PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE PROSPECTIVE TUBA STUDENT
THE TUBA FAMILY
TUBA IN BBb: This is the most popular model in use today and it is appropriate for all tuba players beginning their study. It comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, valve configurations and placement and is at home in every musical situation.
TUBA IN CC: Previously used by more advanced college students and professionals, this model is gaining in popularity and is being used by high school students, members of the military bands and amateurs.
TUBA IN Eb: Once a very popular model, it fell out of favor for many years. It has made remarkable come back in recent years and is now favored not only by school musicians, but professionals as well. With the advancements in tuba design, it is now possible to purchase Eb tubas in a variety of bore sizes, shapes, and with as many as four or five valves.
TUBA IN F: An instrument that is best left to the advanced college music major or professional player, it is a small bore, higher pitched instrument that tends to have special problems. Because of the bore size and the need for at least five, if not six valves, it is impractical for anyone but a professional.
Tubas are plated with four types of outside finishes. CLEAR LACQUER is the most popular of all brass finishes and is more durable and longer lasting than others. It is brilliant gold in appearance and the one commonly associated with brass instruments.
Other types of finishes include SILVER PLATE, GOLD PLATE and POLISHED BRASS. It is not unusual for tubas to be plated with silver plate, but this type of plating is more expensive and does require more care. The other two finishes are strictly the provinces of the professional player as they are extremely expensive and very difficult to care for.
No finish is without certain problems. When polishing your tuba, use care and do not over polish. With every application and removal of any polish, a part of the plating is removed and eventually, this wearing down of the finish will require your instrument to be replated. This plating loss is especially true of silver and gold plated instruments.
Polished brass is not an applied finish, but raw brass that is buffed until a brilliant, glossy appearance is created. This kind of finish will tarnish literally over-night and can actually begin to appear as a greenish sheen if not polished daily. This is why only professionals would consider this kind of finish.
The tuba is a member of the valved-brass family, and as such, can either be equipped with piston valves or rotary valves. Tubas may also be designed so that the valve system is either a top-action (piston type only) system or a front-action (piston or rotary or a combination) system.
This type of valve is a cylinder that is placed in a casing and by the use of a spring, moves down and up. Piston valves are considered a better choice for beginning students, especially tuba students since the valves of the tuba are large and heavy. Their construction and placement on the instrument cause this type of valve to attract dirt, dust and grime and to need frequent and generous lubrication.
Rotary valves are shorter, fit into a casing similar to that of the piston valve, but swivel from left to right. This kind of valve is much easier to care for than the piston type and does not require as much lubrication or as frequently because of the tight fitting and closed casing.
Tubas can have as many as six valves, and you will need to decide how many will be right for you. Most tuba players agree that no tuba should be equipped with any less than four valves. The extra fourth valve lets you play lower notes, gain more flexibility through the use of alternate fingerings, and increases the potential for better intonation.
With a three-valve tuba, the lowest note that can be played by using all three valves is: (all examples are for BBb Tuba)
The addition of a fourth valve makes it possible to extend the lower register in the following manner:
The fourth valve eliminates some awkward fingerings which produce a "stuffiness" to certain tones. The following example illustrates the use of the fourth valve to eliminate awkward fingerings.
If you are going to be channeling your efforts into a career as a professional tuba player, you will want to consider obtaining a tuba equipped with five valves. Tubas possessing this many valves offer more alternate fingering possibilities, greater range extension and added potential for correcting intonation deficiencies.
Fifth valves are designed as either a flat whole step or as two whole steps. The most popular choice is the two whole step design.
Regardless of the valve system chosen and the number of valves your tuba will be equipped with, the primary three valves operate in a set fashion. The first valve will lower any open tone by one step, the second valve lowers any open tone by a half step and the third valve will lower any open tone by a step and a half.
Nearly all tuba players favor the fixed upright bell. An instrument built in this style is easier to balance, store and transport and receives less wear and tear over time. The danger of the bell-front model is that the bell can fall off. There is also the matter of having to store and transport two cases instead of just one. It is believed the upright bell produces a more beautiful tone quality.
