The tuba is the largest of the low-brass instruments and is one of the most recent additions to the modern symphony orchestra, first appearing in the mid-19th century, when it largely replaced the w:ophicleide.
An orchestra usually has a single tuba (though having 2 or 3 is not uncommon), serving as the bass of the brass section, though its versatility means it can double as reinforcement for the strings and woodwinds, or increasingly as a solo instrument.
Various concerti have been written for the tuba by numerous notable composers, including w:Ralph Vaughan Williams, w:Edward Gregson, w:John Williams, and w:Bruce Broughton. Tubas are also used in wind and concert bands and in British style brass bands; in the latter instance both E ♭ and BB ♭ tubas are used and are normally referred to as basses.
Tubas are found in various pitches, most commonly in F, E♭, CC, or BB♭ in "brass band" pitching. The main bugle of BB♭ tubas is approximately 18 feet long, while CC tubas are 16 feet, E♭ tubas 13 feet, and F tubas 12 feet in tubing length without adding any valve branches. Tubas are considered to be conical in shape as from their tapered bores, they steadily increase in diameter along their lengths.
A tuba with its tubing wrapped for placing the instrument on the player's lap is usually called a tuba or concert tuba. Some have a bell pointing forward as opposed to upward, which are often called recording tubas because of their popularity in the early days of recorded music, as their sound could more easily be directed at the recording instrument. When wrapped to surround the body for marching, it is traditionally known as a w:hélicon. The modern w:sousaphone is a helicon with a bell pointed up, and then curved to point forward.
Bass clef music for tuba is usually in concert pitch, therefore tubists must know the correct fingerings for their specific instrument. However, traditional brass band parts for the tuba are in the treble clef, usually a ninth above the sounded note, to facilitate fingering interchangeability with other brass band instruments. Consequently, the tuba is generally treated as a transposing instrument when it is written for in the treble clef, but not in the bass clef.
The CC tuba is the common professional instrument in the United States and is used as the default instrument in American orchestras. In the United Kingdom, the E♭ tuba is the default professional instrument, though many will supplement it with the CC tuba in orchestral applications for big works. In Europe, the F tuba is the common default instrument in orchestras, though American practice is taking hold in some European orchestras. In Germany, Austria and Russia in particular, orchestral tuba players will use a BB♭ tuba when extra weight is desired. In military or concert bands and brass bands, the BB♭ tuba is preferred because its intonation better matches that of other wind instruments in B♭ or E♭. Players of the E♭ tuba often find themselves in demand from brass bands, where they read treble clef music pitched in E♭, as well as orchestras where they read music in the bass clef at concert pitch (C).
The lowest pitched tubas are the contrabass tubas, pitched in C or B♭; (referred to as CC and BB♭ tubas respectively, based on a traditional distortion of a now-obsolete octave naming convention). The BB♭ is almost exclusively used in brass bands because the other instruments are usually based on B♭. The CC tuba is used as an orchestral instrument in the U.S. because they are perceived to tune more easily with other orchestral instruments, but BB♭ tubas are the contrabass tuba of choice in German, Austrian, and Russian orchestras. Many younger players start out with an E♭ tuba, and the BB♭ tuba is still the standard adult amateur instrument in the United States. Most professionals (and those trained or training to be professionals) in the U.S. play CC tubas, but most also are trained in proficiency of all four pitches of tubas.
The next smaller tubas are the bass tubas, pitched in F or E♭ (a fourth above the contrabass tubas). The E♭ tuba often plays an octave above the contrabass tubas in brass bands, and the F tuba is commonly used by professional players as a solo instrument and, in America, to play higher parts in the classical repertoire. In most of Europe, the F tuba is the standard orchestral instrument, supplemented by the CC or BB♭ only when the extra weight is desired. In the United Kingdom, the E♭ is the standard orchestral tuba.
The euphonium is sometimes referred to as a tenor tuba (the only practical difference lies in the presence of vibrato, which is traditional for euphonium, but is to be avoided on parts scored for tenor tuba), and is pitched one octave higher (in B ♭) than the BB ♭ contrabass tuba. The "Small French Tuba in C" is a tenor tuba pitched in C, and provided with 6 valves to make the lower notes in the orchestral repertoire possible. The French C tuba was the standard instrument in French orchestras until overtaken by F and C contrabass tubas since the Second World War. The term "tenor tuba" is often used more specifically, in reference to B ♭ rotary-valved tubas pitched in the same octave as euphoniums. Examples include the Alexander Model 151, which is a popular instrument among tuba players when the use of the tenor tuba is appropriate. One much-debated example of such application for orchestral tuba players in the U.S. is the Bydło movement in Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's w:Pictures at an Exhibition.
Playing technique[edit | edit source]
At the basic level, playing a tuba is similar to playing a euphonium. For the time being, therefore, you may wish to make use of these euphonium lessons: