Before you even try to play the tuba, take a few minutes to listen to this track of my friend Landres Bryant, tubist in the President's Own Marine Band in Washington DC. A goal for you is to try to make your tone sound like Landres's tone. If you aren’t sure how to do that or it doesn’t happen immediately, don’t worry! Read the sections below! Everything takes practice and a little patience!
Tuba Embouchure Similarities to Trombone/Euphonium:
Most brass embouchures have many similarities and the same applies to tuba embouchure. Just like the trombone/euphonium, the air needs to move fast enough to vibrate the lips together. The corners of the lips need to be firm. The chin also needs to be flat.
Making Your Embouchure:
You will need a mirror and your mouthpiece ring. Place the mouthpiece ring on 2/3rds of your upper lip and 1/3rd of your lower lip (it might not work if you don’t have enough space between your upper lip and nose). If it doesn’t work, put the mouthpiece ring on half of your upper lip and half of your lower lip. Say “OH” and gradually change to an “OO” sound, which will form the lips into the correct position.
Place a small tube or pen in the center of the lips and “squeeze the tube”. This will make the lips tighten toward a central point and firm up the corners of the mouth.
Repeat the "OH-OO-SQUEEZE" with correct amount of upper lip and lower lip with the tuba mouthpiece. Remember this feeling and position when you buzz on the mouthpiece.
Embouchure Problems and Remedies:
If you have no tone and rushing air, then the embouchure is not formed tightly enough and the air stream is restricted due to a closed throat and/or high tongue. To remedy this, reform the embouchure thinking "OH-OO-SQUEEZE", grip the tube more firmly, and emphasize "OH" to keep the tongue down and throat open.
If you have a thin and/or pinched tone, then the embouchure is formed too tightly and the lips are pinched together. There is also not enough air going through the mouthpiece. To fix this, loosen the grip on the tube and review deep breath and fast expulsion of air.
If you have a gargled tone, then the embouchure is not formed tightly enough and/or the lips are folding over the teeth. To correct this, grip the tube more firmly and reform the embouchure thinking "OH-OO-SQUEEZE" and use the embouchure ring to check the lip position.
If the sound produced is stopped or is intense air, then the lips are pinched completely together and there is insufficient volume of air passing between the lips. To rectify this, de-emphasize gripping the tube, reform "OH-OO", and review tongue position and fast air.
The tongue often blocks the air way and the tuba requires A LOT of air so tongue placement is very important. Say the vowel sound “OH” and notice how flat the tongue lays in the mouth. This is the way the tongue should be while playing every note on the tuba.
The tuba requires A LOT of air. It has the biggest mouthpiece and the biggest tubing in all of the brass instruments so it needs the biggest amount of air! To get a full breath of air, try the exercise at the bottom of the page!
Buzzing is a great tool to use for beginners but also even professional musicians. It helps take away the other complicated stuff like fingerings and tubing and lets you focus on your embouchure. Once you follow the steps for making your embouchure and tongue placement, lick your lips a little (helps make the buzz) and hold onto the bottom of the mouthpiece with the first three fingers and place the mouthpiece on your embouchure. Take a deep breath like you practiced in the previous section and blow a steady stream of air into the mouthpiece like you are trying to shoot your air all the way to your computer screen! Check your buzzing in front of a mirror and makes sure you aren’t puffing your cheeks out while buzzing! Once you have a good buzz, you’re ready for your first tone!
Tonguing in the tuba is very similar to tonguing on the trombone/euphonium. Think “TOH” when tonguing on tuba. The tongue doesn’t stop the air. Instead, it interrupts the air for a very short period of time. The tongue should be touching the back of the front teeth or the roof of the mouth near the front teeth.
Open your mouth (like when you’re yawning, thinking "OH") and take a full, deep breath of air. Put your tuba in position with the correct mouthpiece placement and think “OH-OO-SQUEEZE” for the correct embouchure. Blow out the air rapidly (without any fingers pressing on the keys). Congratulations! You just played your first note on the tuba! Here’s to many more!
Now start looking at the fingerings section! Take the quiz and then start playing through the etudes section!