Tips for Tuba Vol. 1B David Porter, Principal Tuba, The McLean Orchestra
Relationships Mean Everything
Often times there are too few tuba players available for the middle and high school level band’s needs. The dilemma of attracting and keeping students on tuba is a constant challenge to any music program and should not be taken lightly. For music director, parent/ guardian (P/G) and student there are three areas that should be covered in order to ensure successful tuba player participation. Before going on, please allow me to say that this information is not conclusive. There are many variations with regard to factors that can lead to a successful tuba musician. However, dealing with the information in these three areas will help ensure success. Let’s discuss these issues in the order that they should occur.
First, selecting a student. Switch or start someone with a medium to high grade point average. The tuba player needs to a self-sufficient person to keep up with the demands of the music program from the back of the room. There is no option for moving them up if they are falling behind or misbehaving. Most students who have good grades have the work ethic to succeed with whatever they do depending on their motivation. There is no particular instrument that is better than others for swap-overs to tuba. If the student has desire, then they will excel at the challenges of learning how to play correctly, both physically and musically. The physical size of a student is not a concern. I have seen small students do better than some larger students, because their desire was stronger.
Second, setting up the relationship with the student, P/G and music director. Whether starting a beginner tubist or swapping a student from another instrument, let’s consider questions from the student’s point of view. Does the student want to make the change? Finding a student that wants to play the tuba will make the entire process easier by 50%. Desire will motivate the student overcoming any obstacles. If the student does not want to play the tuba, can the reasons for making a switch be presented positively for the student? Positive reasons need to be presented so the student can see what is in it for them, as well as helping the music program. Examples are 1) the tuba is a very special instrumentonly a few good people can really do a fine job with it, 2) the student will be playing a music part that is crucial – cannot be done without – to achieve excellence with/for the band, 3) the student will be learning how to play bass music (the power part), which will help them understand and appreciate any style of music, since just about all music now needs bass sound to be attractive to students, 4) the student will get a lot of attention by having the biggest brass instrument (especially applies to the youngest students), 5) there will always be a spot for the student in band – tuba players are almost always needed, and 6) give creative reasons pertinent to your school, country and culture.
Now let’s consider the P/G point of view. Does the P/G want their child to play tuba? Getting P/G’s in on the act is the other 50% of the challenge. Having a P/G that would like their child to play tuba will solve most obstacles. Do not depend on the student for total communication. Call the P/G personally to make the pitch for playing tuba. If the music director is busy, then the private teacher can get involved with helping recruit tubists for the music program. If the P/G does not want their child to play tuba, then can the reasons supporting it be presented positively? Sometimes P/Gs can be swayed by clearly defined economical and career supporting reasons.
Examples are 1) the tuba comes free from the school (if this applies – if not, then consider it), 2) as a tuba player, their child will almost always have a place they can be for extracurricular activities – band rehearsal, pep band for basketball or other indoor sports activities, marching band for football, 3) playing tuba may provide some college scholarship money for their child if they participate in the music program – tuba players are a much needed commodity, 4) their child will be Warning how to play bass music (the power part), which will help them understand and appreciate any musical style, 5) the student will get a lot of attention by having the biggest brass instrument (especially applies to the youngest students), 6) schools pay for the upkeep of the instrument, unless the tuba is intentionally damaged by the student, and 7) give creative reasons pertinent to your school, country and culture.
Third, the opportunity to practice. This is the next critical issue, even before getting a mouthpiece or scheduling for the music ensemble. If a student has no way to practice because of schedule or logistics challenges, then no expectation can be aspired to by the musip director or student. Start by talking to the P/G about how this could be worked out. Whether the student actually practices is one thing, but making sure that the opportunity to practice exists may be in the P/G’s hands. Suggestions are: 1) if a second tuba is available, it can be kept at home for practice. This is ideal for everyone if the school or boosters can afford it. I recommend getting a smaller, cheaper tuba for specific use as a practice tuba and put more money into the performance tuba. Don’t forget the cases. 2) If a second tuba is not available, can the student come early, stay late, or use part of lunch hour to practice? The biggest advantage to this is that everyone – including the student – knows where, when and how often the student is practicing. Realistic expectations from the music director can be applied without guesswork. If the school or boosters cannot afford an extra tuba, then practicing at school will save wear and tear on the performance horn. Remember – if this option is used, the student must have complete accessibility to the instrument and first dibbs on a practice area. 3) The last option is to have the student or P/G cart the tuba back and forth for practice. Presented with this option, most students and their families probably will not last long or they will just not practice at all (unless the student can drive him/ herself). A substitute idea during concert season would be to have the student take a marching instrument home (sousaphone, bell front tuba, or marching shoulder tuba). However, more times than not, the student will take the bell off at home (if they can) to make it lighter, which really destroys their inner sense of pitch.
After all of these questions have been approached and answered, then a proper relationship for success should exist between the music director, P/G, and student. In the next article, we will discuss the physical considerations to ensure success between the tuba and the student, P/G, and music program. And in preparation for articles coming after that one – Don’t Forget To Breathe!