All musicians love the feeling of improving. That basic motivator and retainer of music students may elude low brass players for lack of challenging repertoire during their formative years in band programs. Here are some ideas to include low brass players in the challenges that make players improve when their parts are too easy to be that challenge:

  • Buying classic étude books for all the instruments and catalog them in your library. This is an investment in the future. Using études written or adapted for low brass provide a constant challenge for the students to move forward with their progress. (When the repertoire for low brass was light at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan many years ago, we would audition using the challenge system on classic etudes. We were preparing for a day when the band or orchestra literature would be at the level of these études). And for all the low brass, but especially the tubas, it is healthy to study etudes for their melodic approach to music-making!

Here is a list of classic old school étude materials for low brass:

For all low brass players:

  • Arban’s Method for Euphonium and Trombone, edited by Brian Bowman and Joseph Alessi, Encore Publications
  • Selected Duets in bass clef, Rubank compilation


  • Advanced Method, Rubank
  • Studies in Legato, Reginald Fink
  • Method for Trombone, Ernest Clarke
  • 40 Progressive Etudes, Sigmund Hering
  • (Any of the euphonium books)


  • Melodious Etudes Book 1, Bordogni/Rochut
  • Selected Studies, Voxman
  • (Any of the trombone books)


  • 60 Studies for Tuba, Kopprasch
  • Studies for Tuba Book 1, Blasevich
  • Legato Etudes, Bordogni
  • 40 Etudes for Tuba, Tyrell

Here are two other ideas that help to retain low brass players:

  • The low brass sectional can morph into a low brass club that practices together and performs for each other.
    Some schools have morphed the low brass sectional into Low Brass Ensembles. The use of easy trombone or tuba quartet literature to start this type of group will work well. Simple octave transposed parts can be created to include all members.
    These selections can be used to feature the low brass playing alone at concerts. They get a shot of self-esteem and the rest of the band gets a tune off!
  • And finally, the most important retainer of low brass students: Acknowledge their role in what you need to have a successful band concert, and when you catch them doing something right, praise them in front of the band for a job well done. I remember those praise days like they were yesterday!

About the Author

SAM PILAFIAN is tubist and arranger for Boston Brass, Educational Ambassadors for Jupiter Band Instruments Corporation. He also holds Jupiter appointments as Artist, Clinician and Chief Design Consultant. He is a Professor in Practice at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami and was a founding member of the internationally renowned Empire Brass Quintet (1971-1993).He has also recorded and performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, and Pink Floyd. As a solo jazz artist, Sam has recorded fifteen CDs. His long career has earned him an Emmy® for Excellence in Instructional Video Production, the Walt Disney Award for Imagination and Innovation in Design, World Championships as a teacher in both the open and world class of Drum Corps International, the Walter Naumberg Chamber Music Award, the Harvard Music Association Prize, the University of Miami’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the Brevard Music Center Distinguished Alumni Award, the Robert Trotter Visiting Professorship at the University of Oregon and the annual Outstanding Teacher Award from the Arizona State University. As an arranger, composer and recording producer, Sam has recently produced and written for Joseph Alessi (New York Philharmonic), the Boston Brass, the Brass Band of Battle Creek, the Academy (of Drum Corp International), and the United States Air Force Band. Sam is the coauthor with Patrick Sheridan of the best-selling pedagogy texts and DVD’s “Breathing Gym” and “Brass Gym”. Professor Pilafian previously served for over forty years on the faculties of Boston University, the Tanglewood Institute, Berklee College of Music and Arizona State University.

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