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Beginning Tuba Players

Postby Fabio78 » Wed Sep 26, 2018 4:23 pm

Hey all! Creating this post to pick brains and hear different thoughts - NOT to start arguments or debates!!!

Recently I've been doing a lot of reflecting on teaching beginning tuba players. Currently, I'm teaching in a school district where I get to work with all of the tuba players at our junior high/middle school - which is AWESOME. I've seen different approaches to starting young tuba players, and I've definitely experimented with what I do with them through many private lessons and tuba classes.

One of my biggest thoughts/discussion points to bring up is - to buzz or not to buzz? I've seen band directors do both (more often in favor of buzzing), and it makes sense from a teaching standpoint - when you have an entire beginning brass class, it's definitely more beneficial to have all of them doing something so that they're engaged in class. And, in my opinion, buzzing does have benefit to an extent for tuba players. But, I've also noticed that tuba students who begin with buzzing can sometimes develop a very tight/restrictive embouchure because it can be difficult to produce a buzzed pitch due to the lack of resistance in a tuba mouthpiece compared to smaller brass instrument mouthpieces.

What are some thoughts on this topic as well as some approaches that you take with younger students that seem to be successful? I'll start - I incorporate less buzzing and a whole lot more focus on air production and flow through the mouthpiece (no resistance, establishing a steady and uninterrupted air stream, breathing gym exercises, etc). When the students are having trouble holding a steady pitch, we'll sometimes buzz, but I have them cover up part of the shank with their pinky to add resistance to make buzzing and hearing a pitch easier.

Again, I know there are definitely two major schools of thought (and perhaps others), but I'm asking all of this to find the best approach for my students and what will help them be more successful tuba players and musicians! Other thoughts on beginning tuba players unrelated to the buzz topic are welcome too! Five years of undergrad can never teach you enough :roll:
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby fenne1ca » Wed Sep 26, 2018 10:03 pm

I use buzzing with my students when they are having issues with accurate pitch/wrong partials. In combination with the piano and singing/humming, buzzing gets me/them good results RE: audiation. I definitely recommend a pinky over the shank, or BERP or buzz-tube as available. BERP, of course, adds a great deal of ergonomic memory (for better or worse, use judgment case-by-case).
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby Donn » Wed Sep 26, 2018 10:10 pm

fenne1ca wrote:I use buzzing with my students when they are having issues with accurate pitch/wrong partials.


Is there anything about the way you get them doing it, that might be avoiding that tight embouchure problem? Sounds like sound production comes first, buzzing later if at all?
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby mctuba1 » Wed Sep 26, 2018 10:22 pm

Buzzing is extremely beneficial at all levels from beginners to pros. With those that are just starting, have them use a finger to cover at least 50% of the end of the shank of the mpc. This will allow for some resistance and then you can focus on less pressure on the mpc. Teach buzzing on the mpc as the real instrument because the tuba is just an amplifier of what is put in the mpc.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby fenne1ca » Wed Sep 26, 2018 10:40 pm

mctuba1 wrote: Teach buzzing on the mpc as the real instrument because the tuba is just an amplifier of what is put in the mpc.

This.

Donn wrote:
Is there anything about the way you get them doing it, that might be avoiding that tight embouchure problem? Sounds like sound production comes first, buzzing later if at all?


My students have always come to me with some degree of ability already (all high school age thus far). As far as helping them stay relaxed, I just focus on relaxation as the goal in everything from breathing to fingers to embouchure. Major focus on mindfulness, and setting oneself up so that everything feels comfortable.

If they sound like they’re getting “tight,” we remove the mouthpiece and isolate the buzz mechanisms to focus on ideal sound production, an airy tone rather than bumble bee-like. I also include a short bit of mouthpiece buzzing at the beginning of lessons (and frequently in my own practice) to prime the “feel” of good tone in the mind.

