The tuba is the lowest-pitched instrument of the brass family. Its name derives from the Latin word ‘tube’. Greek and Romans also used it to name an ancient bronze instrument.

The bass tuba, the historic predecessor to the contemporary tuba, emerged on September 12, 1835. The makers of the instrument were the German military bandmaster Wilhelm Wieprecht and the musical instrument maker Johann Moritz. This date corresponds to the day on which Moritz filed the patent application.

Other companions of the tuba from the same family are the baritone, euphonium, and sousaphone.

Valve systems of the tuba

The invention of the valve mechanism in the 1820s was one of the pioneering events in the development of brass instruments.

In the case of the tuba, valve systems are either piston-tube type or rotary-tube type. Piston-tube types also stem into top action or front action.

Different regions have preferences for different systems. For instance, top-action tubas are very common in the U.K. and France. The pistons move vertically and are played with the right hand while the bell sits on the right side of the instrument. In the U.S., front-action tubas are preferred. The pistons lie on the front and are played with the right hand while the bell is located on the left side of the player. Another distinguishing characteristic of these is the narrow lead pipe. On the other hand, Germany, Austria, and Russia mostly prefer rotary-valved tubes. In these, the right hand plays the levers while the bell lies on the left side of the player.

Whether the valves are piston or rotary in design, they are a system for changing the flow of air. Variations in the system imply valves travel different distances as well. For example, piston-valved tubes have a short distance from the second tube to the end of the bell. Valves sit under this second tube, located on the right side. Rotary-valved tubes, on the other hand, have their valves in the front.

Materials used

The tuba is usually made of brass, either unfinished, lacquered, or electroplated with nickel, gold, or silver. Unfinished brass types inevitably bleach with time, so the instrument must be cleaned regularly to preserve its appearance.