Issue: Jul-Sept 2006
Bandworld Magazine Page


20 Years Ago in Bandworld
Kaleid Tuba Embou-Sure
by Stuart Turner


The concept of EMBOU-SURE has been utilized with outstanding success on students of all levels. It is by no means an experimental technique, but rather one which incorporates descriptive terminology as a means of clearly stating the goals, problems, and solutions involved in learning to play the tuba. It is a method which will work equally well for the tuba teacher who is also a tuba player and the non-tuba-playing music teacher.

It had occurred to me, as I am sure it has to many teachers, that specialists in any area have only three advantages over the rest of us:

  1. Visual expertise in detecting incorrect tone concepts.
  2. Auditory expertise in detecting incorrect tone concepts.
  3. Verbal expertise in correcting embouchure formation and tone-concept problems.

So, if we can see, hear, and say EXACTLY the right things, there is no reason that we can't also be experts in teaching, altering, and refining embouchure and tone. That is, in short, the very intent and purpose of EMBOU-SURE.

And, there's no magic in all of that either. Simple, very explicit comments during initial stages of development almost guarantee immediate success. Having applied the methods detailed in this article to the instruction of beginners of all ages (including some as young as six years), I've been really amazed by the instant effectiveness of these concepts. It's very exciting and it's the reason I decided to join in the development of this series

EMBOU-SURE is formulated on the concept that the prospective instructor has also "taken the course." It is mandatory that each concept be thoroughly and accurately comprehended. Thus, anyone planning to use this method must start as a beginner, utilizing the text (accompanied by the cassette tape, if possible) as a means of developing a fine sound and an expert teaching system.


There are two very basic concepts in playing tuba which must be understood by both the tuba student and teacher. These concepts are somewhat unique to the character of the instrument and it is my contention that they should be carefully introduced and discussed prior to the student's attempts to produce a sound on the tuba. These two concepts have to do with:


How often I have heard directors say to students, "more breath support! Blow from your diaphragm!" and each time I hear it, I cringe at the concept that is being conveyed to the student. In fact, the diaphragm muscle has little to with the breathing process at all and usually ends up being a foe rather than a friend.
The diaphragm is a muscle located just below the lungs at approximately the place where the rib cage ends.

When in a relaxed state, the diaphragm is in a nearly flat or slightly raised position. When the diaphragm is flexed or tightened, it pulls downward. When this takes place, the lungs are also pulled or stretched downward and it becomes a physical impossibility to blow a large QUANTITY of air. By tightening the diaphragm and attempting to blow a large amount of air, we create at the same time an isometric exercise within the body which has no beneficial effect. Try this:

• Hold your hand in front of your face.
• Tighten your diaphragm.
• Try to blow a large quantity of air on your hand.
Doesn't work, does it ? Now relax your stomach and diaphragm muscles and repeat the process of blowing a large quantity of air on your hand. It is really quite easy to do. The tuba player needs to put large quantities of air through the horn because of the size of the instrument itself. The easiest way to accomplish this is to use little or no "diaphragm support."

Arnold Jacobs frequently says, "For tuba players, strength is our weakness!"

A saying which Arnold Jacobs uses frequently is: "For tuba players, strength is our weakness!" That statement pretty well says it as far as the concept of breathing goes for the tuba player.


The second concept mentioned above is that of tongue placement; once again we have a situation which is unique to the tuba. As previously stated, we need a large quantity of air to produce a good sound on tuba. The tongue is often the culprit which prevents this process from taking place efficiently.

If you say the syllable "TEE," you will notice that the tongue is arched up in the back. . .nearly to the point of touching the roof of the mouth. When this happens, we have a block (the tongue) thrown up in the way of the air stream. The result is a restricted amount of air passing beyond that blockage to the lips and an absence of good tone on the tuba. Remember: the large quantity of air produced through proper breathing does no good at all until it passes through the lips to make them vibrate; if the air is stopped or partially blocked off in the process of blowing, the result will be totally unsatisfactory.

Say the vowel sound "OH" and notice the position of the tongue. The production of the "OH" sound causes the tongue to lay down flat in the bottom of the mouth, thereby causing no obstruction to the air stream. This is the ideal placement of the tongue for ALL RANGES in tuba playing. The "AH" sound will also cause the tongue to rest in the correct position, but if exaggerated, gagging results; once again the throat is closed off. For this reason, the "OH" sound is preferable.

I should also mention here that tongue placement in beginning a note with the tongue, we simply say, "TOH." When we say this sound, the tip of the tongue hits behind the top front teeth. Never allow a student to tongue through the teeth as it always causes a sloppy, thick attack. I have heard teachers describe the act by telling the student to "spit out a seed." Nothing could be further from the correct method of tonguing. Simply tell the student to say "TOH."

With a basic understanding of these two concepts, we are now ready to move to the tuba itself and prepare to play the first note.

BUY Embou-Sure Complete Series