Women Can’t Play Brass Instruments? Tubad. You’re Wrong.

Gustave Kerker once said, “Women cannot possibly play brass instruments and look pretty, and why should they spoil their good looks?” Yet women, including Alicen, continue to push and break the stereotypes and boundaries women face when it comes down to the art of music. Developing as a musician on the instrument you love is far more important to band kids than a stereotype will ever be. Playing the tuba, especially when you have to march it around the field on one shoulder, is a difficult feat in itself. Yet tuba players like Alicen persevere.

Alicen Nails the Tuba! Go Girl!

Alicen has always been in low brass. She started on the trombone in the fourth grade before switching instruments and has now played the tuba and sousaphone for the past six years, starting at the age of 13. Currently she is a sousaphone player for the Michigan State Spartans marching band, after following in her father’s footsteps.

14212136_10208656632885859_7766243070822167016_nAlicen says, “Personally, I have always been proud of the fact that I am a female tuba player, so I never let anyone say anything mean or sexist to me about it.” There are not many instances in which you find yourself surrounded by female tuba players (or brass players in general). Due to the roots in military signals, brass instruments for many years were solely a male dominated section. Yet, women have risen in number for the various brass instruments, tuba or not.

How to Succeed in Marching Band

Although Alicen and I would suggest taking the plunge into the marching world in high school, the idea of college auditions may be terrifying for most. She suggests, “Really practice the music and memorize the school’s fight song, you will play it all the time. But other than that, just enjoy it. I have some of my best friends through band, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Alicen really hits that sentiment on the head of the nail, as some would say. Marching band has changed my life. It creates memories that will last a lifetime and is an enormous amount of fun. The thrill of putting everything on the field for a crowd is exhilarating and something band students wouldn’t trade for the world.

As a female tuba player turned drum major, my biggest piece of advice to anyone in music is: just go for it. Alicen and I knocked on the door and walked into a whole new world, and it could be the same for you if you’re willing to try.

If the instrument you’re playing right now doesn’t make sense or doesn’t light a fire in your soul, maybe you need a different instrument in your hands. For me, the passion came when I switched from clarinet to tuba, and it could be the same for you.

In high school, the structure of band is a little different from the collegiate level. For example, a show in high school could take two to two-and-a-half months to learn. Yet Alicen says, “We usually have anywhere from a week to three weeks to learn a show. Shows usually have a theme, like the one we are currently working on is a John Williams show. We also have pregame before every game which is our ‘school pride’ show, seeing that we play our fight song many times along with the Alma Mater.”

Marching band is a great experience for kids who like music and want to be a part of a school community.

Here are some other links with advice for aspiring Band Kids:

Preparing for Marching Band Season

Marching Band Advice (student-run blog)

Trumpetmaster (forum for brass musicians)

About the Author:

Alyssa N. is a senior in high school in Long Beach, CA. She is a tuba player and is now drum major of her school marching band. She is one of the editors-in-chief of her school paper and hopes to attend college to study Journalism in fall 2017. She encourages women of all ages to pursue their dreams despite gender stereotypes.

Alyssa conducting her school’s marching band



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