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Clinic Articles




Visualizer: Purpose and Use Jim Ahrend Sep 30, 2014

The PURPOSE of the visualizer is quite simple, much more so than the average purchaser thinks. It is merely to SEE your setting and primarily how your aperture looks and functions when you play. One big mistake that many make is to try to PLAY the visualizer, i.e., to make buzzing sounds on it, playing scales, arpeggios, etc. If in fact, you DO make buzzing sounds like a bee or anything other than the sound of air passing thru the opening, you are playing too tightly and interfering with your airstream which in turn affects sound quality, intonation, even endurance.


Lips are not supposed to be "BUZZING" when you play as that buzzing sound will be reflected and amplified by the horn. Lips are supposed to be "VIBRATING". They do that by the air passing BETWEEN THE LIPS, causing them to vibrate sympathetically which produces sound.  Too tight together produces from NO sound to PINCHED sound to SPREAD sound when too far open. The size of the aperture is constantly changing in varied increments as we ascend and descend as well as when we change dynamics ( volume ). 


There has been a lot of false information spread worldwide about the buzzing / vibrating issue. As in so many things in our physical world, science is always the best way to go to find the truth. We are dealing with physics ( fluid dynamics ) and acoustics, but I am NOT a physicist but rather someone who has had a great many physicists as students and I am constantly reading books on the subject to better understand.  Put simply, if you play on the visualizer and get a buzzing sound, and then if you did the same on your mouthpiece, you would get a pinched sound on the mpc. If you then did the same with the mpc in your horn, the sound would be tight, pinched, almost "kazoo-sounding".


You'll need a small compact-type of mirror or even a larger hand-held mirror if you prefer. It is so you can visually SEE what your setting looks like and also how it functions, aperture-wise as you do the drills. So, put the visualizer on your lips where you play and slightly protruding the tip of your tongue thru the lips, take a breath and blow air as you pull your tongue back into your mouth, somewhat similar to spitting a grain of rice across the room, air going horizontally straight thru the center of the visualizer  If done correctly, you'll get a nice air stream and without any buzzing sound. If however, you DO get the buzzing sound, it is occurring because you are letting your lip surfaces come together and start touching . The ONLY way to make the correction is by slightly lowering your jaw to separate the lip surfaces and get a clean air stream sound. After you get better results doing this, replace the visualizer with the mouthpiece and as you blow on the mpc, initially you should just get the air sound. But, if you start to slightly grip your corners, you'll get a "mouthpiece sound". Try to get this as clean as possible by starting with staccato attacks and adjusting your jaw until the sound opens and cleans up with a nice centered sound and feel. It often can sound like a "duck call". Then once well-centered by the staccato attacks, you can start to sustain the tones for a few seconds to get the feeling of stabilizing the setting and the airflow. At this point, just slide your horn onto the mouthpiece without changing your way of blowing. You should get a nice, well-centered sound that starts to resemble a trumpet. I suggest playing a note in the middle of the staff such as a 2nd line G. And, it should feel much freer as well. Once established in the center, you can start to employ the variables in air direction as you ascend and descend. This is known as air pivoting. Once you get the hang of this, mouthpiece buzzing is a GREAT way to help establish a working embouchure especially when you have no time or facility to sit and practice. It doesn't REPLACE the necessary time with the horn in your hands but it is a vital process to help overcome embouchure problems.


Bobby Shew


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