The lowest pitched and largest brass instrument known is the tuba. The tuba is one of the newest members of the modern symphony orchestra. It was first publicly played in the middle of the 19th century when it took the place of the ophicleide. The player produces sound by vibrating his lips against a large cup-shaped mouthpiece.

The term tuba is Latin for horn or trumpet. It is largely comparable to the baroque trumpet.


The very first tuba was invented by Richard Wagner, a German composer. Aside from composing music and creating the tuba, Wagner also increased the significance of woodwinds in the orchestra. He broke the brass section into four divisions. The first section is a brass trumpet with three trumpets; the second is a bass tuba with three trombones; third, four French horns; last is four tubas.

The primary design of this instrument for marching but nowadays it is more commonly played while sitting. The tuba was held by the player on his shoulder with the bell aimed forward. This directs the sound to the area where the marchers are headed.

In the early Europe, instrumentalists kept on altering the tuba designs and giving it a new name so not many were certain of what the tuba really was. It was hard for the people to find a tuba that was accurately constructed. This made the tuba much less famous in its young stages.

Types of tubas

The tuba with the lowest pitch is the contrabass tuba which is pitch in B flat or C. Another type of tuba is the bass tuba that is smaller compared to the contrabass and pitched in E flat or F. Its pitch is a fourth higher than the contrabass tuba. The F tuba is the standard instrument of the orchestras in most of Europe. It is usually played by professionals in solo and to play in higher positions in the classical ensemble. On the other hand, the E flat tuba produces sound that is an octave higher than the contrabass tubas and is the customary orchestral tuba in the United Kingdom.

The tenor tuba, also called euphonium, is pitched one octave above the contrabass tuba, B flat. B flat valve tubas are sometimes specifically called tenor tuba. Although tremendously rare, there are also BBB-flat subcontrabass tubas. There are four known of this type and the first two were made by Gustav Benson with the idea from John Philip Sousa.

Playing the tuba

To assemble the tuba, position the mouthpiece in the tube with a gentle, twisting motion. Never pop or strike it into position. Remember to apply oil on the valves each day you play the tuba. Dismantle the valves one by one, put three oil drops, and place the valves back. You would know that the valve is not in the correct place if you blow hard but the air is blocked.

Draw the major tuning slide out to make the tuba longer and thus lower the pitch. Push the major tuning slide in to make the pitch higher.

Removing the mouthpiece by force could destroy the braces of the tuba. Thus, do not try to dismantle the mouthpiece yourself if it gets jammed while playing. There is a special tool designed to remove the mouthpiece safely.


Maintenance of the instrument is very important in preserving its integrity and quality of acoustic performance. Rinse the mouthpiece with a mouthpiece brush and lukewarm water every week and don’t forget to bathe the instrument every month. Disassemble the slides and valves and scrub through the instrument using valve brushes and snake brushes with warm water and soap. Do not use hot water because this may damage the tuba’s finish. After all these, assemble the tuba once again. Apply grease on the slides and oil on the valves.