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Deciding which instrument to play in school can be a difficult choice for youths who have only been exposed to electric guitars and turntables. Most students select an instrument based upon the dictates of their parents' pocketbooks. Thus, in beginning band, there are overwhelming numbers of flutes and trumpets, in addition to trombones, which most families seem to have in their attics for some reason.
However, from time to time a student will not be satisfied with these options and will choose to play a school instrument. If this is the case, the student must usually choose between baritone1 and tuba2. Band directors will encourage students to play tuba because, frankly, tubas are not terribly popular, seemingly with good reason.
Considering the Tuba
Before deciding upon the tuba, there are important factors to consider. The first of these is the music one would be forced to play. Let's face it: the majority of band directors will not be content to play Tubby the Tuba over and over, and very few other band songs will prominently feature this instrument. In fact, most tubists, particularly in beginning band, must resign themselves to an existence in which they consider quarter notes a fast-moving and exciting passage. This can improve in high school, where tubists occasionally encounter difficult rhythms. Nevertheless, these are usually repeated throughout the piece, so once the rhythms are learned, there is little else to challenge the player.
Another consideration is the physical difficulty of playing the instrument. Every instrument has its challenges. For flautists, it is being forced to ceaselessly cock their heads to one side while holding their arms out to the other. This is very taxing, and many serious flautists develop uneven shoulders as a result. Tubas, on the other hand, are relatively comfortable to play as long as the player is a large enough person.
Unfortunately, many beginner tubists are not large enough and must sit on phone books to reach the mouthpiece of the instrument. Most players quickly grow out of this, but for those, like this Researcher, who never grow taller than five feet, there are tuba stands which can be purchased to hold the instrument at a convenient height. Even for a large person, however, the tuba is a heavy and awkward instrument to carry. One cannot, for instance, carry a tuba case around in the park looking for a place to play, and attempting to play it standing up can be difficult even for experienced players.
And speaking of cumbersome instruments, beginner school tubists must also consider the possibility that they will have to play sousaphones in high school marching bands. While these are easier to carry than concert tubas, they are still quite large and heavy. On the other hand, tubas are often seen to have the most fun and to receive the greatest attention at spirited events. With their visible bells, they frequently 'dance' or find other ways to embellish the performance of the band.
The greatest obstacle for beginning tubists can be the stereotypes with which they will be faced. Contrary to popular belief, tubas are not just for 'fat guys with pimples', as in Mr Holland's Opus, and nor are they necessarily dull musicians who have been demoted from other instruments, although some band directors sometimes do this. Generally, these stereotypes come primarily from fans and not from fellow band members. In a group as dependent upon the individuals as a band, strong - and weak - musicians will become evident regardless of their instrument.
Yet despite its challenges, playing the tuba can be a highly rewarding experience. Firstly, it should be noted for the less motivated that tuba is one of the least competitive main-stream band instruments, making it easier for tubists with some amount of talent to succeed in contests and the like.
Although parts in band pieces are sometimes less than inspiring, tubas still play an essential role. And for those who feel a need to shine, many beautiful tuba solos exist, and the more motivated players can even learn to mentally transpose solos written for other instruments, allowing them to play all types of music. Furthermore, tubas have some of the richest tones of all instruments, as opposed to the tinny whistle sound of some higher-pitched instruments. Grieg's In The Hall Of The Mountain King, for example, is a familiar and challenging piece for any tuba player and can show your gathering skills off with considerable flair. The rich and fulsome tones of the piece are enough to make a whining trumpet solo pale.