Tubas are pitched in BBb, CC, Eb and F. If you are interested in learning the tuba to provide a source of recreation, then the tuba in BBb is your best choice. Tubas in this key are at home in every situation from concert band to orchestra and chamber ensemble to jazz group. There are a large variety of shapes, sizes and valve systems to choose from which gives you an opportunity to find your ideal horn.
If you are going to aim for the professional world of tuba playing, then you should choose the tuba in CC. This is the choice of professional tuba players and there are many models to chose from. With this tuba, it is recommended that at least five valves be included.
The Eb tuba was very popular many years ago, and has enjoyed a wonderful comeback in recent years. Several excellent models of this instrument are available and if you believe this is your choice you will have no trouble choosing one.
The F tuba is still an instrument that is strictly for the professional player. It is a small instrument that is not useful for amateur situations.
This is a choice you will have to make depending on your age and physical maturity. For most people, a tuba with a medium to medium-large bore is quite suitable. This bore size in terms of measurement would be from .750" to .812". Don't worry, your dealer will be able to provide the appropriate tuba.
Choosing the right mouthpiece is very easy and should not be a concern. The great Dean of Tuba Players, William Bell, counseled that the mouthpiece that comes with the instrument is entirely satisfactory. The author shares that belief and has never found any reason to doubt it.
In general, any tuba mouthpiece especially if it is to be used on the BBb tuba should conform to the following general measurements.
You may wish to have a smaller or larger mouthpiece and a different rim style. You should choose a mouthpiece that feels comfortable on your embouchure and one that allows for the quickest and easiest response when you place it in your tuba.
So that you will have a better understanding of the mouthpiece and its parts, the following information should be carefully read.
RIM: OUTER AND INNER. Simply stated, the rim of the mouthpiece will be your most important consideration. An outer rim that is too thin can cause the blood flow through the lips to be constricted or even stopped leading to a loss of sensitivity and endurance while a rim that is too thick may cause a decrease in flexibility and accuracy. Sometimes referred to as the "bite", the inner rim must be a compromise between sharp and rounded. One that is to sharp will cause a harsh and brittle tone and one that is too rounded can cause thick, cloudy playing and unclear articulation.
CUP VOLUME: The inside of the mouthpiece is called the "cup" because of its shape. Tuba players have to guard against using a very small cup, even though it may facilitate playing in the upper register and produce a "brighter" sound because in the low register the tone will be thin and sharp in pitch. A too large cup does allow for the production of a "darker" tone quality, but can inhibit upper register playing. A medium cup will be just right for you as a beginner and as you mature, a larger cup volume could be considered.
THROAT: The hole at the bottom of the cup is known as the "throat" of the mouthpiece and tuba players should choose a mouthpiece that has a round, gradual entrance that is neither too small or too large.
SHANK: The "shank" of the mouthpiece is the part that fits into the "mouthpiece receiver". Using the stock mouthpiece that comes with your instrument will be your best choice. If you do choose another mouthpiece make sure that it has a standard shank because if it is different, you may have to use an adapter to avoid serious intonation and response problems.
MUTING THE TUBA
Muting the tuba is not done to dampen or soften the sound. It is done to change the tone color. This is true for all brass instruments. There is a misconception that putting a mute in the bell of the tuba will diminish the sound and not disturb others. This true to an extent, but a good mute will allow the sound to project fully and be heard regardless of the dynamic level.
The tuba does not have the wide variety of mutes to choose from that the other brass instruments enjoy. Primarily the tuba is limited to some form of "straight" mute. Simply put, this is a mute that is shaped like a giant ice cream cone with three long strips of cork placed equidistant from each other that allows the mute to fitted into the bell without touching the bell.
