Although I’ve taught applied tuba for twelve of the fifteen years that I have taught applied lessons at the university level, I have only seriously practiced the instrument and become reasonably proficient at performing on it in the past year or so. There are a number of reasons for this, including the expense of purchasing an instrument and the fear that practicing the tuba, with its substantially larger mouthpiece than my various trombone and euphonium mouthpieces, would somehow negatively impact my playing on my other instruments. Still, my desire to be a better tuba teacher and the opportunity to purchase a very reasonably-priced instrument ultimately overcame my reservations, and I am happy to report that my tuba playing is going quite well. Although there was a very tiny bit of embouchure disruption at the very beginning and I ultimately sold the first tuba I purchased to get one that was more ergonomically suitable for me, adding tuba into my regular practice, teaching, and performing work has been relatively easy. Perhaps more importantly, my tuba students have expressed great appreciation for my efforts, have been patient as I have slowly mastered E-flat tuba fingerings, and have been a little frustrated when I have been able to play their music on an instrument so new to me. All of that said, here are a few reflections on the work I’ve done in the past year, and some of the ideas which led up to it. I’ll say at the outset that my only regret about the whole process is that I didn’t undertake it years ago!
1. My education as a tuba teacher began well before any formal training as such.
Once I set myself upon the path of establishing a career as a studio teacher I always envisioned myself as a “low brass teacher,” as my undergraduate professor was, rather than only as a “trombone teacher.” To me this made sense, as it would open additional career options for me in addition to providing the satisfying challenges of teaching multiple instruments. As a graduate student I took special care to study euphonium and tuba pedagogy in addition to my required trombone work in order to prepare myself to this end, but my real education as a tuba teacher began years before this. I was fortunate to have serious tuba students among my roommates for the entirety of my undergraduate career, and much of my knowledge of the instrument can be traced to “talking shop” in the single-wide trailer we shared (and practiced in!). Additionally, I fondly remember taking long road trips to a regional tuba-euphonium conference and to the then-famous “tuba room” at the Woodwind and Brasswind store in South Bend, Indiana, where one of my roommates purchased his first F tuba. Some of the most important learning really does take place on informal occasions such as these.
2. The similarities between euphonium and tuba are tremendous.
I have always viewed the euphonium and tuba as simply different members of the same family of instruments, with very similar approaches to blowing, tone production, and other techniques, only at different pitch levels. In this way I was able to teach tuba by analogy from the euphonium, and with very good success. I applied the same approaches to developing my own tuba playing, and have found that they worked very well, indeed. In a way, this experience has vindicated the approach I have always taken to teaching the tuba, as well as my way of approaching doubling on multiple low brass instruments generally, which is explored in my book on the subject.
3. A buzz is a buzz, is a buzz. Mostly.
A key concept in my book on low brass doubling is that of trying to have the same tonal range on all of the low brass instruments one plays. While different instruments respond more readily and with a better sound to notes in different parts of the range, the player creates the buzz, and it is always desirable to not be dependent upon the instrument in one’s hands to enable the production of a certain pitch. I have continued applying that same approach to the tuba, and really can play almost as high on it as on any of the trombones, and as low on the trombones as on the tuba. Of course, the tuba sounds better than the trombones down low (bass trombone excepted—that sound is different, not better or worse), and vice versa. While I had been concerned that the larger mouthpiece would somehow be problematic for me, that really hasn’t been the case at all.
4. One tuba really isn’t enough to do everything.
The one tuba I own and play regularly at present is an E-flat tuba, which I chose because as a bass tuba it is nimble enough to explore the advanced solo and chamber repertoire for tuba but it is a little bigger and with a fuller low range than the F tuba. Still, trying to play literature and especially orchestral excerpts intended for the larger contrabass tubas (BB-flat or CC) has demonstrated the limitations of this instrument. While I don’t anticipate doing any orchestral tuba playing anytime soon and should be able to manage my present requirements reasonably well with just this one instrument, the serious tubist really does need to own both bass and contrabass tubas in order to adequately meet all performance demands.
5. Want to be more than “just a doubler” on a new secondary instrument? Schedule a solo performance!
In all of my activities as a “multi-low-low-brass-instrumentalist” over nearly twenty years I have never been content to be “just a doubler” on any of my instruments, and the tuba is no exception. Therefore, once I saw things were going pretty well with my tuba playing I immediately scheduled a solo performance. Although the Impromptus for Solo Tuba by Robert Muczynski (1929-2010) might be an odd choice for a first tuba solo performance, the last Faculty Recital Series concert at Ole Miss this year was an entire program of works by Muczynski. This little tuba solo also happens to be his only low brass solo work, so the decision was just about made for me. Preparing solo repertoire is a great way to stretch one’s skills on a new instrument, and I have already begun planning a recital program for bass trombone and tuba for the fall tentatively entitled “The Big Horns.” In the meantime, enjoy this recording of the Muczynski performance.