Do You Need to Upgrade Your Tuba?

As with learning other instruments, learning to play the tuba typically begins with lessons on a basic instrument. Once a student has become comfortable with the tuba and has made some advancements it may be time to move up to a higher quality instrument. This consideration is particularly important if your child shows great interest in continuing with tuba lessons for years to come. Knowing exactly when the right time to upgrade is though, can be tricky. There is so much variety for those looking to upgrade a tuba and there are numerous factors to consider as far as the student’s progress is concerned as well. Here are some points to think about when you’re considering upgrading a tuba.

Consider Size

If your child started out on a smaller sized instrument because that is what was comfortable at the time, but has now grown significantly, an upgrade might be in order. Tubas are larger scale instruments, so younger students often need to start out small and work their way up. The smaller sized beginner instruments allow younger players the opportunity to test out the tuba to see if it’s the instrument for them. That said, once your student has outgrown the smaller tuba, the selection opens up quite a bit. When browsing for a different sized tuba it’s important to note that different brands that are sized the same can vary in actual size. The standard sizes for tubas are ¾, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4. However, a ¾ from one maker might be the same size as a 4/4 in another, so it’s imperative that the student tries out several to find the best fit.

How Many Valves Are Needed?

The number of valves a tuba has makes a big difference to the sound of the instrument. Students who are just starting out often opt for a 3 valve tuba, as it’s less intimidating to learn on. Once a student has a couple of years of tuba playing under his belt though, a 4 valve tuba is usually a better choice. Having the extra valve means that air is pushed through extra tubing within the instrument. This addition helps to fill out the sound of the lower register. Students who advance to a 4 valve tuba will find that the sound they can produce with the 4 valve instrument will be more responsive and of better quality. Those who become very adept at playing the tuba may even move on to a 5 valve instrument at some point.  

Piston vs Rotary

Another aspect to consider when thinking about upgrading a tuba is the type of valves you want in the instrument. Most starter tubas come with piston valves. Piston valves move up and down to push air along numerous tubing channels to produce a range of notes. Rotary valves, on the other hand, move the air through the tubes by rotating around. This type of valve is common on intermediate and professional tubas, though piston is still an option here too.

Some students choose to upgrade to an instrument with rotary pistons as they take less effort to operate and produce smoother transitions. However, some tuba players still prefer piston valves as the the individual notes produced tend to be crisper and more distinct. For students considering upgrading their instrument from one type of valve to the other, trying out the other type is of the utmost importance before making a purchase. The feel of piston vs rotary valves is quite different and you want to make sure your student is comfortable with the new feel before buying an instrument.


Ultimately, the decision to upgrade or not comes down to the comfort level of the student. If the student feels ready to advance to a new tuba and his/her music teacher is in agreement that an instrument upgrade would be beneficial, then the choice is obvious. Just be sure to do your research ahead of time and allow your child to test out a variety of options so that you make the best selection.

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