A Dying Breed - Tuba & Euph Critical

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by on_castors, Oct 29, 2010.

  1. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    4 Barsrest reports an article quoting the Associated Board: http://www.4barsrest.com/news/detail.asp?id=12450

    Apparently exams taken on Tuba and Euphonium are now at the bottom of the instrument popularity list, at least as far as exams taken are concerned!
    I suppose it is no surprise, the price of even a tatty old battered E flat Tuba is astronomical, while student instruments costing £1000 are not a good investment, and soon lose their value. It's a nightmare to ferry kids around, while a cornet is easy to pop into a gig bag and go on the bus, a car at hand is essential if even the biggest of kids want to take a BBflat tuba home!

    Even now there is an obvious shortage of Tuba players in anything other than the best of bands, (in fact it's nice to be wanted!) and of necessity only the fittest can cope with a BBflat Tuba, I know I couldn't even if I wanted to, even now I play E flat Tuba because I want to, not because I like lugging it about, I have been around the band but always come back :)

    Pushing learner or intermediate cornet players onto Tuba is not the way to build a love for the instruments, if you don't take it up out of desire, then often you don't ever feel it is the right instrument for you, and want to get back to your original choice at the earliest possible opportunity; so surely the only way is to encourage learners to pick up a tuba as soon as they are able - then again how many bands have enough spare tubas lying around to be able to start kids off on one, they are valuable, and it's hard enough keeping a band solvent without having thousands of pounds worth of instruments for learners?

    Are we part of a dying breed?
  2. simonium

    simonium Member

    I suspect that the ABRSM's ludicrously stubborn denial of modern euphonium repertoire being added to the syllabus might have something to with the lack of entries. I have (somehow) managed to start preparing for Grade 8, but there is literally nothing in the whole syllabus I would want to spend time working on. And I find it a little (only a little because life is too short to get really worked up about things like this) irritating that there are still trumpet and trombone works in the euphonium and baritone exams.

    Is it really that difficult to find works specifically written for the tuba or euphonium without having to use trumpet studies? The answer seems to be laziness on the part of the exam boards. My euphonium teacher did the Horovitz Euphonium Concerto (or part of it, as I think you don't have the option of playing it all...)for his ABRSM Grade 8 exam in 1985. It's still there. I know it's iconic but there are literally dozens of works that would be suitable.

    Finally on how to encourage people to play tuba - play them some Patrick Sheridan. Astonishing. His Hot Canary is the same pitch as the euphonium version and 1000 times more enjoyable.
  3. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    If there's no new bass-jockeys coming through, that might explain how I've managed to wind up in a top-section outfit.... The barrel is being well and truly scraped in my case!!

    One thing to remember though. A person has to develop a certain physical size and stature to even get a decent note from a tuba of any flavour, so it's not always easy to start early. The simple mechanics of the instrument (volume of air, height to the leadpipe, span between valves, ability to reach the 4th valve with the lft hand while blowing) dictate a certain sort of player - whereas other instruments are far more forgiving about who they'll be played by.

    Plus, I suppose it's difficult to get through to youngsters how unbelievable important that pom-pom-pom-pom they have to play every practice actually is, when their mates on trumpets get to play pretty tunes. You might be able to tell them that it's the second most important part in the band. (Melody, bass, countermelody, etc. etc.) but making them believe it is another thing altogether.

    And when aunty comes round for tea, what's she likely to say? "Oh give us a tune then!" Any tuba, when playing a tune is reasonably likely to sound lugubrious or unintentionally comic (to quote Denis Wright) particularly in the hands of a learner - and that could really put kids off.

    I started playing brass at 21, so was already a good few years behind my compatriots - however as I had the lung capacity and stature to cope with the instrument (Having started on Eb, I graduated to BB at age 24) and developed a halfway-decent level of technique, I've not done too badly considering my late start. OK, I'm never even remotely likely to be a Dean Morley or Simon Gresswell! But I think part of the reason that I bonded with Tuba so well was that I was a bit older, and could more fundamentally grasp the role of it within a band and how important the part a tuba plays is. That way the psychological issue was already resolved, so I could focus on improving my playing, without wishing I got the tune more often.
  4. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    The Associated Board are no guide as to the state of brass playing, my guess is that it reflects more upon their dire syllabus (it is poor for all brass but terrible for tuba and euphonium).
    Purely personally, I only enter students for exams if they are desperate to do them - there is MUCH more to playing than a bit of paper saying "Grade X." Sadly I seem to be in the minority of teachers - there are a huge number who teach the "two pieces, one study" method - where it doesn't matter whether you can actually play an instrument, just as long as you have got a bit of paper saying how well you play two pieces and a study (which is all you have played since you did the last "two pieces, one study" exam.
    I have a number of low brass students and know of a great deal more who are excited by interestiuing repertoire and of a good standard, but have no interest in learning the terrible pieces that the Ass Brd seem to think should be the standard repertoire - they want to be more musical than the Ass Brd is capable of dealing with.

