Today, I'm posting about some of my thoughts on low and high range development.
So, every year the WTAMU faculty brass quintet plays holiday themed performances at local elementary schools. At the end of each performance we usually have time to let the kids ask questions. By far the most common thing to happen in this situation is for the student to forget what they were going to ask about. The second most common, at least for me, is to be asked, "How high can you play?" or, ‘How low can you play?’
My instinct is to reply with a snarky answer like, "Who cares?" After all, playing high on the tuba is about as impressive as being the world's largest teacup Chihuahua or smallest English mastiff. Just so you know, there were supposed to be hilarious pictures of the aforementioned animals, but I could find no record of such creatures on all the internet. This serves my purpose here nicely, though. I understand the lack of evidence of pictures to mean that no one cares who has the world's largest teacup Chihuahua or smallest English mastiff.
Outside of the tuba-euph community no one really cares about our ability to play high or low. It's slightly more impressive to be able to play high on the euphonium than it is the tuba, maybe more like being a very large Sheltie (still, no one really cares).
All snarkyness aside, my serious answer to that question would be, "It depends." Am I focused on producing extremely low/high notes currently? How fatigued are my chops? Am I in my best shape?
Playing high is just not all that important in the scheme of things. Still we must be able to do what the composer asks at any time, every time. Which is why I recommend at least an octave above the highest note in the piece you currently plan to perform. It's not as important to have an extra octave below, but you should shoot for reaching at least the bottom of the pedal register. In case you're wondering that's: euphonium - C-flat 1 (all four valves), CC tuba - D-flat 0 (all five vales if you've got them), and BBb-flat tuba - C-flat -1 (yes, that's negative 1!).
We'll talk about this in more detail later, but the long story made short is that your body will compensate for increased demands through adaptation…Do more so your body will be able to do more, repeat. This concept applies equally well to lifting heavy weights, running a marathon, and even learning to play the euphonium or tuba.
Here’s how you can do it. Play scales every day; major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor. It doesn't matter, any scale will do.
Moderate tempo is best for endurance purposes. Start on the lowest note you can play with a great sound. Perform each scale in ascending chromatic order so that you’re constantly working toward your peak high range. You'll notice that by starting on your lowest note every day you will make gradual progress and be able to play even lower ultimately. If your initial starting note was E-flat 1, eventually you'll be able to start on D 1, then D-flat, and so on. Just keep working at it.
Play each scale two octaves. If you can get through all of them great, continue to three octaves. If not, also great, room for improvement! If you can play all of them three octaves, continue to four octaves, and then five. The point is to keep adding octaves to scales until you fail/miss the highest note of two scales consecutively. This is enough to inspire adaptation in your body.
Make every effort to play with an awesome sound no matter which octave you're currently playing in. From your very lowest, to your very highest notes, always perform with your best sound. Be sure you know the scales well enough that you won't need to devote much mental resource deciding which buttons to push down (I know, it's hard sometimes). You want to dedicate all of your considerable intellectual faculties to figuring out ways to play lower and higher each time you play the exercise. This can be done using any type of scale or arpeggio if you follow the directions (fail on the top note of two scales/arpeggios/exercises consecutively). I recommend the scales in Routine I for euphonium and tuba (links) as a starting place.
Thank you again and happy practicing!
Jeremy is Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at West Texas A&M University.