Preparing to teach “Low Brass” at the College/University Level: A Primer for Tuba and Euphonium Players, Part One

Earlier today I gave a brief lecture with the above title at the South Central Regional Tuba-Euphonium Conference, held at Louisiana State University. I was honored by the invitation, and the presentation was fairly well-attended and well-received. My blog entries for both this week and next week will consist of my notes from this lecture.

I tend to write my text “word-for-word” when preparing a lecture, and use a more conversational style than my usual writing. At the same time, I make much more frequent use of “bullet points” for organization. I do not read the text verbatim, and given today’s time constraints doing so would have been impossible. Still, I tend to speak best when I have a complete, written text before me, even as I am modifying and reducing that text as I go. While I have edited this material just slightly for use as a blog post, for the most part I have left these notes in their original format.


I. Introduction

  • The title of this morning’s talk is “Preparing to teach ‘Low Brass’ at the College/University Level: A Primer for Tuba and Euphonium Players.” Essentially, we are going to talk about my job as an applied music professor responsible for teaching all of the low brass instruments. Broadly speaking, the topics I hope to cover today are:
    • How to prepare for this type of job.
    • How to get the job.
    • How to do—and keep!—the job.
  • While I hope there will be “something for everyone” in this discussion, my primary intended audience is those that want to one day get a job as an applied teacher at the tertiary level.
  • Before proceeding, I do need to point out that this entire talk is based upon my own opinions and experiences, not surveys of other teachers and certainly not “hard research.” I’m sure there are other teachers in the audience and that they might hear things that resonate with them, and things with which they disagree. That’s fine, and I hope we will have some time for questions and discussion at the end where any differences can be fleshed out.

II. Why Preparing to Teach All Low Brass Instruments is Important

  • Musical/performance benefits of doubling.
    • Before really beginning to teach multiple instruments comes the desire and ability to play those instruments, and doubling does bring with it a number of benefits. As a trombone player, I first took up the euphonium because there were certain brass quintet parts that worked better on euphonium than trombone; the euphonium parts in band music—particularly in marches—are almost always more fun on euphonium, and one always enjoys the challenge of having more things to play.
    • Later, when I took up alto trombone and bass trombone, the considerations were almost entirely economic. When I moved to Greensboro I found a freelance market glutted with tenor trombonists and relatively few working bass trombonists. Taking up bass trombone enabled me to work regularly while I was there. Alto trombone is basically a requirement these days for orchestral first trombonists, and there is some neat eighteenth-century solo repertoire that just about demands it, as well.
    • For those that are into (or want to get into) theater and studio-type work, doubling is even more important. Many shows require doubling on tenor and bass trombone, or bass trombone and tuba, or sometimes even tuba and string bass.
    • Long story short, not only is doubling musically satisfying as a performer, but it can also “pay off.”
  • The academic job market demands it!
    • When searching for academic jobs, there are a couple of primary job listing sources to which one can look: The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the College Music Society. Some schools will also advertise on higheredjobs.com, or perhaps with the ITA or ITEA, but most of the available jobs will be covered under those first two.
    • The College Music Society keeps archival copies of their Music Vacancy List for the past two years online and available for member perusal, so using that I was able to get a pretty good idea of the “landscape” for academic jobs for tuba and euphonium players at the present moment. In the past two years here is what I found in the way of full-time positions, both tenure-track and non-tenure-track:
      • Tuba or tuba/euphonium positions: 6
      • Low brass positions: 6
      •  “Other” (“brass coordinator,” low brass plus band, low brass plus “x”): 7
    • That’s it. Nineteen positions—and this has been a “good” couple of years compared to the last several. If that doesn’t give you pause, it should, as what this tells me is that there are FAR more qualified low brass players out there than there are academic jobs for them. The market isn’t as tough as, say, that for orchestral tubists, but it can be pretty close during some years.
    • I hope this also suggests to you that, if you want to work in academia, the more “hats” you can wear, the better. Fewer than a third of these positions are solely tuba/euphonium positions, and even those might require teaching a brass methods class or perhaps even a theory or history class “on the side.” Many of these jobs require teaching at least two if not all of the low brass instruments, and those jobs I listed under “other” require an even more diverse skill set. LEARN TO DO AS MANY THINGS AS POSSIBLE if you want to work.
    • Long story short, becoming as proficient as possible as a “low brass” teacher/performer rather than only a specialist on your instrument/instruments can greatly enhance your employment prospects.