    I have entered students through Ass Brd and Trinity Guildhall - I only do Ass Brd when requested (by certain schools) - my true opinion on this organisation is not suitable for a public forum.

    There is nothing worse for me (as a teacher) than receiving a student from another teacher who has got a but of paper - chances are high that they have only ever played the exam pieces, can't read the music and have been taught the music "parrot" fashion. Can't read, can't name any note on the stave and can't count. Their idea of sight reading is "can you play it for me, so I know how it goes?"
    I have utter contempt for teachers who teach this way, but I don't put the blame entirely with them, I put the responsibility with the ABRSM and their (seriously outdated) syllabus.

    I have often wondered how pieces make their way on to the syllabus - there are pieces & books on the trumpet syllabus that are a complete waste of money - nothing useful in them at all, just seem to be an excuse for certain people to sell a lot of copies of their terrible books because they have managed to get them on a syllabus.

    I am not surprised to see a lack of low brass exams being taken - they are irrelevant and outdated.


    I think we are a dying breed...The instrument just has nt the same glamour as a cornet,trumpet or trombone,if you can master these instruments you can blow brass banding out and join a dance band on a cruise ship . At the moment a decent BB player has to pull the phone socket out unless you want to turn out 7 days a week.
  6. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    Interesting points, especially those about the iffy syllabus choices and why people do or don't bother with exams.... but its also worth bearing in mind that the Classic fm & 4br articles and this discussion are based on incorrect facts.

    The full AB stats for 2009 are listed here, and euphonium is quite a long way off the bottom of the list. Tuba is low down, but so are baritone, bass trombone and Eb cornet, and apparently the only flugel exams in a year were 2 "jazz" ones!
    We all know there's plenty of people out there playing those instruments, and we also all know that a lot of people never do practical exams (AB or otherwise). Big pinch of salt called for methinks.
  7. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    Some interesting points...

    I am somewhat out of touch with such things now, and have to admit my only Associated Board pass is a Grade 3 Viola(!), and later "O" level "Music" but I started late with brass too, and such things seemed somewhat unnecessary once I progressed out of the school band and into adult playing, however I later on felt a bit inadequate without those grades, and lingered long and hard about whether it would do me any good to fill in the missing gaps, and get that paperwork, when I later received my most useful tuition from a friend who has a history in Ch. Section Tuba playing. after spending his formative years at the RNCM. I have to say I am eternally grateful to him as I would never have dreamed of so much as sitting down with a 1st Section band otherwise!

    I sometimes wonder if it would have made me technically a better player, after all the discipline necessary to pass exams is usually good for developing the right habits, and had it been imprinted earlier, who knows!
    It seems the syllabus is still much the same as it was back then though!
  8. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    I could otherwise agree, such are statistics, but these seem to be right about the trend I can see too, as others have confirmed: being a Bass player can make someone a far more "popular" person than his personality would suggest these days in the Brass band world! ;-)
  9. al74

    al74 New Member

    Would be interested to Know comparison to Trinity Guildhall exam stats for Tuba & Euph , my gut reaction is that they will not be mirrored in ABRSM stats.
  10. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    If you want a really interesting view - try comparing the different areas of the country.
    Not sure you can actually do this but my guess would be that certain instruments (baritone, tenor horn, BBb bass) are hardly seen in the South.
    I know that I VERY rarely see these instruments being taught (happy to teach them, but parents around here often don't see them as "proper" instruments).
  11. simonium

    simonium Member

    Are they proper instruments? ;)
  12. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    You are a braver man than I ;)
  13. Euph1175

    Euph1175 New Member

    Some interesting points here. I agree that these stats don't show the true picture of the amount of Tuba and Euph players around. I for one did my Grade 8 with Trinity Guildhall because it was a much better syllabus and many players I know have used Trinity for similar reasons.

