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9 Types Of Tubas Explained (With 3 Popular Alternatives)

The tuba is one of the most recognizable brass instruments. Its large and overbearing size gives it an authoritative presence.

Below we look at different types of tubas and their uses:

1. Upright Tubas

They are called upright tuba for two reasons; their bells face away from the player, and two, they are placed on a player’s lap.

Their upright feature and position of the bells make them a favorite of players, as they are easy to carry (despite their weight) and play when moving around.

2. Marching Tubas

Marching tubas usually have a lead pipe manually screwed next to their valves and between 16 to 18 feet of tubing.

The tuba is placed on a player’s left shoulder; however, some may be placed on the right shoulder. Those types are relatively few.

Their bells face the immediate front of a player, and since it is almost impossible to use them as concert tubas, they are only used for marching.

3 Contrabass Tuba

Also widely known as the contrabass bugle, they are the lowest-pitched type of tuba.

Contrabass tubas are mainly used in Russia, Australia, and Germany, and in the United States, Bb-pitched beginner players in music schools generally use tubas.

4. Saxhorn Tuba

A late 1920s creation of Adolph Sax, it has conical-shaped bores and deep cup-shaped mouthpieces.

The saxhorn’s mellow sound makes it blend well with other brass musical instruments.

It also has valves, ranges from contrabass to soprano, and comes in four variations.

They are:

  • Baritone saxhorn
  • Tenor saxhorn
  • Soprano saxhorn
  • Contrabass saxhorn

5. WagnerTuba

Also famously known as the Wagner horn.

Named after Richard Wagner, it was produced to be used explicitly in his operas. The instrument encompasses a rotary three-valve system and produces a sound mix of the Euphonium and the French horn.

Since it was first introduced to the public, the Wagner tuba has been mired with many controversies.

Some select music historians argued that it was not correctly named, for they saw it as a modified horn. On the other hand, staunch Richard Wagner supporters stated that its ability to play low registers and having an upward-facing bell qualifies it as a tuba.

The use of the Wagner tuba is minimal; hence, it is not mass-produced. However, some companies produce them only on a commission basis.

6. Helicon

Initially designed for marching bands, the helicon is a circular upward or side-facing tuba.

Though nowadays, many marching bands prefer to use the sousaphone in its place, the helicon remains relevant in some brass and military bands.

Most of the helicons produced today have four valves and are tuned to either base or contrabass.

Tenor and soprano versions are also in the market, though their demand is relatively low.

In the past, tubists called the helicon ‘the rain catcher’ for it was quickly filled with water when it rained as its bell was positioned upright.

7. Sousaphone

They were created in 1890 under the guidance and instruction of world-renowned composer and band conductor John Philip Sousa.

John designed it to be used in military and marching bands, but some brass and jazz bands adopted it over time. They are circular, allowing the tubist to wear them so that their weight is supported on their shoulders and waist.

Of all its features, the broadcasting bell located at the top of the head makes it easy to spot in marching groups.

Recently manufacturers started producing fiberglass sousaphones, which are considerably lighter than their brass counterparts.

Some players argue that fiberglass instruments don’t provide a clear sound similar to Brass instruments.

8. Plastic Tuba

They were made especially for children and beginner tubists who are not accustomed to holding a brass instrument (which is pretty heavy).

Plastic tubas weigh about half what their brass counterparts weigh and are much easier to handle, plus they are affordable.

A plastic tuba has a smaller bell size and four-valve pistons, and you may find others with a rotary valve system.

9. Bass Tuba

The bass tuba became famous in the 19th century as most written music could only be played.

Today you will find most professional tuba players owning both a bass and contrabass tuba as there are compositions that have parts requiring both or one of them.

3 Popular Alternatives to the Tuba

1. Euphonium

Invented in the 1840s, its sole aim was to bridge the gap between the bass tuba and the trombone.

It has a reputation for being the most challenging type of tuba to play, as it has four keys. Most types are upward facing, though nowadays-forward facing versions are produced.

Due to its overly sweet sound, the euphonium has been embraced by marching bands, jazz, and funk groups, where it is used for lower-range solos.

Occasionally it may replace the trombone in some of the solo parts.

There are four types of euphoniums, namely:

  • Marching Euphonium – Mainly played by marching bands, as they are lighter thus easier to carry.
  • Double Bell Euphonium has two bells – The second one is slightly smaller and sounds much like a trombone. Historians believe that they were sometimes used in place of trombones.
  • Compensating Euphonium – Has four valves and is equipped with extra tubing to produce a clear sound.
  • Five Valve Euphonium – Has five valves; three upright and two placed at the side. They are extremely expensive for they are not being produced anymore.

Average euphonium ways between 22 to 25 pounds. However, the ones used by marching groups can weigh a little lesser for easy movement.

2. FlugelHorn

A smaller horn that is unique is the flugelhorn.

It is a forward-facing handheld instrument introduced in the 19th century to be used in traditional bands and orchestral music settings.

As time went by, the flugelhorn began making appearances in swing, pop, and marching bands (where it has remained since)

A flugelhorn mouthpiece is also smaller than a regular tuba; it’s about the same size as the trumpet.

Since the flugelhorn requires less tubing during its manufacture, they are lighter than other tubas and can weigh a paltry five pounds.

3. Baritone Horn

It has piston valves and a conical bore similar to that of the flugelhorn.

Also, like the euphonium, it is viewed as a none transposing and transposing instrument.

The baritone produces a mellow sound and has a slightly higher range than the trombone.

Do Tubas Come in Different Sizes?

Yes, they do come in different sizes.

Tubas are classified under four different sizes, namely 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4.

Generally, a standard-sized tuba is classified as 4/4, smaller tubas like the flugelhorn are classified as ¾, and larger tubas 5/4 or6/4.

It is worth noting that the bore and bell sizes determine how large or small a tuba will be.

Do Tubas Come in Different Keys?

Tubas come in four different keys, which are:

  • Bb(BBb) keys
  • C(CC) keys
  • Eb keys
  • F keys

The four keys are further divided into two groups; contrabass tubas and bass tubas.

Contrabass tubas include Bb and C keys, while bass tubas include Eb and F keys.

Tubas in Bb Keys

They are commonly used by amateurs players in the United States and orchestral players in the European regions.

Amateurs prefer Bb keyed tubas since they are easier to play and more in tune on flat keys. However, they are challenging to use on sharp keys.

Sousaphones are among the most common Bb keyed tubas.

Tubas in CC keys

They have a similar sound to that of a Bb tuba but are more flexible in all keys.

It is the flexibility that makes orchestral players favor CC tubas over Bb tubas.

Tubas in Eb Keys

They are preferred mainly by British players and some solo artists.

Older sousaphones make up a significant percentage of tubas in this key.

Tubas in F keys

They are known mainly for their fine clarity when playing in upper registers.

F tubas have grown in popularity among solo players since they do not sound like traditional tubas.