What do the bass trombone and tuba have in common? Well, people would see both at the same time and still call them a trumpet!
It may sound funny, but it happens, and there might have been a point in saying that because guess what? The word tuba, in itself, means “trumpet” or “horn” in Latin!
In all seriousness, these two are staple members of the brass section, no matter if it is in orchestras, marching bands, jazz bands, and any other concert band.
In this article, we’ll show you.
- What makes the trombone and tuba unique from each other
- Which instruments are meant for different purposes
- How professionals feel about each instrument
What Are Bass Trombone and Tuba?
Physically, one can immediately tell the bass trombone apart from the tuba. However, they are more similar than you think.
To begin with, they belong to the same class of instruments, which is called the brass family. Brass instruments are any instruments that make sound through the vibration of a musician’s lips against a mouthpiece that looks like a cup or a funnel.
Second, the two are just a variation of their sub-category of instruments. The trombone has at least four main types, two of which are discussed in this article, while the tuba has twelve types under its sub-category.
The fact that these instruments have plenty of variations prompted Patrick Star, best friend of Spongebob Squarepants, to confirm whether Mayonnaise is an instrument or not.
Kidding aside, each instrument is highly regarded and is even well known for its traits. The trombone, for its peculiar telescopic sliding mechanism and the tuba, for its usual role in the trivia “What instrument plays the lowest note in the brass section?”
Bass Trombone vs. Tuba
Now that we know a few things about our guest instruments, let us go to this article’s primary substance. In this section, we will compare and contrast the bass trombone and the tuba from each other.
T to T
Before we delve into the specific differences in dimensions and mechanics of the two instruments, we’ll first discuss the things that the bass trombone and tuba have in common and a general overview of where they differ.
As members of the “Low Brass,” they are expected to hit the low notes and give depth to the ensemble.
And speaking of the ensemble, you might not want to miss Don Berner Big Band as they make love to their instrument, won’t you?
Want to see Edmonton’s most athletic #trombone section? Join @reminoelmusic, Norm DePoe,& Hannah Gray we open our concert season with the music of the #CountBasie band Oct.16! Tix on sale now through @tixonthesquare !#jazz #yegjazz #yegconcerts #yegarts #yegevents #yegmusic pic.twitter.com/QDtRgtL812
— @DonBernerBigBand (@DonBernerBigBa1) September 13, 2021
The trombone and tuba are classic examples of the two significant designs that all brass instruments follow: the cylindrical and conical bore. The bass trombone follows a cylindrical bore design while the tuba follows a conical bore.
When you closely observe a trombone, you will see that the bore diameter is uniform throughout the entire length of the tubing and only changes when it reaches the bell section, where it gradually flairs out and expand into the bell.
On the other hand, if you inspect a tuba that follows a conical bore design, you will notice an elongated cone with many bends and curves. The tubing’s diameter gradually tapers down from the large open bell until it finally reaches the mouthpiece.
This difference in design holds most of the difference that separates one from the other, which we will discuss later in the article.
Length of Tubing
The two instruments begin to show more of their substance. The first time you see both instruments, you would certainly assume that the trombone is longer than the tuba.
However, this happens to be the first wrong thing you’ll get bad about them.
When the instruments are unraveled out of their shape and straightened from beginning to end, you will discover that the standard tuba holds a massive advantage over a classic trombone.
When outstretched, the length of the tuba is almost double the size of the trombone: 16 feet long compared to 9 feet long.
What created the tuba’s deceptively short stature is its ingenious and intricate bends and loops of tubing. Technically, tubas come in varying lengths that range from 9 feet to 18 feet, each extra size making the instrument sound lower.
In contrast, the trombone’s design is straightforward, and not much length is spared when designing them. Otherwise, the bass trombone would be nearly unplayable if it reaches that length as human arms can only go so far.
And even then, trombone players might still learn to adapt to play the instrument they so love:
A clip from one of my favorite Russian bass arias. Arioso of King Rene from “Iolanta” by Tchaikovsky. Full video ⛓in the bio ⬆️.
🎥 @jrstudios008 pic.twitter.com/n4qnrZ8NDF
— Martin McCain (@mccaintrombone) September 16, 2021
When it comes to talking about bore sizes, it is way easier to talk about this topic within the context of the trombone in contrast to the tuba.
