More Thoughts on TubaPrintable version...
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.
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 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.
As you practice your embouchure development, keep in mind the four points listed below.
MAKING THE FIRST SOUND
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 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.
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 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 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
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 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 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.