Luck is not chance, it’s toil. Fortune’s expensive smile is earned. ~ Emily Dickinson

Mr. Ahrens teaches band & choir at Bear River High School in Grass Valley, CA.


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Tuba Q and A: High Range

Question: What are some helpful techniques for improving the high range of my high school tuba players?  Most high school band music is written in the lower register.

Answer: I was once told that the best way for tuba players to improve their range in the upper register is to play up there. As you said, high school tuba players don’t typically get many parts that include high notes, so the tendency is to practice what you play. Try having your tuba players start on a medium-high note that they can play comfortably and well. Then play long tones chromatically up, focusing on centering the notes. They should be open and clear before moving on to the next note.  While they are playing each note make sure that their embouchure is not mashed against their mouthpiece and that the tones are speaking well. The upper register should have a big open sound and not ”pinched off”.

Try giving them a beginning trombone or baritone BC book. You could try a baritone sax or bassoon book.  Cello music might even work. They can hand pick the exercises that fall into their range at the time and it will give them additional music to practice that is higher than their normal tuba books. You could even suggest playing their regular music up an octave.  Sometimes just getting music into their hands that challenges their range is the key.

I would also recommend practicing with a tuner.  The tuba player doesn’t have to be staring at it the whole time, but sometimes notes in the higher registers are out of tune.  (Also, different horns play different notes out of tune. I have noticed that the G on the second space of the staff (usually played 12) plays really sharp and doesn’t speak well (it is stuffy) on one of my horns.  So to compensate I now play it with the second valve only and it plays in tune and clear.

Editor’s Note: I’ve noticed a large number of readers coming to this post searching for “Tuba Range”.  Susie has since made up this chart to show approximate typical player ranges by grade level. We hope it is helpful to you. – D.A.

This article is cross-posted at Susie’s blog “For the Love of Tuba“.
Susie Ahrens tweets: @tubachic


Creative Commons License photo credit: nunodantas

  • Tim Beringer

    Buzz thy mouthpiece!!! If you can buzz it, you can play it.

  • Dave

    A high school tubist should be able to play a wider range than G to F, I’ve been playing for a year (Granted I’m in high school but I just switched a year ago) and I can play pedal tones and almost up to a B that sits on top of the staff. The B isn’t quite a clear note yet, but it’s getting there.