We are all familiar with many musical instruments popular in our day and age, but the tuba is one of the most unique inventions of its kind. It’s a usual huge, horn-like wind instrument that requires a certain amount of power and skill to play. The history of the tuba is quite an interesting one as well.
The musical instrument known as the tuba is usually played in an orchestra or military bands. The brass section welcomes the tuba as its base. Many times, large choirs will use the tuba to reinforce the bass voices of the strings and woodwind instruments.
The Origin of the Tuba
The tuba is a well-renowned instrument in orchestras, marching bands, and other musical activities. This bass instrument that is believed to have been created in 1835 by Wilhelm Friedrich Wieprecht and Carl Moritz. One thing we know for sure is that the first tuba came from Germany around the time when valves were developed and just beginning to be utilized as parts of various musical instruments.
This duo patented their invention in 1835. However, the tuba has gone through several modifications and innovations in its design since then. Many other inventors with an interest in musical instruments have worked on the tuba, especially across America and Europe.
Since then, this heavy and bulky brass instrument has found favor in orchestras and concertos, with several sheet music produced especially for the tuba’s sound. Among the notable tuba players are Dave Bargeron, Bob Stewart, Don Butterfield, Walter Page, and many others.
The Rotary Valves
Since the creation of the first tuba, there have been several other tubas created that give even a deeper, richer sound. Previously, bass instruments were limited to only harmonic notes until the invention of valves. The inventors of the tuba created the first series of valves, which were of the Berlinerpumpen variety. This type of valve for the tuba became the forerunners of the rotary valve. Today, tuba’s and other bass instruments all use rotary valves, a feature that gives them their unique sounds.
The Etymology of the Word
The word “Tuba” is Latin for ‘horn’ or ‘trumpet’. The vibration of the tuba gives it a sound quality similar to that of a horn or trumpet. The tuba instrument has a large cupped mouthpiece that is used by the player to blow into. This makes the vibration sound come out the other end. The players of the tuba must be able to have a lot of breath to keep up with the musical instrument.
The tuba itself is such a famous instrument that many famous writers have written concertos just for the instrument. One of these composers was the famous America John Phillips Sousa, who wrote “Stars and Stripes”. As we know, this song is played today by military marching bands, at picnics during the 4th of July celebrations, and many other important patriotic events.
Instruments before the Tuba
Before the invention of valves and their usage in horns and trumpets, these instruments had simpler forms. The unique form of the tuba is also due to the fact that it was fitted with valves right from the start.
Until the tuba was invented, there were several other instruments utilized to produce that quintessential bass sound. Their structure might have been quite different, but their function was similar to the way the modern tuba is utilized in orchestras today.
These instruments were known as the serpent and the ophicleide among many others. These made use of keys of metal caps over their holes, similar to woodwind instruments.
Wagner tubas have four valves and are small-bored. These were designed back in the 19th century by Richard Wagner, the well-known German composes. He came up with these tubas in order to provide just the right effects for his music-drama in four parts, called The Rung of the Nibelung.
These tubas took inspiration from the French horn. Horn players are usually assigned to play them, using horn mouthpieces and emitting a quieter tone than regular tubas.
The Modern Tuba
Today, the tuba is played in orchestras around the world as a bass instrument to accent the sound that you hear from the other bass instruments. The Lawrence Welk band is one of the most famous bands known in the United States and around the world. This band has often used different tubas in their musical compositions. They have a tuba soloist and made popular several songs using the tuba sound. The song “Baby Elephant Walk”, which is well known everywhere, was a creation of the Welk band tuba player.
The tuba is no longer just an instrument that comes in one humongous size. It’s now available in different sizes that help to give off different sounds. We’ll take a look at some of these below:
- The contrabass tubas have the lowest pitch, which is in the C or B (flats). Hence, these are also referred to as the CC and BB (flat tubas).
- The bass tubas that you normally hear in most of the musical arrangements are pitched in the F or E (flats). In the United Kingdom; this is the kind of tuba they usually have in their music.
- That famous American bandmaster John Philip Sousa developed the modern sousaphone. The sousaphone (tuba) was named after Mr. Sousa, and he used it to play many of the military marching songs. They were also referred to as the “over-the-shoulder-saxhorns.”
- Other types of tubas are called helicons and euphoniums as well as sousaphones
- No matter what type of tuba or sousaphone is being played, you can hear that clear rich bass sound that lets you know what type of instrument it is. Many of the bands and orchestras include the tuba as part of their instruments even today.
- The lowest tuba in the world was one that had an FFF pitch. This was commissioned for the New York World Exhibition Fair in 1913. It was so large that two players were required to operate it; one for handling the valves and another for the blowing.
Uses of the Tuba
The character and shape of the tuba is a bit cartoonish, so it’s been used in many animated films for comic purposes. One example is ‘Tubby the Tuba’, a Dick van Dyke comedy released in 1975.
Modern uses of the tuba are apparent in many musical acts. We can find this instrument being played in a fun and even dangerous manner, especially if we look at modern bands like Rebirth, Soul Rebels, Dirty Dozen, etc. Nat McIntosh, a former tuba player for the band Youngblood, is known for making tuba licks that sound almost like beatboxing.
One would think that disco is a very strange genre to use the tuba, but it’s actually been done. Arthur Russell was one of the cutting-edge musical geniuses who could utilize any instrument in highly experimental ways. He has a Loose Joints project that came out with the tune ‘Tell You Today’, which is now a classic in disco-tuba tunes.
There are several other uses for the tuba, including rock and roll along with other genres. However, the discussion here is enough to portray how this unique and powerful instrument has managed to revolutionize many orchestras and the way we know music today. Those who are interested in music, bass instruments, or just uncommon sounds should look up songs and tunes that use the tuba in the compilation. They might be in for the treat of a lifetime!