Artist Insights featuring Eirik Gjerdevik

The role of the Eb tuba in a band, plus hints and tips for practicing

Hello fellow tuba players!

I hope that you’ve found some opportunities to practice during these difficult times. In this clinic, I’d like you to consider the effect your playing has on your band.

If you only play one tuba, perhaps try to get hold of a different tuba as well. Ideally, you need one ‘big’ instrument – a Cc or a Bb – and one smaller – an F or Eb. Personally, I always do my warm-ups and daily drills on the big tuba, because this is the most difficult instrument and demands the most of the player. Try using the TotalEnergy music practice app, focusing on sound and attack in the mid/lower range. Your challenge from me is to develop two different ‘personalities’ on the tuba.

1) Big tuba. Solid sound, heavy and be a great team player.

2) Small tuba. Be a soloist, play with great beauty and clear leadership.

And remember, it’s your brain the conductor needs, not your tuba.

Why use different tubas in both Brass and Wind bands?

The most important role for the tuba section is to make a solid sound foundation for the band. The big Bb tubas produce the dark, rich sound, but it’s often difficult to make out details such as tuning and the attack of the notes. In the right hands, the smaller Eb tubas make things a lot clearer.

In the British style of brass banding, composers such as Ball, Sparke, Gregson and Wilby among others are notable for the way in which they make use of the two different tubas, typically using the Bb tuba as the base sound, and the Eb an octave higher to clearly articulate the bass line. When the same composers write for wind band, the higher octave is often excluded.

As an amateur, I played at the highest level in brass bands, but as professional player I´ve played mostly in wind orchestras. And I’ve always strived to make the ‘Brass band version’ of the tuba part in wind orchestra pieces like ‘Resurgam’, ‘The year of the Dragon’ and ‘Montage’ among others. Why? Because it sounds clearer and more powerful.

The character of different tubas – here’s what the band thinks.

F-tuba – A great solo instrument, but lacking power in the Mid/lower range. A bit of trouble with intonation in band – great in symphony orchestra.

Eb-tuba – Highly versatile with a good sound in the whole range. Very flexible in tone and attack.

Cc-tuba – A great tuba if you’re just one or two players. A massive sound in the right hands.

Bb-tuba – A true contrabass tuba – dark with a lot of weight. The only drawbacks are the lack of clarity in attack, and high register.

The different roles of the large and the small tuba

The big tubas (Cc and Bb) should make a big fat sound with a lot of rich sonority. The small tubas (F but mainly Eb) should concentrate on bringing elegance and fluidity to the group, rather than trying to make a big sound.

Personal mindsets for playing the different tubas

As a conductor, I always look for different personalities into the Tuba Group.

1. Eb tuba (particularly in a brass band) needs to be as much of a soloist in tone and personality as the solo euphonium.

2. Eb tuba should be the sonic link to the bigger tubas (Bb).

3. For me, the Bb tubas are best for the lowest parts.

4. Once again, the Bb is the link between upper and lower tubas.

But above all, t’s a group effort. All for one and one for all! And how do I rate a tuba section? Sound, sound, sound!

Concentrate on the sound when you practice

When playing with your band, pay attention to how your sound and attack effects the rest of the band. If you’re bored playing tuba parts, you probably haven’t yet discovered the power that the tuba/bass line has in an ensemble.

Try to be relaxed in your body when playing long notes. Take in a lot of air then calmly let it flow through the instrument. Try also using different vowels when exhaling, for instance a big O and a thin E. Use a tuner and check your tuning when playing differently.

And make practicing fun. Just making a sound with a tuba should be the most enjoyable thing you do.

Eirik Gjerdevik

Eirik Gjerdevik is a musician, soloist, conductor and a renowned player in the world of Norwegian band music.

Eirik is been a permanent member of The Armed Forces’ Band West since 1996. As a soloist he has performed in Norway, Denmark (Faroe Islands), Romania, Switzerland, England, Bulgaria, and Australia, and he has commissioned and premiered a number of compositions for tuba.