Playing Tips: Tuba Performance

Regarding Tuba Performance

Two musicians who have made quotations which are brief and yet speak volumes: Arnold Jacobs defines music as, “The Art of sound,” and Julius Hemphill says, “An artist’s first responsibility is to communicate with their own imagination.”

Art is what happens when we communicate our imaginations with one another. Poets use words, sculptors use marble, dancers use the body, and musicians use sound. We must first have in our mind the sound we wish to make before we can share what is in our imagination.

To play the tuba requires having a great sound in your imagination, then learning to sing by using a free flowing wind vibrating our lips, instead of our vocal chords, thus resonating the big metal thing we call a tuba.

Tips for developing a big full sound, while being relaxed in the playing:

  • Inhalation – Always breath to fill up, as full as possible.
  • Exhalation – Relax to let the air flow out. No pushing, just light, full air.
  • Buzz familiar songs on the mouthpiece – Use the back of the hand to feel the cloud of air produced from full relaxed lungs.
  • Long tones – These are an opportunity to establish great big and relaxed breaths, as well as to listen to the sound for an open, singing, full quality.
  • Scales – Practice all majors, minors, whole tones, and diminished scales to a metronome. Slur first then tongue. Keep the breath of the slur moving even when articulating. Practicing with the metronome helps develop an accurate sense of time, which any tuba player worth his weight in any band must have.
  • Practice great music – When playing great music play your best. Make every effort to make it sound like the best in the world. Imagine what it would sound like if performed by one of the greatest musicians ever.

Another great quote by Arnold Jacobs is: “Get the horn in the head going before the horn in the hands.”

The bass voice in any ensemble is capable of creating great motion, drive or swing, helping to anchor and move harmony, keep pulse, and create variety in color and shading just by changing the balance. The better we sound on the bottom in terms of resonance, rhythm, clarity, and buoyance the better the rest of the ensemble will sound.

Eric Henry — Hot House, Carlisle, PA
Copyright 1/12/98