Date: Sat, 5 Feb 2000 19:55:32 -0600
From: "James Snapp" <>
Subject: If the shoe doesn't might later on!  (boringly long...)

Greetings!   I've been contemplating the "free-buzzing", mouthpiece- buzzing, centering-the-tone threads the last couple of days; and hope to make a positive, helpful contribution.  This may get a bit long-winded, so I'll get my main points across in "Reader's Digest" form for those of you who are very busy and not interested in my history:

1.  Lots of great players can't, and don't, "free buzz".  Many fine players never buzz the mouthpiece.

2.  I've never met a person who had a great "free buzz" and/or rich/full/resonant mouthpiece buzz who didn't succeed in also producing the same qualities whilst playing the actual instrument.

3.  In my experience with fellow professionals and students, the individuals who *most improved* as a result of working on either technique were those that had the most trouble at first with getting *anything* to come out!  Which is to say, their _mechanics_ appeared to improve noticeably as a result of applying what I will call the "Stamp" method.

4.  I agree whole-heartedly with the poster who expressed the idea that many young players seem to have a "natural" talent, and will progress irregardless of the "systems" to which they are exposed. HOWEVER, things change as you get older.......and poor mechanics may take their toll causing careers to evaporate, nerves to frazzle, and certainly take the joy out of playing a brass instrument!

5.  James Stamp taught *many* of the brass players by whom we are impressed  in the movies we see every day.......these people did not adopt, then continue to work on, his concepts because they wanted to "get better".  They were often experienced, first-call studio players (and members of symphonic orchestras world-wide) who wanted to be more effective, and more relaxed players in extremely stressful situations.  Wonder why?  Because......when you can buzz your 'piece from pedal C to high C with a good strong full sound, picking up the horn (with the added resistance) is a breeze. (pun intended, with a nod to Arnold Jacobs:-)

I would suggest that Come-Back players take the plunge, and give buzzing a shot.  Heck, you can do it in the shower, in the car, anywhere!

****the following contains "name-dropping", "tearful biographical data", and "more than you wanna' know about *me****
Please stop now if you have a triple high C, or want to....(just kidding)

I confess......I was a "natural" player as a child lo' those many years. I guess it helped that my Dad played the cornet, had studied with Herbert Clarke, Clifford Lillya, Bill Adam, and some other fellas....but really, I was a  "natural" ....honest!  Nobody ever suggested that my embouchure mechanics weren't so good (though Gordon Mathie said I had a *bad* tone quality, when I was 10).  Don Jacoby would stay at our house every year or so for a few days, and give me some pointers (and my very first dollar earned as a musician).  He seemed pretty good and I never saw him buzz......

But I suffered through working with him and Mr. Lillya until I got my first-time real teacher, Charles Gorham (at the time at Baldwin-Wallace College, I was 11). No one mentioned buzzing lips or mouthpiece, and I moved along listening to the Szell Orchestra (Cleveland) with Louis Davidson and some other "hacks", as my real idols were people like Kim Dunnick and Dave Baldwin.....members of my father's band.  None of those guys suggested buzzing either!  Fast forward through high school (where I got an early preview of James Thompson, played with Marie Speziale, hung with the Brubeck's, listened to Ida Kavafian, studied with John Lindenau.....all at the Interlochen Arts Academy and camp where my (once again mentioned) father had been on the faculty since around my birth).  So I was deprived, but still a "natural" player.  STILL NO BUZZING!!!  So I left that scene and went to IU where the best players were some more non-buzzing folks like Charlie Davis, Jerry Hey, Kim Dunnick (again!) Ed Cord, etc.  Finally, after my first year I went and studied with Tom Stevens (LA Phil) and he hit me hard with the Stamp Method in our first lesson.....but I wasn't convinced: "hey, when I blow a good-sounding note, remove the horn, there ain't no buzz!!!".

And there wasn't.  Duhhhh, this is where I get really stupid.  I study with him (him suggesting the stuff recently posted where you play the piano and 'piece together"), and DON'T follow his advice. After all, I was a natural player!  (And he, only one of the greatest classical performers..... & driving a Porsche,no less!)  Fast forward about 15 years later; I'm chatting in Mexico City (I've been principal in a little-known orchestra for twelve years) with Bert Truax, a bosom-buddy from IU who was in town for a concert with Dallas (he was and is second trumpet there) and he starts talking about how the Stamp thing saved the career of a colleague....... and improved his own playing tremendously.  He proceeds to buzz the mouthpiece with a quality I'd never even imagined possible, then picks up the horn and has the most beautiful, velvety, centered sound I'd heard....."gee Bert, can you get me started on some of that?"  He graciously does, I get the Stamp book too, and casually begin.  Boy do I sound bad on the mouthpiece!  But I plug along, and get my students to do the same.  We all exceptions. (Though none of us are/were real screamers...... maybe this only works for legit players?)   Anyway, the story gets pretty boring....... years off and on seem to help me feel more consistent and my buddies in the orchestra seemed happy too....some of them even start to imitate some of the junk I do, and think it works for them also.

The really fascinating (and terrifying) part of my history occurred about two years ago, when I had a twinge ("hotspot") on the inner lip where the 'piece touches the rim.  I'd experienced this before, after some particularly stressful concerts (usually a run-out, where I don't get much opportunity to warm down....); but a day off and some easy lyrical playing appeared to make it "all better".  That did not happen this time.  I was first puzzled, then frustrated, then mad (at the Music Director for programming too demanding a program!), then scared to death!  I consulted a wonderful brass-player, Lucinda Lewis (principal horn New Jersey) who has been putting together a book about typical brass playing injuries and their treatment (in conjunction with a variety of doctors), and she got me into the "free buzzing" and showed be that my mechanics (remember, by now I've been principal in a full-time orchestra for 25 years)  were NOT good.  As she says, free-buzzing requires "pristine" mechanics.  Just check out the activity of your "corners" when you buzz.  Pretty firm, no?

By following her exercises, I was re-habilitated without surgery, (there have been many cases where nerve reconstruction surgery is used in this situation.....a former principal of Minnesota went through it, without success as far as I know).  Having been an Adam student, I've always subscribed to the "Analysis breeds Paralysis" school of thought.......and still don't fix things that ain't broke.  But poor mechanics can still catch up with you, and a little prevention might be more pleasant than going through what I did. (Pity the wife, it was surely worse on her!) I did get beyond it, and though I realize this is ***way*** more than any of you wanna' know, I'm hopeful that some students may pull a small lesson from my tall tale.....or that some CB players may benefit from some buzzing....... or that some older pro's will know that retirement may not be the only option when the "pressure" system starts to stress out the chops.  It can be scarey, and hopefully none of you are pressure players so this won't happen to you.  But even though I was a natural, it happened to me.  If anyone gets into a similar situation, I can provide some information from Ms. Lewis.  (As her book is due to be published soon, I hesitate to post excerpts without her express permission.)

Sorry this was so long, hope y'all got some chuckles (and that I didn't forget to mention anyone famous that I've ever bumped into:-)))))

jim snapp
xalapa symphony orchestra