Classical Music For Dummies, 3rd Edition
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon

If you’re a typical product of American pop culture, you may be surprised to find the tuba listed in a discussion of classical music. You’re likely to associate the tuba with the fat kid in movie versions of high-school marching bands.

But the tuba should get more respect. This massive instrument is capable of producing a wall of sound that can blow you away. Keep reading for more about tubas.

The tuba. [Credit: <i>Source: Creative Commons</i>]
Credit: Source: Creative Commons
The tuba.

A gaggle of tubas

The German composer Richard Wagner first imagined that wall of sound — and he is responsible for today’s bass tuba. (In fact, he invented a whole flock of tubas in different sizes, but hardly anyone ever uses the smaller ones these days.) He wanted to create a sound that was similar to the French horn but with strong low notes. These so-called “bass” notes can support the entire brass section of an orchestra or band.

Actually, the stereotype of the big tuba player has its basis in reality; you would be hard-pressed to find a really diminutive tubist, mainly for the same reason that opera singers are sometimes hefty: Playing a tuba takes an incredible amount of breath support. Just think of the size of the thing. It’s enormous! And you’ve got to fill the thing with air continuously.

As for its operation — well, the tuba works much like a French horn. It has a mouthpiece and rotary valves to aid in the pitch-changing. A virtuoso tubist is surprisingly agile and can play amazingly quickly.

Hearing the tuba

Tuba concertos are as rare as trombone concertos.

But here are some very good ones:

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Tuba Concerto

  • John Williams: Tuba Concerto

And you simply must hear these tuba solos from the orchestral literature:

  • George Gershwin: An American in Paris

  • Stravinsky: Petrushka (the section called Peasant with Bear)

  • Modest Mussorgsky, arranged by Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition (the movement called Bydlo)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

David Pogue is a musician, author, and journalist for both print and television. He's authored or coauthored more than 120 books, including six Dummies books. He has been a conductor on Broadway, worked as a tech columnist at the New York Times, and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Scott Speck has conducted hundreds of ballet performances throughout the United States and Europe. He is music director of the Joffrey Ballet, artistic director of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, and former conductor of the San Francisco Ballet.

This article can be found in the category: