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Eb and Bb TUBA

The Shepherds Crook
Online Newsletter of the
American Brass Band Association
Autumn 2000 (Revised   2005,2013)

TUBA in the Brass Band

This writing will be concerned with the Bb tuba and the Eb Tuba. Two of each is the standard complement for the brass band.
19th Century low brass instruments have no direct predecessors
The instruments they replaced were the serpent (the bass of the cornetto family) and its more developed form, the bass horn. Another predecessor was the Ophecleide, which was derived from the keyed bugle.
About 1828, tenor and baritone range instruments with valves appeared in German military bands. These were the first versions of the modern German tenor horn and baryton.

About 1835, the first Tuba in F was developed. This instrument was a five valve tuba invented by band director Wilhelm Weiprecht and instrument maker J. G. Moritz. In 1838 Moritz produced a tenor tuba in Bb. (The term tenor tuba usually refers to the Bb Euphonium.)

1842-1845: Adolph Sax produced the family of Saxhorns (Eb soprano to Bb contrabass). Saxhorns were successful because of quality construction, adoption by french army bands and because the Distin family popularized them in England. In England the budding brass band movement took up saxhorns. Modern low brass with piston valves are in general developed from the saxhorn.

1900 to present: German low brass instruments continued into the 20th Century. The small F orchestral tuba was gradually replaced by the Eb tuba. After the second world war, the Eb brass band tuba became the standard, replacing the small F orchestral tuba. Bb contrabass (BBb) saw occasional use for certain works at this time. Brass band standards today call for two Eb and two Bb tubas .

The Eb tuba once familiar in american bands is generally not seen outside of England where it is used in orchestras, brass bands and military bands. The Eb tuba is currently enjoying a revival in american orchestras as an alternative to the small F tuba.

Tubas come wrapped in a compact or a more open pattern with heights varying from 33 inches to 48 inches. Some players feel the more compact instruments are stuffy in response because of the sharp bends in the tubing. The height of the largest instruments can present problems to some players.

Tuba players generally agree that three valves are inadequate and six valves are excessive. The purpose of the added valves should be kept in mind. Greater mechanical correction of intonation is necessary on tubas than on other brass instruments. This is due to the length of the vibrating air columns (18 in a Bb contrabass!). The valve slides are accessible to the left hand with the first slide being used most often for mechanical intonation.

The fundamental of the tubas harmonic series is a fully usable note (unlike the trumpet). The 4th valve is added to extend the range down from the lowest valve combination (1-2-3) to the fundamental. 4th valve intonation is better than the same notes played by standard valve combinations. Modern method books annotate these 4th valve as well as other alternate fingerings.

The fourth valve not only extends the range down to the fundamental, but also offers an alternative to 1-3 and 1-2-3 fingerings. The cardinal rule on intonation is for tuba players to get to know their own instruments. It is preferable to adjust tubing mechanically rather than with the lip, because of the negative effect on tone and stability caused by forcing an off-center note with the embouchure.

In brass bands, the large bore Eb is commonly used as one of the principal instruments. A standard 25 piece brass band calls for two Bb and two Eb tubas.

The flexibility of the Eb tuba is well known to players and listeners. After WWII, British tuba players changed from the small orchestral tuba in F to the Eb instrument. The brass bands adopted the Eb instrument as well. The Eb combines a fuller tone and retains the flexibility of the tuba in F.

An important Eb tuba application is in the brass quintet. In the brass quintet the consuming tone of the contrabass tuba (Bb) is almost impossible to balance. The lighter timbre of the Eb tuba forms a more effective balance than the Bb tuba in this setting.

Outside the brass band, both Bb and Eb tubas function as non-transposing instruments with the player using the appropriate fingering to yield concert pitch. In brass bands, all instruments except the bass trombone are considered transposing instruments and read treble clef. Yes ! both Eb and Bb tubas read treble clef in brass band.

