Tubas – Introduction



Tubas and Euphoniums and Flügelhorns, oh my.  When we think about these three instruments, we don’t normally associate them into a single coherent family, but that’s what they are.  The tubas, as I collectively call this group, are brass instruments whose bore is almost completely conical from the mouthpiece to the bell.  Their mouthpiece is also deeper than that of the trombones, trumpets, and cornets, but not as deep as the Horns.

This family has four extant members (and two extinct ones).  Two of these are of utmost importance to the standard wind band: the Euphonium and the Contrabass Tuba.  The Flügelhorn is a regular visitor, and the Bass Tuba may make an occasional visit, but more often than not is at home in the orchestra.

When we think of the tubas, we think of bass and the oom-pah sound, but the tuba family is noble and sonorous, warm and melodic.  Creative thinking and bandestration can change how we view this family.

With the exception of the two true tubas, none of these instruments have ever been sufficiently covered in orchestration texts, so I will go into slightly more detail here than I do for some of the other instruments.

As muting rules apply across the board for the tubas, I shall cover it in the broad introduction.  The only available mute for any of the tubas is the straight mute (though I have heard of creative tuba players making cup mutes out of ice cream cartons).  Mutes are rare for the Flügelhorn.  Mutes for the Bass and Contrabass Tubas are huge (resembling something NASA might put into orbit).  Make sure the player has enough time to insert and remove the mutes.


Piccolo Flügelhorn


Alto Flügelhorn/Alto Tuba/Mellophone

Euphonium/Tenor Tuba

Bass Tuba

Contrabass Tuba

2 thoughts on “Tubas – Introduction

  1. You’ve forgotten the GG contrabass tuba, EEb subbass tuba, FF subbass (made by Cerveny) tuba, and the BBBb and CCC subcontrabass tubas.

    Also your figuring of what number of valves determining the number of notes available is slightly flawed. A three valve tuba in BBb can hit the E-natural down to the pedal B-flat chromatically by using alternate fingerings, such that E-flat is played open, D 2nd, D-flat 1st, etc.

    Depending on the lengths of slides, many modern and several vintage BBb tubas can play the B-natural above the pedal BBb. I have several tubas, one with a third valve pull of about 18 inches, that allows me to play the pedal B-natural with all four valves down, or, by playing “false tones” with 2-3 combination.

    Additionally, it seems you don’t know the difference between and amateur and a professional. Either can, and do, play any key of tuba. Many pros today play on BBb tubas in the orchestral setting. Many amateurs play on CC tubas – hell I have helicon in D in a subbass in EEb (that’s lower than the contrabass in BBb or CC)!

    1. I omitted them, perhaps unwisely, because they really are extinct. You have, perhaps, one of the only E-flat subcontrabasses in the country. The other instruments really seem to be curiosities and cannot be used in an ensemble setting.

      You’re correct. I did forget about the compensating tubas that British brass bands use and will update the text when I get a chance.

      It seems that the privilege tones that you refer to cannot be done on every instrument by every player. For a solo piece for a specific player, yes, they can be used for an effect, but to my ears they are nowhere near as pleasing as notes produced in the traditional manner.

      As for not knowing the difference between “professional” and “amateur,” my wording in the passages is “the instrument of choice.” This does not preclude the use of one by the other group. I know of no beginner students ever playing a C tuba. Of that, we can be fairly sure. Yes, there are plenty of pro who do use a B-flat Tuba, but the tuba players I’ve talked to, tend to prefer the C instrument as their main horn.

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