I know you are excited to start with your tuba, but let’s get a few things in place before you pick up your instrument.
Posture and Breathing
In order to play properly you first have to sit up straight. This allows you to breathe deeply and support the sound of your instrument as breath controls all of the sounds you will be making on your tuba.
One way to do this is to stand up, bend at the waist with your arms hanging loosely to the floor. Now slowly roll up, aligning your spine so it is straight up and down all the way to your head with your arms at your side. Think of a string pulling straight up from the top of your head stretching your body out. Shrug your shoulders up and down, then back and forward. Your shoulders should sit in a relaxed position at rest between each of these places. Now, sit on the front edge of your chair and do the same thing. This puts you in the proper position to support your sound by breathing deeply.
Embouchure and Buzzing
Embouchure is basically, your lips. The following method will help you to focus your breath properly for your instrument.
The Vocal Breath: The breath used to play is the same breath used to sing. Whisper Tah, Too, or Toh (whichever you use) strongly for 4 beats. Now, use your throat to make the breath go higher like you were singing. Now go lower. Do not use your voice, just a strong whisper breath. The air speed and volume we use to play is controlled by the throat just like when you sing. Notice how much air it takes. You must first find the notes with your throat as if you were going to sing them. Your actual vocal range makes no difference since you don’t actually use your voice. Blowing like you would blow up a balloon or beach ball is incorrect. The vocal breath has controlled sustain and is the correct use of breath. This is why it looks so effortless when you watch great brass players. The vocal breath will not play your horn alone, however, as it is vocal. You need the embouchure to focus it into an air stream and turn the vocal breath into wind.
Your lips focus the vocal breath into an air stream by funneling the air with your lips like a mild pucker, as if saying ooh. Your lips “grab” the air this way so it rubs them vigorously, making a strong sound similar to the letter F sustained-ffffff. On tuba, this will be the high range sound. For the middle and low range, you will feel it more than hear it. It will sound like a low pitch vocal breath with an air stream you feel (like wind) if you put your hand out facing you at an arm’s length away. Make sure this sound is lips only, no teeth. Your lips convert the vocal breath into an air stream so that when you put them in the mouthpiece they vibrate. Your embouchure must MATCH the speed and volume of breath from your throat (vocal breath).
There is little your lips can do to make the air go faster or slower if the vocal breath stays the same. If your vocal breath stays on one note, the lips can only pinch or go flabby with little or no change in speed high or low. The vocal breath is still going when you use your lips, so both happen together at the same time and must move together. Learning to coordinate these two things is why a brass instrument is often harder to play at first. When you play this way it will feel like the horn is sucking the air right out of you. This is how you use more air correctly. It feels (to me) like the lips and vocal breath pull the air right out of you instead of you trying to force air against or through your embouchure.
Holding the Tuba
Now that you have basic breathing and embouchure, let’s make sure you can hold your instrument properly. Watch the videos at the bottom for clearer examples if you need to.
On a right handed tuba, you’ll lean the tuba slightly to the left, using your left hand to support the lean. Place your right hand on the valves (either on the broad part of the pad on a rotary tuba, or with your fingertips on the center of the valves on a valve tuba). Most tubas have a small ring to put your thumb through- this forces your hand to stay in place and helps give a bit of support from your right hand.
On a lefty tuba, you’ll be resting the tuba practically on your left leg (which is why stands are very important for lefty players). Your right hand have to reach for the valves, but it will also be providing a lot of support. The left hand will keep things balanced.
Four Parts of a Good Hand Position
1. Fingers curved
2. All fingers on valves at all times
3. Thumb not inserted into thumb hole (pulls hand out of position, slows fingers, and if the tuba falls, thumb can break)
4. Hand relaxed
Holding the Tuba
Sitting with good posture, bring the instrument to your face, not the other way around. Beyond this, the important thing is to find a comfortable position to hold your tuba, but as tuba’s vary greatly your position for holding the instrument will be just as unique.