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(Please note the following assumes the British brass band convention of transposing to C in treble clef, e.g. when I say C, I really mean B-flat.)

I am learning to play the B-flat tuba. The "core range" of C to C I can manage fine; the upper ranges I'm beginning to get the hang of (although they sound a bit "thin"); but... I struggle with the lower range.

Down to A is fine; A-flat is not too bad. But low-G (using 4th valve) and below are a REAL struggle.

Does anyone know of any useful books or internet practice resources that may help me master these notes?

(I suspect that I may be taking the rule of "not puffing out cheeks" too literally... I think that the B-flat tuba may be an exception to this rule, in that I may need to adopt a looser, more flexible embouchure and jaw positioning to reach the very low notes?)

Thanks!

  • Same way you get to Carnegie Hall. :-) . But seriously, take lessons. Don't try to learn embouchure and breath control on your own. – Carl Witthoft Aug 14 '15 at 12:43
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Do not worry, this is a very common problem on tuba. The low range of the tuba takes a long time to develop and will naturally sound better over time - given that you play regularly.

Something I always tell students, is that you have to balance your range. If you want to increase your low range, you need to increase your high range as well - you can't do one without the other.

If your high range sounds thin, you need more air and you need to relax your embouchure. Chances are you are trying to hard to force the notes out through tight lips. You're lips need to be able to resonate freely in order to produce a beautiful sound.

Regarding the low range, it is good that you do not puff out cheeks. You're correct, you need a very relaxed embouchure for the notes to speak well. Remember, low notes have a much slower frequency than high ones. Your lips need to be able to move much more slowly as well. If they are strained or tight, they cannot vibrate as they need to. When you play low, you should pretend there is a tennis ball in your mouth - really picture what it would feel like to have a tennis ball in your mouth (your jaw should drop about 1.5 - 2", your tongue should move down, and your soft pallet should move back - in a similar fashion that you may adopt at the dentist.) If you do that convincingly, your mouth and jaw should do the rest.

Three other points:

1.) Remember that when playing tuba, it takes twice as much air to play the same note at the same volume an octave down. So you need 2x the air to play A3 as you do A4. This is also true for the lowest ranges of the instrument. You should be using large volumes of air to create large, slow-moving columns that can resonate slowly.

2.) If you want to play high/low, you actually have to play high/low. Play all your études and scales throughout the entire range of your instrument. Every day. Read my answer here for some ideas that you can incorporate into your daily routine.

3.) Take a look at this video showing a part of an Arnold Jacobs masterclass. If you don't know who he is, look him up, learn from his videos, and use it. Link to video

  • Thank you, jjmusicnotes, for that very comprehensive answer. It sounds like I'm following the correct practice regime, but am just a bit too impatient to hear the results 'at the low end' :-) In practising, I've always tried to work both up and down the range - in order to improve embouchure flexibility, as well as my aural skills - this seems to be paying off. Funnily enough, in addition to tuba, I've occasionally practised recently on a B-flat baritone horn... this seems to be improving my tuba playing, too! Thanks again! – DevonScot Sep 11 '15 at 8:57
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Reaching Lower Notes On The Tuba I have been playing the tuba for not a long time, but I definitely know how to reach low notes. I assure you, you won't get them right away, but it'll come when you start practicing this more and more. My music teacher usually tells me to relax my lips when I buzz. At first, I didn't understand what she meant! But I finally found out a bit later that you have to let the corner of your mouth just do its' thing. So when you buzz, you want to just your lips loose, and like I said, the more you practice this technique, the better you'll get at it. So just don't assume that you'll get it right away! And don't worry either. It will come eventually.

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