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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