The bore refers to the interior chamber of each instrument that defines the air’s path, which affects the vibration and thus the sound.
When talking about the trombone, the variation of bore sizes is virtually uniform. But for this article only, most bass trombones have a bore of 0.562 for that optimum deep, bellowing sound.
Unlike the Trombone, defining a tuba’s bore is more complicated. This complexity is because manufacturers each have their way of measurement, and thus the variation is more pronounced.
Another factor affecting this is that tubas either have top action valves or rotary valves which change the measuring bore sizes. If you want to know more, we highly recommend reading this article to understand better how it works.
The exact measurements vary depending on the manufacturer, but you will commonly hear the terms large-bore and small-bore when discussing the size.
Large-bore trombones produce a darker, more orchestral sound, and small-bore trombones have a brighter sound more suitable for jazz and pop playing.
Bells are present in all brass instruments for a reason. In addition to preserving sound intensity, they also help project the sound in the air.
While the exact science of the bell’s function can be a little too hard to explain, the general rule holds that a smaller bell diameter will make for a quicker response but less radiation of sound. In contrast, a larger bell flare takes longer to respond but can project the sound much better.
Bell sizes in tubas can vary anywhere from 12.5 inches to 20 inches. On the other hand, a bass trombone’s bell can be anywhere from 9.5 to 11 inches only.
Valves and Triggers
Here is where the two instruments are at their widest separation in terms of differences. To create music, an instrument must string together a multitude of notes that are arranged following the rules of music theory.
Brass instruments do this by altering the length of tubing through which the air from the musician’s mouth passes.
Tubas have three to six valves that can either be opened or closed. This will change the air’s path and force it to travel farther or nearer, changing the pitch.
Just take a look at this intricate labyrinth of tubes needed to make magnificent music, will you?
— Andrew Hitz (@AndrewHitz) October 23, 2018
Meanwhile, a trombone does the same exact thing by sliding the tubes either inward or outward. But the bass trombones come with triggers so they can play more notes than usual.
Pitch and Range
Usually, both instruments are pitched in the key of B♭ . Still, they can be changed by using attachments or other unique mechanisms, such as trombones, or just plain tuning as for the possibility of tubas.
But as we have said earlier, the bass trombone can be modified to make it play extra notes. Ordinarily, the bass trombone has a range between B♭1 and B♭4.
The first is a single trigger F attachment. When this trigger is engaged, it can play 5 semitones lower than B♭. The other is a double trigger, which extends the overall length of the tubing and thereby making it sound lower.
By combining two triggers with the slide, the bass trombone can even reach the low B natural. You can read this article for more information regarding the trombone’s trigger and its uses.
However, none of this is needed for the tuba. Without any attachments necessary, the tuba can be tuned in the keys of C, F, or E♭ and has a range between D1-F4.
What the Pros Say
Here’s what experienced musicians say about the playing characteristics and sound quality of each instrument. Further, we will also cover which instrument should be played in a given situation.
The best trombones can sound quite weighty, dark, and dense when playing in the low register. On the other hand, the tuba will sound soft and time while being on the same register.
Meanwhile, the trombone’s tone will get a little darker and enriched in the middle register, while the tuba sounds fuller and more intense than the trombone.
When playing the high notes, the bass tuba will get too tricky to play and will sound “edgier” or thinner, whereas the tuba will sound very loud and robust in comparison.
Solo vs Ensemble
Historically, the trombone was never intended to be a solo instrument. Sure, there were limited instances where the trombone had its moments, but its sole purpose was to augment the group’s sound.
But that changed when modern music like jazz and reggae gave the instrument some solo parts. On the other hand, the tuba is considered a solo instrument, and plenty of music has been written that showcases this instrument.
In an ensemble, especially the western orchestra, both instruments are given significant roles and are actually made to complement each other.
- Trombone versus euphonium and tuba: the most basic differences in approach →
- Brass: trombone and tuba →
- Ranges of orchestral instruments →
- What is the difference between a tuba and euphonium? →
The bass trombone and the tuba have been a fixture in almost any brass section worldwide for a very long time already, and they are here to say. That’s why we hope that you were finally enlightened as to how the bass trombone vs. tuba goes by reading this article.
So, there you have it! Do you know other information about the bass trombone or tuba that you’d use to learn? Go ahead and share it with us through the comment action below.