and Tone Quality of Beginning Band Students,” by Jason Beghtol. In Beghtol’s review of the literature he doesn’t cite any other study that similarly tested mouthpiece buzzing, leading me to believe that it’s likely no one has done so before him. I think it’s very important to note that the results of Beghtol’s tests showed no statistically significant results between his sample population of students who were given mouthpiece buzzing instruction compared with his control group. Keep in mind that there were some limitations of methodology that make it difficult for us to draw up conclusions that will apply to the general brass playing population, but so far the only empirical evidence concerning the use of mouthpiece buzzing shows that it’s no more effective than not mouthpiece buzzing at all.

TitleCriteria 1Criteria 2Criteria 3Criteria 4Criteria 5
“Dr. Nathaniel O. Brickens: His Pedagogy, Career, and Influence On Trombone Performers and Educators,” Dunwoody Mirvil, 2008NoYesNoNoPro
“A review of the unique injuries sustained by musicians,” Michele Heinan, 2008NoNoYesNoPro
“Pedagogical Methods of Vincent Cichowicz as Witnessed by Larry Black, 1964-1966,” Brittany Hendricks 2013NoNoNoNoPro
“Developing a Solid Bass Trombone Sound,” Aaron Wilson, 2016NoNoNoNoPro
“A Guide To Daily Routines,” James Boldin, 2011NoNoNoYesNeutral
“Conrad Herwig Masterclass,” Antonio J. Garcia, 2014NoNoNoNoPro
“Endurance: Thoughts On Winning the Unwinnable,” Patrick Boyle, 2009NoNoNoNoPro
“A Lost Embouchure Found: A Journey Back From Focal Dystonia,” Ashley Gulbranson, 2014NoNoNoNoPro
“Empowering Musicians: Teaching, Transforming, Living,” William J. Dawson, 2016NoNoNoNoPro
“Starting the French Horn: Step-By-Step to Ensure Success,” Drew Phillips, 2019NoNoNoNoPro
“Song and Wind In Canada: The Impact of Arnold Jacobs’s Teaching on Canadian Tuba Pedagogues,” Jonathan David Rowsell, 2018NoNoNoNoPro
“A Pedagogical Approach For Developing the Endurance, Technical Facility and Flexibility Necessary to Perform Anthony Plog’s Concerto for Solo Trumpet, 14 Brass, and Percussion,” Michael Sullivan, 2014NoNoNoNoPro
“The Modern Trumpet Player,” Tony Carlucci, 2011NoNoNoNoPro
“Steps Toward More Effective Brass Blowing,” Chad Criswell, 2009NoNoNoNoPro
“Technique Tips: Accuracy,” Jeffrey Agrell, 2010NoNoNoNoPro
“From Blat to Beautiful: Help Your Trumpeters Develop a Great Embouchure,” Alicia Sanderman, 2004NoNoNoNoPro
“Making a Good Sound On the Trumpet,” Thomas Dust, 2007NoNoNoNoPro
“Embouchure Problems In Brass Instrumentalists,” Richard J. LedermanNoYesNoNoPro
“Five Basics For a Horn Embouchure,” Andrew M. McAfeeNoNoNoNoPro
“Euphonium Euphoria: Encouraging Great Sound and Facility from Your Euphonium Players,” Aaron WilsonNoNoNoNoPro
“No More ‘Bad Days’ – A Trumpet and Brass-Instrument
Warm-Up Routine that Works,” Christian McIvor, 2017
NoNoNoNoPro
“Upper Register Training for Young Horn Players,” Drew PhillipsNoNoNoNoPro
“Endurance: Thoughts On Winning the Unwinnable,” Patrick Boyle, 2009NoNoNoNoPro
“To Bee Or Not To Bee: The Art of Buzzing,” Mike HeriottNoNoNoNoPro
“Teaching Beginning Trombone Players,” Todd L. Fallis, 2001NoNoNoNoPro
“Lessons Learned From the Slide Trumpet,” Chase Sandborn, 2003NoNoNoNoPro
“The Buzz On Horn Buzzing,” Jon Chappell, 2008NoYesNoNoPro
“Mouthpiece Buzzing,” Gillian MacKay, 2012NoYesYesYesPro
“The Effect of a Researcher Composed Mouthpiece Buzzing Routine On the Intonation and Tone Quality of Beginning Band Students,” Jason Beghtol, 2018YesYesNoYesNeutral

You might wonder after going through this exercise what I personally think at this point. My opinion on mouthpiece buzzing hasn’t changed. There are probably some situations where it can be a useful tool, when done a certain way. It’s also possible that doing it wrong or too much can actually be counterproductive. I think it’s very likely that when done correctly and moderation that it’s not really all that more useful than practicing other things that have less risk of working against how we want to actually play the instrument, so I’m going to continue to avoid it in my own practice and use it sparingly in my teaching.

Brass Embouchure Pedagogy Workshop

On Saturday, May 22, 2021 at 1:30 PM Eastern I will be hosting another free Zoom workshop covering basic brass embouchure patterns and some pedagogical implications of understanding these embouchure types, followed by a Q&A session. Have your instrument and set up your camera to get close up to your embouchure and we’ll conclude with “guess the embouchure type.”

Space is limited, so to reserve your spot please fill out the contact form below. I will email you the Zoom info when we get closer to the date of the workshop. Update – All of the slots have been filled for this workshop now, but feel free to fill out the form to get on the wait list. Since I will likely run another workshop in the future I’ll contact people on this wait list early to give them a better shot at reserving a spot for the next one.

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    Brass Embouchure Pedagogy Workshop Complete

    Thank you to everyone who attended yesterday’s brass embouchure pedagogy workshop. Special thanks to Paul and Doug for helping to contribute by request and offer some additional insights.

    If you were able to attend I’d like to hear your thoughts on what you liked and what you would want improved. I plan to offer another, maybe in around a month, and hope to make some changes to improve the quality and content. Please post your comments here or send me an email.

    When I’m ready to schedule another workshop I will post about it here, so you can keep your eyes open for an announcement. In the mean time, I have many resources that cover the same information on this web site. The most comprehensive one is my Embouchure 101 resource.

    Brass Embouchure Pedagogy Workshop Info

    I have sent an email to everyone who is registered for the upcoming brass embouchure pedagogy workshop I’m hosting. It contains the Zoom link and some info about what we’ll be covering. If you have registered for this workshop and didn’t get the email please check your spam folder first and if you don’t see it, contact me.

    Brass Embouchure Pedagogy Workshop

    On Saturday, April 17, 2021 at 1:30 PM Eastern I will be hosting a free Zoom workshop covering basic brass embouchure patterns and some pedagogical implications of understanding these embouchure types, followed by a Q&A session. Have your instrument and set up your camera to get close up to your embouchure and we’ll conclude with “guess the embouchure type.”

    Space is limited, so to reserve a spot please fill out the contact form below.

    Edit: I’ve heard from one person who tried to use the contact form and got an error. It seems to be working for me, but if you have any trouble please leave a comment (I will get notified that there’s a comment in the queue if you haven’t had a comment approved here before) and I’ll back in touch with you.

    Edit #2: The workshop is now full. If I hear back that someone isn’t going to be able to attend after all I will post an announcement here and on the Trombone Chat forum topic. Since there seems to be plenty of interest I am considering running another workshop later. If you’d like to see another one feel free to email me, post on the TC topic, or by leaving a comment here on this post.