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Thread: Help with Tuba embouchure

  1. Help with Tuba embouchure

    hello, I've been playing tuba for about three years and was pretty good at it until one day out of nowhere my lips start feeling very stiff and can barely hit any note without cracking it.
    Also another problem is when I'm playing notes between a G and B flat I get a double buzz which is when the side of my lip starts buzzing along with the center and it is starting to irritate me.
    I am losing confidence in my playing and can't find any way to fix this problem. If anyone had a similar experience or knows how to fix this please help because I am getting very desperate and I want to
    be able to enjoy playing my instrument with confidence again. By the way this has been happening to me for a month now.

  2. Quote Originally Posted by risingtuba View Post
    hello, I've been playing tuba for about three years and was pretty good at it until one day out of nowhere my lips start feeling very stiff and can barely hit any note without cracking it.
    "Some days you get up and put the horn to your chops and it sounds pretty good and you win. Some days you try and nothing works and the horn wins. This goes on and on and then you die and the horn wins." -- Dizzy Gillispe.
    Also another problem is when I'm playing notes between a G and B flat I get a double buzz
    There are lots of reasons why one can have a double buzz. Check out this blog post and embedded video for an overview of the most common causes (though I would note that a lot of brass players, regardless of instrument, "flip" their lips/airstream--the first cause Wilken discusses--around the third-fourth partials).
    I am losing confidence in my playing and can't find any way to fix this problem. If anyone had a similar experience or knows how to fix this please help because I am getting very desperate and I want to be able to enjoy playing my instrument with confidence again.
    This is really something that should be addressed under the guidance and direction of an competent, experienced teacher.

  3. #3
    Certainly you want to consult with an experienced teacher!

    But I'm interested in the phrase "out of nowhere" - have you thought about "outside" factors that coincide with the time this started happening? For example, did your sleep schedule change dramatically? Did you start/stop a medication (even over-the-counter stuff, especially cold or allergy related, can cause the chops to stiffen)? Did you make any substantial changes in your diet?

    Anything that affects your body can make your chops less cooperative. When I'm having allergy troubles (i.e. most days!) I take meds that tend to dry me out. This makes the chops stiffer. I have to be really virtuous about drinking a LOT of water and also using some kind of lip balm to help my chops stay supple.

    Chop problems can happen suddenly sometimes, but often there is a lifestyle or health issue that causes it.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    Certainly you want to consult with an experienced teacher!

    But I'm interested in the phrase "out of nowhere" - have you thought about "outside" factors that coincide with the time this started happening? For example, did your sleep schedule change dramatically? Did you start/stop a medication (even over-the-counter stuff, especially cold or allergy related, can cause the chops to stiffen)? Did you make any substantial changes in your diet?

    Anything that affects your body can make your chops less cooperative. When I'm having allergy troubles (i.e. most days!) I take meds that tend to dry me out. This makes the chops stiffer. I have to be really virtuous about drinking a LOT of water and also using some kind of lip balm to help my chops stay supple.

    Chop problems can happen suddenly sometimes, but often there is a lifestyle or health issue that causes it.
    +1

    A friend of mine (a trumpet player) recently reported he'd started taking CoQ10 (a supplement) for joint health (he's a runner) and shortly afterward noticed he was losing his high register. After some time of decreasing ability to play high notes, and trying to figure out what the problem was, he stopped the CoQ10, and within days his high register had come back. He'd searched the internet (including trumpet specific sites) and found nothing identifying this as an issue for others. His hypothesis is that CoQ10 causes muscle relaxation which prevented him from maintaining tight corners. That may or may not be a correct conclusion, and anyway that's not the specific problem being discussed here, but does illustrate that even OTC stuff might have an effect on an apparently-unrelated part of your body.

    --Frank

  5. #5
    i realize this is a two year old thread, but i recently went thru a similar experience. i began playing a few months ago after having layed off for 15 years or more. i have rebuilt my chops from scratch to get rid of (hopefully) the old bad habits i had before. i was doing well and suddenly my lips began the same symptoms of the original poster. i was really disappointed because i had more range and flexibility than ever before.

    i layed off for a while and my chops would come back then they'd go away, come back, go away...

    i hadn't thought of it, but at the same time, i've been trying to get back into my vitamin/supplement/diet regimen and coincidentally, one of the supplements i take is the COQ10. i would forget to take the pills from time to time... maybe when i missed the dosages, my lips would come back a little...

    my chops have improved some the past week or so, but not like they were before... i had concluded that switching to a different mouthpiece had helped, but i've also realized that the past week i've not taken any supplements/vitamins either. i'll have to look at this some more.

    it is a terrible feeling, my lips were uncontrollable and i could barely buzz...

