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Thread: Tuba Players' Air Support

  1. #1

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    Default Tuba Players' Air Support

    Hello everybody!

    I assume that Tuba is a fairly air intensive instrument, in that it takes a lot of air to get that big fat deep sound out of the thing. I wouldn't know, I'm a sax player.

    Anyhow, a friend of mine recently switched from Euph to Tuba, and seeing as the Tuba is almost as big as she is, you can imagine that she would have some volume issues.

    Do you tuba players have any advice on breathing exercises to raise lung capacity? I fear that if I ask her to "breathe deeply!" one more time, she'll pass out on me!
    Jupiter 869SG Artist Series Alto Sax
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    The key to tuba is a concept of 'controlled relaxation'. It has everything to do with the embrochure. It has to be very loose, but you need to maintain complete control over it. It all comes down to the embrochre; once you can master that it will take no more air than most any instrument IMO to produce a good strong tone. Ive played from trumpet to tuba in the brass family, and you probably know I play alot of bari sax.

    My tip to your friend is to work on getting her emb. as loose as possible to produce a good tone and find the control in it. This is exactly what the tuba teacher that does private lessons in the store I teach sax in teaches. Just start with longtones, and think about controled relaxation, a super relaxed emb, but you're still in control. Make sure you have the control first, the the tone will come then, the volume will come after that.

    Hope she has fun!
    Martin D. Williams
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  3. #3

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    The first instrument I ever played was a tuba. I was 13, in Jr High, and out of the blue decided to sign up for band (no prior musical experience whatsoever). Not knowing anything about anything musical, I didn't know it was supposed to "take a lot of air." So I just played it. I think people get intimidated by the size and think they have to have superhuman lungs to play a large instrument, but I disagree. It's all in the embouchure.

    The length of the pipe in a wind instrument is analogous to the length of a string on a guitar or violin. It doesn't take that much more strength to pluck an 8 foot string than a 1 foot string (maybe less, even).

    Also, there's nothing you can do to significantly increase your lung capacity. You can't grow more alveoli, and the size of your chest cavity is bounded by the size of your ribs. No exercises will lengthen your ribs, any more than any exercise could lengthen your legs.

    And even if you could increase your lung capacity, if you actually used that extra capacity it would have the same effect as breathing faster - you'd hyperventilate and get light-headed.

    So tell your friend not to worry about the air, and to work on her embouchure.
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    You may not be able to increase lung size, but you CAN increase lung efficiency, the amount of oygen your lungs can take in and use at once, or strength with it can be exhaled. Look at a product called the Powerlung
    Martin D. Williams
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  5. #5

    Default Tuba air

    The amount of air needed for a good tuba sound shouldn't be confused with the amount of air support needed. If played properly, Tuba does use a good amount of air, but not a supernatural amount.

    One exercise I do with my students involves a 3/4 inch piece of PVC coupling. (Available at your local hardware store for about $.10) I have the kids do controlled breathing over 4, 8, 16 and 20 counts. The students are to inhale for the first half of the total # of counts and exhale for the 2nd half. Other variations include inhale for 2 counts exhale for the remainder of 8, 16 or 20; inhale for 2, hold for x number of beats and exhale for 2, 4 or x beats.

    By "inhale" I mean completely fill lungs. Sometimes, I'll have them inhale and "sneak" a second breath on top of that before exhaling.

    One of my beginning tuba players last year was about 4'5" and she could not have weighed more than 75 lbs, but she could play!

    On a side note, as with any other "new" instrument, her tuba should be checked to make sure the water key is sealing, no leaky valves, etc. It's hard enough without having to fight the equipment.
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  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Martin Williams
    You may not be able to increase lung size, but you CAN increase lung efficiency, the amount of oygen your lungs can take in and use at once, or strength with it can be exhaled. Look at a product called the Powerlung
    Ok, we're getting a little off-topic here, but since lung physiology and the physics of gases is something I get paid to know about, I don't mind a digression from tubas and saxes...

    Yes, you can strengthen muscles and thus increase the force with which you inhale and exhale. However, the maximum amount of air you take with each breath is limited by your anatomy, and you can't increase that by much. The amount of oxygen is not really relevant to the playing aspect. The instrument needs a gas of a certain density, but it doesn't have to contain oxygen, the oxygen is strictly for the player. Doesn't really matter, though, because if you can't increase the amount of air you inhale, then you can't increase the amount of oxygen either. Air is roughly 4/5ths nitrogen and 1/5th oxygen. So if you took in a 5 liter breath, you'd get 4 liters of nitrogen and 1 liter of oxygen. There isn't any exercise that will change those ratios.

