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Nurturing Euphonium Players

Brian Unverricht
When I looked at the cover photo of the last issue of Canadian
Winds,1 I heard a sound. Look again at that cover and imagine
what type of sound the group could create with four tubas and four
euphoniums to anchor the tone. Did you notice that the low brass
players outnumbered the flutes? Before they played their first
note this group already had a high probability of creating Francis
McBeths pyramid of sound2 simply based on which instruments
were seated in the band chairs. So, how did this happen?
Most importantly, the director, a championship euphonium
player from Britain who emigrated to the small town of Melfort,
SK, had a unique vision for the Melfort Kinsman Band. His
sense of sound was based on the British Brass Band system,
and this sound idea coupled with his sense of traditional fourpart balanced harmony and his intense musicality permeated
every rehearsal and performance. The group heard this sound
every day, and to us it seemed natural. As student musicians we
expected this particular balance of instrumentation and ultimately
a golden, round-tone sound year after year. There was a strong
bass and tenor section upon which the melody was placed and
harmony created. Can we replicate this in our schools today?
What instrumentation seems natural in your band room? How
can one go about re-defining instrumental needs to beginners
and promoting the euphonium at all levels?
Gregory Irvines Tuba Survey Results3 pointed out many
reasons directors expressed about the dearth of tuba players, and
had numerous excellent ideas for improving this situation. For
inspiration, please re-read his article and substitute euphonium
for tuba. (Thanks, Gregory!)
In the beginning
So, keeping the end-goal in mind, lets back up to the recruitment
of beginners. When I googled school band with recruitment,
I had thousands of hits, many complete with excellent ideas,
inspirational videos, and celebrity endorsements. However,
teachers will certainly need to edit carefully to suit their
particular situation, so I have not listed any sites here. There
have been articles in Canadian Winds4 that assist directors in this
most important aspect of teaching band. Yet, many low brass
sections still suffer from small numbers. I dont think theres a
shortage of pedagogical knowledge or recruitment ideas; rather,
I believe that its not what we know, its how we present it. Just
because the euphonium comes later in score order doesnt mean
its the last instrument to be discussed. What if we reversed the
introduction of new instruments and introduced the woodwinds

last? Think for a moment about learning theory and retention.

Keeping in mind that most ten- or twelve-year-old students
have only very vague ideas of some of the band instruments (if
any), and since none of them will have any sense whatsoever of
balance, it follows that their teachers must clearly outline the
expectations before recruitment begins. At the initial recruitment
meeting, how many of us have actually stated to the parents and
future band members that there can be no more flute players than
there are low brass players? How many of us have set out our
ideal number of players for each instrumental group publicly
and continued to repeat this mantra throughout recruitment and
beginning band lessons? Just like a sports team needs a specific
number of goalies, defensemen, and forwards, the band needs
a specific number of students playing each instrument. Without
this, I believe we are doomed before we start.
We may import expert symphonic players and/or senior students
to demonstrate the flute, trumpet, or clarinet, but can we find the
same level of expertise when demonstrating low brass? Does the
euphonium demonstration capture your ears and heart like the
other instruments? If not, we again fail to recruit properly, we fail
to establish traditions, and we fail to legitimize what many consider
to be one of the most important instruments of the wind band.
Many directors interchange euphonium with baritone, so, just to
clear the air, the baritone is less conical than the euphonium and
its bell traditionally points more forward, while the euphonium
is more conical (it gets wider faster) and its bell usually points
straight up. There are some advantages to the baritone in terms
of sound projection, especially on stages with lots of curtains and
no reflecting material in the ceiling, and some younger students
may find baritones are easier to fill with air to create a full tone.
They are generally lighter and may be slightly easier to carry,
although most cases are not built as strongly. Avoid mixing
baritones and euphoniums in the same section, and avoid mixing
different makes and models in the same section, as this only
increases tuning problems.
To me, it makes sense to use baritones at the beginning stages,
but only euphoniums in upper-year bands because they can
create a fuller, richer, deeper tone. When students have reached
high school, they have usually grown sufficiently and developed
reasonable lung power and breathing techniques to fill the
larger-bore euphonium with air.
To improve intonation, all high-school players should play on
four-valve instruments. A short lesson and a fingering chart,5 will
easily explain which valve combinations give the best tuning
results. The fourth valve also extends the range below low E. The
odds of accurate intonation will improve when all euphoniums

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in the group are the exact same make and model. The director,
however, is the key to success here, and must daily reinforce key
concepts and the new fingerings for a few specific low notes.
Few students actually purchase euphoniums but when they do,
careful counseling is required. In general, dont let the music
store dictate this purchase. Rather find an expert and consider
all the options, including re-sale. My vote is to go for quality
and long-term over short-term cheaper options. It may be
worth waiting until high school to then purchase a four-valve
professional model that will last a lifetime.
Getting going
Having convinced a few beginners to embark on a journey with
the euphonium (or baritone), what can we do to encourage them?
We easily find pages and pages about teaching the euphonium,
examples of excellent performances, and many self-teaching
resources, so I will not list them here. My concern is less about
resources and more about the effective engagement, motivation,
and retention of learners. Again, its not what we know, its how
we present it. Perhaps asking beginning euphonium players to
find euphonium sightings or to find euphonium performances
on YouTube could be a motivating factor. There are many
incredible performances waiting to inspire your beginners, and
a few are listed below.6 Student attitudes can easily be shaped
and encouraged when they see their instrument in a variety of
positive expressions.
As the raw beginner receives his/her new instrument, imagine
how much fun it is to remove the plastic cover from a brand
new flute or saxophone. Then imagine the response when the
euphonium player receives the rather grotty, school-issued
instrument that is already beat up and in a smelly case. Can
you ensure that your future low brass instrumentalists will have
the same sense of wonderment and respect for their new
instruments as any other? It pays huge dividends later.
Many baritone and/or euphonium parts are written in both the
treble and bass clefs. Parts in the treble clef are a godsend when
you have convinced a trumpet player to switch to euphonium,
but I believe its best to have beginners work in the bass clef.
Theres no transposition and, if needed, students can more easily
switch to tuba as they grow.
Some directors avoid starting beginners, especially the very
young, on euphonium, and work at converting established
players later. While this has some merit, the student who has
already purchased a trumpet (or other instrument) is not very
likely to want to switch, and not all euphonium parts come in
both clefs. Consider what this tacitly says about the directors
attitude toward the euphonium and, most importantly, carefully
consider how the conversion is presented. I prefer to think of this

in reverse what if we had too many euphoniums and needed

more trumpet or French horn players?
Moving along
Now that we have started beginners on the baritone or euphonium,
how do we move from basic whole notes and half notes to the
wonderful solos in more advanced literature such as the Holst
Suite in F? Theres much to be done in between, so why not
consider joining a euphonium discussion forum for ideas about
effective repertoire, hints for teachers, and favorite solos. One
example is listed below.7 Students may also be interested in
researching ideas on their own, and when its their personal
discovery, they are much more likely to follow up.
Like all beginners, euphonium players need to practice at
home, and theres an obvious problem looming instrument
transportation. Can we realistically expect our students to carry
the euphonium home between classes when some bus companies
have banned carrying large instruments at peak school times?
Seems that a euphonium takes up the room of one or more paying
passengers. If at all possible, find another instrument (even an
old one) for use at home, and talk with players (and parents) of
large instruments to assist them with transportation arrangements
before the first week of school. Special dispensation could also
be given to euphonium players regarding the completion of their
practice minutes. This small concession helps with transportation
issues and makes the players feel special.
Students need to feel part of a group, so strive to find instrument
buddies. How often have we seen the flute section of the band,
the clarinet section, or the saxophone section contrasted with
just one lonely euphonium player? There is strength and future
commitment in numbers. Students also expect their seating plan
to change during the year in every other class, so why not also
do this in band. Rotate the rows so that every second or third
rehearsal the euphonium section is in the front row. They deserve
close scrutiny and individual attention. The director will get to
know the players and their concerns better, and discipline will
likely improve. One might also add the euphonium to the jazz
band in the trombone section.
Role in the ensemble
In the very beginning all instrumentalists attempt to play in
unison both melodically and rhythmically. At this stage, however,
the brass need special attention because they must choose among
several pitches with the same fingering. So, from the outset, have
the euphonium players (in the front row) buzz their pitch on the
mouthpiece while woodwind players play the same pitch. Only
when the buzz successfully matches the woodwind pitch will the
players be allowed to use the full instrument. Not only does this
improve tone and breath support, it starts them thinking about

