Parts of the Tuba:
The mouthpiece is what you put to your lips. The tuba mouthpiece is the largest mouthpiece in the entire band. The mouthpiece fits into the skinniest part of tuba, called the leadpipe. The water key is what you press to empty the water from the tuba. If you uncurled all of the tubing of a tuba, it would be 16 feet long! There are many slides on the tuba and 3-5 valves, depending on the type of tuba you have. The tuba at WES has three valves and one water key. The bell is the very top of the tuba where the noise exits the instrument.
Types of Tubas:
There are many different sizes of tubas based on how tight the tubing is coiled. The 3/4 size tubas look a lot smaller but are actually just coiled tighter. The instrument at WES is a 3/4 size tuba. There are also tubas in different pitches such as CC tubas, Eb tubas, F tubas, and BBb tubas. The tuba at WES is a BBb tuba, which is what beginners normally start on.
The tuba is one of the easiest instruments to assemble. All you need to do is put the mouthpiece into the mouthpiece holder and twist slightly to keep the mouthpiece in place (don’t exert much pressure). Aren’t you glad you chose the tuba rather than bassoon, which takes like 2 minutes to put together?
Holding the Instrument:
One of the most difficult aspects of the tuba for you might be how to hold the tuba since the tuba is so large and heavy. First, find a chair without arms to sit on. Next, make sure your back is off of the back of the chair and that your knees are below your hips. The best way to hold the instrument is to place the bottom of your tuba on a tuba stand. The tuba stand should be in between your legs very close to the chair. Check to see if the mouthpiece is be at lip level by putting the instrument to your face. If it the mouthpiece is too high or low for for your lips, you will need to adjust your tuba stand until the mouthpiece is at your lips. Do not bend down or stretch up your body to the mouthpiece. Lean the tuba slightly to the right. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed.
The right hand fingers should rest on the keys. The right hand thumb should hook under the tube behind the valves. You should play the valves with your fingertips but not the nails. The left hand should support the tuba leaning to the right by holding onto the front tubing where it is comfortable for you.
This section should be a review for euphonium players but new to trombone players. I strongly recommend using Fast Oil or Blue Juice Oil to oil your tuba valves, which you can probably find at your local music store or online (I buy mine on Amazon). When oiling the valves, make sure to oil ONE AT A TIME! You do not want to forget which valve belongs to which valve casing. When oiling, please do NOT pull the valve all the way out. For the first few times, it might be a two-person job because of the size of the instrument.
You know you need to oil when your valve gets stuck or doesn’t move very fast.
Every brass student will also need slide grease to lubricate the slides of their instrument. There are many adequate slide greases but I prefer Schilke Slide Grease (with Lanolin). When greasing your slides, first wipe off all of the old grease with a sturdy paper towel or rag because it gets kind of gunky. Next, rub the length of the slide with a thin layer of grease but make sure not to put too much on or it will get gunky very fast. There shouldn’t be any grease squishing out when you put the slide all the way in. If there is, wipe off the extra.
You know you need to grease your slides when you cannot move the slides in and out easily.
Tuba mouthpieces can also get gunky, especially if you play while eating (Please don’t do that. Please.) or right after you eat. You will need to buy a mouthpiece brush so that you can clean it. You will only need a little hand soap and warm water to rinse the mouthpiece and run the brush around the inside of the mouthpiece a few times to clean. Squeaky clean!
You know you need to clean your mouthpiece if you see some build up in your mouthpiece. You should also wash every time after you play if you are sick.
Giving your Tuba a Bath:
You can flush your valves and slides in the sink with lukewarm water every few months to clean out the loose particles inside your instrument. You can also place your tuba in a lukewarm bath after taking out all of the slides and valves. Use a snake brush (you can purchase online or at the music store) to clean the lead pipe and tuning slides. You only need to do this a few times a year.
Now it's time to start working on your tone!