Surviving your first year of music school

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from auditionees is “what can I do to prepare for my first year?” I decided to create a list of equipment, music, and accessories that one will need to ensure a successful experience for their first year of an undergraduate music degree.


A common misconception is that one will need to own their own instrument to major in Tuba. Not true!!! While owning your own instrument is absolutely preferred, it isn’t a “requirement.” Many schools, and this is true for us here at UCA, own several tubas and euphoniums that one can either signout for free or rent for a nominal fee. There is no guarantee to the quality of these instruments, but it is a possible solution to not being able to afford your own instrument right out of high school. Some schools even offer instrument purchase plans via scholarship! The worst thing you can do is “assume” something to be true about a university—even if you’ve heard it from a reliable source. University life changes dramatically each year (as does the funding!) so even recent alumni (possibly your band director) may not be aware of all the possibilities a school can offer. The BEST thing to do is call and “hear it from the horse’s mouth”

Another common question I get is “What horn do I buy for my son or daughter?” That question is very difficult, especially if I don’t know the abilities of the student! Each horn is built for different purposes, and for different types of player. One tuba might play differently from the same make and model of a tuba or euphonium primarily because so much of the instrument is hand-made. I encourage anyone interested in purchasing a tuba to try several different makes and models of instrument before deciding on “the one.” Try to put it in the perspective of buying a car or house. Would you buy a car without test driving it? Would you buy a house based on the picture? What about if your neighbor had the same car–is that enough to warrant YOU purchasing it? What is the right fit for some (or even many!) is not always the right fit for you. You’ll never know until you try!

In terms of equipment I will recommend some accessories that are essential:

Metronome/Tuner – It is helpful to have one of each, or a machine that combines the two. Expect to spend between $30 and $200 depending on the quality.

Valve Oil – I like Zaja Pro, FatCat, and Hetman’s oils for my horns. They seem to last the best for me. (Again, what is right for some is not always right for you!) These are good places to start. Expect to spend $5-12

Slide Grease – I use two different kinds of slidegrease: Zaja Lube and the standard Conn-Selmer grease you might remember from elementary school—there’s a reason it’s still around! The Zaja is very thin and allows for fast movement of slides (primarily “top” slides that you have to pull or trigger slides). I wouldn’t recommend this oil for slides pointed downward because it is so fast, you will often blow the slides right off the instrument (which often makes for a funny demonstration of using lots of air!) The Conn-Selmer is much thicker and lasts a long time. I don’t remember the last time I greased the slides that use this product! Expect to spend $5-$12

 Pads/Felts – Valve pads and felts dissolve with oil — Fact. Unless you are using a synthetic pad (which I recommend for many reasons) these felts and pads will wear away–quickly. They are very cheap so buy yourself an extra set for peace of mind. A set of valve guides might not be a bad idea either. Expect to spend $2-$20

Stand/Support system – Many players will need some sort of stand or pillow to make the instrument fit their body properly. I recommend the rubber stuff Mom lines the kitchen cabinets with and you’ll find under your throw rugs to prevent slippage. It’s really helpful to prevent your tuba from sliding off lap and eliminates the need for holding the tuba so tightly.

Mouthpiece – While it is fairly common to see students not own their own tuba or euphonium in college, it is very rare to see the student who does not own their own mouthpiece. I won’t go into recommendations here because it really depends on the player and the instrument. Expect to spend $60-$200.

Where do I get all this stuff?!

Well, for instrument accessories (and for the instruments themselves) there are a few sites that I recommend:

Dillon Music – Dillon’s is where I’ve purchased all my tubas from. Matt Walters is a true gentleman and a magician with tubas. They have an exhaustive supply of accessories and I have never had a complaint with anything I’ve purchased from them. One of the best brass stores around!

Baltimore Brass – While I’ve never purchased anything from this store personally, I have had my horn professionally cleaned here, and was very pleased with the results. David Fedderly is one of the most respected names in our field, and his store is a testament to that!

What else?

Tuxedo – “Wait, I thought I already went to prom?!” The truth is yes, you will need a black tuxedo (for guys) or long black clothing (for girls). I always bought a used tuxedo (they’re cleaned really well, relax!) because there’s no point in spending a ton of money on this. JC Penney also usually has the cheapest new tuxes around. The best policy is to try not to be noticed in your tuxedo. The idea is to all look the same, so something flashy is not only inappropriate, but not usually allowed on stage.


This is a difficult question to answer because ultimately it will depend on each students abilities, and each instructors preferences. Here’s a list of books that I recommend to first year tuba majors, in some order of “importance”

•Pilafian/Sheridan: The Brass Gym

•Pilafian/Sheridan: The Breathing Gym

•Kopprasch: 60 Selected Studies – Book I

•Blazhevich: 70 Studies for Bb Tuba – Book I

•Tyrrell: 40 Progressive Studies

•Snedecor: Low Etudes for Tuba

•Rochut: Melodious Etudes for Trombone – Book I (This book is more commonly known in the tuba world as the “Bordogni 43 Melodious Etudes” book. While is serves as a very acceptable substitute, the Rochut book provides an opportunity to get accustomed to reading down an octave–a very useful skill.

•Arban: Complete Method for Trombone or Baritone in Bass Clef

•Bai Lin: Lip Flexibilities for Brass Instruments

So where can I get this music? Well, the absolute best site I’ve found is Just for Brass. This site is run by two world class Euphonium artists and it shows in the content of his site. While it specializes in low brass music, they really have an excellent supply of all brass music. While Just for Brass is always the first site I check, I also use Hickey’s Music Store regularly. I was fortunate enough to live in Ithaca during my undergraduate years and to have this as the “local music store” was a blessing (although my bank account might argue it was a curse!). They have an extensive supply of music, accessories, and CD’s and are great at shipping things out quickly if they have them in stock.



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