Finding the Right Tuba Mouthpiece: Advice from Velvet Brown

When you test out mouthpieces, how do you designate what will be the best mouthpiece for you?

VB: Ideally, what I find the best way to really put the mouthpiece through a test, is to play my routine with the mouthpiece and maybe one song. I use my daily routine so I can more easily tell if the tone is enhanced or not, is the flexibility easier or harder, and range-wise where I am feeling more or less powerful. At this point in my career I need to really make sure that I put it through a complete test. I don’t need a week – I can pretty much tell in one session whether I want to investigate further or not.


What are you playing on as far as equipment?

Velvet Brown: I pretty much play the same equipment on keyed tubas for jazz or classical that being the Denis Wick 3SL Heritage Mouthpiece. On C tuba I play the Denis Wick Heritage 2.5CC.

What advice do you have for students searching for the right mouthpiece?

VB: After the Army conference I usually have 4 or 5 students come back with the “best mouthpiece” that they tried out once in a noisy hall, and all their friends like it. Sometimes it is a better choice and sometimes not. What I do suggest to them is that there is no magic to anything. I try to explain the atmosphere where they got excited about it – is that really the true atmosphere they’ll be playing in? So I take them through their routine, where they can truly test the range, the flexibility, etc., and we follow the process.


What types of playing are you doing right now?

VB: Well I teach at Penn State, but I also have been playing lead tuba with Howard Johnson’s “Gravity” Tuba Jazz Ensemble since 2005; as well as playing principal tuba in New Hampshire Music Festival Orchestra, and principal tuba with the Altoona Symphony. I also have a solo project called Mojatuba: Tuba & Dance Project that has been very busy. That’s pretty much how I spend my time now.


What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

VB: Let your playing speak for itself. Do not to tell anybody how you play, but let them discover how you play by them hearing you. My undergraduate teacher David McCollum, was a fantastic player with great fundamentals - played in the Pittsburgh Opera and was really excited about his role. But he was never the type to tell anyone that he was an amazing player or anything like that. I try to get across to my students that sometimes it seems that people can market themselves better than they play and they seem like they have everything. You need to market yourself, but the bottom line is that you need to play – just play and be able to play and make it happen.


Tell us a little about your group Stiletto Brass that you are currently playing with.

VB: Amy Gilreath and I have known each other for a long time. We played in a brass quintet in the late 90’s called the Velvet Brass. People moved away and the group folded. Over the years we always talked about putting together a quintet, and 2 years ago co-founded the Stiletto Brass Quintet.

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