    However, I do agree 100% with your advice to work on the embouchure, control, and breath support.
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    Ageed

    But when you breathe, not all of that air is used(i.e. sent to your muscles and otherwise used by your body). Some air is always wasted in breathing this way. Breathing more efficiently is partly what one can do to maximize the use of this air.
    Martin D. Williams
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  8. #8

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    Correct. Small, shallow breaths mostly move air through the physiologic dead space (trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, which do not participate in gas exchange). Bigger, deeper breaths -> greater percentage of the air gets into the alveoli, where gas exchange takes place. So what does this "powerlung" claim to do?
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    It claims to strengthen the muscles that push air in and out by adding resistance to the act of simply breathing. I find there is a cheaper equally effective way to do so, but it does seem to make a difference IMO
    Martin D. Williams
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  10. #10

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    Hm.. Like breathing through a straw? Ok, I can see how some sort of "resistance training" might strengthen your respiratory muscles somewhat (although they get plenty of exercise, considering you breathe all the time), and help with breath control/support for playing winds. I'm just skeptical that it helps much with getting more oxygen into your body. Aerobic exercise is probably the best thing for that. And not smoking. And not being overweight. Boring stuff, I know, not nearly as sexy as a cool gadget.
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    All great info, thanks!

    After two weeks of practice, she's sounding much better. It was just a matter of getting used to the instrument. She's played tuba before, but she also plays flute, euph, and piano. Talk about diversified!
    Jupiter 869SG Artist Series Alto Sax
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  12. #12

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    Oh, yeah, if she already plays flute and piano, then the tuba shouldn't be any problem!
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    There are two sets of muscles that contribute to the basic act of breathing. Most of us only use one of them effectively.

    The diaphragm is a muscle wall extending across the abdomen. When you are sitting around, sleeping or doing regular activities, your autonomous body systems cause these muscles to contract one way, "pulling" the muscle wall downwards. This "pulls" vacuum by expanding your lungs, thus drawing air into same. A second set of muscles moves things the other way, expelling the breath.

    Controlled, this can do a good job both of keeping you oxygenated, purging your blood of carbon dioxide and of (if you have any class) blowing through a bass clarinet.

    Less known are the "accessory muscles of respiration", as I have had them termed by one of our occupational physicians (when at work, I work for OSHA). These muscles pull from your back around the front of your rib cage, expanding the chest by tugging the ribs "open".

    You can make these work by first taking in the deepest breath you can with your "stomach", and then, while "holding" that breath, "expand" your chest. It takes a bit of practice, but once you have it down, you can call it into play whenever you want. If you ever have to have a lung capacity test, try it for one of the attempts, just to see how much more you can deliver.

    I learned this trick when playing hockey as a kid. Our coach advised that, when skating up to a face-off, to do the extra "expansion" on top of a normal breath. You get a little more total volume inhaled, thus "super-oxygenating" your blood to a slight degree.

    It's not practical to do this with every breath, but the more you carry in, the less likely you will be left short. On the baritone, I use this when doing something like the held note under the "These little town blues..." lyric in New York, New York. Since the bass bone and I are handling a lot of the harmonic foundation at that point, we both work through the half notes preceding, and (just before hitting the pedal tone), do both diaphragm and accessory breathing to get a really BIG lungful.

    It's not something that you do all the time, but once in a while it comes in handy.
    Terry L. Stibal

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  14. #14

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    Arnold Jacobs was a master teacher and tuba player for Chicago Symphony for many years. He had a reduced lung capacity due to a childhood illness and innovated many breathing practice and performance techniques. Go here:

    http://www.windsongpress.com/jacobs/jacobs.htm

    Many free articles about Jacobs, tuba, breathing, exercises etc..

    Honestly, his thoughts about breathing relaxed the way I approach the instrument and breathing in general. Highly recommended!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kareeser
    Hello everybody!

    I assume that Tuba is a fairly air intensive instrument, in that it takes a lot of air to get that big fat deep sound out of the thing. I wouldn't know, I'm a sax player.

    Anyhow, a friend of mine recently switched from Euph to Tuba, and seeing as the Tuba is almost as big as she is, you can imagine that she would have some volume issues.

    Do you tuba players have any advice on breathing exercises to raise lung capacity? I fear that if I ask her to "breathe deeply!" one more time, she'll pass out on me!
    i play tuba and i use circular breathing or you can take a breath befor every note
    "Where words fail, music speaks."
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    Or maybe contact Carol Jantsch and ask her how she does it.

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