7. Pitch

Besides the variations in construction type, size, material and valve type, there is one further difference: the pitch.

The tuba is a transpositional instrument, i.e. notation is as middle C with the fingering varying depending on the pitch. There are fingering charts corresponding to every basic pitch.

The most common pitches for tubas are, in rising order, B, C, E flat and F. Theoretically, they all have the same range, the difference being the basic pitch. Which pitch is the right one for you depends on your personal taste and the context in which the instrument is to be played.

The classification found in classical literature can be taken as a rough guide.

  1. pitched to B, C = contrabass tuba
  2. pitched to E flat, F = bass tuba

In notation, these instruments are often transposed by an octave. This means: the contrabass tuba plays the deeper part, the bass tuba the higher part.

In German-style brass bands and orchestras, the B tuba is often the foundation of the sound and are complemented by the E flat or F tubas. This arrangement is also often found in American-style brass bands.

Thanks to its higher pitch, the F tuba is an ideal instrument for soloists, and it is often the instrument of choice in conservatories and symphony orchestras. C tubas are frequently used in the USA and are becoming more popular in Germany now, too.

Every pitch has its own special character, its idiosyncrasies and its attractions. When buying an instrument, the context in which it is to be played is of prime importance:

  • Which part is the instrument to play in the orchestra or band: contrabass tuba or bass tuba?
  • Which instruments with which pitch are already present in the orchestra

The B tuba is surely the most common tuba. The E flat tuba is attractive in particular for musicians with experience in other brass wind instruments notated in treble clef, as the fingering combinations are identical. The F tuba has a beautiful sound thanks to its higher pitch, but the same pitch makes it a bit less straightforward to play - it often features up to six valves! The C tuba is pretty much guaranteed success in future in Germany, too, since its pitch affords it great sound versatility and easy fingering in combination with sharp notes.

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