There are other mutes available for the tuba such as Velve-tone and Whisper/Whispa. These mutes significantly alter the tone quality and the Whisper/Whispa is also a good device for practicing as it actually does dampen the sound enough to allow tuba players to practice in motel rooms without disturbing other guests.
Tuba mutes are a standard piece of equipment and you will have to choose the appropriate model for your tuba. A number of manufacturers are now producing a good selection of mutes and you should have no trouble choosing a good one.
PURCHASING YOUR TUBA
You now have all of the information necessary to make a wise choice in the model of tuba you purchase. However, you should keep in mind the following facts when making the final choice. After all, this may be a life time investment and you do not need to have any regrets about your choice of tuba.
If you are able to bring a friend who plays the tuba, request their assistance and ask for their opinion on such matters as response, intonation, dynamic response and tone quality. It is true that you are going to live with this instrument, but an informed second opinion is a plus when spending this amount of money.
HOW TO HOLD YOUR TUBA
All tubas, regardless of valve placement, are held in the lap. If you have purchased a tuba with front action valves, the most comfortable position is for have your left hand to grip the tuba on the outside tubing leading to the bell. Place your hand about half the distance down the tube and adjust it for comfort and ease. Curve your right hand with the fingertips resting on top of the valve buttons if you have piston valves or resting on the valve spatulas if you have rotary valves. If there is a thumb ring built on the horn and you find it comfortable to use, do so.
If you have the top action style of tuba, your left arm will cross in front and your left hand will grasp either the middle of the outside tubing or the third valve slide, which ever is more comfortable. Your right hand will be slightly curved and the fingertips will rest on top of the valve buttons. You will probably not have a thumb ring and this will place your thumb under the cross tubing next to the valve casings.
If you discover that the size and weight of the tuba are a little too much for you at first, it is perfectly acceptable to use a tuba stand or a tuba chair. Do not become too attached to either one of these devices, for at some time you are going to have to hold your tuba where it belongs.
After you have purchased your tuba, it is important to understand how to fit the instrument together and after use, how to care for and maintain it. Tubas are very delicate instruments in spite of their size and weight and damage is easily inflicted on them.
Your beautiful tuba is most likely to be damaged when you assemble it for the first time. The following steps are offered to prevent any damage from occurring.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
The expense involved in the purchase of your tuba makes it imperative that you develop a well-designed program of care and maintenance. Keeping your instrument in good repair will protect your investment and extend the life of your tuba for many years.
Following the guidelines below will give you a good program of care and maintenance.
HOW YOUR TUBA MAKES A SOUND
The tuba, like all brass instruments, produces sound when your lips vibrate together. This creates what is called a "buzz". This buzz is similar to that sound produced by the reed(s) of a woodwind instrument. When the buzz is amplified through your tuba, it then becomes "tone".
Simply stated, the "embouchure" describes the position and tension of the lips and the surrounding facial muscles when air is blown through the lips causing them to vibrate. Depending on the amount of tension you use, your lips will vibrate at different speeds producing a variety of high and low pitches.
When you take the first step to form your embouchure, use a mirror. It will let you observe how well you are doing. The mirror should be one that can be placed on a table leaving your hands free. At first, use just the mouthpiece alone.
Relax your jaw, face and all of the muscles in and around your lip area. When you are relaxed, begin to firm the corners of the mouth and add a small amount of tension to the lips. The corners of your mouth should be turned down slightly. Never become so tight that you feel uncomfortable or cause pain. Your lips have to vibrate but will not be able to if you are too tight in any area of the mouth
After you have formed an acceptable embouchure, place your mouthpiece in its proper position. For tuba players, this means that two thirds of the rim will rest on the top lip and one third of the rim will rest on the bottom lip. You should strive to place your mouthpiece in such a way that there will be equal-distance from the right and left corners to the rim of the mouthpiece.
