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Getting that Heavy Metal Sound

Recruiting Tuba Players

Tubas! Many middle school and high school directors share a common problem at some point in their teaching.  A lack of low brass, especially tuba players.  Often, the solution is to find a young musician (or two or three) willing to switch to tuba in order to provide more low end instrumentation to balance the band.

Many great tuba players didn’t start their musical careers on tuba.

Harvey Phillips started in music by bringing his Father’s violin to band class and trying to play along.  “In 1942, shortly after we entered World War II, our band’s only Sousaphone player joined the Navy, and my high school band director asked me to play Sousaphone.” Arnold Jacobs spent a good part of his youth progressing from bugle to trumpet to trombone and finally to tuba. Matt Perrine began playing trombone in his school band and began learning tuba when he was 11.

What qualifications do you look for in a prospective tuba player?

I recently posed this question to music directors on Facebook, Twitter and the Musicpln site.
Here are their suggestions:

Good Use of Air:

“Are they were breathing?”  ~Clyde Quick and Brian York (@byperc)

“Good air support on the current instrument. Without it they will barely be able to get a sound out on tuba.”  ~Andrew Ritenour (@andrewritenour)

Air is the quintessential ingredient of any tuba player.  As the largest of wind instruments, the tuba takes a great deal of air to play.  This doesn’t mean that only musicians of great stature can play, but rather it’s about how the air is used.  Arnold Jacobs had a childhood illness that left him with the lung capacity of the equivalent of one lung and is considered one of the greatest tuba players of all time.  He specialized in teaching respiratory applications for brass and woodwind instruments and vocalists.

Good Sense of Timing:

“Beyond warm body and willingness (95% of the equation) I would think is impeccable sense of time.  The tuba is going to drive your bands sound more than you will.”  ~Brandt Schneider (@brandtschneider)

“I agree with Brandt- Make sure your tubist can keep a steady beat. Especially on/off-beats. My high school band director made me play sousaphone in marching band because there were too many clarinetists (my primary instrument) and he knew I could pick up something new quickly. And let me tell you a brief story about choosing a tuba player based on visual cues. Last year, a 5th grader walked into the band room in September, was new to the school, and wanted to join the band (we began most kids in grade 4). He was one of the biggest kids in the 5th grade- at least 5’6″ and 200. And his name (no kidding) was Frankie. He didn’t have much of an idea about what he should play, and we (the band directors) knew we didn’t have any tuba players in his class. He jumped at the suggestion to play tuba. Unfortunately, we realized by mid-October that he couldn’t read music, couldn’t keep a steady beat, and had no understanding of the fact that different valve combinations produce different notes. He had a difficult time being the only member of his section- leading and playing without a team around him was hard. We ended up having additional staff playing tuba with him to help him out. I wish we’d suggested trumpet!”  ~Molly Dubois (@madmollyann)

The dreaded phrase to the ears of any tuba player is: “Tubas-you’re dragging”.  As the foundational wind instrument, tuba players that have an innate sense of timing and rhythm will go a long way to keep your tempo.

Lack of Range:

“Plenty of lip tissue and a lack of high register. I switched from trumpet to euphonium then tuba.” ~Jason Arnold (@ArnoldJason)

“I switched one of my trombone players who was having some range issues over to Tuba and she loves it. She has the right attitude for the switch which is making it easier. Good luck!”  ~Brad Volek (@bradvolek)

“Trumpet players may find the shift to euphonium or tuba easier than other instrumentalists. I’d search there if you have the numbers.”  ~Anthony Sinigaglio II

Sometimes your third  or fourth trumpet player who is having trouble playing consistently in the high register may flourish on the tuba.  Also consider asking trumpet or french horn players who have recently gotten braces to move to tuba temporarily.  The larger mouthpiece of the tuba more easily accommodates braces than the smaller mouthpieces of higher instruments.  They may find out that they like the tuba better and will stay.  Plus their orthodontists may thank you!

The Attitude:

“As someone who went from being 1st chair clarinet to Tuba, I would say, exclude any whiners, look for the people who blend, who are not interested in being a big star.”  ~Chris Moore

“Attitude and that ‘jena se qua’ that can only be found in someone who likes hauling around 45 lbs of heavy metal!”  ~Thomas Slabaugh (@taktman)

“The willingness to work hard to catch up with where the rest of the band is is obviously a must.  I have successfully switched a percussionist who had great sense of timing, and two baritone players who could really fill up and play with alot of air.  One of the girls switched over on a dare from her friends I later found out, but now in high school, she is ROCKING on tuba!  Big, small, male, female.  If they want to switch, at least give them the opportunity. ~Lauren Kulick

There is a certain kind of attitude that goes along with playing the tuba.  They have to be willing to haul around the largest and heaviest instrument in the band (with the exception of the string bass player).  They have to be willing to play out and not be shy.  They have to be willing to put up with the never ending tuba jokes that come along with the territory.  Most of all they have to be willing to work hard, but their rewards will be great.

photo credit: bunchofpants

  • Puca_1198

    hi im a 14 year old girl, and i play the tuba. in my band program at coral way k-8 center located in miami, fl ; i am the only girl in the schools band history that plays tuba, and in my period i am the only tuba their is there. i have a lot of pressure to do well, and i was told by some other band member that i should not be on tuba and i should switch to flute just because i am a girl.

  • Susie Ahrens

    First, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t play tuba, just because you’re a girl.  There are many, amazing female tuba players and our numbers are growing all the time!  (For the record, I started beginning band on flute and then switched to tuba a year later.)  Carol Jantsch is the Principal Tuba for the Philadelphia Orchestra, was the youngest member, and the first woman to hold a Principal Tuba chair among major orchestras in the United States.  Velvet Brown is an accomplished tuba teacher and International performer.  She has released 3 solo recordings and is currently the principal tubist of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, the New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra and the River City Brass Band.  

    I think it’s wonderful that you are playing something that you love and making history at your school!   Don’t worry about what other people may say.  Work hard and practice wisely and it will pay off.  
    Good luck and feel free to contact me anytime!  I would love to hear from you again to find out how things are going for you.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Heavy Hauling

    Hi. I would like to try playing tuba. Thank you for sharing.

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