I’ve been playing tuba for a long time (20 years), and I hear kids ask me all the time if the tuba is hard to play.
I’m always advocating for my favorite instrument, so I love to answer this question!
In terms of teaching tuba, I’ve worked with players of all ability levels, from complete beginners to college students. Here’s what I’ve found.
The tuba is a medium-hard instrument to play, depending on the player’s size and age. The buzzing needing to produce the sound isn’t hard, and the music a tuba plays is typically pretty easy. Its biggest challenges are the need for a lot of air, handling the heavy instrument, and producing the low notes.
For those considering the tuba as an instrument (or switching to one), read on for more of my thoughts.
What’s Easy About The Tuba?
The tuba has some hurdles to overcome, but there are several things that make it easy too!
The Music You Play Is Simple
For one, tuba music is pretty easy.
Even when I was playing higher-level music in my university’s wind ensemble, the music was only somewhat challenging.
The hardest ensemble music I’ve played is brass band music.
For most people, you’ll play in your school band or community band.
The music in these places isn’t hard at all.
People like to tease us tuba players that we only play the “oompah” parts.
It’s sad but true, so if you want a nice and easy introduction to reading music, the tuba will be very much your speed.
Producing The Sound
Brass musical instruments are generally pretty easy to make a sound on.
All you have to do is buzz your lips!
The large mouthpiece of the tuba is a plus to some degree with this.
The slower buzzing is easier for most new players to start with compared to the smaller trumpet mouthpieces or the even smaller french horn ones.
Almost every person who picks up a tuba will be able to make a sound to some degree on it right away!
Less Competition And More Gigs
I feel a little guilty saying this, but it’s also true.
There aren’t a lot of tuba players out there, so we don’t have to compete as much.
Most bands want anywhere from 2-4+ tubas in them, but it’s definitely a struggle getting them.
As a director of a community concert band, I know exactly how hard this is, and I also know how much of a difference a good tubist will make to a group.
If you want to play more gigs and have more opportunities for gigs or concerts, consider the tuba.
People are always looking. I’m constantly telling people “no” when they ask me to play.
There’s only so much time in the week!
What’s Hard About The Tuba?
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and roses with my favorite instrument.
There are some challenges to tackle, and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t bring them up.
Still, they can be worked through, and if you make past these, you’ll have a lifetime of fun music!
Tubas need a lot of air.
(Understatement of the century!)
The standard BBb tuba is around 16′ feet long. This means you are sending air over 16′ feet of space!
If you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want to start on a 3/4 tuba.
While it has the same length, the bore (width of the pipe) is much smaller.
This makes it easier to play. Once you’re used to it, you’ll be able to switch up to a bigger one.
For those with breathing issues or a smaller stature, you’re going to have a harder time right out of the gate.
But this isn’t strictly true either.
I’ve seen small people shred on the tuba! And my professor was asthmatic, and he’s an excellent tubist!
Larger Mouthpiece Embouchure
The larger mouthpiece is somewhat limiting for new players too.
Sure, the buzzing isn’t hard, but the large space or aperture of the mouthpiece offers no backpressure.
Backpressure is when you blow air, and the size of the hole pushes back on the air a little.
Smaller holes (like on trumpets) push back a fair amount. This actually helps with buzzing quite a bit.
The tuba has the largest brass mouthpiece in the band. As such, getting your notes to speak and sound quickly is tough.
Handling The Large Horn
The size of the brass instrument is quite a hurdle for many too.
On average, expect a tuba to weigh between 20-30 pounds, but this varies widely depending on the type of tuba.
Related Reading: Types of tubas in the tuba family
This size and heavy weight are tough to physically move, let alone play.
Band directors often avoid putting small kids on these horns at first, but they can always switch up later when they grow a bit.
Expanding Your Range
I have had the pleasure to work with some young tuba players over the years.
Here in Michigan, I’ve worked at the Herter Band Camp, which is a week-long retreat for middle school musicians where they do camp stuff on top of putting on a concert and taking group lessons.
In working with the new tuba players, I’ve noticed they really struggle at first with getting the range of notes, lower and higher, on their instrument.
The low notes require so much air and a relaxed tuba embouchure.
High notes need muscle control, and the large tuba mouthpiece doesn’t help.
It’s a steeper learning curve for range compared to the other members of the brass family and especially the woodwinds.
Where Does Tuba Fit In Terms Of Difficulty With The Rest Of The Brass Family?
The tuba isn’t the hardest instrument in the brass family, but it’s close!
Here’s my rating from easiest to hardest:
- Trumpet / Cornet
- Euphonium / Baritone
- Tuba / Sousaphone
- French horn
The gap between the tuba and french horn is huge. That instrument is very tricky because of its close partials.
Note: Partials are when you play different notes, all with the same fingering.
Quick Tips For New Tuba Players
If you take on this fun and large instrument, keep these quick tips in mind for playing better.
Further Reading: 15 Tips For Playing Tuba Better Instantly
Get The Right Tuba
The wrong tuba for you will set you up for failure!
There are so many tubas out there, and they’re not for everyone.
If you’re new, get a 3/4 tuba.
If you’re experienced, get full-size tubas.
For those who are serious about the tuba or thinking about being a professional tuba player, consider a CC tuba or an F tuba for solos.
Then there’s the whole rotary valves vs. piston valves issue.
It’s a big topic! If you want more detailed advice, check out my guide to buying your own tuba.
Yes, our music is pretty easy.
No, this doesn’t mean you can skip out on practicing!
Set up a schedule for practice time and borrow a horn from a school if needed.
I recommend at least 30 minutes, 5 days per week.
But practicing is one of those things where even a little is better than nothing.
Do what you can and watch how you improve!
Warmup With Breathing Exercises
Air is a must for tuba players, and breathing is where it happens.
Breathing intentionally is a muscular process, and with exercise, these muscles will grow more efficient and increase your lung capacity.
Pro-tip: Start with proper posture!
Hit up your local music store for advice on getting tuba lessons and finding a private teacher.
One-on-one instruction is the best way to learn, and it’s worth it!
Challenge Yourself With Solos
If all you do is play your music for the band, you’ll never get much better.
As I’ve said before, it’s pretty easy!
You need to take the initiative to challenge yourself and learn some different pieces!
If you need help finding some solos, I recommend starting with The First Solos For Tuba Players (check the product on Amazon).
This book, collected by Herbert Wekselblatt, is a good starting place for tubas to play some fun and more taxing music.
If solos aren’t your thing, join a brass quintet. This will challenge your abilities too!