  6. #6
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    Diagnosis by internet is virtually impossible. However, I am extremely skeptical that your problem is attributable to COQ10, vitamins, suplements or similar things.

    I can only offer this: Based on my own experience, any embouchure problems I have encountered from time to time seem to always be associated with too much pressure of the embouchure on the mouthpiece. I would suspect this even more strongly if you had been doing exercises to increase your high range or to achieve better intonation by focusing on a tuner while playing.

    Are you having the problem EVERYWHERE in your range? Can you, by focusing a bit on relaxation, play the Blazevich studies? Can you play well below the staff (an octave or more below it)? Often switching to a different mouthpiece forces a kind of relaxation (at least for a while) -- until you get used to it and start forcing things again .

    Just some thoughts.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  7. #7
    as a 30+ year teacher i completely understand what you're saying. perhaps you're right, i may not realize the amount of pressure i'm using, but i'm fairly certain that i'm not, but you may be assured that i WILL be checking.

    i have no explanation for what has happened, i can't think that anything i've done would cause this. outside of simple overexertion of the embouchure muscles from not having played for 15+ years. i can't imagine why it would wait and show up so many weeks after i started playing again. yes, i am ... grasping at straws for an explanation ...

    you were correct to assume i have been working on range, but mainly in the low register, using lowell little's embouchure builder... lots of slow low slurred exercises.

    i have tried several mouthpieces i have in my collection, and have pretty well settled on my old Bach 24AW for right now. i have a helleberg that i like, but the rim doesn't feel good. after i've played a few more months i want to experiment with a bach 12 or 7 just to see how they sound.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbrown View Post
    have pretty well settled on my old Bach 24AW for right now
    While this is a very popular mouthpiece to give students (why, I've never understood), and is somewhat popular in Britain, most tubists regard it as pretty dreadful (often referring to it as a "paperweight"). But if it worked for you before ...

    i have a helleberg that i like, but the rim doesn't feel good. after i've played a few more months i want to experiment with a bach 12 or 7 just to see how they sound.
    If it's a Conn 120S, I've never really liked that at all -- though it's hugely popular, it's too large for me and seems to suck the breath out of me. For a Helleberg, I really like the Schilke 66 (which also has a fairly narrow rim). Beware of using too big a mouthpiece. Many (MANY) tuba players use mouthpieces that are simply too large for them, and I've seen Oystein Baadsvik, in a master class, tell an advanced student that his mouthpiece (a PT-88) was just too big for him. You might try getting a Bach 25 or a Kelly 25 (only about $30 and useful for cold weather playing) and see how you do. It's a bit smaller than the 24AW, the rim is wide, but not as wide as the 24AW, and it's really quite a good mouthpiece.

    So much of the mouthpiece selection depends on the player in various ways -- and some on the horn. It took me a lot of experimentation to settle on the Wick 2XL for my 981 clone, and it is absolutely the best for me and the horn (after trying probably a dozen alternatives). Previously, I couldn't have imagined using it. On my BBb horn I had previously, I was using either a Schilke 66 (Helleberg style) or a Miraphone TU-17 or PT-63. But the EEb demands the Wick. The 2L worked as well, but the narrow rim was fatiguing after about a half hour.

    Also ... Just lay off playing for about a week, then go back to it and see what happens. It may really be just fatigue and too much too soon.

    Finally, you might have to consider (brace yourself) that you're seeing an age-related phenomenon. If, for example, you're comparing how you were playing in your 40s to how you are now playing in your 60s (or similar), and you haven't played for 15 years in between, there may just some consequences to this. I know that in my case I have two problems (at 67) that I didn't have in my 40s: upper body strength which affects just holding a tuba effectively and comfortably (I now use stand I made), and breath volume and control (it just ain't the same). Sic transit gloria.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  9. #9
    I just like that big ol' fat rim on the 24AW :-) i have an ancient 25 in the box that i might give a go sometime. i've tried it but never used it much. it's so old most of the plating has worn off and the stamped printing is in a very different font than i see on the present day bachs. i have no idea of the age or where i got it, even.

