Tuba and Baritone Pitches

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Listings for Tubas and Baritones should always include the basic pitch of the instrument, i.e. Bflat (abbreviated Bb or BBb), C (or CC), Eb or F, which indicates the range of notes it can produce. Tuba experts will not need any explantion of this, but it is often confusing to new tubists (or their parents). If you are not sure which one you want, read this guide and consult a teacher or band director to clarify your needs.

The most common pitch for tubas in American schools and community bands, and the one most beginning tuba players will want to buy is BBb, meaning that the lowest tone that is normally produced with all valves unpressed is the Bflat on the piano two octaves plus one whole step below middle C. (Lower notes can be obtained by pressing the valves or by using unusual techniques but this does not affect the basic pitch range of the instrument.)

Tubas pitched in C (often termed CC) have their basic tone pitched one whole step higher (two octaves below middle C) and are often used by professional orchestra players in the US. They often have a higher list price than BBb tubas.

Both BBb and CC tubas are sometimes called contrabass tubes because of their low pitch. It is a whim of the manufacturer whether the letters are doubled or whether they are just called Bb or C tubas. Please don't try to read any sense into this, just go with the flow (or blow?).

Eflat (Eb) or F tubas are pitched a musical fourth above Bb or C tubas respectively, and are often called bass tubas because their range is higher than the contrabass instruments. Both Eb and Bb tubas are used in Britsh type brass bands, and F tubas are commonly used in high orchestral tuba parts or solos. Eb or F tubas with four (or more) valves can produce the lowest notes commonly found in band music, but may not have as much *oompah* down low as the contrabass tubas. Some manufacturers designate their larger bore (tube diameter) Eb instruments as EEb tubas, but despite this they have the same pitch and fingering as Eb tubas.

Most band and orchestra music for tubas is written in the bass clef and when played, all tubas will sound the same pitch which a piano would produce playing the same notes. Because Bb, C, Eb and F tubas have different pitch ranges, each one requires pressing different keys to produce the same note, and professionals who play several types of tubas must memorize different fingering patterns for each instrument. Brass band music, however, is transposed into the treble clef and raised in pitch (transposed) by one whole note (for Bb tubas) and a minor third (for Eb tubas), so that their players only have to learn one fingering pattern. The coincidence that you can produce the correct fingering for an Eb tuba if you imagine that the bass clef is a treble clef written in a key with three more sharps and then finger the resulting notes like a trumpet player, makes it easy for ex-cornet players to learn the Eb tuba. Sometimes a school bandmaster will keep one or two Eb tubas around for this purpose.

Baritones or Euphoniums are called Tenor Horns in some  European countries, a name more evocative of their range. Almost all are pitched in  Bb and have a range similar to a tenor trombone (or tenor voice), one octave above a Bb or BBb tuba.  Their music is usually written in the bass clef at the actual pitch it is played, but some baritone music is transposed and written in the treble clef (abbreviated T.C.), which usually means that experienced euphonium players learn two fingering patterns. Eb Alto Horns are used in brass bands and marching bands instead of French horns, and are pitched one octave above an Eb tuba. They usually play transposing music in the treble clef, fingering it like a Bb trumpet player.

The few exceptions to these guidelines (French C tubas. C euphoniums or some Wagner tubas) are of more interest to the experienced collector.

If a tuba listing does not specify the pitch, either pass it by, inquire of the seller, or guesstimate from the pictures provided. Contrabass tubas or sousaphones will often have one more loop of main tubing than bass tubas and the loops of tubing on their valves will be longer. You can compare the size of their second valve loop with pictures of other tubas whose pitch is given. The total length of the tubing from mouthpiece to bell (ignoring the extra loops on the valves) can vary somewhat with the size of the bell, but is generally around 19+ feet for a BBb tuba, 17+ feet for CC, 14+ feet for Eb, and 13 ft for an F tuba. The uncoiled length of Bb baritones and Euphoniums with be about 9+ feet.

The comfortable range of any of these instruments, if they have 3 valves, is from 7 semitones below the basic pitch of the instrument to almost 2 octaves above that basic pitch, and most band music lies within this range.  Instruments with 4 or more valves extend the range downwards a few semitones, and expert players can extend both the lower and upper notes to a total range of three octaves or more. 

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