Tuba players are generally a forgotten lot, located next furthest from the conductor to the percussion and visually impaired from him by our prized tool of music making. It is no wonder that the conductor pay less attention to us. To economically use the ever-decreasing tutorship funds, the tuba tutor is the first to be off the hiring list, as the more melodious sections need more guidance. As a conductor, I am fairly guilty of that too.

With the very pessimistic outlook for the tuba player, the Singapore band scene has produced an astonishing number of outstanding tuba players namely; Leonard Tan, Francis Tan, Tan Yao Cong, Aaron Yong, Wong Yin Xuan, Peh Lian Wei, Daniel Kiang, Julian low, Teng Siang Hong and a group of tuba enthusiasts called “Tuba Powerhouse”.

Good sound (physical relaxation and natural air flow)

I would like to touch on having the basics of producing the best sound on a tuba. I always share with my students that playing the tuba can be a very relaxing and, at the same time, energy consuming activity. Physically, we need to be relaxed so there is no constriction when we play but there must also be a very intense cardio workout as we inhale and exhale big volume of air in quick successions.

To orientate a student to be physically relaxed, I would request them to lie down on the floor if possible, if not, to “slump” onto a chair as if they have fallen asleep, close their eyes and breathe as naturally as possible. At the same time, remind them to be aware of how the body reacts when the air fills up the lung (Feldenkrais method).

(Natural embouchure)

When the student is physically more relaxed, request them to extend their body to an upright position and be aware of their breathing patterns. Next, students should vocalise the “Ee” and “Woo” vowels to feel the muscles. A good way is to firm up the corners of their mouths and close their mouth while naturally vocalising the letter “M” as this will get their lips to come together without folding them inwards. To hollow out the oral cavity, a good way is to yawn without getting their lips apart.

I know these seems to be like a ritual before the first note gets out, but I believe that these little details will promise a very rewarding sound.

(Good sound = good vibration)

Now that the body is set up to play, it’s time to take a deep breath and get the lips to “flubble”, I try not to use the word buzz as that will produce a high initial pitch. I would also get the student to imagine fogging the mirror when exhaling, it should give the student a good concept that big column of air is needed.

Now, gently place the mouthpiece on the lips while it is still “flubbling”, and it should produce a low buzz from the mouthpiece. Practice this buzzing as a long tone for a few minutes and transfer this application to the tuba on the open horn, this should produce on a student Bb tuba the pitch of written F or Bb just below the staff.

You should produce a resonant sound without any disturbance to your vibrating lips. Practice with the exercise below and if an opportunity arises, get a tuba tutor or your band director to listen to you for evaluation.

Listen to as many good recordings as possible to get a good idea of a resonant sound, or attend concerts that have a good tuba section pumping out good bass lines.

I wish you best in your super bass endeavours!

Download  Long Tone Tuba exercises for your practice now!

Louis Yeo

Written By Louis Yeo

Louis Yeo is currently Associate Conductor of Nanyang Polytechnic Symphony Wind Orchestra. He has conducted the Manhattan Municipal Band (USA) and the Singapore Police Force Band, and had collaborations with the Soka Gloria Wind Orchestra (Japan) and multi-Grammy Award winner Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra (USA). He has also worked with composers Eric Whitacre, Philip Sparke, Frank Ticheli and Grammy award winner Nestor Torres. Yeo earned his Masters of Music (Education) from the Kansas State University where he underwent music education tutelage with Dr. Philip Payne and Dr. Ruth Gurgel. He studied conducting with Frank Tracz, Jacomo Bairos, Donald Linn, Volker Hartung and had masterclasses with Virginia Allen, Allan McMurray, Christopher Hughes, Hardy Martens and Yasuhide Ito.
Beyond his conducting and band directing commitments, Yeo is also an active adjudicator, and guest lecturer at SIM University (UniSim).