III. Performance Preparation: Doubling

  • Choosing a doubling instrument (or instruments)
    • Very rarely does a person choose a doubling instrument—if he does so as a young student, anyway—because of its helpfulness in finding a teaching job. That said, one of my early motivations for taking up the euphonium was because I had planned on becoming a high school band director, and I figured that knowing my way around on both slides and valves would be useful.
    • A more frequent concern is economic—as I mentioned earlier, this is why I took up the alto trombone and the bass trombone. The more instruments you can play and play well, the more you can say “yes” when contractors call. Make wise choices and doubling can be very lucrative for you, indeed.
    • I highly recommend that all low brass players learn to double, and that they do so “on the other side of the fence.” In other words, I want my euphonium and tuba majors to take up tenor or bass trombone, and I want my trombonists to take up euphonium or tuba. Why? For all the reasons I just said. They will be better teachers for it, and will be able to take more freelancing calls. This is especially true for the tuba and euphonium players—like it or not, in many areas the trombonist is simply going to get more gigs. Also, the opportunities for tuba/bass trombone doubling, for example, on a single gig are fairly numerous.
      • All of that said, I am also a big fan of the tuba/string or electric bass double, but that is outside of our discussion for today.
  • Taking lessons
    • One of the most annoying things in the music business is someone that claims to double on a certain instrument and when you get to the gig it is obvious that the person has only a rudimentary idea of notes and fingerings (if that) and has not actually practiced—much less performed—on that doubling instrument to any significant extent. DON’T BE “THAT GUY!”
    • At many/most universities lessons are “free” (i.e. included with tuition) for those that register, or perhaps carry a nominal fee. In any case, it is cheaper than paying weekly for a good teacher. Do yourself a favor and TAKE LESSONS on your doubling instrument(s). Whether your school has a single “low brass” teacher or two or more teachers for the different instruments, you will benefit from your teachers’ expertise as you navigate the challenges of a new instrument.
  • Developing a sound concept
    • As a trombonist that takes doubling on euphonium very seriously, one of my greatest annoyances is when a trombone player says “I can play euphonium” and what he really means is “I know which valve combinations go with which slide positions.” What kind of sound does he produce? A bad one! Ditto for players moving in the other direction. You will notice that I am going to talk very, very little about slide and valve technique this morning. Why is that? BECAUSE THAT’S THE EASY PART! Developing technical facility on doubling instruments is difficult, but it is also simple. Put in the time, and you will be able to do that. What is more important—and harder to grasp—is learning how to produce the desired sound for each instrument.
    • How does one learn that sound concept? Listening to one’s colleagues at school is good, and hopefully as you play in ensembles on your doubling instrument(s) you will begin to strive for a uniform tone quality with your section-mates, and develop a sound concept that way.
    • Perhaps even more important is listening to recordings. From the moment I became a “serious” euphonium player I listened to Steven Mead, Brian Bowman, etc. constantly. I assumed that this was the characteristic sound, and set about trying to achieve it. Likewise with trombone recordings.
    • Even better, listen to professional players live. Listen to your teacher as well as any and all guest artists that come to your school. Take lessons if offered. AND, go to conferences. Interestingly, the first “major” brass conference I attended was not a trombone conference at all, but one of the regional tuba-euphonium conferences (the trombonists have not done nearly as well at having an organized system of regional conferences). What an eye-opening experience! Once again, sound concepts of tone quality were being created and reinforced, and I had goals for which I was practicing.
    • In any case, developing basic technical skills on a new instrument is simple. Even developing advanced technical skills is, while difficult to execute, simple in concept. But none of that matters if you don’t know how your chosen doubling instrument should *sound*. Keep your ears open!
  • Taking advantage of (and creating) performance opportunities
    • While in the university setting especially, take as many opportunities as possible to exercise your “doubling chops.” Trombone ensembles and tuba-euphonium ensembles are great places for doubling low brass players to “switch-hit,” and during any given semester I have at least 2-3 students that play in both of my ensembles.
    • The “second bands” and “third bands” at many schools are frequently looking for low brass players, and would be another good chance to work on the doubling instrument while at the same time perhaps learning some lower-level band literature that might be good to know should you ever find yourself working as a band director.
    • Student brass quintets are also a good forum for this. My personal opinion is that the ideal “trombone chair” player in a quintet is a trombone/euphonium doubler, and the ideal “tuba chair” player is a tuba/bass trombone doubler. Why? Some quintets, like the Ewazen quintets, clearly work better on bass trombone than tuba on the bottom part. Or, consider the Ewald quintets, which to me work much better with a euphonium than a trombone on that part. In fact, one of my first and formative experiences with the euphonium was playing the Ewald Quintet No. 3 in a quintet my freshman year—after the concert, my teacher came up to me and said “If you’re going to do both, you’re going to do it right.” From that day forward, I was essentially a double major.
    • If a “ready-made” opportunity doesn’t exist for you, CREATE ONE! I can’t think of a school or teacher that would frown on students taking some initiative to create performing opportunities for themselves. After all, entrepreneurship is an extremely valuable skill in the music business!
    • And, once you’re ready (or even close), jump in with taking freelance performing opportunities on your secondary instrument(s). There’s nothing that spurs improvement quite like being in the “hot seat!”

