Marcus tried the tuba like his director suggested and Charlotte is enjoying the low notes after she struggled to play higher notes on trumpet. Both are considering band next year, but often get in trouble for talking, and really, what’s the point since band is boring….for tuba players!
Why does this happen? Let’s investigate the causes
In middle school band, the tuba plays from the band book with everyone else learning and developing. As soon as sheet music comes out, however, they are relegated to “tuba parts” and because of the necessity of ensemble writing, they play far simpler parts than the lines in the band book. Think about it….how well would your clarinets develop if all they played were tuba parts?
What do we directors do to fix this issue?
First, make certain the ensemble warm-up engages the tuba players. Yes, sonorous chorale-sounding warmups are important, but tuba musicians also need to be challenged to develop high and low range, finger technique, breath control, and melodic phrasing.
Melody of the day? I write a weekly set of melodies for students to read or will use a class set of different method books to read a melody of the day. It takes very little time and students know it’s the last part of our daily routine to play today’s melody. Works equally well for middle and high school to work a melody and ensures everyone gets to develop musically – just like tuba players, those always on 3rd parts don’t get challenged beyond their parts very often.
Second, while they are sitting during rests, or another section rehearses a technical part, make a conscious effort to engage their listening skills and be an active not passive participant even though they are currently playing. Never let a student sit, find a way to engage them, we just have to make a conscious effort!
- “Do you hear a good balance between the woodwind melody and the harmony lines?”
- “Listen for tuning, what section is not quite in tune?”
- “Can you clap this rhythm along with us while we play?”
- “Identify when the chord changes….”
FIND A WAY TO ENGAGE THEM IN REHEARSALS and use it to develop them as musicians. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so let’s engage the back row!
Final thoughts – find age-appropriate materials to challenge them. A book of melodies for tuba, duets, trios, or play along videos online are easy to find. Yes, it might mean giving them 30 minutes of class in a practice room, but the payoff will be worth the investment!
For high school students consider tuba-euphonium quartets. Most are college level but there are more and more high school level ones published every day. Holding down your own part in a small group is a great way to engage and motivate students. Yes, they won’t be there for a few minutes of a rehearsal, but cutting the back-room boredom will improve behavior and make them more engaged.
A famous movie line says “If you build it, they will come”…and the same applies to where you set the bar for your back row.
PS – teach them other tuba useful skills you can challenge them to learn…
- Give them a trombone book and have them learn to read it down the octave.
- Give them a bari-sax part and read it by adding flats to the key signature.
- Challenge them to play their part down an octave to build low notes.
- Teach them a walking blues bass line and let them figure out how to change to other keys and add notes (lots of great online play along videos for this as well).
Mr. Kelly Diamond is a retired tubist with the U.S. Navy Band, Washington D.C., and the 202nd Kentucky National Guard Band. He is in his 17th year of teaching high school and middle school band in Kentucky and is a published composer and arranger of brass music.
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