    Another point is that people who learn Cornet/Trumpet, trombone ect can join a variety of different bands such as orchestras, wind, jazz, dance, stage, but Euphonium players are largely stuck to brass bands and wind bands. Not that thats a bad thing i guess ;)
  14. simonium

    simonium Member

    They at least recognise the usefulness of flexibilities and the pieces selected do change more regularly, but again, by and large, the same hoary old classics are selected. I have a book of unaccompanied euphonium studies which is published by de Haske that would benefit players in terms of enjoyment and probably technique immeasurably more than just printing lazily, "any study from Kopprasch volume 2".
  15. barrytone

    barrytone Member

    In general there is a shortage of players, free music lessons are history and players are now taught in groups with trumpet/cornet/trombone being the cheapest and most accessible instruments to rental/purchase. I wonder what they are taught and who decides what they should play? I went to tutor a youth band recently; loads of cornets, 9 troms, 10 horns, 4 euphs, 3 flugels, 6 basses but not one baritone!!! The conductor even said that he was recruiting more euphs to play the baritone parts because quote "no one plays the baritone these days, in ten years time, baritone players will be rarer than hen's teeth!!" Can this really be the case? Is this instrument and the people who play it so maligned? Does it really have such a poor reputation? I still marvel that it's one of the instruments rarely featured as a solo instrument when some of the parts written for the instrument are fiendishly difficult and require a talented musician to overcome them. I sincerley hope that the instrument is not in such great decline but would welcome views from others on here.
  16. euph77

    euph77 Member

    I have 2 baritone students, 3 tenor horns and 2 euphoniums the rest of 60+ students are trumpet/cornet and trombone players. The baritone players are both in primary school and the instruments are both hired through the local music service (which boasts a training, intermediate and youth brass band, the last of which is 40+ strong). I think the problem is to do with the many other interests that children have like sports and computers. Most of my students are primary school age and the trend has been to give up music as they reach their teens. I don't think the trend is to do with the poor syllabus choice, though this obviously doesn't help.
  17. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    As chance would have it, I met one young Tuba player on Saturday, a Birmingham Conservatoire student who was depping for us... he mentioned that he was currently one of FOUR Tuba students there!

    Unfortunately I never got time to discuss some of the points we have been talking about on here! :-(
  18. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    Interesting thread.

    some VERY valid points regarding the ABRSM. I really do feel they are going to get left behind. The stupid grade 5 theory requirement, outdated pieces, lack of instrument specific pieces, a fascination with memorizing scales... I have found the Trinity exam much more accessible for brass, good pieces, lip slurs as part of the exam, much better selection of pieces especially in the higher grades where cornet pieces are a option as opposed to trumpet pieces. option to read "scale exercises" as opposed to ruining many kids chances of good marks by making them learn huge lists of scales...many of which practically we will never need in the brass band. And STILL many people say ABRSM is a better exam because its "tougher" amazing.....

    Regarding the tuba/euph thing. There is a natural selection proses with the instrument. A band needs ten plus cornets and 4 euphs baris..4 tubas. So we need more cornets than the other. Also I think teachers can help themselves by encouraging kids to try a bigger instrument. Kids are naturally inquisitive and given the opportunity to "try" a bigger instrument they may well go for it. We have a "brass day" once a year and as part of that day kids are given the opportunity to try tuba, euph, trom, french horn. We have had quite a good few players come from that proses. Also its easy to keep kids on trumpet/cornet because they can get a G......but if they are struggling to tongue or struggling to play longer pieces then there is a good chance their direction should be downward. I have had a few kids come to me who cant tongue and i presumed it was just bad teaching but after a few weeks i discovered the back pressure must of been SO great it was interrupting the flow of air, so onto a bigger mouthpiece they go on more than a few occasions they have gone into the higher grades on a more suitable instrument.
  19. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    Is this statistical situation not partly because brass bands do a lot of in house training now and use the trinity exams rather than associated board?
  20. Despot

    Despot Member

    Think you hit the nail on the head! I never teach ABRSM unless specifically requested. Allowing CDs for lower grades, no Grade 5 theory requirement, similarities in pieces across different instruments suit a band envirnment better. Also, many brass band players never do grades.

    And brass doesn't have the same level of private teachers sending kids for every grade as a means of extracting cash from their parents.

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