    i have two mouthpieces i mainly used... the 24AW because i love that big ol' fat rim. i could play for hours without getting tired... and an ancient mirafone BBb 18 that i don't remember where it came from or can't find anything about it anywhere on the internet. i'm curious about it and wonder what it compares to in other brands.

    it's comfortable, my flexibility is good and the cup feels shallower than the 24AW. the tone in the upper register is smooth, but the lower register takes a lot of work.

    i use the 24AW when i play in bands and the mirafone when i do solo stuff. (not that i've done that much in recent days)

    i don't see age as an issue at this time so far as playing goes. the only problem i have with the instrument i'm using now (TE-1914L, 5/4, 4 rotary BBb tuba) is getting it up and down steps and into the honda element i presently drive. i think i've solved that with a little 2 wheel appliance dolly and a couple of bungee straps. the ruptured and compromised disks in my neck and back didn't appreciate the lifting.

    the instrument is actually a little tall for me when i put it in my lap so i've gone to using a padded bench that i use with my keyboard synths... its long enough i can straddle it, put the bottom of the instrument on the bench and play... makes it just right. it folds up, so i carry it to band practice with me even.

    its big, but not nearly as big as those moster Besson's the university had. we had to build pedestals for them to rest on... they had that big old ball on the bottom you had to watch out for when you put it in your lap...

    i had some trouble at first filling this horn up, but i'm used to it pretty much now.. when i go to the other horns i have to watch myself. because my compression is improved, i discovered i have a leak in the York Eb and am in the process of arranging repairs.

    i see that i've rambled on... my wife warns me of that but she's not here right now :-)

    one more comment regarding supplements... i used various and sundry supplements during my days of martial arts study and having seen the effect they can have (i'm talking herbals like ginseng/muahang/etc) and the effect melatonin has on my sleep cycle, i wouldn't be surprised that the COQ10 might contribute to a problem. but that's just me...

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbrown View Post
    one more comment regarding supplements... i used various and sundry supplements during my days of martial arts study and having seen the effect they can have (i'm talking herbals like ginseng/muahang/etc) and the effect melatonin has on my sleep cycle, i wouldn't be surprised that the COQ10 might contribute to a problem. but that's just me...
    Well, as someone who spent some years and significant research in pharmaceutical adverse event detection, I can tell you that the biggest problems with "supplements" and "herbals" are both the impurities (though usually not too significant), the dosage you're getting (usually impossible to predict and rely on within a very close range), and interactions you may encounter with the more of these you mix (since very few studies have been done of these interactions). We know relatively little about multi-drug interactions for FDA-regulated drugs. We know even less about multi-substance interactions for substances that are not regulated. So you're right to be at least a bit suspicious. Also, if you switch brands of supplements and herbals, you get even more variation. My wife encountered this in trying to use them for estrogen replacement therapy, eventually having to give up on that approach. I've had such variation myself in the case of a well-known drug for diabetes (which I no longer take). Switching from the branded drug to a generic resulted in a noticeable loss in efficacy. I went back to the "dispense as written" branded version. I then found an epidemiological study done on that drug and its various generic versions that showed that SOME of those versions were at least as good as the branded version, but MOST of them did not have the same efficacy (FDA requires only "bioequivalence" for a generic; and not identical efficacy). So this sort of thing isn't just a problem with herbals and supplements -- and most people are ignorant of this fact or think it's just BS put out by the drug companies. It's not. If you take generics and (almost always the case) your drug store or online provider regularly changes their generic supplier/manufacturer, there is some chance that you will run into efficacy issues from time to time. But I see that I'm rambling here.

    If your supplements and herbals are the cause, then finding it may be VERY difficult, and the only way is to stop everything, and then (over time) add one thing back at a time. Some years ago my wife suddenly developed what appeared to be some kind of allergic reaction to something -- manifesting as frequent hives. Quite unpleasant. Numerous allergy tests later, there was no resolution except the allergist was confident it was some kind of food allergy. Through very careful self-control and testing over at least a year, she finally discovered she had developed an allergy to yeast -- which is in almost all prepared foods. Once she discovered that and avoided products with ANY yeast, the hives disappeared (and about five or six years later she became insensitive to yeast again). But finding the cause was an exhausting and exhaustive process. So if the problem is with diet or supplements, I genuinely wish you luck. Hope it's something else.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

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