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Brass Clinic

Developing Euphonium Tone
BY BRIAN L. BOWMAN

M

usicians often use the words
deep, rich, smooth, warm,
and lyrical to describe the euphonium's characteristic tone. Producing this idiomatic sound, though,
can be difficult. To produce a characteristic euphonium tone a student first
needs to refine his concept of the instrument's sound by listening to fine
performers, both in live performances
and on recordings. The next step is to
work on breathing and embouchure,
the two basic physical elements of
tone production.
Many tone production problems are
caused by a lack of breath support
and control, to which incorrect posture contributes heavily. Far too
many players rest the instrument on
the lap and then slouch to adjust the

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head and mouth to fit the mouthpiece. This cramped position inhibits
the ability to take deep, full breaths
and results in a lack of breath support
and air flow. In addition, the angle of
the head may constrict the throat, resulting in a tight sound.
This lack of air support and air flow
caused by poor posture can easily be
corrected, often by using a small cushion or folded towel. Placed on the lap,
the cushion raises the instrument so
that the chest is high and free for taking full, unencumbered breaths. A
good rule for players is to sit as you
stand, using the same relative posture
of the upper body in both sitting and
standing positions. Bring the mouthpiece to the embouchure, not vice versa. This simple change can improve

to breathe properly.
Embouchure, the other physical
factor in tone quality production, is
sometimes neglected because producing a sound on the euphonium is fairly easy. To obtain embouchure control on the euphonium, the corners of
the player's lips serve as a solid base
for the center part of the embouchure
inside the mouthpiece rim. This firm
corner base contributes to the development of the small muscles inside
the rim and gives the player control in
the inner mouthpiece, resulting in stability and flexibility throughout the
dynamic and tonal range of the instrument.

W

hen students have problems
with producing an ideal tone
quality, one or more of these
attributes may be involved:
• Pitch and tonal center (in tune
with a center or core)
• Shape (tones are often described
as round, oval, or pear shaped)
• Clarity (no extraneous or distracting noises)
• Consistency (the same excellent
quality in all registers and dynamics)
• Air control (support and air flow)
In the area of tone quality, several
problems commonly afflict students.

\e sound
Euphonium soloist with the United States
Air Force Band in Washington, D.C.,
Brian L, Bowman has performed as soloist in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, the
Virgin Islands, Norway, Japan, and the
People's Republic of China. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan
and the Catholic University of America;
and he now serves as adjunct professor of
euphonium at the University of Maryland, George Mason University, and the
Catholic University of America. This
year he is visiting professor of euphonium
at Michigan State University.

FEBRUARY 1989 / THE INSTRUMENTALIST 31

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THE INSTRUMENTALIST / FEBRUARY 1989

Pinched, tight sound. This problem is
apparent when the shape of the tone
is flat, not round; the pitch is sharp. It
is often caused by the lips, mouth,
and teeth being too close together,
constricting the air flow through the
embouchure. Ask the student to
think of swallowing a hot potato
without burning the sides of his
throat or to imagine swallowing a
whole egg without breaking it so as to
avoid feeling those icky raw egg
whites. Check the player's pitch, having him try to lip down a little at
times. Also check his posture, being
sure the angle of the student's head is
not pinching the throat; the player's
chin may be too low. The ideal to
work for should be the feeling of a relaxed throat, with firm (not tight) embouchure corners. To help keep the
throat open suggest the feeling of
yawning in reverse.
Soggy hollow sound. Just the opposite
of the pinched sound, here the tone's
shape is oblong, not round; and the
pitch is flat. The problem is often
caused by the corners of the embouchure being too relaxed. Ask the student to firm the embouchure corners.
He should concentrate the air into a
smaller, more compact flow so that
the sound is not spread and lacking in
center or focus.
Double buzzing and extra noise. Problems with clarity can arise because of
poor development of the inner
mouthpiece embouchure as well as a
lack of a hermetic seal between all the
surfaces of the mouthpiece and the
embouchure, which occasionally occurs. Have the player think of snuggling the lips into the mouthpiece,
making a complete and tight seal between the metal and lip tissues. Sometimes wetting the lips can enhance
this process. Also, have the student
make the corners of the embouchure
firmer.
Tone quality deterioration while tonguing. Problems with air control and
consistency are apparent here. Many
players constrict the air flow by tightening the throat muscles because of
problems such as tonguing with the
lips and chewing each note by moving
the chin up and down. The front of
the tongue has a tendency to float in
the middle of the mouth and interfere
with the air flow through the embouchure.
When the tip of the tongue is not in
use, it should move to the bottom of
the mouth and out of the way. The
player needs to practice articulated
passages, first slurring them and then

working to create the same sound
quality and dynamic while tonguing.
Have him practice articulated passages one or two dynamics louder
than marked (at least forte) to open
the closed throat and improve the air
flow. There should be no appreciable
difference in the actual tone quality
between legato slurred passages and
separated articulated ones. The player
should watch his embouchure in a
mirror while practicing to eliminate
excess chewing motions when tonguing.
Tone quality varies between the upper
and lower registers. To improve an inconsistent tone quality between registers have the student work on flexibility exercises, paying careful attention
to embouchure stability; full breaths
should help stabilize the tone quality.
Ask the student to change syllables —
"toe" (low register), "tah" (middle register), and "tih" (very high register) — so
the back of the tongue can help
change the speed of the air flow assisting in the change of register.
Caution him to take care in the
lower ranges not to relax so much
that the tone becomes soggy and uncentered. Keep firm mouthpiece pressure on the upper lip of the embouchure in the low range; the opposite
in the upper range (a firm pressure on
the lower lip, less on the upper lip)
often helps. Practice crescendo and
decrescendo exercises to improve tone
quality consistency in all dynamics.
Trombonelike quality to the sound.
The euphonium is a conical instrument with many convolutions in its
physical construction. These curves,
bows, and bends give a great deal of
resistance to the airstream when compared to the two bends in the trombone. If air is too compressed as it
enters the instrument, the tone will
sound constricted and often will seem
to have a narrow, forced quality. To
make the instrument resonate fully,
the student needs to produce an air
column that is relaxed and well supported. Opening the throat, relaxing
the air column slightly, and listening
to oneself are all essential in overcoming this problem.
Too often musicians become overly
concerned with technical skills and do
not hear the actual tone quality they
are generating. Listening carefully and
constantly to every note is the secret
to a fine tone on the euphonium. D