Upper Range extension - the obvious that isn’t

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Tuba players don’t need to be able to play high notes. Everybody knows that except for some composers of Classical and Brass Band music - it’s not uncommon to be given a top C in a Band Solo and higher in Orchestral stuff (where they assume that you’re playing a five valve Tuba pitched in F rather than Eb, etc.)

Over a period of time I’m been trying to build chops fit for the ‘Solo’ Tuba as opposed to the Trombone (there is some overlap but each is, I find, different). Getting note quality is important and particularly so at the extremes of the instrument’s pitch range, both to makes those notes useable and because in doing so it seems to end up enhancing the mid-range sound too.

In general playing a small cup mouthpiece seems to degrade sound quality but allows easier access to high notes. I started off on a smaller Tuba piece (otherwise you struggle to control your sound) and have successively worked up to bigger ones as my chops became able to cope with them. I’ve pretty much reached an endpoint on useful size increment now - got quite a decent tone and can ‘speak’ well through the fourth valve and beyond down to peddle a and often g. :)

Looking at the high range I’ve worked up to a ‘fairly’ consistent ability to get top C, but the D would only come on some days and then not for many others. It occurred to me that having the sound more clearly in me mind might help (rather than toot and then decide that, yes, that is the next note up), and that if smaller cups help get high notes then why wasn’t I using one to practice in the high range? I picked up the small cup piece from the shelf, played a bit to warm it up and then out popped the shy top D. Great! Then I tried the bigger cup piece that I normally use and the top D sort of crawled out, but that’s better than the situation was half an hour earlier. Coupled with this (mouthpiece change) I was trying scales up to the high notes and octave jumps (bottom g to middle g, bottom a to middle a, etc, upwards to middle c to top c, and middle d to top d).

Perhaps my eyes were closed, but to me the obvious had been hidden:
# in your mind enhance the sound that you’re aiming for (for me the octave jumps helped, but some form of drone - which I don’t have - might have been better).
# remember to use a smaller mouthpiece (than you normally use) to help you break down upper range access problems - a shallower piece might help too.
Edit. # practice with an electronic tuner.
High up in the register the partials overlap and hence D, C and B can all be played open, be sure of and be told which one you are actually playing.
If your tuner only displays ‘concert pitch’ then have the conversions written out and ready to be read whilst you’re practicing.

Without getting too technical (in responses) what other ‘obvious’ things do we overlook?
 
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2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Some more things that are obvious yet somehow (by me) overlooked:

# Don’t attempt going after the extremes of range until your lip is properly warmed up - I’m thinking upwards of half an hour’s general practice / playing first. You get better results that way and cold muscles are more likely to get damaged.
Edit. In a lesson my MD encouraged several minutes of scales as a warm up before commencing serious practice, but limited the highest note to the g directly above the stave - which might still be too high for some other players.
# Whatever mouthpiece you’re using - I’m using a smaller mouthpiece for high note practice - needs to be warmed up too.
# Don’t get discouraged by set-backs and variability, despite arriving yesterday sometimes that high note won’t come today.
# Practice the high range everyday, it helps with lip control and fixes sounds in your ‘ear’.
# When you do get a desired high note then hold onto it. Can you play that high note for say twelve steady beats and if so what’s your sound quality like?

Anyone got something to add?
 
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Jack E

Well-Known Member
Yes, indeed, 2nd Tenor - re. your point about "cold muscles are more likely to get damaged"; I'd rewrite that sentence as follows:
"COLD MUSCLES ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET DAMAGED - AND THE DAMAGE CAUSED IN ONE SECOND CAN STILL BE GIVING YOU HELL TWENTY FIVE YEARS LATER!!"
If you're thinking 'that sounds like the voice of experience' - you're right. And I wouldn't wish that experience on a psychotic junkyard dog.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Muscle damage, it happens and sometimes we don’t recover.

When I was a youth the old guy who taught me how to play used to play in higher Section Bands, but he over did things and permanently damaged his chops such that he could no longer play to the level he desired - he was a Championship or nothing type of guy. It’s all a very long time ago but I think it was him playing too much, a sharp mouthpiece of old design and constantly pushing the top notes.

Anyway, other folk will know better then than me but your lips can get damaged muscles, and I feel sure that there are other things to watch out for or consider in that general area too.
 
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CousinJack

New Member
RE not going for top notes straight away:

Before I moved to tuba I played 1st baritone. The band I played for at the time started concerts with Fanfare and Flourishes which might as well be a top C exercise for euph and bari players. Of course players SHOULD be warmed up but in the wonderful world of third section banding you can't count on it!
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Before I moved to tuba I played 1st baritone. The band I played for at the time started concerts with Fanfare and Flourishes which might as well be a top C exercise for euph and bari players. Of course players SHOULD be warmed up but in the wonderful world of third section banding you can't count on it!
Based on my experience above, where what started out as a seemingly minor injury 46 years ago is still giving me grief, I reserve the absolute right to say "No chance, pal" if asked to push my lip to that extent. I play music for enjoyment, not to be put through a Commando boot-camp.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
RE not going for top notes straight away:

Before I moved to tuba I played 1st baritone. The band I played for at the time started concerts with Fanfare and Flourishes which might as well be a top C exercise for euph and bari players. Of course players SHOULD be warmed up but in the wonderful world of third section banding you can't count on it!
That reminds me of a group I that I used to belong to that was conducted by a non-Brass player. There were many things that he didn’t understand but he was willing to listen to our comments and did learn from us too, I’ve also been conducted by some experienced Brass players who seem insensitive and unwilling to take feedback from players. There’s a wide mixture out there.

For a Concert surely a sensible Conductor starts with an easy enough march, to get some air through the instruments and let folks warm up their chops. For rehearsals I’ve pretty much always started with a hymn or two. Of course your MD might be hoping that players warm up somehow prior to a Concert, but if so then ways of doing that need to be discussed in advance and agreed/re-agreed upon.
 
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PeterBale

Moderator
Staff member
When I have the chance to warm up before practice ( which is not always the case as I go straight from work) I use a combination of long notes, arpeggios and running scales, usually starting on the C below the stave and going up to the C above the stave. (this is on BBb bass).

The upper register will certainly speak better when properly warmed-up, and playing hymn tunes and similar melodies in the upper range is good way to develop your tone. Incidentally, I would not recommend switching mouthpiece: in the long run you would be better t continue working with what you've got.
 

CousinJack

New Member
For a Concert surely a sensible Conductor starts with an easy enough march, to get some air through the instruments and let folks warm up their chops. For rehearsals I’ve pretty much always started with a hymn or two. Of course your MD might be hoping that players warm up somehow prior to a Concert, but if so then ways of doing that need to be discussed in advance and agreed/re-agreed upon.
Fanfare and Flourishes is certainly a concert opener, can't really think where else it would belong on a programme (perhaps to open the second half?). For a bandstand/outside gig where listeners will be walking past (and not staying for the whole set) I think a march is generally a suitable opener for the reasons you've stated. Personally I wouldn't always open a sit down concert with a march. Whilst it is a tried and tested way to open a 'traditional' brass band concert, particularly for lower section bands who don't have the luxury of having every seat filled with super keen players, I think there are also plenty of exciting pieces out there designed to open concerts or could indeed fill that role. Mike Shepherd had an interesting blogpost he shared with the 4barsrest Facebook group on brass band programming which is worth a read, and perhaps a whole thread in its own right!
 
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