Tuba Overview and History

Carol Jantsch, Philadelphia Orchestra

The tuba is a brass instrument with valves. It originated in Europe, but the tuba today can be found throughout the world. It is most commonly found in the symphony orchestra, military, marching, concert and brass bands, in brass ensembles, and certain types of jazz ensembles. As the tuba gradually became an accepted member of the symphony orchestra from the middle of the 19th century, composers started to write for it; by the end of that century, it became known as a standard orchestral instrument. Its acceptance into mid-19th century military bands was far swifter. The tuba is an important instrument in the solo and brass ensemble worlds. Most of the performances of this type of music today is concentrated in university music departments and conservatories throughout the world. Professional tuba players are primarily orchestral and military band musicians. 

Where to Purchase

Local dealers are: The Music Academy of ChelmsfordUniversity Music, and Music and Arts.

Tuba Brands and Models for Beginners

In the beginning band program, we recommend playing 3/4 size tubas. The brands that we have to offer our students is: Yamaha YBB-105WC Series 3-Valve 3/4 BBb Tuba

Other beginner 3/4 size tuba that would be good for a beginner: Holton BB450 Collegiate Tuba

Tuba Brands and Models for Intermediate Players

Miraphone 186-4U Series 4-Valve 4/4 BBb Tuba
Yamaha YBB-201WC 3-Valve 4/4 BBb Tuba
Conn Conn 5JW Series 4-Valve 4/4 BBb Tuba


Some instruments are written in concert pitch. This means that when that specific instrument plays a “C”, a “C” comes out. To transpose means that the player is playing an instrument that sounds a different pitch (higher or lower) than the pitch they are presently reading on the staff. Tuba sheet music in our band is written in concert pitch. If you play an open “C” fingering on the instrument, a “B-Flat” will come out. However, you will simply learn the “B-Flat” overtone series fingerings on your instrument, so transposition will not be an issue you will often think about in your playing. The parts that are written for you will be in concert pitch (in bass clef). Your fingerings will mirror the trumpet fingerings up two octaves and a major 2nd.

Instrument Assembly

The tuba is self-explanatory once you open the case. Locate the instrument in the case, remove tuba so that the bell is facing upward, place evenly on your lap. Locate the mouthpiece (usually in a little mouthpiece shank sized hole in your case) and insert the mouthpiece into the lead pipe with a gentle twist.

Hand Position and Posture

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Tuba StandWe recommend that our players purchase a tuba stand to rest your instrument on while you play. For smaller humans, this is very helpful because the tuba is quite heavy. The tuba stand is adjustable for each player and folds up nicely in your instrument bag or backpack.

The right hand should be relaxed; the tips of your fingers will rest on the valves comfortably. Most tubas have a loop for the thumb, but make sure the thumb does not go in the loop past the first knuckle. Use one finger per valve. Make sure your fingers are slightly curved.

The left hand should be placed in a position on the tuba that will allow for a secure and comfortable grip. On most instruments, the tuning slides are positioned so they can be pushed or pulled with the left hand.

Embouchure and Sound Production

Close-up of correct tuba embouchure

The “embouchure” (pronounced ahm-boo-sure) is the way a musician applies their mouth to the mouthpiece of their instrument. All wind musicians must work very hard to build muscle memory in the jaw and mouth so that your sound is consistently of good quality.

The tuba is a BIG instrument that requires a lot of air. It also provides less resistance than any other brass instrument. Because the mouthpiece blows more freely, you may run out of air quicker. Remember to keep your body relaxed.

Step 1: First, say the vowel “oh”. This sound should cause your tongue to lay flat in the bottom of your mouth. You do not want your tongue in the way of your air.

Step 2: Second, say the vowel “oo”. This will help form your embouchure into the correct position for playing the tuba.

Step 3: Pretend to squeeze a small tube in the center of your lips. The lips should become firm toward this central point, and the corners of the mouth should now be firm.

Step 4: Take a deep breath and re-form the embouchure. Use the fastest air possible.

Mouthpiece placement on embouchure: Desired tuba mouthpiece placement should be 2/3 upper lip and 1/3 lower lip. For some students, this might not be physically possible, so place half the mouthpiece on your top and bottom lips.


The articulation that we will use on the tuba is the syllable “Doo”. This is how your tongue will begin each note on the tuba. There are different types of articulations that we will go through in band rehearsals. While at home, always practice beginning each note with the tongue on the roof of your mouth right where the teeth meet the gum.

Valve Combination Pitch Tendencies

The following valve combinations will either be ok with no pitch problems, sharp (the pitch is too high), or flat (the pitch is too low). Use a tuner for a reference. If your pitch is too high or low using these combinations, we will “lip it up” or “lip it down”. This has to do with changing your embouchure and adjusting your muscles.

To correct a flat pitch: Firm corners of your lips, raise the tongue
To correct a sharp pitch: Relax corners of your lips, lower the tongue








Ok pitch

Ok pitch

Ok pitch

Slightly sharp

Slightly flat

Moderately sharp

Very sharp

Tuba Fingering Chart (Bandworld Brass Instrument Fingering Chart)

Click here to download your own fingering chart!

BandWorld Brass Instrument fingering Chart

Care and Maintenance

  1. Every few days, apply valve oil to the valves. For each valve, hold down its lever and remove its slide. Remove the valve about halfway; put a few drops of oil onto the tube of each valve, working the valve to distribute the oil.
  2. Clean your mouthpiece with a mouthpiece brush, Dawn dish soap, and warm water. The dishwasher works well from time to time (top rack!).
  3. Clean your tuba’s finish with a polishing cloth (do not use liquid polish).
  4. Apply slide grease to the slides (pull them out one at a time while pressing the corresponding valve down). Wipe them clean with a soft cloth, rub a small amount of grease on them, and insert back into place.

Giving Your Instrument a “BATH”
YEARLY: We recommend taking your instrument to a technician once per year and getting it chemically flushed and cleaned out. Ultrasonic cleaning is also an option. But, a few times a year, it’s good to give your instrument a bath. Here are the instructions:

Use a medium sized plastic bin. Fill halfway with warm water and Dawn dish detergent.

Step 1: Disassemble your tuba by removing all valve caps, slides, and mouthpiece. You will not be submerging your tuba OR your valves, as there are felts in the valves that cannot get wet.
Step 2: Place all parts in warm water and let them soak for 30-60 minutes. Do NOT use hot water. You may use Dawn dish detergent.
Step 3: Use a long tube brush to gently scrub inside the tubes.
Step 4: Rinse everything, let dry.
Step 6: Reassemble the instrument. Use a good amount of oil and slide grease. Wipe away any extra grease or oil.

Notable Tuba Players

Sam Pilafian

Patrick Sheridan

Carol Jantsch

William Bell

Arnold Jacobs

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ABC Block SOLIDSwhite

A project by Allison Lacasse: 3rd year Practical Application project for completion of a Masters Degree in Music Education at the American Band College of Central Washington University (2018).