Learning how to play the tuba can be a fun and exciting adventure, but becoming comfortable with the larger-than-average instrument can be hard, especially for those who are new to the instrument, younger students, or those who feel they may be too small to handle the instrument. Whether you’re brand new to the world of music or are switching to the tuba from a different instrument, there are a few important things to keep in mind. From perfecting your posture to finding the right horn, below you’ll find some of our best advice. If you’re having a particular issue that isn’t addressed in this list, speak with your marching band instructor for advice that’s specific to your situation.
Find the Right Tuba
Particularly important if you’ll be playing the tuba in a marching band, but still important for every type of player, is finding the right sized horn. Beginner tuba players should start out with a ¾ size tuba and manageable cases, otherwise they’ll be uncomfortable playing the tuba and frustrated with transporting it- not a good formula for retention! Weight is another thing to consider. While modern tubas typically weigh less than 30 pounds, it’s not uncommon for older instruments to weigh 50 pounds or more. By paying attention to both size and weight, you should be able to find a horn that won’t wear you out.
Prepare Your Body
Although every tuba player probably wishes they could play while sitting down, this isn’t always an option. Whether you’re in a marching band or are required to stand during performances, producing enough airflow to sustain low notes while walking or standing is demanding. For this reason, every tuba player should prepare their mind and body for the instrument. Tuba players should prepare themselves for marching band season by acclimating themselves to heat, humidity, and the physical demands of the season. Try walking or jogging with a weighted backpack, carry your mouthpiece on walks or runs, or consider heading to your local gym for weight training.
Set a Practice Schedule
If you’re learning the instrument on your own (and not as a part of a marching band where practices are scheduled), you may find that sticking to a consistent practice routine will produce the best results. Start with 5-10 minutes of warm-up before turning to sheet music, and make sure your practice space is free from distraction. To make the time you spend practicing as effective as possible, start each session with a distinct goal in mind. Whether it’s making progress with embouchure or playing a piece of music from start to finish without any mistakes, if you practice with a purpose you’ll find that your practice time is more enjoyable. Finally, don’t count the number of minutes you practice against a standard someone else came up with. As long as you feel like you’re progressing, practice as long as you’d like.
Unless you have perfect pitch, or there’s someone in your home who is a musician, you probably won’t be able to honestly evaluate your practicing, at least not at the beginning. For this reason, record yourself with a handheld device or your phone and make it a point to listen to your playing and critique it honestly. Follow this process (record, listen, critique, practice) and you’ll be able to actually hear the improvement in your playing. To really evaluate your progression, save the older recordings and compare them to the most recent ones. If you’re focusing on practicing the way you should be, the difference between Day 1 and Day 15 should be night and day.
Once you’ve been playing a little bit and have a somewhat decent grasp on the instrument, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be challenging yourself. Whether it’s immersing yourself in a challenging musical environment or making a list of far-fetched goals, you’ll see more improvement if you force yourself to rise to the occasion. If you’re taking group lessons, don’t wait for your teacher to introduce something new, as he or she will need to wait until everyone is on the same page before moving onto something new. Browse the web, join a group, or enroll in private lessons, too- do whatever you need to do to truly challenge yourself to be become a better musician.
Practice Proper Posture
The key to proper posture is keeping the chest up and out for proper breathing. If you’re able to breathe, the other elements of correct posture should fall into place. These elements include placing your feet flat on the floor, sitting on the edge of your chair, keeping your back straight and your shoulders back, down, and relaxed, and always facing the horizon. To get a feel for proper posture, find a wall in your home that’s flat. Stand with your back against the wall so your heels, shoulder blades, and back of your head are all touching the wall. You may notice that your chest is higher than it’s ever felt before and, at first, you might even feel uncomfortable. This is the feeling you should try to replicate while sitting down.
Not Everyday Will Be Good
The fact of the matter is, there will be days where you won’t be able to concentrate or play the tuba to the best of your abilities. When you have a bad tuba day, don’t worry about it too much- just pick up your tuba and play through your favorite songs. If you just can’t seem to get through them, put the tuba down and pick it up later. Or, skip practicing that day altogether. Just remember: learning the tuba isn’t always going to be easy: there will be days when you’re up, days when you’re down, and days when you’re somewhere in between. Just stick with it. Most importantly, make sure you’re having fun! If you don’t seem to be having fun or dread sitting down and playing the tuba, perhaps you should consider switching to a different instrument. After all, the tuba isn’t for everyone!
If you haven’t purchased a tuba yet, check out our Tuba Buying Guide.