Apart from buzzing (off-topic? sorry if so), exercises focused on light articulation and quiet, consistent playing also seem to help - I’m a big fan of the Brass Gym “Soft Touch” and “Chromatics” sections, performed at pianissississimo with the best tone possible. It’s hard to be tense when playing so gently, but easy to identify if it does happen.

I don’t employ buzzing solely to correct pitch accuracy, that just seemed the most relevant to the original post. Thank you for prompting me to expand, though - reflecting upon and articulating my methods is always a welcome refresher.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby jperry1466 » Thu Sep 27, 2018 12:45 am

A lot of this depends on the age and maturity of your beginner students. In the years of teaching 6th grade beginners, buzzing was problematic due to two factors: 1. The size of the mouthpiece vs. 11-year-old lips and teeth, which made for the tighter/higher buzz, and 2. I usually had tubas mixed with euphoniums and sometimes trombones in the same class period, so they were unconsciously duplicating what they heard from the higher octave instruments, both in buzzing and beginning to blow in the horn. I had to constantly model the lower buzz and lower octave notes for them, and it was a rare year when we could have tubas alone in a class. Starting them on the smallest mouthpieces we could find helped, usually a Bach 32E, and then in the spring graduated to Bach 22 or Helleberg 7B. By then, the buzzing was not a problem, and we could use it for better pitch matching and fixing wrong partials. You may find a better way, but this was the most effective for us.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby Leland » Fri Sep 28, 2018 6:59 pm

jperry1466 wrote: 2. I usually had tubas mixed with euphoniums and sometimes trombones in the same class period, so they were unconsciously duplicating what they heard from the higher octave instruments, both in buzzing and beginning to blow in the horn.

Oh, hey -- just started to wonder if it would help for the tubas to be around other bass instruments for at least part of the time (string bass, low woodwinds, etc).

For beginning-level buzzing --

I don't think it helps to try doing it right away, at least not until a good sound is formed on the horn. A mouthpiece-specific buzz -- that's ideal for the length and interior volume of a mouthpiece -- always sounds pinched compared to a buzz that's intended for an entire tuba. Christian Lindberg's [infamous] video about buzzing is correct* in saying that if a player works to make a clear, fuzz-free buzz on a mouthpiece, it's only going to make the mouthpiece resonate, and it's not going to do enough to make the rest of the horn resonate.

I think the progression should be to get a good sound on the horn first, no matter how long it takes, then buzz on the mouthpiece for accuracy of attacks.

Here's what I've done, in practice rooms and in sectionals, to fix specific issues. Problem -- Resolution:
Tone quality -- Play on the horn
Tempo, phrasing -- Air & valves
Fracks -- Buzz
Projection -- open all the spit valves (no, really, try this)

* I think he was quite incorrect when he said that there's no benefit whatsoever in buzzing on the mouthpiece.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby jperry1466 » Sat Sep 29, 2018 12:07 am

With the exception of string bass and contrabass clarinet, those other bass instruments still sound an octave above the tuba, unless they are playing in their lowest range while the tuba is mid-range. I think there is a lot of benefit to buzzing; it is just so difficult in the first few weeks for those little 11-year-old embouchures.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby Donn » Sat Sep 29, 2018 10:17 am

jperry1466 wrote:With the exception of string bass and contrabass clarinet, those other bass instruments still sound an octave above the tuba, unless they are playing in their lowest range while the tuba is mid-range.


For your amusement, or someone's anyway, try playing the same reasonably low note for them, say F right below the staff, on a trombone and a tuba. I've done this for adult musicians even, who had a hard time deciding whether it really was the same note, or an octave apart. And after that no one will want to play the trombone, but maybe that's just my bias.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby jperry1466 » Sat Sep 29, 2018 12:45 pm

Donn wrote:
jperry1466 wrote:With the exception of string bass and contrabass clarinet, those other bass instruments still sound an octave above the tuba, unless they are playing in their lowest range while the tuba is mid-range.


