How to Improve Tone Quality on Euphonium

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The humble euphonium need not be so humble. Most people default to this low brass instrument due to a need to fill out a wind band, having started out as a brass player of another instrument. Few, however, are capable of filling out the horn with the right volume, shape, and quality of air to really make it sing. Usually this is because few have ever heard an example of what a euphonium can sound like when played properly. But by working with an experienced professional low brass teacher and following a few rules, you can show everyone what a beautiful instrument the euphonium can be.

Things You'll Need

  • Euphonium
  • Mouthpiece
  • Sturdy chair
  • Observe great posture while remaining perfectly relaxed at all times. Imagine yourself to be strong yet weightless. Move forward to near the edge of your chair, both feet flat on the ground. Hug the euphonium closely to your body with your left hand and do not let it rest on your lap.

  • Inhale gracefully and fully. Each time you inhale to get air power, open your mouth wide and move your tongue down and out of the way of the incoming air. Sit up straight. Open up your chest cavity by pulling your shoulders back and let the air fill your entire torso.

  • Exhale powerfully. Whether you are playing loud or softly, triumphantly or sweetly, you need to imagine great power in your air supply. When exhaling breath into the instrument, make sure you have a vast storehouse of live oxygen in your lungs to back up the column of air you are giving to the euphonium. As a rule of thumb, always attack the first note with your lungs at two-thirds to 95% of capacity. Upon release, exhale most of the excess air before inhaling again, so that the oxygen is always clean.

  • Your notes should generally be shaped like bricks, not cones or footballs. This means your note should be of the same quality from beginning to end, in most cases. Do not start quietly and get louder, and do not taper off at the end of the note. (Obviously, if the music calls for something else, do what the music requires.)

  • Relax your embouchure. Your lips should only be tense enough to produce a pure buzz. Any tighter, and you've got yourself a constipated-sounding euphonium. Any looser, and you sound like that clinically depressed donkey from Sesame Street. Your tone should sound bright and lyrical.

  • Play lyrically. In other words, think of music in terms of long continuous passages, not as individual notes. Play like a human, not a robot. Think analog, not digital. Try singing your notes, and mean it. Use loud and soft and all the other dynamics to their fullest, to create contrasting emotion within the musical piece. Enjoy the sound you make!

Tips & Warnings

  • Listen to great euphonium players. They are few and far between (as there is little money to be made in euphonium performance), so be excited and pay attention when you do find a good example of a euphonium player. You will know a good one when you hear one, as your heart will noticeably gladden as if by magic.
  • Simply switching mouthpieces will not make your tone quality better or worse. However, the deeper mouthpieces are better for large orchestral settings, while shallower mouthpieces are better for lyric solos. Also: Thinner rims make for a more open sound but require greater embouchure strength, while thicker rims make for a more compact sound and are easier on beginners.
  • The breath is the holy secret of good tone quality. Think of your breathing as a point on a wheel. When the point on the wheel is turning forward and down, you are exhaling. As soon as the point on the wheel is at its lowest, it immediately starts coming back up again, which is the inhalation. Do not let the point rest at the top, bottom, or anywhere in between. In other words, never hold your breath. Keep breathing.
  • If you wear braces, no matter what brass instrument you are playing, expect to bleed sometimes. Carry plenty of wax with you to protect your lips from being destroyed by a mouthpiece-and-braces sandwich. In addition, don't push the mouthpiece so hard against your lips whether you wear braces or not.
  • Practice sucks. Plain and simple. There will be moments in which you will want to chuck that hunk of metal across the room. When you are just learning how to create a better tone quality, you will abhor just how ugly a euphonium can sound. But then there will be these gleaming moments that make it all worth it--moments when you finally see the light and discover just how gorgeous a sound the euphonium can be. And then you will be more than hooked. So just hang in there, buddy.

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