Now that you have successfully formed your embouchure and placed the mouthpiece in its correct position, breathe in through your nose while keeping your lips closed. After this intake of air, release it immediately through your lips. Do this several times while watching yourself in the mirror. Do not puff out your cheeks, push your lips out in a pucker or pull them back in a smile. It is important to have no air leaks at the corners of your lips. Any of these actions will result in poor control, lack of flexibility and unacceptable tone quality.
Remember you are to feel comfortable and your lips should respond freely. You must be careful and avoid too much mouthpiece pressure and too little pressure. Too much pressure can restrict the blood flow to the lips and this could lead to some serious lip trauma, while too little pressure can cause you to develop a stiff, inflexible embouchure. Both too much pressure and too little pressure will inhibit your ability to play the tuba.
Brass players use either a wet or moist embouchure or a dry embouchure. Whether you will choose a wet or dry embouchure will be a personal choice. The wet embouchure is the most popular because it keeps the mouthpiece from sticking to the lips and restricting the player when it comes to catching quick breaths. The wet embouchure is also believed to allow the player more flexibility.
The diagram illustrates the proper embouchure formation and mouthpiece placement.
As you practice your embouchure development, keep in mind the four points listed below.
MAKING THE FIRST SOUND
Please keep in mind that all of your previous work was done without the mouthpiece or tuba. It is now time to place the mouthpiece in your tuba. Push the shank into the receiver gently with a slight amount of pressure. Turn the mouthpiece clockwise so that it will seal completely within the receiver.
Using your mirror, replace your embouchure on the mouthpiece and breathe in through your nose. Hold this air in your lungs for just a few seconds and then release it through your lips into the tuba. Do this several times.
If you were very lucky, the sound was low. Most likely the sound was pinched and squeaky. Don't worry, this is normal. There are several things to check before trying again.
After checking these areas, try it again. Be calm, patient and remember, your lips and facial muscles are being asked to act in a new and different way than ever before. Keep trying for short periods and take time to rest in between attempts. Try to lower the pitch each time you play. This is going to take time, lots of effort and much repetition, so don't become discouraged and gives up.
Once you have achieved a satisfactory sound in the low register, the process of refinement begins. This involves your breath, jaw, teeth, and tongue.
Even though we all breathe to stay alive, the way we breathe when playing a musical instrument will need improvement and adjustment. Playing the tuba requires you to learn to breathe more deeply with greater control so that you won't have to gasp for air after every two or three notes.
Filling your lungs with air is known as "inhaling" while the releasing of air is called "exhalation". Both of these actions are natural to living and should be relaxed and free of tension at all times. The tongue and teeth are kept in their normal positions with the throat open. The upper torso area is held so that the inhaling of air is unrestricted. As you inhale, try to visualize your lungs as balloons that are being filled with air from the bottom to the top.
In exhaling, the lower abdominal muscles apply gentle pressure to the lungs to help expel the air. Do not exert too much force as this causes tension and exhaling, like inhaling, must be relaxed and free from tension
When you first begin this process, it is important to inhale and exhale in one continuous motion. After achieving a free flow of air in and out of your lungs, begin to inhale, hold, and release. The first few times you do this, the resulting notes may be cracked or missed. The object is to inhale, hold the air and release it gently.
It is inevitable that you will hear the term "Diaphragmatic Breathing". This is a misconception that has generated great confusion. The "diaphragm" is a muscle located at the waistline and when we breathe, the diaphragm shapes itself similar to an inverted bowl. It is the kind of muscle known as "involuntary". This means that it cannot act of its own volition and cannot help you to breathe. In fact, the diaphragm is constructed like a set of fingers. When it is activated, these fingers part and rise upward. In truth, there is no such thing as "Diaphragmatic Breathing". Do not be fooled by teachers claiming they can teach you how to use the diaphragm to breathe better.
As a tuba player, you will often have to take deep breaths quickly and quietly. The following exercises have been especially designed to help you develop better breathing technique.
To become effective in your breathing technique, it is important to learn "breath control" and "breath support". Controlling the breath means using the muscles of the upper torso region in combination with a well-developed embouchure to maintain a consistent level of air in the lungs to accomplish all musical requirements. Supporting the breath uses the muscles of the lower abdominal region to apply the right amount of pressure on the lungs so the air can be released naturally.
