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Low Brass Handout

Warm Up Routine
How to Practice
Cooling Down
Online Resources
Equipment Recommendations


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Warm-up Routine

A vital part of your development

Why do we spend the precious minutes to warm-up? We could be spending that time practicing or having lunch or watching TV. When a warm-up is done properly, you can develop good habits, increase range, and ensure the knowledge we gain is cemented in our minds, and generally learn how to play better.

In my opinion, a good warm-up includes mouthpiece buzzing, long tones, lip slurs, tonguing exercises, scales, and flexibility exercises. Attached to this document, you will find a basic warm-up routine. However, it is important to provide some explanations here. Firstly, breathing is very important. If you are a tubist or euphoniumist, you should make your mouth into an “OH” shape as you inhale through the mouth, and when you exhale, a syllable like TAH or TOH. A good exercise to try is to breathe in for 4 counts using the syllable “HO” and breathe out for 4 counts using the syllable TOH. This will help fill up your lungs with little tension in the torso. For tubists, you want a good warm, slow air going out of your body. For euphoniumists, you can exhale with a fast, cool air stream. This is a good start to a warm-up. After practicing some breathing exercises, mouthpiece buzzing is a good second step.

There are three good reasons to buzz on the mouthpiece. First, with no horn on the mouthpiece, there is less resistance, and therefore air needs to be used efficiently. This gives us a good foundation to start when it comes to the way we use our air. Second, when we buzz, we must use our embouchure muscles more efficiently. Last, when we buzz a tune, we use our ears to make sure the tune is correct.

For mouthpiece buzzing, it is a good idea to start by buzzing a straight pitch, then a “siren” moving up and down, then back up. Finally, I recommend a simple tune that has no big leaps. I use Christmas tunes because they are singable, but any radio tunes are good, and it is always good to explore new songs.

Some examples of an easy buzzing tune: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; Row Row Row Your Boat; Yankee Doodle Dandy; Frosty, the Snowman; Jingle Bells.

Our next stop in a good warm-up routine involves long tones. These should be done at an Andante tempo of 70-80 bpm. This is not too slow as to need to breathe too often, but still slow enough to concentrate on the tones you are producing. It is easy to go on autopilot when we do our long tones, but I advise really listening to your sound to see if it is consistent from the start of every note, to the body of each and finally how you end each note. Does it sound the same all the way through? Is the intonation consistent? Do all the notes sound the same? These questions will help you to remain focused on your tone for these exercises.

Lips slurs are a good next step in your warm-up routine. Lips slurs work the flexibility in our lips and help the embouchure muscles by reinforcing each placement of the notes. Still concentrating on tone, these exercises are a good way to ensure each tone has the same core sound throughout the different registers.

I start with an easy downward lip slur, then I move on to a down-then-back-up slur. If there is time, a more difficult slur will build embouchure muscles, as well. A tonguing exercise which gets your tongue in proper shape to practice for your day is also a good part of a warm-up routine. Eighth note patterns and progressing in to sixteen-note patterns is a good way to build the faster tongue. I recommend a TA syllable or a TU syllable. If double-tonguing is part of what you want to do, I recommend thinking of the word “TACO” but replacing that last letter with an A. “TA-CA” is a good syllable combination. Alternatively, DAH-GAH also works when wanting a less defined smoother syllable.

The next part of a good warm-up involves scales. I try to do a few scales each day. I work on my Major scales and all forms of the minor scales. I don’t try to be a “speed demon” on the scales, because I believe it is better to be accurate. I make sure to tongue each note the same and still listen for the tones to be consistent.

Scales are also a good way to build your range. I believe your scales should be at least two octaves. Last, I make sure to play a few flexibility exercises. The handout contains a couple of examples of good flexibility exercises. Some examples to find online are the Arnold Jacobs Special Studies, the Vincent Cichowicz Flow Studies and the Clarke Studies. These exercises are slurred notes with different fingerings. This helps you concentrate on the smoothness between different finger combinations. What I have described here is the most basic of warm-ups. There are dozens of ways to add to this, and I explore more of those in private lessons. However, this is what I have found works for everyone. Once I have time with a student, I can tailor more specific exercises to help their issues. However, if you do at least this much on a regular basis, you will be ready for your day of playing!


How to Practice?
Some points to consider…

You have an etude you need to play for a lesson. You have a solo you have always wanted to play but it is “too hard.” You have a band/orchestra piece to get ready for your rehearsal. You know there is a part of your playing that needs to improve. How do you make all these situations better?

PRACTICE! That is what they always tell you. Sometimes it is hard to know how to practice correctly to improve on all the situations described above. Oftentimes, when we practice, we try to make things better by playing a piece repeatedly and hope it will get better. Sometimes we play a piece over and over until we get it right a couple of times and we feel we have done a good job. I am here to tell you that your job is only half done. All those repetitions of doing it not quite right can sometimes be what our brain remembers. It is important to reinforce the good and try to not even have any “not quite right” run throughs.

