Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sousaphone discomfort: carrying one, aches, pains and the rest

above: Wenger Sousaphone Chair

When I attended college, the marching band Sousaphone section was not allowed to use shoulder pads because we wanted to maintain a uniform look. At first this was a major issue. Before the actual semester started a week or so of all day rehearsals. This hurt... a lot. I was sore for about a week then I was able to carry the horn without any problems for the rest of my college marching career. I don't necessarily think that this is the best route for everyone,  but it did work for me and I think that I am better for it. I think that I would have liked to have been prepared for this situation, so that is the impetus for this article. I just want to note that I don't think it is wrong to use a shoulder pad, I was just trained not to.

For Sousaphone players the left shoulder carries all of the weight and acts as a fulcrum. Your body overall should be as free from tension as possible so it is not difficult to make music. After some time of trying to wear the horn without a pad, you will (or I did, rather) develop strength in your shoulder and be fully mobile. 

This will be something that athletes will be familiar with. What you should try is to practice with your Sousaphone for at least 30 - 45 minutes WITHOUT the pad. You will have some discomfort and aches, but fight through it. After a while you will notice the discomfort go away as you get stronger. Then when you are comfortable with 45 minutes, work 45 - 60 and so on. If you wish to play in a college marching band there may be situations where you are wearing a Sousaphone for at least a few hours at a time and sometimes longer. If you are using a towel as a pad, you can also try progressing to a thinner towel, then to nothing. 
To deal with the aches and pains between marching sessions, I like to use a little icy-hot, an ice pack and a bit of ibuprofen to help with the soreness. 

If you are just a hobbyist who plays at home or in community bands, you might try a Sousaphone chair (pictured at the top). This item holds the horn for you while you sit comfortably and play. It is neat, but doesn't help you much with your marching or showmanship (yes these things are important). 

If you are the kind of person who plays a Jumbo, well then I can't help you. You are on your own. I am only kidding of course. The kind of people who play Jumbos tend to be well experienced in this field. More to come on Jumbos later...

Sousaphone stands exist, but they are mostly only for display. I haven't yet seen a standing Sousaphone performance stand, but that doesn't mean they don't exist, although I kind of fail to understand the fun in playing Sousaphone while standing still. 

Let me know if you have any technique of your own or if this information is useful!



  1. Of course if you don't work out too often (or at all), the left side of your body might become quite larger than the right... It looks rather amusing on my thin body.

    Marching with a Jumbo is a workout all by itself, they really are meant to be a concert instrument...

  2. Ian and I are both happy Jumbo owners.

    Standard sousaphone stands/chairs such as the Hercules and Wenger are not large enough to accommodate a Conn Grand Jumbo sousaphone.

    Other than watching eBay, TubeNet, etc., where would I find the "X" type of stand that would hold a Jumbo sousaphone?

  3. Steve -

    I am not sure, and I have searched for this before. I will do some research and find not. If not I WILL BUILD ONE!!!!


  4. In the mid 70's in Jr high and high school, we had sousaphone stands which were great for playing while sitting. You turned the neck/mouthpiece to the left of the sousa body and you reached around with the right hand to reach the valves, this while sitting in a regular chair position at the left of the tuba. Do these stands exist anymore ?