pBuzz: Brass Playing for Younger Children

Encouraging younger students to play brass instruments in a crowded marketplace full of competition for children’s attention is a tough task. Warwick Music (the team behind pBone and pTrumpet) has set about opening up “buzzing” to the masses in the hope that the pBuzz can be the gateway instrument to get children interested in brass. Recorders have been a mainstay of primary schools across the world for many years, and ukuleles have also been very popular as an affordable way for hard-up schools to introduce musical instruments in the classroom at an early age. So, why not brass?!…

I have had the use of some pBuzzes (I think this is the plural) for a few weeks and below have put my thoughts as well as those of my 7-year-old son.

pBuzz: Priced at under £15 in the UK and under $30 in the US, and made from durable brightly coloured plastic, the pBuzz is clearly aimed at a younger user but is also fine for older users like myself! It uses a small trombone mouthpiece, requires a simple right hand slide action (like a trombone) and is pitched between a trombone and a trumpet. Due to it’s short length, there is just one natural pitch/harmonic available to players which anyone that has taught whole classes of brass will appreciate – it is great to have a room full of children actually playing the same pitch from the outset! This obviously brings with it a limit to this instrument’s musical uses, however I think that this is very much the point. Brass (or plastic in this case) has been simplified to make it easy and accessible to all, while also encouraging good fundamentals of breathing, buzzing and posture from the outset.

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The pBuzz website (pbuzz.co.uk) has links to some great teaching resources that help you to get the most out of it.

From a personal perspective, I do not like to place too much emphasis on buzzing as a way of producing the best possible sound [Please click here to read my interview with Allen Vizzutti on this subject]. However I believe that buzzing is a great tool for encouraging good breathing and control and is a fun way of introducing brass playing to younger musicians. The pBuzz certainly ticks these boxes!

7-year old Nathan writes: “The pBuzz is a really fun way of making lots of noise and learning about music. I like being able to play with the sound and make different sounds using the slide and my raspberries!”

Steven Greenall, Chief Executive of Warwick Music Group has also been kind enough to spend some time to do a short interview with me and give some background on the processes involved in developing a new product like this:

I have been struck by the amazing accessibility of the products launched so far by Warwick Music. What are the main motivations and influences when it comes to design and launch of new products?

The primary motivation comes from our own experiences as musicians, teachers and parents – in that sense we know many of the challenges and issues which students, parents and teachers face each week. We are fortunate that the whole team has a deep appreciation and understanding of our vision to get more children into music and that means we also have a lot of fun and enjoy watching and hearing the innovative ways that teachers, students and amateurs use pBones, pTrumpets and pBuzzes.

We also care a lot about giving a quality experience – we are proud to have some of the best quality review rates in the industry. We are not perfect – and we are always learning from customer feedback – in fact we have a “team email” which is sent out to our whole company every week that discloses all the comments we’ve received. It keeps us motivated for the great impact we have had, and also serves as a reminder to improve constantly. Being “disruptive innovators” is a mantle we wear proudly – if we are going to really engage the next generation of children, then we have to shake things up!

When it comes to using non-traditional materials to manufacture instruments for student brass players, there must have been some difficulties and surprises along the way! Can you share some of the challenges that you have had to overcome with us?

Yes, of course – failure is par for the course in innovation. But that is not a bad thing – because we need to be fearless in how we tackle problems. If innovators play everything safe, then there is really no progress. Understanding how materials can be manufactured – the critical need for tolerances, the right type of plastic at the right temperature – there really has been a ton of stuff we have learnt as a team. But, we are always good at asking ourselves – why? We like to challenge the status quo.

There are 2 huge differences in the way we do things: firstly, the material and secondly the way we make things. Whether brass or plastic, it is easy to make things cheaply – but to offer a quality product that also has pedagogy at its heart – we believe in our niche, Warwick Music Group are really pioneers. The biggest surprise has been how the music world has embraced what we do and why we are doing it.

What was the primary motivation and design brief behind the pBuzz in particular?

The pBuzz had its genesis in a car journey with 3 of our team in the USA. We were talking about the recorder as a music education instrument and discussing how there is no brass starter instrument in the early grades (or years in UK parlance). Buzzing is just cool – kids love it, but the only way they can access it is via a “proper” brass instrument such as cornet, trumpet or trombone – which by default means we leave brass learning later and later. In some cases, it is simply too late – especially in this technological world where children want immediate results.

So we built a brief for an introductory brass instrument that would be accessible for the youngest children and also be colourful and fun – and pBuzz was the result!

A number of retailers report that traditional sheet music sales are struggling at present. Is this a pattern that you have noticed through the Warwick Music publications, and how do you think that publishers can adapt to a changing marketplace?

I think all types of publishing have changed radically with technology – at Warwick Music we have been selling “digitally” for some time, but of course the challenge is protecting the copyright of your composers whilst enabling customers to access music in a world of free music, free TV, etc. We have been discussing looking at subscription type models, whereby customers will essentially have access to a complete instrument catalogue i.e. all the trombone music, and can use it for as long as they’d like to pay for it – we are also moving more into online learning such as with Ian Bousfield’s Unlocking the Trombone book and videos, or Peter Gane’s Circuit Training 2 online course. There will certainly be a lot of interesting developments over the coming decades – I always like to see what companies like Fender or Hal Leonard are doing . . .

Further information on pBuzz is available at pbuzz.co.uk

pBone, pTrumpet and pBuzz are available to buy from Thompson Music

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