Tubas

Quick guide to popular Tubas

The Tuba

The tuba is a brass/wind instrument that was designed to give a deep sound. It is valved and has a wide cone bore.  The tuba is mostly used for marching bands and is one of the valved bass wind instruments that appeared in 1829 but didn’t gain popularity until the time of patent by Johann Moritz in 1835.  Moritz had a tuba with 5 valves and with a design that was made considering the impact of the contrabass saxhorn.

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Playing the Tuba

Many find the tuba one of the most complicated brass wind instruments. For one, it comes in different sizes, with different keys, and is very expensive. The valves have different configurations.

Most military bands have tubas of 2 sizes: the bombardon or key of E flat, and the BB flat bass.  Both are twisted vertically and held erect. The designs of the tuba include the cone encircling the body and the bell resting across the player’s shoulder.  Designs vary from country to country. For instance, pitch of F is preferred in England while rotary valvess instead of piston valves are preferred in Germany.

A fourth valve is common and some have 5th valves that help in intonation. Most French orchestras use the C tuba, pitched a fifth above the F tuba. The C-tuba is small in size. The euphonium serves as a tenor tuba for military bands. The 4-valved Wagner, derived from the French horn, are small bored tubas with quieter tone, were used extensively for the musical drama The Ring of Nibelung.

 

The Construction of the Tuba

1.     the Keys: tubas usually have 4 common keys: F, Eflat, CC and BBFlat.  F-keys are often used for solo performances that need the high range. The F however unable to play low enough for certain tuba music. The E flat is a good concert band instrument for small people but BBflat is more useful because it can play low notes.  With four valves, however, the Eflat can play challenging pieces for school bands as well as for professional bands.  CC is often used for symphony music but can also play for concert bands that require low notes.  Learners will find the CC a good choice; however the most common, standard and all-round tuba is the BBflat.

2.     Tubas come as either full sized corresponding to pitch.  Smaller tubas like the CC or BBflat accommodate smaller players. There are also super big tubas like the Kaiser for players who can carry them.

3.     Tuba valves are either piston or rotary.  Rotary valves are worked from the front of the tuba. Pistons are worked from the front with usually an angle in between the front and the right side of the tuba. Pistons are also easier to maintain even without using tools. But frequent oiling is necessary.  Rotary valves are more durable, more easy to repair and require less oiling because they don’t catch as much dirt as piston valves.  The minimum number of valves needed is 3 to be able to play an entire scale.  4 valves are needed for lower notes…the fourth valve enables marching band music to be played on the tuba. The first two valves add some extra length to the tubing. The 3rd valve gives longer length almost as much as the length obtained by adding the first and second valve.

4.     The tuba is upright – it sits between the legs or on the lap with the bell pointing up. Drum and bugle classic helicon (around the body) tuba points to the space between upward and forward similar to the Sousaphone. Forward facing tubas are however not advisable for use in concert bands.

 

Purchasing a Tuba

Tubas can cost up to $15,000 for professional tubas but some can be had as used items at $3,000. Older tubas are a good collection item. Beware however of too cheap prices can mean that the tuba may have a hidden defect.  

When checking the tuba, make sure that all valves aren’t too tight but air-tight and move freely. Pressing down should create a low popping “thunk” sound.  The mouthpiece should easily fit and so should be checked for dents and dings. Check also for visible soldering which may indicate that the tuba has been repaired.

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