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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 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.
Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz was the first major work orchestrated for tuba. It was originally scored for two ophicleides, but Berlioz changed it after hearing the newly invented tuba. Other composers such as Richard Strauss (Also sprach Zarathustra, Eine Alpensinfonie), Shostakovich (Fourth symphony), Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring), and Edgard Varèse (Déserts) also composed influential parts for the tuba.
Various concertos have been written for the tuba by numerous notable composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Gregson, John Williams, and 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.
Types and construction
Tubas are found in various pitches, most commonly in F, E ♭, C, or B ♭ in "brass band" pitching. The main bugle of B ♭ tubas is approximately 18 feet long, while C 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 hélicon. The modern 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 C 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 C 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 B ♭ 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 C 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 C or B ♭ 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, and is pitched one octave higher than (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 Pictures at an Exhibition.
Though extremely rare, there have been larger BBB ♭ subcontrabass tubas created. There were at least four known examples created. The first two were built by the Gustav Besson on the suggestion of American Bandmaster John Philip Sousa. The monster instruments were not completed until just after Sousa's death. photo Later, in the 1950s, British musician Gerard Hoffnung commissioned the London firm of Paxman to create a subcontrabass tuba for use in his comedic music festivals. photo These three instruments were all pitched in BBB ♭, one octave below the standard B ♭ tuba. Also, a tuba pitched in FFF was made in Kraslice by Bohland & Fuchs probably during 1910 or 1911 and was destined for the World Exhibition in New York in 1913. This tuba is "playable", but two persons are needed; one to operate the valves and one to blow into the mouthpiece. photo
Tubas come in both piston and rotary valve models. Rotary valves are based on a design that derived from the Berlinerpumpen used on the very first bass tuba patented by Wilhelm Wieprecht in 1835. Červeny of Graslitz was the first to use true rotary valves, starting in the 1840s or 1850s. Piston valves are based on valves developed by Perinet for the Saxhorn family of instruments promoted by Adolphe Sax around the same time. Pistons may either be oriented to point to the top of the instrument (top-action, as pictured in the figure at the top of the article) or out the front of the instrument (front-action or side-action). Debate abounds as to the advantages and disadvantages of each piston style, with assertions concerning sound, speed, and clarity commonly proclaimed but with little or no scientific measurement. The German tradition prefers rotary valves; the British and American traditions favor piston valves (top-action in the case of British; front-action in the case of American), but this is not absolute and choice of valve types remains up to the performer.
Tubas generally have from three to six valves, though some rare exceptions exist. Three-valve tubas are generally the least expensive and are almost exclusively used by beginners and amateurs, and the sousaphone (a marching instrument which is just a different way to wrap the tubing of a B ♭ tuba) almost always has three valves. Among more advanced players, four and five valve tubas are by far the most common choices, with six valve tubas being relatively rare except for F tubas intended to be used by European orchestral performers.
The valves add tubing to the bugle of the instrument, thus lowering its fundamental pitch. The first valve lowers the bugle by a whole step (two semitones), the second valve by a semitone, and the third valve by three semitones. Used in the combination, the valves are too short and the resulting pitch tends to be sharp. For example, a B ♭ bugle becomes an A ♭ bugle when the first valve is depressed. The third valve is long enough to lower a B ♭ bugle by three semitones, but it is not long enough to lower an A ♭ bugle by three semitones. Thus, the first and third valves used in combination lower the bugle by something just short of five semitones, and the first three valves used in combination are nearly a quarter tone sharp.
The fourth valve is used in place of combinations of the first and third valves, and the second and fourth used in combination are used in place of the first three valves in combination. The fourth valve can be tuned to accurately lower the pitch of the main bugle five semitones, and thus its use corrects the main problem of combinations being too sharp. By using the fourth valve by itself to replace the first and third combination, or the fourth and second valves in place of the first, second and third valve combinations, the notes requiring these fingerings are more in tune.
The fifth and sixth valves are used to provide alternative fingering possibilities to improve intonation, and are also used to reach into the low register of the instrument where all the valves will be used in combination to fill the first octave between the fundamental pitch and the next available note on the open bugle. The fifth and sixth valves also give the musician the ability to trill more smoothly or to use alternative fingerings for ease of use purposes.
Since the bass tuba in F is pitched a fifth above the BB ♭ tuba and a fourth above the CC tuba, it needs additional tubing length beyond that provided by four valves to play securely down to a low F as required in much tuba music. The fifth valve is commonly tuned to a flat whole step, so that when used with the fourth valve, it gives an in-tune low B ♭. The sixth valve is commonly tuned as a flat half step, allowing the F tuba to play low G as 1-4-5-6 and low G ♭ as 1-2-4-5-6. In CC tubas with five valves, the fifth valve may be tuned as a flat whole step or as a minor third depending on the instrument.
Some piston-valved tubas have a compensating system to allow accurate tuning when using several valves in combination, simplifying fingering and removing the need to constantly adjust slide positions. Such systems are used mainly in United Kingdom brass bands. The most common approach is to plumb the valves so that if the fourth valve is used, the bugle is sent back through a second set of branches in the first three valves to compensate for the combination of valves. This does have the disadvantage of making the instrument significantly more 'stuffy' or resistant to air flow when compared to a non-compensating tuba. This is due to the need for the air to flow through the valve block twice. It also makes the instrument heavier. But many prefer this approach to additional valves or to manipulation of tuning slides while playing to achieve perfect intonation within an ensemble.
Tubas are generally finished in raw brass, lacquered brass, or silver-plated brass. Some believe that the external finish of the tuba can play an important role in the tone production, though this has never been objectively measured. Performers have individual preferences on the finish that they select, and will sometimes have horns in more than one finish for different musical settings. Although tone quality is subjective and there is no scientific basis for these claims, tuba players generally agree that silver-plated brass affords a brighter tone, while raw brass produces a richer tone for lower notes.
Some tubas are capable of being converted into a marching style, known as "marching tubas". A leadpipe can be manually screwed on next to the valves. The tuba is then usually rested on the left shoulder (although some tubas allow use of the right shoulder), with the bell facing directly in front of the player. Some marching Tubas are made only for marching, and cannot be converted into a concert model. Most marching bands opt for the sousaphone, an instrument which is easier to carry and almost always cheaper than a true marching tuba. Drum and bugle corps players, however, always use marching tubas, which in this context are referred to as Contras. Standard tubas can also be played whilst standing, with the use of a strap which is joined to the tuba using two rings. The strap is then put over the player's shoulder like a sash, allowing the instrument to be played in the same position as when sitting.
Tubas have been used in jazz since the genre's beginning. In the earliest years, bands often used a tuba for outdoor playing and a double bass for indoor jobs. In this context, the tuba was sometimes called "brass bass", as opposed to the double bass, which was called "string bass"; it was not uncommon for players to double on both instruments.
In modern jazz, the role of the two bass instruments remains similar. Tubas are usually featured in a supporting role, although it is not uncommon for them to take solos. Many jazz bands actually use a sousaphone, commonly if technically incorrectly called a "tuba" in this context. New Orleans style Brass Bands like Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, and Nightcrawlers Brass Band feature a sousaphone as a jazz bass. One of the most prominent tubists specializing in jazz is the New York City-based Marcus Rojas, who has performed frequently with bandleader Henry Threadgill. Another notable group is the Modern Jazz Tuba Project - founded by R. Winston Morris, which consists entirely of tubas and euphoniums with rhythm section.
The tuba has also played a large role in ragtime music, and in big band music, the tuba (usually bass tuba pitched in E♭) would provide a walking bass similar to that of a double bass, but with a larger range.
See also Category:Tuba players
- Kenneth Amis
- Roger Bobo
- Velvet Brown
- Don Butterfield
- Charles Daellenbach
- David Fedderly
- John Fletcher
- Michel Godard
- Walter Hilgers
- Arnold Jacobs
- Carol Jantsch
- Howard Johnson
- Tommy Johnson
- Harvey Phillips
- Gene Pokorny
- Scott Watson
- Bob Stewart
- Roman tuba
- Wagner tuba
- Tuba mirum
- Contrabass Bugle
- The International Tuba-Euphonium Association.
- Tuba News, a free monthly online publication for tuba and euphonium players.
- International Tuba Day
- Tubenet Sean Chisham's popular Tubenet discussion forum.
- Brass-Forum.co.uk UK based brass discussion forum.
- Brassmusic.Ru — Russian Brass Community
- The Wagner tuba
- Acoustics of Brass Instruments from Music Acoustics at the University of New South Wales.
- Tuba/Sousaphone as blues instruments