Tubas form the base of the band.
I’ve often said that a great tuba player will make any group sound instantly better.
People play more confidently and tune better when they’ve got that thick bass sound to lean into.
Maybe it’s just my ego (I’m a tuba player by trade here as well), but my band director friends agree with me on this.
With this in mind, we need to know how to play the tuba louder.
To play the tuba louder, we need to use more air. Widen the aperture (or space between your buzzing lips) and think fast, warm air to provide a more dense column of air. Don’t force the air out like a laser, or you’ll end up blatting or fracking your notes. Tone quality is key.
While it may not be the loudest instrument, the tuba can still rock a concert band.
If you are ready to get better at playing the tuba louder right now, read ahead for my top tips and top exercises to help you support the band and impress your fellow musicians.
5 Tips For Playing The Tuba Louder
Before the exercises, we need to go over these tips.
Each of these tips is all centered around the same idea:
More air without force.
This is what a louder dynamic needs to be while still making a good sound.
Then, take these tips and apply them to the exercises below.
Widen Your Aperture
The aperture of your embouchure is a fancy way of saying the hole between your buzzing lips.
Tuba players already use a more relaxed embouchure and more open aperture because we need to buzz slower to reach the lower vibration for our low notes.
But in order to reach louder sounds, we need more air and more energy.
By widening the space the air comes out (but still keeping the corners of our lips tight), we provide more space for the air to come out.
If we force more air out of the same size or tinier hole, the air comes out too intense.
This is when we get blatting or when the sound seems to rip.
Use a tuba mouthpiece visualizer to play a long note and then make it louder.
Look in a mirror while you play and see how your aperture gets bigger as you play louder.
Note: A mouthpiece visualizer is just the rim of a mouthpiece, so you can see what your lips are doing.
Think Fast, Warm Air
To yell or sing louder, most people tighten their stomachs and push the sound out.
This does make your voice louder, but it’s limiting, especially on the tuba.
All instruments and singers prefer to use the word support rather than force.
We want faster air to get more sound air, but this comes from faster, warmer air.
Make your lips a circle and just blow into your hand.
Now, make your air colder.
Make your air warmer.
Did you feel how you opened up more, deeper in your throat and body?
An open throat is the best solution for getting more air through your horn.
Keep your air warm and now use more air and faster air (while still being warm).
This is the way we want to play our tubas louder.
Forcing gives you a temporary feeling of playing louder, but it won’t project well.
It feels loud when you’re close to your horn, but the sound doesn’t spread throughout the room.
(And the sound that does spread is gross!)
When you play louder as we’re describing, the tone gets thicker and wider and travels farther.
Don’t fall for the easy “louder” trick of ripping your tone through hard playing.
This is when the band director gives you the “hand.”
The one where they hold up their hand and tell you that you’re playing “too loud.”
They don’t actually mean “too loud.”
They mean you blatted with your tone.
Avoid Puffing Your Cheeks
As you do all the right things to play louder, there’s a chance you’ll begin to puff your cheeks.
Younger players and even high school players fall for this trap.
One of the first things I look for in a tuba section is who is puffing their cheeks and fix it.
While this may not feel like a big deal to you, it’s another limiting factor.
When you puff your cheeks, you do a couple of bad things:
- Waste energy by sending air through your cheeks instead of directly into your tuba
- Loosen your embouchure (lip shape) and increase the chances of buzzing the wrong note (or “double-buzzing” and getting unclean notes)
- Increase the pressure from the wide-to-small bottleneck effect of your cheeks-to-lips air stream
Tighten up those lip corners and engage your cheek muscles a little bit.
Focus up your airstream so it doesn’t push on your cheeks as much too.
Imagine Density, Not Power
Visualization is important in playing.
I often encourage people to spend time thinking and being aware of how things feel when they pay.
The same thing should happen when you play louder.
Here is an idea that helps me better imagine a density of air rather than a blast of air.
Imagine a water hose.
You turn on half of the water at the spigot.
Some water comes out. This is like your normal dynamic.
Now, how do we increase the volume or amount of water?
We have two options:
- Put your thumb over the hose and increase the pressure to squirt the water out.
- Turn on more water at the source.
Option #1 makes it seem like there’s more water, but there isn’t! The pressure is just greater.
Option #2 provides more air and, thus, more volume.
The source is our lungs and air capacity.
This is what’s always helped me, but everyone imagines things in a different way.
Find what works for you.
Speaking of tuba tips, check out my article at the link for more advice on better playing overall.
5 Exercises To Help With Playing The Tuba Louder
With these tips in mind, it’s time to put our dynamics into action through practice and exercises.
I do these same exercises often as part of my normal practice sessions and warmups.
It helps to stretch your air and playing muscles and train your brain as to what good loud tuba playing feels and sounds like.
Give these a shot and add them to your rotation.
After a few weeks, you’ll notice a big difference in your playing and dynamic range!
Crescendo Up Your Scales, Decrescendo Down
I love scales, and I don’t think people take them seriously enough.
You can add dynamics in a meaningful way by crescendoing as you play up the scale and get softer as you play down.
Start with a scale you know well, and that fits comfortably within your range.
If you’re a brand new player, this may be a half-scale.
But after a while, expand your scales to include all major and minor.
For patterns of scales, either do them as half notes or do them in this rhythm.
