In my first article, I
wrote about the "metal instrument" that we call the
tuba. In this article, I am wish to cover some basic fundamentals
that are often misunderstood and this lack of understanding can
and often does, lead to bad habits that require a lot of remedial
help later in the life of the tuba player. While some of these
items will seem basic and elementary, I urge all who read this to
evaluate their approach to playing the tuba.
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 used, the lips will vibrate at different
speeds producing a variety of high and low pitches.
When taking 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
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
As you practice your embouchure development, keep in
mind the four points listed below.
1. Facial and oral
cavities, tongue, and teeth in a relaxed position. The throat is
to be open at all times.
2. Lip corners kept firm, not tight or clamped, and the teeth
3. Mouthpiece resting in a position that is comfortable with two
thirds of the rim on the upper lip and one third of the rim on
the bottom lip
4. Keep the chin flat and pointed down with the lips in a natural
position that is not pulled back or puckered. Avoid bunching up
MAKING THE FIRST SOUND
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.
1. Did you pinch your lips
2. Did you puff your cheeks?
3. Were your lips too loose and flabby?
4. Did you try and blow too hard?
5. Did you not blow hard enough?
6. Was your mouthpiece in the right position?
7. Were your tongue and teeth in the way?
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 give 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.
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
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 not 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
your hands at your waist and inhale slowly and deeply. Do
not throw your chest out or hold yourself in a rigid way.
Fill your lungs completely from the bottom up. If you are
doing this correctly, your hands will be pushed away
slightly. When you have filled your lungs, release the
air normally. Do this exercise several times before
proceeding to number two.
the sitting position, lean forward and place both hands
flat on the floor beside your feet. Keep your arms
straight down. Breathe in very slowly filling your lungs
from the bottom to the top. You will feel your rib cage
expand and at the same time you will feel yourself
sitting up. You will need to repeat this process several
next exercise will help you increase the amount of air
you take into your lungs. Begin by expelling all of the
air from your lungs. Next, breathe in completely and
deeply as much air as you can for a period of ten
seconds. Hold the air for ten seconds and release the air
completely over a ten second period. Do this at least
three times. When you can do this exercise comfortably,
increase the three parts of the exercise by five second
increments over a period of time. This exercise should
take you several weeks to accomplish.
breathing" is a technique that tuba players use to
retain a great amount of air in their lungs to produce
the volume of sound required. To practice catch
breathing, inhale and fill your lungs to the limit. Wait
just a few seconds and then quickly inhale another small
amount. Do this several times without letting any air
escape from your lungs. Once you have reached the
bursting point, slowly release all of the air in your
lungs and repeat this exercise for several minutes. This
is an exercise that you will continue to do over and over
for as long as you play the tuba.
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:
and exhaling without hesitation.
from the bottom of the throat.
the body relaxed and filling the lungs from the bottom to
from "chest" breathing.
and practicing all breathing points in your music.
through the corners of the mouth without disturbing the
free of physical contortions or unnatural positions.
THE LOWER JAW
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 lets 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.
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
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 air flow 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
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.
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Last Modified: August 4, 2016