Warming up 'smart' on the Tuba

Tutor no longer registered
Tuba By: Tutor no longer registered
Subject: Tuba
Last updated: 21/05/2014
Tags: basics, brass, experienced brass, warm ups

When playing an instrument such as the tuba, where technical skill can sometimes not be needed as often, it is, for me, very important to keep an underlying mastery of the basics. By this I mean the skills of playing in time, in tune, with a good sound (to quote my own teacher) and to keep the simple things perfect, like long notes and flexibility.

For instance, when you are busy and don't get enough time to have a proper practice session, you need to prioritise your practice and make it the most efficient. This could be, for more advanced musicians, while on tour with a group, or for amateurs, maybe a busy week at school or the office. Whatever the case, you needn't spend hours on the instrument once a week ploughing through the back of the Arban. A small, everyday approach can be a lot better.

To help with busy schedules, you need an equivalent to the 7-minute work out, something that conditions your muscles, but can be crammed into the smallest time possible. So, the most important thing is to do a comprehensive warm up. Finding a warm up that incorporates many aspects of the basics is paramount to never letting your ability slide. Here, I'll take you through a warm up that, once learned, can be done in 15 minutes, but can also be extended to 30, depending on your timetable. 

Firstly, to just get your lungs blowing hard and to wake them up, buzzing is a great starter. The resistance of the instrument isn't there, so you use a lot more air, and to create a good sound on a mouthpiece you really need a lot of it! A simple exercise is in tempo long notes, with a tongued start, within a mid-range. Make it a tonal exercise, such as a scale or descending chromatic line, concentrating on hitting the note that you intend to hit. Keeping the air stream straight and producing a good sound on the mouthpiece can now be transferred straight over to the instrument, playing the same exercise you did on the mouthpiece on the instrument. This transfers the volume of air that you used during buzzing straight into the instrument from the word go, meaning your sound gets a boost. From this alone, we have already ticked three boxes, in time, in tune, with a good sound. 

Secondly, I move on to chromatic scales, slurred, within a range that is comfortable for you. Move this on to whole tone, first on the note you started the chromatic, and then one semitone down. Afterwards, diminished chords, on the note you started the chromatic on, and the two semitones below it. This exercise keeps a steady airstream going throughout it, concentrating on no lumps and bumps, a full breath, in time before you start, and a smooth blowing out. It also slowly eases your lips into feeling flexible, increasing the interval with each exercise.

This is the most basic form of my warm up. If stuck for time this can sometimes suffice, but to make sure that you don't lose anything that you've worked so hard the week before building up, carry on. 

Lastly, I spend the rest of my warmup ticking off the things that I won't get to do in my daily practice that day. It may be that I'm doing a day of absolutely no playing, sat in the orchestra, therefore I'll make sure I fit in a lot of notes, played at a reasonably loud dynamic, to keep my chops used to that kind of playing. Or maybe I have a day of playing high, for instance in quintet all day. In which case I play low in this section. It's about using your brain to make sure all bases are covered. 

This warmup can take me 15-30 minutes, depending on how much time I have. The point is that it is an everyday covering of all bases, and can be done in 15 minutes if you are used to doing it everyday. It is much better to play for 15 minutes everyday than leaving it a week and doing three hours.

When you think about your warm up instead of just playing through it with the TV on, it can become more useful than an hour of fooling around would ever be. This approach has saved my chops multiple times when on tour, or periods of little or too much work. Remember, little and often, covering your basics, and making sure you can play the simple things makes for a much easier ride next week!


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