34:2 Pedagogy Section
Which One is the “Right” Tuba?
By Alessandro Fossi, ITEA Journal Editorial Advisor
Tuba Teacher at R. Calabria Conservatory (Italy); B&S artist
Which one is the “right” tuba? How many times have you asked yourselves this question? And how many times do you find a different solution?
Finding the “right” tuba, or, rather, the better solution for our selves is not so easy and some times takes years. There are a lot of different parameters to consider, and, probably, one of the most important is the sound. It is our signature from the first to the last note we are going to play.
Each tuba produces a different tone color and our goal is to find the one that will reproduce the sound we have imagined in our head; it seems to be easy…but it is not!
Try to hear a very rich and powerful sound, yet bright and with a strong projection. Try to reproduce this sound with an instrument that has a very dark and heavy sound for its nature, and you will forever run in a circle.
As a rough analogy, it is like using red paint for our portrait while what is actually needed is blue paint. There is nothing wrong with the red, but we need the blue!
Be guided by your instrument, and you will never miss the target. But, if the final result is something different from what you were looking for, a different tool should be considered with hopes of realizing the sound originally imagined.
So, what keyed instrument should be our tool? Have you ever thought that your imaginary sound could be better reproduced on a tuba with a different key than yours?
Be open to every option! Most of the time professionals use CC and F tubas, and, if we are on the market for an orchestral position, we want to fire with the same gun (often a BIG GUN!). Isn’t this true? This approach sometimes drives us in the wrong way because we stop looking for what is better for us. And, if we use different instruments from the masses, we feel out of fashion. This is WRONG!
Today we can find hundreds of different tubas and different mouthpieces, but too often we start the process of getting a tuba from the wrong perspective: we first choose an instrument by its brand, and then we try to ignore the sound we originally imagined in our head. Obviously, greater success can come from trying a variety of models, hopefully maybe recording your self on each model. This is the ultimate solution in selecting a model, and only at this point can we decide which will fit the imagined sound in our head.
So we have tubas in every size and key key, piston or rotary, from three to six valves, every kind of plating, bore size, and whatever else we desire. But, all the same, sometimes it is not enough to simply be guided by each desire or option alone, there is another variable to consider. And, for me it was the most important: the ergonomics of an instrument.
Don’t underestimate this factor. A good posture is very important, a necessity if you will, for optimizing our performance.
So what makes a tuba more or less comfortable (ideally ergonomic for a particular body type)?
First, this important consideration is dominated by the position of the mouthpiece and therefore the position of the lead pipe. Second is the position of the machine (pistons or rotors), which means the position of our hand.
Once we hold the instrument in position and have considered these two reference points, we will have a third factor: the angle of the mouthpiece to our embouchure.
Ergonomics eventually became the first parameter I considered. Yes! Absolutely the first before thinking of sound, key, or brand. Like all sports that provide the use of a tool (a racing bike for example) the most important thing is the biomechanical test, that is a test to find our correct position to express the maximum efficiency with less work .
A good posture promotes an easy, more efficient and effective breathing process, and this is the first goal. With a good breath we can produce a rich vibration. If the mouthpiece is in a naturally, comfortable position, then we can concentrate on the quality of the sound.
I have had students that were able to produce a good vibration on the mouthpiece but weren’t able to sound good on their tuba simply because they had a bad posture, and the mouthpiece was invariably at a strange angle. I suggested that they try to hold their instrument in a different position, and, if it doesn’t work, to try a different (more comfortable) tuba. Most every time, the problem was rectified.
Sometime it’s possible to correct the posture using the same instrument. However, otherwise, it’s important to be open to trying a different instrument. When I was on the market for a new tuba, I found most of the models quite close but not enough for my correct or ideal posture. To resolve such problems we can ask a good craftsman to modify the position of the lead pipe and adjust the angle of the mouthpiece. But, believe me, I learned this to be my prejudice. When one thing is modified others things could change, and sometimes this is not for the better.
The most important thing I suggest is to consider the ergonomics as a predominant factor when selecting a tuba. You will use this tuba for a long time, and at the onset it is better if the “racing bike” selected is the most comfortable and the one that will best serve as a tool for expressing ourselves at the top…before “backaches” of sorts tell us that it is not!