Tuba Chapter Sample

From Chapter 10B. Tuba Equipment:

Notes on Fingering Systems

In the United States the tuba is not a transposing instrument. That is to say, a concert B-flat will be notated as a B-flat regardless of which tuba is used.  Instead of learning transpositions as a horn or trumpet player would, tubists learn a new set of fingerings when switching keys of instruments. For example, the same B-flat below the bass-clef staff would be open on a B-flat contrabass tuba but fingered first valve on a C contrabass tuba. The note you see on the page is the note you should hear. You will encounter only B-flat tubas in your bands until you are dealing with a very advanced and ambitious tubist, so this chapter will focus on the B-flat contrabass tuba.

Notes on Size Nomenclature

Tubists use the “quarter” system to discuss relative size of tubas. Tubas in any key can come in a variety of sizes and most tubas are considered four-quarter tubas, or 4/4. There are a variety of 3/4 tubas that are ideal for smaller students, and professionals sometimes prefer 5/4 or even 6/4 tubas in large ensembles. The distinction between the quarter sizes is entirely approximate, but it has been adopted into the vocabulary of instrument dealers. For your bands, you do not need to consider the 5/4 and 6/4 sizes. 4/4 is adequate for your older and/or taller high school students, and 3/4 tubas will make life much easier for your younger and/or smaller students. Instruments pitched in B-flat or C are referred to as “contrabass” tubas, and higher pitched tubas – those pitched in F or E-flat – are referred to as “bass” tubas.

The Contrabass Tuba in B-flat

The contrabass tuba in B-flat is the standard tuba used in middle and high-school bands. This is the instrument we are referring to when we simply say “tuba.” Sharing the fundamental pitch of B-flat (an octave lower than the fundamental of the tenor trombone) makes tuning with the other brasses simpler and facilitates switching from instrument to instrument when needed. The length of the open tube is eighteen feet and is a cone (or conical shape), growing in diameter gradually from the lead pipe to the bell flare. Instrument makers have the option of coiling this great length of tubing tightly and using a smaller overall bore, rendering the instrument quite small and relatively light. The degree of coiling is referred to as either a “tight” wrap or an “open” wrap. Tight wrapping is how the especially small B-flat contrabass tubas come to be, and these instruments are ideal for small students. Open wrapping is how a contrabass tuba in C, which is a sixteen foot cone, can be more massive than a tuba in B-flat.

The valves on a three-valve tuba function identically to valves on a trumpet, horn or euphonium. The first valve opens enough tubing to lower the fundamental pitch of the open tube by one whole step, the second valve opens enough tubing to lower the open tube by one half step and the third valve opens enough tubing to lower the main tube by a minor third.

Due to intonation problems unavoidable in the physics of brass instruments (discussed in sub-chapter 10E Tuba Intonation), many tubas have an additional fourth valve which lowers the fundamental pitch of the open tube by a perfect fourth. The addition of valves beyond the traditional three-valve configuration solves many pitch problems and expands the chromaticism of the tuba into the extreme low register. Many professional tubas have five or six valves but student-model tubas, at best, have only four.

Tubas either have piston valves like a trumpet or rotary valves like a horn. Piston valves require more frequent routine maintenance, including almost daily oil application, while rotary valves require little regular maintenance. However, repairs are quicker and easier on piston valves than on rotary valves.

Tuba Rotary Valves:


Tuba Piston Valves: