Five Ways to Keep Your Chops in Shape After College

This post from tubist Genevieve Blesch has some great tips on how to keep your playing up after graduating and even features a bonus Five things to cover in each practice session.


Genevieve Blesch is a freelance tuba performer and educator in the tri-state area. After spending her freshman year at The Ohio State University studying with James Akins, she received her bachelor’s degree in music education and master’s degree in tuba performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she studied with Alan Baer. Genevieve frequently performs with orchestras, quintets, school ensembles and marching/pep bands. Noteworthy clients include The Pennington School and Patriot Brass Ensemble. Genevieve teaches private and small group lessons in central New Jersey. Orchestras that Genevieve has performed with include Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra, Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonietta Nova and Gateway Classical Music Society. Outside of music, Genevieve teaches Japanese and pursues her interest in technology.

Thanks Genevieve for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks community! 

You’re at a gig, you can hear and feel that something isn’t right with your playing. The licks that you had once conquered are now foreign, your face does not feel as comfortable as it should, the sounds coming out of your horn do not match the timing and style of others in the ensemble.  You think back to your college days when you were performing and practicing all day everyday and you wonder, if you could do it then, why can’t you do it now?

These skills are fine-tuned and become second nature with frequent use but they will slip away if they are not nurtured. Most music students don’t have full-time performance jobs waiting for them after college. If you are in the minority, lucky you! If you are in the majority, here are five ways to keep your chops in shape after college.

Personally, I have skills in technology that allow me to work a flexible job 40 hours a week, so I am writing from that perspective. School teaching, a profession that many of my colleagues pursue, is often a rewarding career for musicians but it rarely offers the luxury of a flexible schedule. Finding a job that allows you to keep performing should be taken into consideration when pursuing a career path. Be aware of your limits and energy levels, do not burn yourself out by trying to balance too many commitments.

  1. Encourage

Do whatever you must to keep the love of your instrument alive. Clean it, play cheesy pop tunes on it, take selfies with it, etc. Make your practice space somewhere special, a place where you look forward to spending time.

  1. Maintain

This is broken into another five things. After a good warm up using either The Brass Gym or Julie Landsman’s Carmine Caruso exercises, my practice sessions consist of five key goals.

  1. Scales. Alan Baer’s Cross Training and Tonic Dominant Scales are my bread and butter here. Scales need to be as second nature as the skills I mentioned above.
  2. Lyrical etude. I like the Johannes Rochut etudes. I use the trombone books because tuba players are frequently asked to read up an octave. Frequenting trombone repertoire will make this skill second nature.
  3. Technical etude. I use Kopprasch etudes and Arban exercises for this. When you become proficient at technical etudes, combined with scales as a second nature, technical passages will fear you!
  4. C tuba excerpt.
  5. F tuba excerpt.

I adjust these concepts as necessary depending on specific goals but I always go back to these five when I feel lost in my practice journey. That being said…

  1. Back to Basics

In the real world of balancing part time performance and part time “pay the bills” jobs, practice sessions will most likely be shorter and less frequent than what you were used to in school. Don’t be afraid to spend these shorter/sporadic sessions entirely on basics. A little bit is better than nothing! Additionally, when I’m traveling with my tubas, I don’t always have the ability to break out my music stand and books, so I keep a solid routine of warm ups and basics memorized.

  1. Improve

The most efficient way to improve is to record yourself! If you have mentors or colleagues to share these recordings with, that is even better. Everything sounds different in front of the horn, and in different spaces, which is why recording is crucial. I have learned so much about my note shapes and intonation tendencies by listening to my recordings. Personally, I always perform better in front of an audience so knowing that my friends will hear the recordings encourages me to strive for brilliance.

  1. Connections

Keep your connections, and make new connections, by going to events. Get your name and face out there by attending concerts, master classes, reunions, etc. The more you promote yourself and remind people that you are still performing/teaching in the area, the more opportunities and gigs you will get.

Remember, EMBIC:

Encourage, Maintain, Back to Basics, Improve, Connections.

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