A better idea is to break the piece down into small chunks where you can focus on a phrase or a set number of bars. When you find a region of the piece like that, it is a good idea to find a slow tempo where you can play the “too hard” part of the piece without mistakes and start from there. Slow practice is essential to cementing the correct way to play a passage. Indeed, I find that it is best to break down a piece into smaller parts and work that passage. I have played a game during my practice time for years. It is “# in a row right.” I will set a number as a goal. I need to play these four bars 5 times in a row without mistakes. If I get to time #4 and make a mistake, it is back to zero, and I start all over again. This is a challenging and sometimes frustrating way to make progress, but when I have achieved that goal, I feel like I have made positive progress. Then all that remains is to make that same goal for the next four bars. When I accomplish that, I stick those 2 four-bar phrases together, and I set a new goal of # of times in a row for those EIGHT bars. By the time I am done, I feel my brain is gaining correct knowledge and with fewer times incorrectly. Then I do it all over again the next day. After a few practice sessions like that, I am the best prepared I can be for that etude/solo/band piece. Enjoy!


Cooling Down
In high school or college, I felt like my chops were pretty much always ready to go. I worked hard and when I was done, I would just throw the tuba in the case, and go grab some food or hang out with friends. The next time, I would play a scale and be ready to go again. Ah, youth!

I am now in my late 40’s and my chops muscles don’t quite have the elasticity of youth anymore. I realize the need for a good cool down after practicing or rehearsal. I came across a good description of cooling down from a brass player friend of mine. He said to really cool down, one should try to “relax all accumulated tension from a long day or a difficult session.” However, for the most part, low chromatics or arpeggios that reach into the pedal range is our best bet.

It is vital for our next playing session to cool down after the current session. I am a tubist, so I take about 5 minutes to really work my way down into the basement of my horn, and then in to that lower, sub-basement where no light penetrates. That way, when I am done, I feel like the muscles are at their most relaxed. It is the same thing as if I were running a marathon, I would not just stop running when I crossed the finish line and grab the closest coke and watch some tv. No, I have to make sure my muscles cool down in my legs so I walk a little and then stretch out those legs to relax them and deal with the rigors of running.

When we tax our chop muscles, they are doing a marathon. We need to employ some exercises that allow us to get to the most relaxed. I usually play a favorite Rochut etude down an octave and then a section of it down 2 octaves. That gets me to those low notes that I think help my chops feel more at ease.



           VOLUME 1 – EASY TO MEDIUM

Online Resources

International Tuba Euphonium Association

Many articles on tuba and euphonium topics

David Werden Website

Euphonium soloist

Adam Frey

Soloist and Clinician log/index.php?cPath=197_216

Mouthpiece Express

A site to purchase mouthpieces and accessories

Tuba Peter

Tuba ensemble arrangements resource

Tom Lukowicz

Excellent resource on basics and beyond


A forum with all topics pertaining to tuba

Micah Everett Website

A comprehensive low brass website

Artists to find and listen to:


Roger Behrend
Brian Bowman
Adam Frey

Steven Mead

David Werden


Alan Baer

Roger Bobo
Gene Pokorny

Sam Pilafian

Patrick Sheridan

Tuba players, the Blessing 18, Conn Helleberg 7B, and Miraphone TU21 are great examples of mouthpieces that gently shape the embouchure while providing enough resistance to train your muscles.

Euphoniumists, the Bach 6 ½ AL is one of the best mouthpiece sizes for euphonium students. It is a good, medium-deep size mouthpiece that will continue to be the right size for many students as they get older. Some students will need to move to a larger mouthpiece by high school, such as a Bach 5G, but many will not. For those euphonium students needing a larger mouthpiece, the Bach 5G is a good choice. It is a deeper mouthpiece that will sound very full on euphonium. This is usually a better choice for high school euphonium students. So is a Schilke 51, or a 51D for something even deeper. If you use a large bore euphonium, you will have a greater selection of larger size mouthpieces. The Bach 12C is really too small for euphonium. It will work, but it's not the best choice for a full euphonium tone.

For low brass players, it is often necessary to use a school or rented horn rather than purchase your own instrument. Tubas, especially, can be expensive and not easy to store. However, if you would like to purchase your own horn, you can’t go wrong with Yamaha horns, both for euphonium and tuba. They are durable and easy to fix. I recommend them for student purchase, but they can also translate into long term use. Beyond Yamaha horns, Miraphone tubas are a great choice. For Euphonium, Wilson or Besson are great horns, but be aware that a Besson horn may have a great sound, but the intonation can sometimes be difficult to navigate.

Questions about CSU-Pueblo or Majoring in Music or just music?
Lessons (live or zoom)?

Charles D. Ortega

(720) 253-7637  

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