How Does a Tuba Get Its Tone?

The first time I brought home a tuba, I was in middle school. I wanted to play the trumpet, but my band director convinced me to consider the tuba. He even offered to get me a stand to hold the tuba since he felt I was too small to wrangle the behemoth. I briefly imagined what the other kids would say, and I quickly dismissed the offer.

The tuba had a copper, brass, and new instrument smell. If you ever played an instrument, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I pulled it out of its case. At this age, I was small enough to fit inside the casing. I marveled at the instrument, and I couldn’t wait to learn how to play.

Many factors affect a tuba’s tone. An understanding of basic acoustics goes a long way toward understanding this rumbling beast. The tuba uses a series of welded brass tubes that create resistance, making it possible to direct air through the horn. This creates vibrations that the tuba amplifies, and the alloys used in the creation of the tuba generate the sound. This is why a gold-plated tuba projects a different sound than a silver-plated tuba.

Vibrations

Acoustic instrument sound begin with a vibration that creates pitch. Vibrations travel through the air causing the eardrum to transfer sound vibrations to three small bones known as ossicles in the middle ear. Vibrations occur anytime you hit, move, or act upon an object by force. In the case of the tuba, the vibrations initiate from the buzzing of the lips. When I was younger, I used to walk around buzzing non-stop, which I’m sure delighted my parents.

Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece of the tuba creates a powerful, narrow, and focused sound by sending a quick stream of air through the instrument.

Mouthpiece materials play a large part in the timbre or the characteristic sound of the instrument.

  • Brass mouthpieces create a strong, brassy tone, while silver mouthpieces create more mellow, soft tones.
  • Steel mouthpieces emit stronger tones, and gold mouthpieces create soft, supple tones.
  • Plastic mouthpieces provide a thinner sound, but they provide an option for extreme temperatures when playing outdoors. Nobody wants a tuba stuck to their face in the bitter cold. Plastic mouthpieces provide a useful purpose, but performers avoid them unless needed.

The tubist develops specialist knowledge over time. The mouthpiece choice depends largely on the style of music and the environment.

Tubing

The size and materials of the tuba impact the sound the tuba creates. The tubing consists of brass alloys, which include a combination of copper, nickel, and zinc. Depending on the type and percentage of alloys used, the tuba will have a different sound. or timbre.

Nickel gives the tuba a softer sound, while copper provides the tuba with an edgier brassy sound.

The bending of the tubes makes it easier to play the tuba by creating some resistance. Without the many coils in the tuba, the performer would need several lungs to produce a sound. Without bendy tubes, you get no air resistance. This would make playing this large instrument extremely difficult. The resistance makes it possible to play the tuba.

Bell

The bell’s position somewhat directs the flow of sound into a room. Most tuba bells point directly up. Somewhere along the line, a sadist decided it was necessary to march with a tuba, and this spawned the sousaphone.

The first time I had to carry a sousaphone, the band director had to lift it over my head. It was simply too heavy to pick up myself, but hey, as long as I didn’t sit down, I could march.

Sousaphone bells point directly forward. This ensures that the sound projects into the audience. Since sousaphones perform outside, the bell directs the sound into the audience.

In concert halls, the bell points upwards and various diameters exist. Bells that have a narrow outwards flare and small diameter tend to have a more precise sound. The bells that flare outwards with a larger diameter produce a great, booming tuba sound.

Originally published at https://www.uremusic.org.

--

--

--

Teaching the Craft of Music Composition since 1996. Articles on popular music- and art-related topics. Check out our Lists for more in-depth composing articles.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

A Day In the Life of a Struggle Rapper

Music industry during the pandemic

Put Those Records On: The Science Behind Why We All Need Music In Our Lives

A Partially Stringed Quartet

Why I never want to stop doing what I love and neither should you

The Golden Hour

The Evolution of The Beatles

The Dark Reality of the Kpop Industry

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kevin Ure (UreMusic.com)

Kevin Ure (UreMusic.com)

Teaching the Craft of Music Composition since 1996. Articles on popular music- and art-related topics. Check out our Lists for more in-depth composing articles.

More from Medium

CS373 Spring 2022: William Eng, Week 2

Realistic College Application Essay | 02.12.2022

Software Engineering Process Group (SEPG) 2000 Conference Notes

CS 373 Spring 2022: Saran Chockan Blog # 8