Note: This example is in Bb Major, but don’t just do this one.
Challenge yourself by also playing Eb and F (or more!).
Long Tone Repetition
For this exercise, we’re going to play the same note 8 times for four beats each time.
This is a good way to center pitch and tone at all dynamic levels.
This is the order we’ll play this in:
- Mezzo-forte (medium)
- Piano (soft)
- Pianissimo (softer)
- Mezzo-forte (medium)
- Forte (loud)
- Fortissimo (louder)
- Crescendo (piano to forte)
- Decrescendo (forte to piano)
Each time you play, focus on good tone above all but challenge yourself to expand the contrast between the loud and soft.
Note: This exercise works well for the lower register, too, and may be extended by changing long tones to quarter notes.
Taking away the horn itself and focusing on your buzzing is another important practice tool.
Without the brass instrument, you’re left with only your lips and air to do the work.
Here are a few steps to help you add dynamics to your buzzing (I also do this pretty much every time I warm up before I even play my musical instrument):
- Buzz a comfortable note (usually around F) at mezzo-forte.
- Breath and buzz again, but this time buzz up as high as you can and then come back to F. (You’re not trying to buzz a scale, just buzz.)
- Breath and buzz again. This time go down and return to F.
- Once more, breathe and buzz F to high to as low as possible and then return to F. The pattern looks like F-High-Low-F.
- Repeat but now go the opposite way. F-Low-High-F.
- Repeat all these steps at piano, then forte, and crescendo each pattern.
Play Along With Excerpts
I’ve noticed something that happens with newer players on any instrument over the years.
If they play with someone who has a good grasp on their instrument, dynamics, and confidence in their playing, the other person gains some of that as well.
I was playing in a community band, and I was impressed with the tubist sitting next to me.
He sounded pretty good and was able to play with some strength.
I had to be late for one of the rehearsals (prior commitment already worked out with the director, don’t worry!), and I listened to him play without me.
His tone was thinner, and he played everything mezzo-forte or mezzo-piano.
Where was this good player I’d heard last week?
He took lead from my example.
One quick exercise you can do to improve your dynamic playing is to play along with the pros.
Either purchase recordings (or find them on YouTube) or professionals playing excerpts from orchestral works on tuba.
Get yourself a great set of speakers (or go find somewhere they are already installed) and play along.
I did this the whole summer between my third and fourth year in college, and this was when I made my greatest leap in playing.
Good excerpts to play along with include:
- Die Meistersinger
- Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Finale (Finale)
- Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony (Mvt. 3-6)
Deep Breathing Exercises
The source of sound is air.
To have a bigger, stronger, and louder sound, you need more air.
Breathing is a muscular act, and you need to practice and strengthen those muscles to get more potential, just like an athlete.
It’s not just about a big breath.
Deep breathing exercises are key in this area.
Here’s a quick one:
- Sitting up tall, breath in* for 4 beats and out for 8 beats. Do this four times.
- Next**, breathe in for 2 beats and out for 8 beats. Do this four times.
- Next, breathe in for 1 beat and out for 8 beats. Again, do this four times.
- Now, breathe in for 1 and let it out for 12 beats. Repeat.
- Breathe in for 1 and let it out for 16 beats. Repeat.
- Breathe in for 1 and let it all out in 4 beats. Repeat.
*All breathing is done with your mouth, not your nose.
**Take breaks as needed; you may get dizzy from too much air.
Even tubists in professional orchestras practice their breathing to help with louder dynamics.
If you want more breathing exercises, check out The Breathing Gym DVD.
It’s a series of daily exercises made by two iconic, professional tuba players for all brass players to use more air to support their sound quality and volume.
This is a great way to get practice breathing, and I pull my copy once or twice a year for myself!
Over time, your breathing muscles get stronger, and the bigger breaths that come will actually help you increase the volume of air you use for loud playing.
Commonly Asked Questions
Why Does A Tuba Sound So Low?
The tuba plays low because it features long tubing (around 16-18′ feet), and the tuba player vibrates their lips at low tension and slowly.
In the creation of sound, there are two ways we alter pitch to play or sing higher or lower, and the tuba has them both:
- We lengthen the musical instruments or space for vibration.
- We loosen the tension on the vibration material.
The tuba’s space for vibration is already really long (between 16-18′ feet of tubing, depending on the type of tuba).
Check out our guide to the many types of tubas.
As you press down different valves, more slides or tubing are added. The instrument gets longer, and you play lower.
But the vibration is also loosened in brass instruments.
Vibrating lips (buzzing) are the source of the sound.
As we play lower, our embouchure relaxes more and slows down.
The tension is less; therefore, the sound is lower too!
Something similar happens with every instrument in the brass section (although it’s different with the upper register for the trumpet players and a french horn).
How Do You Play Loud On The Tuba With Good Tone?
You play low on the tuba but keep a good tone by increasing the amount of air you use to play. Good tone is destroyed by forced sound and puffing cheeks.
The more you practice loud playing (but under control), the better you’ll be able to play even louder without destroying your tone.
How Does A Tuba Amplify Sound?
As sound and vibration travel through the brass tubing of a tuba, the vibration’s tone is amplified and shaped to the iconic tuba sounds. This is due to a combination of the shape of tubing, length, material, amount of air in the space of the tubes, and even the way the tubist forms their lips.