It will be important for you as a tuba player to be aware that you will need to refill your lungs on a regular basis during your playing. It is vital that you do not breathe in awkward and unmusical points in the music. You must carefully plan each breath and mark the exact spot on the page where you will replace the exhaled air. This will take some practice and once you have made the decision to breathe at particular points, practice taking breaths at these points just as you practice the notes, dynamics and rhythms in your music.
The last consideration for perfect breathing technique is GOOD POSTURE. Good posture is the first step on the road to musical perfection in your playing. Good posture means never slouching, or being too rigid when you are standing or sitting. Good posture lets you breathe freely while holding your instrument in a comfortable position.
The breathing process may be summed as:
THE LOWER JAW
You may not know it, and most of don't, but we humans have only one "jaw" and it is the lower one. The jaw determines the amount of flexibility you achieve, the extent of your range, the beauty of tone, and the quality of your articulation. If your jaw is kept in a rigid position, you will never achieve satisfactory results and your progress will be severely inhibited.
When you descend into the lower register, your jaw will want to open and as you ascend into the upper register it will tend to close. This is the natural tendency for all brass players and is encouraged. In fact, you will want to think of your jaw as being on hinges like a door. Your jaw, like the door, can move in only two directions, down and up.
There is a second hinge that tuba players are concerned with. It is located where the mouthpiece rim rests on the upper lip at the bottom of the nose. Anchor your mouthpiece to this spot and allow it to move up or down depending on the jaw movement. As you ascend the lower rim will want to move inward as the jaw recedes, while descending will cause it to want to move out as the jaw moves forward.
You need to do one more thing and that is to establish a "mid-point". This mid-point allows you play the keynote of your tuba with a full, rich and completely controlled tone. You can find this position by beginning to play the keynote of your tuba with your teeth completely closed and sitting with your back against the back of your chair. By slowly opening your teeth and at the same time leaning forward, you will soon hear your tone open up and take on the qualities mentioned.
Your tongue begins every note. It acts in the same way as the bow used by string players. It determines the way a note is begun and whether the note will be accented or legato and to what extent. The tongue is a muscle and it lets the air held in your lungs to be released through the lips according to the musical requirements. The tongue is not used to stop notes. Stopping a note is a matter of stopping the flow of air at the bottom of the throat in the area known as the "glottis". Ending a note with the tongue adds and extra articulated sound and destroys the quality of the articulation.
There are four styles of articulation used on the tuba and they are: single tongue, double tongue, triple tongue and the slur. With any of these styles of articulation, you must remember that the movement of your tongue is a combination of up and down and back and forth movements, with the emphasis being on the up and down motion. This only makes sense because the up and down motion does not require the tongue to travel so great a distance as it would if the emphasis was placed on the back and forth motion.
In all styles of articulation, the tongue must be relaxed. A tense tongue leads to late note beginnings, explosive note beginnings and inhibits the speed at which articulation can be executed. A relaxed tongue will also prevent excessive jaw movement or "chewing" which results in a heavy, thuddy kind of note beginning.
It is the single that you will be concerned with during your initial introduction to the tuba. This a type of articulation in which you will use only one syllable to begin any note. Double tonguing is a style of articulation in which notes are produced in multiples of twos, while triple tonguing is that style of articulation in which the notes are grouped in multiples of threes. These multiple-tonguing styles require the use of two syllables and these are usually, "Tu" and Ku".
In multiple-tonguing, the syllables must be even in weight and length. The "Tu" must not be longer or louder than the "KU". It is best to practice only the K syllable alone for two weeks beginning with quarter note equal to sixty beats per minute and gradually increasing the tempo. Uniformity of note beginning, middle and ending is your goal. When this has been achieved, you should then begin to use both the T and K syllables together with the same goal of equal length and weight for each. Multiple tonguing should only be learned after you have mastered the single tongue. Double and triple tonguing techniques are used for the purpose of clarity and are not to be substituted in place of the single tongue.
