I am excited to review this instrument because I have been teaching it in a whole class setting for a few months. To start with, I was very sceptical, but now feel confident that I can advise people on how to use it in the classroom.
The Pbuzz is available to buy for around £20 (UK). Here is a link to it (I receive no benefits for sharing this link).
It comes with a nice case which holds the instrument snuggly and it can be fitted into the case without removing the mouthpiece. The instrument is plastic, apart from a black rubber stopper which can be quite annoying due to it not being fixed in place. It rides up towards the mouthpiece and is fiddly for small children to push back, so is something the smaller students will need help with.
The instrument is strong enough though. Sometimes the two sliding parts come apart and require a bit of force to reattach but other than this, it is safe and sturdy and I haven't had a student break one so far!
The way it works is very simple. It uses a standard brass (plastic) mouthpiece, which is around a small trombone size and the two parts of the instrument slide apart to reveal colours, numbers and letters corresponding to the notes F, G, A, Bb, B and C (concert pitch). The reach needed for the 6th note is not very far and all the young children I have seen using it can manage.
Before trying one myself, I had big doubts about using it. Surely just using a plastic trumpet or trombone is going to be better because of the potential for a student to develop skills on a real instrument. I also had concerns about the sort of sound to be made, especially with the emphasis on the word 'buzz' (which is fine if the teacher also teaches a student about airflow but this could lead to a tight restricted sound if not explained correctly). The main focus in my teaching is to help a new student create a lovely warm, open, full tone on whichever brass instrument they play, but I was concerned that this would not work with the Pbuzz.
When I first tried the Pbuzz, I was confused with the pitch. As someone who already plays a brass instrument, I could play scales and melodies without sliding the instrument to any of the labelled notes. The sound was not as bad as I expected and with a bit of vibrato it sounded somewhat acceptable, but for a beginner, this sound is not something which can be achieved straight away and might leave parents questioning what on earth their child is doing. For this reason, I did not allow students to take instruments home until I was confident they could all make a musical sound and they had enough musical things to practice.
In my initial experiments, I decided to try and find the correct pitches, as labelled with the colours using the slide and once I had done that, it did start to make more sense. I could play simple melodies using the notes and it was quite fun to learn the coordination required and find some tunes which young students might enjoy playing.
At this point, I was still looking at the instrument from the perspective of an instrumental teacher. I was going to be teaching this instrument to primary children in year 2 and 3 (aged around 6/7) but there were no resources available so I needed to design a programme that would work.
When I started thinking like a classroom music teacher, the real potential of the Pbuzz became clear. It couldn't be taught like a cornet or trombone, but needed to be used as a tool to enable the students to learn all about the music curriculum. Students in older years could start on cornets or trombones but for younger students the Pbuzz is perfect.
My lessons have so far contained a lot of listening to music or listening to me playing my euphonium, followed by discussion. Lots of rhythm work, using our bodies, clapping and marching. Lots of singing, working towards singing 2 parts at the same time. Learning how to read rhythmic notation using the Kodály Method. All the time, trying to develop organisation and discipline through simple classroom management strategies, essential to children of this age. Plus, using the Pbuzz to learn all about how to produce a sound on a brass instrument and put all of our curriculum music learning into practice.
The Pbuzz practice started with the note F (the yellow note, or note 6). This is the lowest note so students needed to push the slide out fully. We would practice holding 4 beat notes (semibreves/whole notes) and stop together at different tempos. Straight away we learnt to tongue correctly and did the same exercise but using 4 single notes (crotchets/quarter notes) plus some call and response. Then we repeated the same exercises for the notes G and A with a focus on using faster air to reach higher notes. This formed a nice little routine which the students could work on at home. Following this, we started learning the melody 'Hot Cross Buns' using the notes A, G and F. The rhythms used also went hand in hand with the rhythmic notation, but at this stage the students had learned the melody from memory.
We were learning to sing the song 'In the Jungle' from the Lion King and my future plans will see the students being able to play a simple accompaniment part on the Pbuzz while another group of students sing the song.
The students I have taught have loved the Pbuzz and I think it is a perfect instrument for younger children who would not normally have the opportunity to learn a brass instrument. It gives them a brilliant understanding of brass, enough to transition onto a real instrument, but more importantly the instrument gives many opportunities for a teacher to teach music and develop a child's basic musical skills in a fun, innovative way. A none brass specialist or even none music specialist teacher could use this instrument, just learn to play it in advance like you might with a ukulele.
I will try and do another Pbuzz blog post in the future to outline the exact programme I have used lesson by lesson and describe the progress my students have made. Every student had their own instrument and were constantly reminded about cleanliness and not putting the mouthpiece end onto the table or the floor. The instruments are extremely easy to clean and store safely which all adds to the simplicity and usability, making it perfect for primary schools.
I would love to hear from anyone else who has been teaching the Pbuzz and as always, should anyone want brass lessons with me in person or online just drop me an email at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading.