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Practicing Without the Horn

Creative ways around an awkwardly large instrument.

One of the biggest challenges to beginning tuba players is the ability to practice. Since walking home with a tuba or trying to carry it on the bus is unpractical, here’s a few suggestions for overcoming this difficulty.

Multiple Horns:

If your school has multiple tubas, you could check out two to your tuba student. As long as the horn at home is in the same key as the one at school this will provide your student with the best opportunity to practice. During marching season, the upright tuba could be at home; during concert season the sousaphone could remain at the house.


If your school doesn’t have the inventory to check out two tubas to each student or the student’s parents haven’t approved letting the brass house guest move in there are plenty of opportunities for musicians to practice. Mouthpieces are easy to take home; they can fit in a backpack, pocket or purse. They’re even smaller than a piccolo.

Hold the mouthpiece between the thumb and pointer finger at the end of the shank. There should be very little pressure on the lips. If it is difficult to get a tone at first, the student can slightly cover the end of the shank with the pinky finger creating backpressure.

Example mouthpiece exercises

Start on a middle range pitched note. Then slowly bend the note to produce higher and higher pitches by tightening the embouchure. Once you’ve reached the highest note, bend the note down to the lowest note. The focus should be on smooth climbs and descents and you should not use pressure to play higher. This could be done in front of a mirror to watch the embouchure. In the beginning the variances in pitches will be very slight, but don’t get frustrated! Even 10 minutes a day of disciplined practice will yield results.

Pitch matching
Play a note on a piano (or virtual piano). Hold the note and sing it, then match it with your mouthpiece. You should be able to do this with your eyes closed.

Play along with a scale being played on a piano in long tones. Each note should be centered and clear before moving on to the next note of the scale. After this is mastered, play the first note of the scale. Match it with your mouthpiece, then play the rest of the scale without the piano. When the octave is reached, play it again on the piano to check.

Virtual Piano Keyboard Virtual Piano

The Internet

The Internet is an invaluable tool. Nearly any topic that you want information on is literally at your fingertips. has a trainer to practice brass fingerings.
You set which instrument and range to include. You can customize the test by including or excluding sharps or flats or enharmonic notes. The site generates notes on a staff that the student indicates the fingerings for. It also shows the number of answers right and wrong and the percentage of correct answers. It’s almost like playing a video game.

Note Trainer
This trainer tests note name recognition.  Again the user sets the clef, and range of the notes that will be tested.

Breathing Exercises

Tuba playing requires a great deal of air.  The efficacious use of air is crucial.   “Great breathing=Great music!” (The Breathing Gym by Sam Pilafian and Patrick Sheridan) Practicing proper breathing techniques and exercises require little to no extra equipment and can be done at home.

Here are a few videos on Youtube:
Breathing Gym Ad
Breathing Gym Daily Sample Exercises

YouTube for YouTuba

It’s hard for a beginning tuba student to know how to play his horn when he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to sound like. YouTube is a great resource for tuba recordings of tuba soloists and ensembles with tubas. They don’t have to be fast paced, crazy hard pieces to be useful to your tuba player. Give your tuba student a list of quality tuba players to look for online.

A few of the Great Tuba players include (but are not limited to):

Øystein Baadsvik
Roger Bobo
Velvet Brown
Floyd Cooley
Andrew Hitz
Arnold Jacobs
Anthony Lacen
Joe Murphy
Matt Perrine
Harvey Phillips
Sam Pilafian
Chester Schmitz
Jim Self
Patrick Sheridan

You could be next!

  • March 2011 Music Education Blog Carnival | Justine Dolorfino

    [...] Musicians by Joe Guarr Joe offers some suggestions for teaching jazz skills to middle schoolers. Practicing Without the Horn by Susie Ahrens Here are some creative ideas for encouraging your students to practice without [...]

  • Anonymous

    POWERbreathe can help with deep breathing exercises and techniques, copd treatment , emphysema treatment, exercise induced asthma and diaphragmatic breathing.


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