For your amusement, or someone's anyway, try playing the same reasonably low note for them, say F right below the staff, on a trombone and a tuba. I've done this for adult musicians even, who had a hard time deciding whether it really was the same note, or an octave apart. And after that no one will want to play the trombone, but maybe that's just my bias.


Agree. Timbres are so different it can be hard to tell, especially for non tubists. If that's a bias, I share it.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby Leland » Sat Sep 29, 2018 6:34 pm

jperry1466 wrote:
Donn wrote:
jperry1466 wrote:With the exception of string bass and contrabass clarinet, those other bass instruments still sound an octave above the tuba, unless they are playing in their lowest range while the tuba is mid-range.


For your amusement, or someone's anyway, try playing the same reasonably low note for them, say F right below the staff, on a trombone and a tuba. I've done this for adult musicians even, who had a hard time deciding whether it really was the same note, or an octave apart. And after that no one will want to play the trombone, but maybe that's just my bias.


Agree. Timbres are so different it can be hard to tell, especially for non tubists. If that's a bias, I share it.


That's closer to what I meant, that the timbre of a bass clarinet or bass strings is more tuba-like than a trombone or trumpet.

But, I agree that smaller mouthpieces that fit smaller faces would help, too. I think my early trombone playing must've been helped a lot by the Bach 18c mouthpiece I had.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby Fabio78 » Mon Oct 01, 2018 5:00 pm

Leland wrote:Oh, hey -- just started to wonder if it would help for the tubas to be around other bass instruments for at least part of the time (string bass, low woodwinds, etc).


^^^That's something I definitely do when they reach 7th and 8th grade when we work on literature that has identical (or nearly identical) parts. I don't think it's as practical to do in the beginning year (whether that be 5th or 6th grade) because I'm focusing a ton on note literacy - as much as it's great for low voices to be together (tubas, bass clarinets, bari saxes), it's challenging trying to teach a dozen beginners that read three different transpositions.

Definitely on board with a ton that's been said so far! Goes without saying, but playing with them/for them is equally important to model the ideal sound (and to help with matching pitches, etc.). Sometimes I'll also have half the students buzz and half of them play so that I can hear individuals better - not everyone has to be doing the same thing at the same time!

I find tongue placement to be another common issue - typically it's too high in their mouthes. What I've done to help is take the kids through a vowel exercise that I stole from a choral methods class - we go through the syllables "dee, dah, doh, doo" to feel the placement of the tongue through each of those vowels, and I encourage them to use "doh" and "doo" more since it promotes a lower tongue. I've seen the "E to O" exercise from the Breathing Gym, and we use that in marching band for the brass - unfortunately, for younger/immature students, they usually go crazy and can't focus on doing it correctly. Does anybody have any other strategies for tongue stuff?
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby jperry1466 » Tue Oct 02, 2018 12:10 am

I don't know if it's a "strategy", but I finally started getting cleaner articulations from my bands by insisting everything was played with a "D" (dah, doo, doh) and never using the explosive "T" (tah). I taught them that there can be hard dah attacks as well as soft ones, so the tongue was always in the same place, and the notes started with the tone itself rather than with the ugly "t" explosion. I learned that from being around a lot of good trombone teachers who never ever let their kids slur, but had them tongue legato passages so gently that it was hard to tell they were tongued. As far as tonguing too high in the mouth, I had the opposite problem. Tongued between my teeth all through high school and then was told by David Kuehn at North Texas that I would never get anywhere until I learned to tongue correctly. Took me 5 months of hours and hours of practicing to finally get it right.
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Re: Beginning Tuba Players

Postby Lukowicz » Tue Oct 02, 2018 8:17 am

Pretty helpful video from a step-by-step method that he uses for trumpets. Instead of using the larger size straws, try using a piece of irrigation pipe from Lowes/Home Depot.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01tNT1yCNVk
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