As you begin your first attempts at articulation, try not to "attack" any notes. Think instead of "pronouncing" the notes by saying the word "too". You would of course not actually sound this word verbally, but would use your air stream, tongue and mouth to form this word as you engage your tongue. You may not achieve perfect results the first time you try to use your tongue. Keep at it and eventually you will find just the right place for your tongue and exactly how to begin each note you play. It is important to remember that all syllables be pronounced in a manner as closely related to speech as possible. Do not swallow your syllables by placing them too far back in your throat.
You may find yourself producing articulations by letting your tongue go between the teeth and through the lips. This type of articulation is dangerous for tuba players because it can cause heavy and ponderous note beginnings.
Many teachers and performers of brass instruments advocate what is commonly referred to as the "tongue arch". Simply stated, this process is achieved by arching the back of the tongue up when ascending and lowering the back of the tongue when descending. No recommendation for or against this method is offered. It will be a matter of individual choice.
In simple terms, slurring is the movement from one note to another in smaller or greater numbers. The difference in slurring and tonguing is that only the first note of a group would be articulated and the rest of the slurred passage would be played by smoothly connecting the notes to one another without using the tongue.
Slurs often present problems for players, especially if they are to be executed in ascending passages. The lower jaw functions in slurring precisely as it does in strict articulation. It will open or close depending on the register and the pattern of the slur group. You must be careful no to over-compensate by having too much or even too little jaw movement because this could impede the smoothness of the slur.
Other problems you may encounter with slurring will involve the breath and valve manipulation. You must have continuous airflow from the beginning to the end of the slur group in order to achieve the continuous sound called for in slurring. The common mistake in valve manipulation is to depress and release the valves too slow causing distortions in the slur group. No matter what the tempo, always use a quick, firm finger technique.
In slurring, the use of different syllables is sometimes advocated as a means of aiding the completion of a slur. Once again, this technique has been used effectively. One drawback to this changing of the oral cavity is that the tone color is affected by the use of different vowel sounds in the same way that our spoken words are affected. If you choose to experiment with these ideas, do so while listening very carefully to any changes that occur.
Correct valve negotiation is integral to fine articulation. Valves must be depressed firmly and quickly regardless of the tempo. After the note has been sounded and held for its proper length, the valves should then be released and allowed to recover freely. In slow tempos the tendency is to depress the valves slowly, thus making a small smear of the sound, while in rapid tempos, many players will jam the valves down and then release them too quickly. For those who are mature enough, physically, you may wish to try this next exercise after you have studied for a few weeks. It is one that will assist you in the development of tongue and finger coordination.
Begin by standing and holding your tuba in its proper playing position. Place your fingers on the correct valve and using your metronome, take one step for each click when you set the metronome at quarter note equal to 60 beats per minute.
When you find this beat and can move to it in a steady walk, begin your training by pressing the first valve down on your left foot and releasing it on your right foot. Proceed through each valve and valve combination in order. Listen carefully and make sure that when depressing more than one valve they all reach their descent at exactly the same time.
Once you have worked on this part of the exercise for a time, then begin to play notes using the individual valves and the various valve combinations. The object is to articulate at the precise moment of valve movement. This exercise should become part of your everyday routine.
As you become more involved with music, you will notice "slurred" notes. This is part of the articulation process and takes time and practice to perfect. Slurring means that you begin the first note of a passage with your tongue and then with a combination of embouchure, jaw and air stream, move from one note to another without using your tongue. In ascending passages, you will close your jaw and in descending passages, you will open it.
To become proficient in the articulation process, remain patient and practice every day until articulation becomes a basic part of your technique.
You now possess the essentials to begin studying the tuba. The next portion of your study will be concerned with learning how to read music. If you cannot read music, you will never know what notes to play and how long they should last.