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Tuba: History, Parts & Music

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Despite having been invented only around 175 years ago, the tuba is among the most well-known musical instruments, noted especially for the sound that it is able to create. Keep reading to learn more about the tuba and its influence on music.

History of the Tuba

At the most basic level, a tuba is a brass wind instrument played by blowing air through a pipe. While the idea of blowing air through a pipe to create music was nothing new, the idea of what we today consider a tuba was a relatively recent one. It was only in the 19th century that the tuba was invented in modern-day Germany.

Until this time, brass instruments were unable to create a full enough range of notes at the bottom of the scale, meaning that the musician could not have full control of the sound when he/she tried to play low-pitched music. Brass instruments in particular, despite their advantages for both concert orchestras and marching bands, created sounds that were simply too high. By changing the valves that controlled air flow, as well as increasing the size of the barrel by folding a tuba's tube in on itself, a lower note was now possible.

Brass Tubas
Brass Tubas

Parts of the Tuba

To create a sound, a musician blows, or more commonly buzzes, air onto a large, cup-shaped mouthpiece. The air causes vibrations, which are then taken down the length of the brass pipe. Piston or rotary valves operated by the musician release enough air pressure to change the quality of the note. Ultimately, the sound emerges out of the other end of the instrument, often a wide opening to further help lower the pitch of the note.

The length of the main tube has a relationship with the pitch of the note played, as does the overall size of the instrument. This can best be demonstrated by comparing two members of the tuba family, the tuba and the euphonium. The euphonium is the smaller instrument and produces a higher-pitched sound.

The euphonium is the smaller instrument on the left that produces a higher note.
Euphonium

Music Overview

The tuba came into its own during the late Romantic (1840-1910) period, as well as the Modern period (1910-c. 1945). It was able to produce a big, powerful bass sound, often linked with feelings of drama in a piece. These feelings of drama could mean to excite the audience, or they could also mean to show impending danger. Some of the most famous composers to use the tuba are:

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