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Tuba: The Bass of the Band

4/24/2015 5:26:08 PM | by Shae Marin


The tuba is the lowest-pitched and the largest of the brass instruments. Like other brass instruments, it is played by blowing directly through closed lips into the mouthpiece. This will create the required vibration or “buzzing” thus, produces the sound. The person who plays the tuba is referred to as a tubist or tubaist. The tuba has been associated with jazz since the genre’s beginning. Tubas fill the conventional bass role.

Tubas with their tubing wrapped for positioning the instrument on the player’s lap is referred to as a concert tuba. Tubas with the bell that is pointing forward instead of upward are commonly known as recording tubas. These musical instruments are constructed with brass that is lacquered, unfinished or electroplated with gold, silver or nickel.

The Most Common Types of Tubas

More than a few types of tubas exist. Each of these types has its own unique tonal properties. The most common type of this instrument at present is the contrabass. Contrabasses are the lowest-pitched and are categorized into BB-flat tuba or CC tuba. The BB-flat tuba is most commonly used in the United States and is the largest standard tuba. BB-flats are typically used by school bands as majority of brass instruments in high schools are keyed in BB as well. BB-flat tubas are intended to handle the poor treatment of a beginner tubist. These tubas are the standard choice for use in symphonic bands and concerts. CC tubas lack the lowest notes of a BB-flat tuba. Nearly all professional tubaists play C-pitched tubas. These types of tubas are often played in the sharp keys which make them work better in an orchestra. A CC tuba is built for responsiveness, not durability.

Bass tubas play higher notes and are naturally smaller than Contrabasses. E-flat tubas are the ones playing an octave in a brass band. These E-flats are the standard orchestral bass in the UK, while F tubas are the standard in Europe. F tubas are most commonly used by players for solo works and to play higher notes in older pieces. Sousaphones are tubas designed for marching and are most commonly pitched in BB with just three valves.

Different pitches are created through the varying size of tubas. In addition to the length of the tuba, which determines the fundamental pitch, these musical instruments differ in overall width as well. Also, there are various models that use either rotary or piston valves. Not every tuba is restricted to three valves. In contrary, tubas can have three to six valves in total. The least expensive models of tubas are the ones that only contain three valves. Tubas become more costly with the more valves it contains. Each of these valves is responsible for pitch lowering of the instrument.

Piston valves need more maintenance compared to rotary valves. Pistons need regular oiling to keep them functioning properly, while rotary valves are sealed and require a lot less oiling. Piston valves are quick to be assembled and disassembled, while rotary valve assembly and disassembly are more complicated and are typically left to professional repair persons.

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