The tuba players of today are no longer background brass players. There are several internationally recognized soloists. The standard of tuba playing today is incredibly high and often taken for granted. Modern tuba virtuosity has produced a demand for better quality tubas. Mechanical innovation for intonation is the primary focus of modern tuba research. Lacquering is another important area of research.

Tuba players need to develop their musical ear to a high level of musicality, therefore individuals must be carefully selected for this instrument. Musicianship must be high, as they must constantly intone with the leading instruments (cornets) to provide a tuneful bottom to the brass band harmony.

Piston valves on tuba are unsuitable if the bore at the valve is larger than 19mm. Rotary valves are faster but less rugged.

In England and the commonwealth (outside Canada) the four valve Eb tuba is standard in orchestras and bands. The Bb tuba is an 18 foot tuba in Bb with either three or four valves. It is primarily a band instrument.

The first live brass band I listened to with scrutiny had six tubas. Three in Eb and three in Bb. There were also six Eb Tenor horns in this band. Both sections were beyond the standard complement for brass bands. I have never heard this sound duplicated since. This was an amateur A grade brass band with an otherwise standard complement of players.
It should be noted that two Eb and two Bb tubas are usually used to build a basement in the in brass band harmony. Smaller auxiliary brass bands may get along with one or two tubas.

Since that time this author has listened and observed many brass bands who seem to be striving for the true brass band sound. They approach this by deploying a few more fleugal horns, or even trumpets. It was also noted that these bands always had less than a full complement of tubas. The author has observed this on several occasions, while watching conductors (often not brass players) attempt to achieve the sound they hope to hear from a brass band.

It is also destructive to the overall brass band sound to have one or two tubas straining at pitch in an attempt to blend in with a full sized brass band. In looking for the sound you want in a brass band, it is suggested that a firm tuba foundation be in place from the start. A smaller brass band should add tubas as the band grows.

The tuba can be more subtle and agile than traditionally appreciated. The flexibility and agility are especially apparent in the Eb instrument. Challenging techniques such as chord effects produced by playing one note while humming another (the third note just comes!) are often required in contemporary compositions.

This author was astonished to hear a difficult cornet trio performed by three Eb tubas. It is also quite a distance from OM-PAH to hear an Eb tuba player working his way through the cornet variations of Carnival of Venice. Until you hear these things, they do not seem possible. 

The tuba is no longer a background brass instrument in the brass band. Tuba has always provided the harmonic foundation, but now it must be recognized as a virtuostic solo and ensemble instrument as well. Hardworking tuba players in brass bands have been responsible for the changes in utilization and appreciation of the modern brass band tuba.

From a 1911 Edition of Holton's Harmony Hints:
Musicians Wanted: A good barber who is a good tuba
or baritone player. Permanent Position in good shop.
Must be of good reputation and sober.
To play with a growing band of 25 pieces.

S.A. Patterson,
Macon, Missouri
The Shepherds Crook
American Brass Band Association
(Extracted from Autumn 2000 Newsletter)

Baines, Anthony. Brass Instruments,
Their History and Development.Faber and
Faber, 3 Queen Square, London. 1976.

Bevan, Clifford. The Tuba Family. Faber and Faber,
3 Queen Square. London. 1978

Farkas, Philip. The Art of Brass Playing.
Brass Publications,Box 66,
Bloomington, Indiana . 1962.

Griffiths, John R. The Low Brass Guide.
Jerona Music Corporation.
Hackensack, New Jersey. 1980.

Mason, J. Kent. The Tuba Handbook.
Sonante Publications. Toronto. 1977.

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Editor: Stanley Sadie.Macmillan Publishers LTD.
London. 1980. Volume 19. pp. 237-242.
TUBA entries by Anthony Baines.

Whitener, Scott. A Complete Guide to Brass,
Instruments and Pedagogy.Shirmer Books,
(A Division of Macmillan Incorporated.)
New York, Toronto, Oxford, Singapore,Sidney.1990.
Shepherd's Crook, Revised 2013 

Meinl-Weston Eb

BBb 4 valve: Rotary