As a brass player with a five year old son I was very intrigued by the recent launch of the pBuzz, the latest product from the makers of pBone & pTrumpet. I’ve been considering for some time when would be the right time to get him ‘into’ the world of brass instruments and wondered whether this might be the catalyst? So, I decided to take one home and see what reaction I got, it was also an opportunity to have a play with it myself and rehearse some vuvuzela-esque noises to annoy my neighbours during Euro 2016!
What is a pBuzz?
The idea behind the pBuzz is to capture the musical interest of younger children and teach them the basics of playing a brass instrument in a fun and exciting way. It is fundamentally a simplified version of a trombone in that it uses the same size mouthpiece and has a moveable tube to change the pitch. It has a range of 6 notes (C, B, Bb, A, G & F) and, as well as showing the notes, the slide is also coloured and numbered so there are a variety of ways to teach it. As with the pBone & pTrumpet, it is made in the UK and entirely from plastic (apart from the paper insert with the colours/notation on) so the pBuzz is light and robust. It is clearly aimed at younger children as an alternative to instruments such as Recorders and Ukuleles for whole class tuition.
The first (and very obvious) thing to note is that unlike the pBone and pTrumpet the pBuzz isn’t supplied with a case. Given the price point I’m not surprised and, to be honest, don’t think it really needs it. Apart from the mouthpiece it’s a one-piece unit and feels very solid. The main body is red but I have it on good authority that a wider choice of colours will follow soon.
The inner tube has a number of markings to aid teaching and to make it nice and simple for the child to start learning. There’s a little hand symbol with an ‘R’ and another with an ‘L’ so that the hands are in the correct position (obviously presuming by this stage the child knows their left from their right!). The colours, letters and numbers are all really clear and bold so whichever way teachers decide to use it should be fairly straightforward to get going.
Reaction of a 5 Year Old
I was obviously hoping for a positive reaction from my son Harry, but I never expected him to be quite so enthusiastic! I’ve exposed him to piano, ukulele and the guitar previously but never brass and his reaction was fantastic. It just so happened that ‘Trooping of the Colour’ for the Queens’ birthday celebrations was on the TV and within 5 minutes of picking up the pBuzz he was marching round the lounge pretending to be in a military band. Having shown him how to hold it and ‘buzz’ his lips to produce the sound he was well away, he very quickly worked out that the harder he blew the louder the noise. This prompted my teenage daughter to emerge from her bedroom and shout ‘what have you given him that for?!’ I was amazed how well it kept his attention and throughout the weekend he badgered me to let him play it again and again (I had to restrict its use to prevent my other children, wife and neighbours falling out with me). This morning he said ‘Daddy, this is the best instrument ever!’ which I can’t wholeheartedly agree with, but it certainly looks like the pBuzz will engage younger children and, hopefully, inspire them to become the brass players of the future.
Learning the Basics
We only spent a short while discussing the notation, colours and numbers as initially I just wanted him to have fun with it. Personally, I will probably choose to teach him using the letters so he becomes more familiar with the terminology but I can see how in a larger group using numbers or colours could be a little easier. It is clear to see that in a structured environment it would be relatively easy to get a class of children learning to play and most importantly having fun whilst doing so. Teaching using numbers and colours should also make it easier for some ‘non-specialists’ to get a group up and running.
I can see the pBuzz being a real hit with both pupils and teachers (plus, parents will like them as they don’t break the bank) I’m not biased you understand (honest!) but do hope the pBuzz will really help to encourage a thriving new generation of brass players. For as long as I can remember, the recorder has been the starting point for a musical journey that typically led to the woodwind family and in recent years the favourite has been the ukulele, which ultimately breeds guitarists. That’s great, as I just want to see as many children as possible get involved in making music, but I’m pleased to see that at last it looks like we have a product that will inspire the future of brass from the earliest possible age.
Only time will tell whether the pBuzz will establish itself as a useful tool in music education but if my first experience (and more importantly my son’s) is anything to go by it has a very good chance!