IV. Academic Preparation

  • “Methods” classes at the undergraduate level are inadequate to prepare for university-level applied teaching
    •  The first thing to mention about “academic” preparation for “low brass” teaching is the inadequacy of undergraduate “methods” classes for this purpose. (Of course, that’s assuming that you take such methods classes at all—they are required for music education students but not for others.)
    • The “methods” class is a “creature of necessity,” created by the competing priorities of teaching future band directors how to teach every instrument on the one hand, and the desires of state legislators and accreditors to minimize the number of credit hours required on the other. In the best of situations, one spends 6-8 weeks on each instrument in such classes, and even then the focus is largely upon preparing students to teach beginning and intermediate band, rather than university-level instruction.
    • This might be a good place to start, but it is not enough!
  • Graduate-level brass pedagogy/literature courses are better
    • At many schools, graduate performance majors are required to take courses in brass pedagogy and/or literature.
    • These courses tend to focus upon the needs of those teaching more advanced students, and are thus much better at preparing students for college-level teaching than do the undergraduate methods courses.
    • Well-designed courses will leave students not only with a beginning knowledge base of solo and instructional literature for all brass instruments, but also with ideas with regard to curriculum development for the applied studio.
    • Still, the generalized nature of such courses makes them useful as little more than a starting point for developing a comprehensive approach to low brass pedagogy and curriculum.
  • In-depth study of trombone, euphonium, and tuba performance and pedagogy, in addition to more general pedagogy courses, is best
    • I was very fortunate in the course of my doctoral studies to find myself needing six hours of brass pedagogy and literature courses, yet having already taken the courses UNCG offered for those purposes while working toward my master’s degree. I therefore approached my trombone teacher, Dr. Randy Kohlenberg, and my euphonium teacher, Dr. Dennis AsKew, about the possibility of doing three credit hours’ worth of independent studies with each of them, one for trombone, and one for euphonium and tuba. The final result of these would be complete undergraduate and graduate curricula for alto/tenor trombone, bass trombone, euphonium, and tuba, and contain fundamental exercises, fingering and overtone series charts for all of the instruments, literature lists, syllabi, bibliography—pretty much everything one might want or need to begin studio instruction on these instruments.
    • The end result of these projects was over 500 pages of material, and while much of this has been streamlined over the years, these projects still form the core of my studio curricula nearly ten years later; the present form of these materials can be found at www.olemiss.edu/lowbrass.
    • The amount of material that is “out there” for one to study, know, and master if he wants to teach all of the low brass instruments successfully is quite astounding. The more instruction and direction one can receive regarding materials and curriculum development while still in school, the better!

To be continued next week…

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About Micah Everett

Micah Everett is Associate Professor of Music (Trombone/Low Brass) at the University of Mississippi, Principal Trombonist of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Bass Trombonist of the Great River Trombone Quartet, Assistant Editor (Audio/Video Reviews) for the International Trombone Association Journal, and an S.E. Shires trombone artist. He is the author of THE LOW BRASS PLAYER'S GUIDE TO DOUBLING, published by Mountain Peak Music, and released his first solo recording, STEPPING STONES FOR BASS TROMBONE, VOL. 1, on the Potenza Music label in 2015. In addition to his professional work, he maintains an avid interest in the study of the Bible and of Reformed theology. He holds doctoral and master's degrees in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a bachelor's degree in music education from Delta State University, and a certificate in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The ideas and opinions expressed here are not necessarily shared by the employers and organizations with which the author is associated.
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