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My 12-year-old son's new tuba instructor told us that it was a terrible idea to learn trombone while learning tuba. I am not familiar with the brass instrument. So is there truth to it?

  • Possibly a dupe of 'what are the pros and cons of doubling on a brass instrument'. – Tim Nov 20 '19 at 9:41
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    resisting the temptation to make trombone player jokes here ... :-) – danmcb Nov 20 '19 at 10:09
  • What do you mean by Tuba? a tenor or bass instrument? – Albrecht Hügli Nov 20 '19 at 11:49
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    Couldn't you ask the teacher to explain this further? Teachers shouldn't simply present their opinion as though it were fact. – Brian THOMAS Nov 20 '19 at 12:57
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In my experience, there is some truth to it. The tuba and trombone have two very different sounds, and a tuba player trying to sound like a trombone, however inadvertently, only leads to frustration on the part of a (good) ensemble leader. In short, the sound of a trombone naturally has a bit more edge to it, and it's only too easy for a young tubist to try and reproduce this edge, typically with terrible results.

I also personally believe there's a small difference in embouchure between the two instruments, but not everyone will agree on that front. But that difference in embouchure could also be detrimental to a developing player on either instrument.

  • Generally speaking the embouchure shape is very similar; the largest difference would be the adjustments tuba players make for the contra and sub-contra octaves. – jjmusicnotes Nov 20 '19 at 13:26
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One reason may be that he'll need to learn two clefs for reading. Although trombonists generally tend to read all over the staves. If it's the same clef initially at least, it would reinforce the notes.

Embouchures may be slightly different - but they're different instruments, held differently, doing different jobs in an orchestra. Just like guitar and bass guitar are different, and if treated as not even similar (playing wise) then I see no big problem - except maybe the cost...

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    Eh, pianists learn two clefs. – marcellothearcane Nov 20 '19 at 11:13
  • @marcellothearcane - true, we have to However, some of the trombonists I play with use more than that. – Tim Nov 20 '19 at 12:09
  • Bass trombone and tuba often take very similar roles in the orchestra. Sometimes they even read from the same part. – Laurence Payne Nov 20 '19 at 12:45
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    @LaurencePayne - true enough, but I doubt a beginner trombonist would be starting on a bass trombone. – Tim Nov 20 '19 at 12:51
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    @Tim I also doubt a beginning trombonist would be reading tenor clef – jjmusicnotes Nov 20 '19 at 13:27
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The difference between trombone and tuba you have to consider is not the sound as Richard mentioned and the comparison of learning Guitar or e-bass by Tim is quite weird.

One difference is the measurement of the embouchure (agreeing with Richard) but this might be a big difference for a beginner.

What might be hindering or inhibiting by learning both instruments at once are the following aspects:

  • the adaption at the mouth piece and the muscle building of the lips,
  • the reflex and conditioning of the lip tension and the air tension (we call this Stütze in German) to find the right pitch. and then:
  • Don’t forget the reflexes between the fingering of the valves and the reflexes of the r. arm for the position of the slide.

I don’t know what you mean by tuba? We understand a bass tuba, but I know some classical musicians mean an Euphonium, which is also a tenor instrument. In this case you can forget what I’ve said about the difference between the mouthpiece and the embouchure.

Anyway, I would wait 2 years until he’ll change to another instrument when starting with trombone. I had no problems to change to bass tuba and to trombone and even a cornetist could manage this without problems.

So if the ulterior motives were to learn from the beginning also the fingerings for the valves he could train this without playing the firs half year.

  • My comparison was made on the premise that guitar and e bass are often considered as 'similar' instruments, although they are very different in how they get played and what their place is in music. I see nothing wrong with someone learning both simultneously, and that concept parallels trombone and tuba. – Tim Nov 20 '19 at 12:12
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    I think English convention has set the word "tuba" to mean specifically the low bass instrument, where Euphonium would be specifically the tenor-voiced instrument. – user45266 Nov 20 '19 at 23:45
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let me answer with a question: is your child brand-new to both instruments, or has he been playing one of them for a few years? My opinion (yeah, I know...) is that it's much easier to add a new instrument when you've got some familiarity with the first one.

I do know of plenty of kids who study, say, violin and piano at the same time. There's no concern about embouchure here but plenty of concern about body position, muscle groups, difference in interpretation of markings, and so on.

In sum, if your child wants to learn any two instruments simultaneously, at the very least make sure there is a significant time-interval between practice sessions so the mind and body can "reset and relax" when switching instruments.

  • Can't see problems that are hinted at here. Pick up a violin to play it; sit at the piano to play it - pretty well everything is different, so they get approached differently. No problem. We don't worry about kids learning to swim, then learning to run. Concern about body position, muscle groups, etc..? – Tim Nov 20 '19 at 22:30
  • @Tim But ultramarathoners are completely crazy :-) – Carl Witthoft Nov 21 '19 at 14:44
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The most important factor is that there seems to be an opening for a player who can cope with both trombone and tuba, or at least a desire to master both instruments. Opportunity and enthusiasm are to be nurtured and encouraged, not restricted!

Yes, the tuba mouthpiece is bigger and the required tone is different. Maybe a problem. Try.

Yes, valves are different to slides. Really not a problem. A car is different to a motorbike. But the main issue is still roadcraft, not whether you change gear with your hand or your foot.

Yes, trombone and tuba between them, in various musical situations, get to read all the clefs - bass, tenor, alto and treble! If this lad is going to become one of that useful breed - a musician who 'copes' - this won't worry him. (Anyway, tenor and alto clefs aren't going to jump up and bite him just yet!)

Main message - don't listen to reasons why this might NOT work. See if it DOES! We've heard several opinions. Some from people who I suspect have never played either trombone or tuba. I have, and I've also taught both.

Everyone's different. Heres a boy who had 'thalidomide arms' but nonetheless became an excellent trombone player. What would the 'sensible, experienced' advice have been? (Yes, a bit off the main topic, but any excuse to be inspired by this guy.)

  • Isn't the whole point of a place like this to learn from others' experiences? If our answers are "try and see!" then what's our goal here? – Richard Nov 20 '19 at 13:57
  • My experience is that everyone's different! – Laurence Payne Nov 20 '19 at 16:15

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