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matching pitch and tuning right from day one. It may be useful
to seat the euphoniums next to the tenor saxes (or other bass
instruments) so they can hear the required pitch more easily in
their range.
Part way through the first year of playing, the group begins to
divide into either different harmony or different rhythms. At this
point the teacher needs to monitor the euphoniums role carefully
and group players with the same part together. Having only
played in unison thus far, it is a huge step to be removed from
the melody and stuck on a harmony part that doesnt really sound
like anything. This provides a logical harmonic background
from our mature, musical point of view, but is not so simple for
the students or parents to understand.
It was a disturbing revelation to me when one parent complained
that his student euphonium player used to play nice songs like
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, but now just plays odd sounding
slow notes. Moving to more complex arrangements is progress to
the director, but some players and parents think it sounds like they
are actually becoming worse players. The effective director must
counter this by either finding music that will feature the developing
euphonium player, re-writing some simple music, or re-arranging
basic works so that the flutes, clarinets, and trumpets have the
whole and half notes while the euphoniums get the melodies.
In many junior-band arrangements the euphonium is often part of
a convertible bass line. Be sure to note which other instruments
share this bass part, and group them together for more security
of pitch. Gradually we expect that every instrumentalist will
become an independent player, but remember that the fewer
junior players there are in any section, the harder it is to attain.
As we move to more complex music in high school, the euphoniums
role changes again. There continues to be some doubling of
bass lines, but often now the tenor line, complete with beautiful
counter melodies will need to be addressed. Search out music
where euphonium players have parts of interest and uniqueness.
Plan to feature the euphoniums rather than letting them hide in the
back row. Just as we would not play literature in only one key, we
must find music that features each section of the band and allows
continuous learning to take place on every instrument.

4.a) Bayley, J. (2004, Fall). The Instrumental Selection Process. Canadian

Winds 3/1, 13-16.
4.b)Bazan, D., and Bayley, J. (2009 Spring). Recruiting Band Students:

Effective Strategies for a Strong Program. Canadian Winds 7/2, 72-74.
Kono, Y. Euphonium Fingering Chart. Accessed January 2011.

6. Euphonium sightings three sites of unique performances


7. The Euphonium Forum - Accessed January 2011.

Brian Unverricht After

many years teaching a variety

of music classes in middle and
secondary schools, and having
completed four years as term
assistant professor of music
education and director of the
Concert Band, Brian is now
a sessional lecturer in music
education at the University of
Saskatchewan. He continues to
perform trombone (and the occasional euphonium solo) with the
Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and various jazz and chamber
groups in Saskatoon.

The bottom line

The euphonium is literally part of the bottom line in most windband literature, and needs to be protected and nurtured at all stages
of student development. Instead of back-row miscreants, think of
them as being front-and-centre soloists. Create your own arsenal
of ideas and resources, along with a variety of ways to stimulate
student development, and most importantly interact positively with
your euphonium players in some way at each and every rehearsal.
Keep in mind: its not what you know, its how you present it,
coupled with how you interact with your students that will determine
success in recruiting, retention, and musical development.

1. 1968 Melfort Band in Europe. (2010 Fall). Canadian Winds 9/1, cover photo.
2. McBeth, W.F. (1972). Effective performance of band music, San Antonio,

TX: Southern Music Company.
3. Irvine, G. (2006, Spring). Tuba Survey Results, Canadian Winds, 4/2, 93-94.

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Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.