Athletes frequently train strength and endurance by cross training with lifting weights or isometric exercises. A football player, for example, can get stronger simply by playing more football, but lifting weights specifically targets the muscles he wants to build without risking injury. Likewise, there are certain exercises that brass players can practice away from the instrument that will help build embouchure strength and control without the risk of playing too much and using too much mouthpiece pressure as you get tired.
Free buzzing is essentially buzzing your lips without using the instrument or mouthpiece. Some teachers and players discourage free buzzing as being too different from actual playing while others huge advocates of it. Like in many things, I feel that when done in a certain way with moderation free buzzing can be an extremely helpful exercise, particularly for players who have issues with their embouchure related to having too loose an embouchure formation or with things like bunching the chin or a smile embouchure.
Here’s a short YouTube video I put together to demonstrate how I recommend practicing free buzzing.
Free buzzing is different from playing, particularly for some players, so I don’t recommend that you try to use is as a diagnostic tool. For example, it’s simply not true that you should look at where your aperture forms and center the mouthpiece there. As I’ve shown before, there are a lot of great players who have apertures that form inside the mouthpiece off to one side. While many downstream players, who place the mouthpiece with more upper lip inside, buzzing into the instrument can be helpful practice. While upstream players, who place the mouthpiece with more lower lip inside, can benefit from free buzzing as I describe in the above video but don’t want to practice buzzing into the instrument. If you’re not sure which embouchure type you have, you can still benefit from free buzzing but don’t worry about buzzing into the mouthpiece and instrument.
The simplest free buzzing exercise I recommend was developed by Donald Reinhardt. Reinhardt suggested students start by forming rolling their lower lip slightly in towards the lower teeth, bring the top lip down as if saying, “em,” and commencing the buzz with a breath attack. Buzz the highest pitch you can to the fullest extent of your breath and repeat two more times. Make the sound light and airy, sort of like a mosquito buzzing sound. This will ensure that you focus the work on the correct muscles, the ones at and just under the mouth corners.