If you’re thinking about enrolling in marching band, selecting an instrument is part of that process. And learning a little bit more about the different instruments and how they’re made can help make that decision a little easier. The tuba is the largest and lowest-pitched instrument in the brass family. It first appeared in the mid-19th century, making it one of the newest instruments, too. If you’re an aspiring musician who wants to learn everything they can about the tuba, taking some time to become familiar with its different parts is key. From the mouthpiece to the tuning slide, here’s an introduction to the different parts of the tuba.
In order to make a sound on the tuba, the player must place his or her lips against the mouthpiece and blow. For many players, the mouthpiece is the most important part of the tuba because it’s the first point of contact. Depending on the shape of the rim or the size of the cup, there can be a noticeable difference in the sound created by the mouthpiece. There are three basic parts to the mouthpiece (shank, cup, and rim) and each plays a vital role in producing sound. Due to the sheer variety of mouthpieces (and the variation in the sounds they produce) it’s not uncommon for a tuba player to have a dozen or so in their collection. But, in the beginning, most musicians stick with one or two.
The leadpipe is the area of your tuba where the mouthpiece is inserted. The opening of the leadpipe is often reinforced, since any deviation from its original shape can cause air to leak between the leadpipe and shank of the mouthpiece, which negatively impacts sound production. Similar to the bell, it’s important to keep the leadpipe as clean as possible, as a buildup of saliva and dirt can affect the quality of the sound your tuba produces. Your teacher should be able to walk you through how to clean your tuba, but until they do we’ve put together some helpful tips here.
Although there are various designs of tuba valves, they all generally work the same way: they can be opened or closed to change the length of the vibrating column of air within the instrument which ultimately changes the pitch. Tubas designed for beginners typically have three valves, while those for professionals can have between four and six. Some tubas have rotary valves while others have pistons–the core difference between the two being how they’re used and maintained. Piston valves slide the cylinder vertically into the casing and require regular oiling, and rotary valves rotate. Although rotary valves are more complex in design, they’re actually the more popular choice and require much less maintenance overall.
The bell is the largest part of the largest instrument, so it’s something you should easily be able to identify. The bell resembles a cone, and allows the sound to be dispersed from the instrument. Depending on the type of tuba, the bell may point directly upward or toward the front. Since it’s the area of the instrument where sound comes out, it’s also the area of the tuba where mutes are placed. If you aren’t familiar, mutes are small devices that make the sound of the tuba quieter–you’ll likely need to purchase one at some point, and here’s more information. Over time, you may notice fingerprints, dust, and other debris accumulating on the bell of your tuba. For this reason, it’s important to wipe it down with a lint-free cloth after each use.
Every brass instrument, the tuba included, has a number of slides which are used to small adjustments to the length of the column of air which, in turn, has an affect on sound. Similar to the valves, the tuning slide should be lubricated from time to time with a small amount of slide grease–a professional item that’s sold by Music & Arts in many forms. Some experts recommend greasing the tuba’s slides about once a month, but the recommended schedule may vary depending on how often you play. If the slides aren’t properly greased and get stuck, an expensive repair and an acid bath are generally required to get them moving again. Avoid the headache by properly caring for your instrument–your teacher should be able to walk you through the process.
The Water Key
It may sound gross, but it’s common for small amounts of sit to accumulate in your tuba’s main slide during play. This is where the water key comes into play. The water key is a small lever that’s found on your tuba’s main slide, and it’s used to remove the water (aka spit) from your instrument. Simply press open the lever, blow sharply into your tuba, and wait until the water has been emptied. The water key has a small round disc that seals the hole when the water key is closed, but it’s not uncommon for this disc to need repair or replacement. During routine maintenance and cleaning, make sure to inspect the disc and make sure it provided a good seal. If you think it needs to be replaced, take your tuba in to a qualified repair technician right away.
Music & Arts is Here to Help
For anyone new to the tuba (or any instrument for that matter!), it’s important to start with a basic understanding of the different parts of the instrument before they can truly learn to play. Not only will this understanding come in handy when it comes time to sit down and play, but it’ll be good to have when you experience problems with the instrument, as you’ll already have a good idea of where to look. If you’re in the market for a new tuba, check out our Tuba Buying Guide, and learn more about Choosing a Case for Your Tuba.
And, as always, we’re here to help–visit a Music & Arts store or reach out online and we’ll be more than happy to answer any of your questions.