Re: New Years resolution to learn a new instrument. Tuba?

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Posted by Kenneth Sloan on January 01, 1999 at 02:12:15:

In Reply to: New Years resolution to learn a new instrument. Tuba? posted by Jay on December 31, 1998 at 11:48:02:

It's been just about a year since I made my decision to (re)learn the tuba.
My answers to your questions are based on my own experience, but as always,
"your milage may vary".

Is it difficult? That depends on your ambition. You say you already play piano,
so you can read bass clef and already have some experience with music. That's where
I 1960. Playing the instrument is a physical activity which requires
training and frequent practice - but remember that school kids routinely learn to play
all the common brass instruments without too much difficulty. If you have 10 hours per week to devote to practice, you can certainly "learn to play". After that, who knows?

What kind of music? Everything imaginable. The key is probably the size of the ensemble. In the beginning, you are better off with large groups - which indicates
"bands". As you progress, you can play in smaller groups (or in groups where the tuba section is very small). Tubas play everything from orchestral classical music to
all types of jazz.

Will you always be in the background? No,not always - but most of the time. If you are not comfortable blending into the ensemble with relatively few chances for exposed, flashy melodies...then you will never get good enough at playing the tuba to get those exposed solos.

What should you buy? That's the $5000 question! Tubas, like pianos, are not cheap. The primary reason that I took 25 years off from playing the tuba was that I could not justify the cost of a horn. It was a mistake - but it is a real consideration. The answer strongly depends on your financial position. My recommendation is to buy a new instrument and take excellent care of it. This gives you the best shot at not being limited by the instrument - and if it doesn't work out, the horn will still be worth about 1/2 what you paid for it new. I found the catalog from The Brasswind to be very informative. They have good prices, and offer something for virtually every reasonable budget. Get one. Read it (several times).

Maker? Any "reputable" (read - advertised in places like The Brasswind's catalog) maker will prove adequate. I ended up with a Yamaha, and have been very happy - but I don't think it really matters all that much.

BBb vs CC? It's a toss-up. I chose BBb because my fingers still remembered it, and
I expected to play mostly "band" type music. The current fashion seems to be tending towards CC. If you have no previous brass instrument experience, I would think there is a slight edge for CC.

Don't forget the other major choices: Eb or F. These "bass" tubas (BBb and CC are "contrabass") play more easily in a slightly higher range and may be better for you if you are concerned about playing exposed solos and melodies.

Size? Standard advice is that 4/4 instruments are the best overall choice. I chose a 3/4 instrument (the Yamaha YBB-621S) because *I* am small. As a beginner, you certainly don't need the hassle of a VERY large instrument (consider - what size piano would you recommend for a beginner?) My rule of thumb is: if you eventually NEED an extremely large horn, then you will almost certainly need two. So, don't worry about the extremes. In the beginning, you need a middle-of-the-road instrument.

Bore? type of valve? finish? irelevant all. Look at instruments and go with your gut instinct. There is no rational reason for a beginner to prefer one over the other.
Except...I would recommend staying away from EITHER extreme in "bore". VERY small bore instruments are likely to be "cheap" and VERY large bore horns are likely to be
inappropriate for a beginner (wasted expense, and presenting you with problems that you aren't ready to solve, yet). bottom line advice is:
*do it! commit to it! enjoy!
*look at sources of new instruments like The Brasswind
*purchase a "middle-of-the-road" instrument

It is, of course, preferable to find a local human being (a teacher) to guide you in this and to teach you to play. Failing that, my advice is to start with the Rubank series of instructional books, start slowly, and proceed step-by-step. There is lots more literature to work with - but it will be at least 6 months before any of that matters. Stat at the beginning and lay a proper foundation. Your piano training has already exposed you to daily practice and the benefits of exercises (such as scales). PLAY!

Start planning now to play in your local TubaChristmas, in about 11 1/2 months!

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