What Is It?
Double buzz is when the two lips vibrate at two different
frequencies. Both notes come out of the instrument at the same time. From that
description, you might think that the result of a double buzz is something like
homophonics where the second note is in harmony with the original pitch.
Unfortunately that is never the case.
With a double buzz, the second pitch is usually dissonant to
the other, original note. It's so dissonant that it doesn't even sound like a
note. It sounds like a buzz or a growl.
This is one of the most nerve racking problems trumpet players
have to deal with because the answer isn't as obvious as you might think.
Practice as many long tones as you want and it's not going to make the double
buzz go away. Do lip slurs. Do air exercises or breathing exercises. None of
that works and it's always these kinds of rudiments that the ambitious players
practice more of - to try to get rid of the double buzz.
And now that I've said it, yes, this is a problem common more
often to ambitious players than it is to those who are less enthusiastic about
playing the trumpet. Does that tell you something about the double buzz?
There are a few problems on the instrument which we make for
ourselves. These are problems which we cause by doing the very things that we
think are going to help our playing. Instead, they make our playing worse. That
is why, sometimes, it's not a very good idea to get TOO enthusiastic about
playing the trumpet. Enthusiasm is good, but it's a double edged sword which
often cuts both ways.
The double buzz, for enthusiastic players, can turn into the
black hole of trumpet playing woes. The more you try to fix it, the worse the
double buzz gets. That's because the enthusiastic player is always looking
for something to DO to fix the problem, instead of looking for something to NOT
How Do You Fix It?
Double buzz is caused by fatigue. But it's important to
clarify what kind of fatigue we're talking about here. There is the short term
fatigue like you get at the end of a long etude - you know - that burning
sensation in your lips and muscles of your mouth or face. But then there's the
long term fatigue which is something all together different from the short term
Short term fatigue is what you feel when the muscles in the
lips switch from aerobic to anaerobic contractions. Aerobic
contractions are reusable contractions which are powered by the oxygen in your
blood. Anaerobic contractions are caused chemically and are used on a one shot
basis. Once you've used up your anaerobic contraction for that muscle fiber, it
cannot be used again until it is fully "recharged".
So that's the short term fatigue and it really has nothing to
do with the double buzz. I only clarified what short term fatigue is so that we
can contrast it with what long term fatigue is.
Long term fatigue really isn't fatigue at all. It's just that
we treat it the same way and it gets lumped into the same category as the short
term, real fatigue. But long term fatigue would more properly be called
"muscle tissue damage".
It works almost the same way as fatigue. Fatigue is something
you get from playing too long without taking a break. Okay, well so is this long
term damage I'm talking about. If you play trumpet in a way which does not allow
the blood to circulate through the lips, it's sort of like applying a tourniquet
to your lips. Almost everyone knows that you can't just leave a tourniquet on
your arm or on your leg (my dad would joke and say, "or on your
neck"). When you do, the result is that the cells don't get oxygen and they
die. If you leave the tourniquet on for too long then the entire arm or leg dies
and needs to be amputated.
Imagine what the effects would be if you could tie a
tourniquet to your lips. Every time you play your instrument you are doing
essentially that. You are cutting off the blood flow to the lips just like a
tourniquet. That's why it is such a good habit to take the mouthpiece off
of your lips every chance you get.
Double buzz is caused by practicing without breaks, day after
day, for an extended amount of time. The tourniquet like damage accumulates over
time and begins doing strange things to your lips and your playing. The cure is
quite simply to rest more often. I won't talk about resting here because I have
another essay that covers resting in complete detail. Click HERE to read the
essay about resting.