I play Tuba, so I don't have very many fast runs in orchestra arrangements, but there are occasionally small passages that can be challenging. I want to improve my general ability to handle such technical runs, so when we get a piece that has some fast runs, it does not take that long to rehearse it.

Are there specific rehearsal exercises that are good to improve a general ability for this?


There are two things on the tuba that make it hard to play fast runs -- the valves and the pitch. The valves are big and have a lot of travel, and they have fairly strong springs. Moving them fast and accurately requires training your muscles as well as your brains. This requires practice.

The low pitch of a tuba means there's a bigger time lag between when you decide to play the note and when you hear it than in most instruments. It also means that you can achieve a lot of pitch variability with your lips, which needs to be controlled. This also requires practice.

Practice a lot of scales, chromatic and otherwise, tonguing each note. Start slow so you can get each note on time and on pitch, and increase your speed as fast as you can play it close to perfectly.

After you have that down, play the same scales slurring the notes. This will be pretty easy until you get to the low notes.

When you can play scales fast, tonguing and slurring, then start with some arpeggios. Some technique books will have some good ones, or you can just play arpeggios of chords in different keys. Learn to do this with two notes tongued and two notes slurred, or all of them slurred -- it will help your control a lot.

One other thing that's important is to bend your fingers. You can move the valves a lot faster and more accurately that way.

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    When you're working on this, you absolutely need to use a metronome. – John L Oct 1 '11 at 22:22
  • More details on bending the fingers as improving technique in this question (also a question asked by me...). – awe Oct 10 '11 at 11:25
  • About the very good point on the low pitch, I have found out that if I play it "light", it is easier to play fast. If I try to play strong, it is much harder to play fast, and also the result will be doomed to sound cluttered. If I play lighter, the air runs smoother, and even if it is lower volume, the detailes are heard better because the sound is clearer. Mentally, I think about plucking strings on a bass guitar. – awe Mar 29 '19 at 8:38

I used to play in a church band with a professional jazz Sax player. Whenever we had a break, he would pull out out these pages of runs in different keys and just play them. I always thought it strange that someone who was a professional would bother doing that. Isn't that just for when you are learning?

One day, I had a chance to see him do an improv solo. He would play some melody, and then just throw in the run without seeming to think about it. Then I understood why he practiced them.

[Over time, the continual practice had programmed his muscle memory with them. He really didn't have to think much more than "I want this run, now." It's the same idea as seeing basketball players who continually practice lay-ups or free-throws.]

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    This answer is more to the question "Why should I practice?" -- I think OP already understands that improving his technique means practicing it out of context... – NReilingh Oct 1 '11 at 3:59

An observation from a tuba learner: when I paid attention to my teacher's tip to keep the fingers in place and keep a key still depressed if the next finger combination required it, I did play faster. What I mean is: if the first finger combination is 1+2 and then the next is 1+3, keep the 1st key depressed then just let go of 2nd finger and replace it by 3rd. Sorry if this is obvious to most, but this does help a beginner.

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