think you'd like to learn the tuba? We tell you the advantages and
pitfalls, where to buy one, how to get lessons, what it will cost -
everything you need to know
Why play an instrument?
What instrument to play
How to buy an instrument
Where to get lessons
How much progress will I make?
Doing your practice
Upgrading your instrument
Finding opportunities to play
Violin & Viola
Trumpet & Cornet
Other brass instruments
Your questions answered
Links to other sites
Cost: from £1,195 (the lowest price we could find, VAT included)
Best age to start: 12 years upwards
Easy to start? Yes, if you're big enough to hold it
is the largest brass instrument. Unlike the trumpet and trombone, but
like the cornet, it has a conical bore so consists of a gradually
widening tube of brass folded round on itself to save space. The sound
comes out of the flared bell, and is made by blowing a "raspberry"
with your lips into the cup-shaped mouthpiece. In effect, your lips
are vibrating like the reed of a clarinet, and this vibration becomes
musical sound in its passage through the specially-shaped bore of the
tuba. You can obtain a number of different "open" notes in
this way by varying the tension of your lips (try blowing a raspberry
and smiling at the same time), and can then produce the notes in
between by pressing different combinations of valves.
The valves divert the air through little extra lengths of tubing,
thus making the instrument temporarily a bit longer and therefore
deeper. There are usually three valves. You hold the tuba in front of
you on your lap with the mouthpiece to your lips (obviously!), and the
bell pointing upwards. Your right hand operates the valves, while the
left supports the instrument.
Tubas don't usually come apart, and are carried in rigid cases which
are necessarily heavy and bulky. Some players have cases with wheels
on the bottom.
Tubas do come in different sizes and in different keys. The most
common is in E flat, meaning that when you play C on the tuba, it
actually sounds like an E flat on any normal instrument so the tuba
music you buy has been specially transposed to suit. Other tubas may
be in B flat, BB flat (meaning larger and therefore deeper), EE flat
and even CC.
Also, there is a decision to be made about clef. When played in an
orchestra or wind band the tuba's music is written in the bass clef
(same as the left hand of the piano), but when played in a brass band
its music is written in the treble clef. You will have to decide, in
consultation with your teacher, which clef you are going to learn. On
balance, unless you are quite sure that you are going to join a brass
band, we would recommend bass clef.
The tuba is an easy instrument to start, and the amount of puff
required is not as great as you'd expect - it's the long thin
instruments with a narrow bore like the trumpet or the horn that need
the most effort. The real difficulty is the sheer size of the
instrument, which is also pretty heavy. You can start at 12 or 13
years old. However, the tuba is so similar to other instruments such
as the smaller euphonium, baritone or tenor horns that it is perfectly
realistic to start on one of those and transfer to the tuba later on.
Otherwise, you probably need to take advice from a teacher about what
size of tuba to start on. He or she is likely to advise that you look
for a "small E flat" or "small-bore E flat"
instrument which will be a manageable size. Later you can switch to a
large-bore instrument. There is at least one Tuba in E flat available
at about £1,700 which has been specially designed for younger
The tuba is important to orchestras, wind bands and brass bands, and
sometimes appears in traditional jazz bands so there are excellent
opportunities for group music-making. Also, there aren't many tuba
players around, so you'll be popular.
There is little to go wrong with a tuba as it has few moving parts.
It is easily dented, of course, and this can be expensive to repair
especially if the damage is so severe the lacquer which protects the
brass surface has to be renewed. The few moving parts are in the
valves, and these do give trouble but not too often. Do not be tempted
to take them to pieces until you are absolutely certain you know what
you're doing - they look simple but it's easy to put them back wrong
and damage them. There is little maintenance to do on a tuba, but the
tuning slides need to be moved and greased from time to time, and the
valves will need a very little special "valve oil".
The real drawback to the tuba is that it is very expensive, starting
at around £1,200.
One of the most popular tutor books for beginners is
as you play tuba. While it's always best to have a teacher, some
people do try to learn the tuba by themselves.
Tune a Day for Tuba is fairly old and may no longer be the best
tutor book around, but we still think it's particularly suitable for
If you'd like to listen to some really marvellous tuba playing, try
CD. You don't often hear tubas being played "in tandem"
as it were, so a
quartet of them is something really special!
Easy to start
Quite hard to find a teacher
Opportunities for group music-making are excellent
Not particularly prone to damage
Heavy and hard to transport
Which clef will you learn?
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Copyright © David Bramhall 2005