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Buzzing and Mouthpiece Sounds

00:00-13 – Buzzing into tuba leadpipe (no mouthpiece)
00:14-26 – Buzzing into back of mouthpiece (no tuba)
00:27-44 – Buzzing into back of mouthpiece (placed against tuba)
00:45-end – Buzzing into back of mouthpiece (into mute)

Buzzing, the primary technique by which brass players produce sound on their instruments, can be performed with the mouthpiece removed from the instrument, directly into the instrument’s leadpipe, or separate from the instrument or mouthpiece entirely. Buzzing on its own or into the mouthpiece alone typically assumes a precariousness of intonation, due to the lack of the instrument’s resonant tendencies. Buzzing into the instrument also assumes precariousness, but here it is because the embouchure required by the aperture of the leadpipe is small enough to excite extremely high partials that in turn suggest indeterminate pitch.

Whether buzzing into the tuba without the mouthpiece, or into the mouthpiece without the tuba, this soundworld is primarily a function of embouchure and air speed (lungs). Graphic notation is encouraged, particularly for the latter, given the inherent instability. Opportunities for amplification through hardware include: 1) placing the mouthpiece against (and thus exciting) the tuba, and 2) directing the sound into a (metallic) straight mute. The former gives considerably more body, the latter the impression of distance/reverb.

Gliss Cusps and Split Tones

Gliss cusps

Especially when the distance between adjacent partials is large, there is a gap in which the tuba refuses to sound. As the player approaches the cusp slowly from either side via lip glissing, the instrument struggles to phonate, eventually leaping up or down to the next partial. The sound of the struggle followed by the jump is similar to that of a vehicle stalling out, especially if the tubist cuts off before the next partial locks in. It should be noted that the latter, in particular, is difficult to do, owing to the precariousness at the cusp (i.e., the likelihood of suddenly and unpredictably locking into the next partial).

Split Tones


Split tones are produced by forcing the tuba to phonate between partials, resulting in the illusion of a diad multiphonic. The technique is inherently unstable and will likely require considerable practice to control. Timbres vary greatly depending on register: between lower partials, the sound is highly unstable with a rumbling, intensely rhythmic quality; between higher partials, the sound is much more focused and of clearer pitch content.

It is possible to approach the split tone like a gliss cusp (i.e., via embouchure), only in this case, one attempts to hold the phonation between the two partials. It is also possible to enter directly into a split tone. However, in either case there is a degree of insecurity. While it is possible to lock into the diad, there is always the risk of jumping suddenly to one of the two partials. This may be reduced through practice.

Pitch range. Same as ordinario. It should be noted that there is a modest degree of inward microtonal convergence in the partials, as neither is allowed to fully settle in to its proper resonance.

Dynamic range. Register-dependent. For lower split tones, the instrument peaks around mf; for higher ones, at f or even ff. It is generally possible to play split tones at a variety of dynamics and also to swell and/or decay while sustaining them.

Practice tip(s). We have found that the best means of playing split tones is to decouple fingering and embouchure, such that one fingers the appropriate valve configuration for the desired partials and aims half-way between the two with embouchure (e.g., if sustaining a split tone between C2 and G2, an E-quarterflat2 embouchure is recommended). A comprehensive chart of fingering and embouchure combinations and their corresponding split tones will be included as an appendix to a later draft of this catalog.



There are two main techniques of producing a glissando (a directional slide of pitch) on the tuba—changing lip embouchure and shifting slides—of which the former is far more traditional than the latter. It is also possible to traverse the overtone series through a fast slurring of partials in what is called a harmonic glissando.

Lip glissando

Range. As a rule of thumb, approximately one semitone, though this decreases as partials get closer together. Once partials are less than a semitone apart, the instrument will jump to the next partial before the full semitone of gliss is achieved. Conversely, in lower registers, it can become possible to gliss downward beyond a semitone (in extreme cases, as much as a minor third). In general, downward glissing is easier than upward. It should be noted that glissing to, or even near, the limits of range in a given register risks a sudden, unpredictable jump to the next partial or a split tone.

Slide glissando

Range. Approximately one semitone. This option does not carry the risk of partial jumping and does offer a certain precision through visual reference, but it also requires the time and capacity for a physical shift of hardware. Depending on the horn, it is often the case that from its “tuned” position a slide will only produce a pronounced gliss when pulled out, that is for a downward gliss. Pushing the slide in may only create a very slight variation in pitch. Once lowered, the tone can of course return up to the default pitch, but the slide will not allow for moving beyond it.

Harmonic glissando


A harmonic glissando is performed by changing embouchure and degree of overblowing while maintaining a single fingering in order to cycle quickly through the partials of a harmonic series. Cascades from high to low are generally easier to perform and potentially more dramatic in quality than ascensions from low to high, though both can be effective. A few particulars: It is possible to begin and/or end a harmonic glissando on precise pitches. It is also possible to change direction (pivot) mid-glissando. This can be done to a relatively virtuosic degree of speed/density. Further, it is possible to change the fingered series mid-glissando without being noticed. And finally, because partials are closer together in the higher register, cycling through them will produce a clearer sense of glissando than their lower counterparts.

Pitch range. Same as ordinario.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Up to the where individual partials blur together; 12 per second and faster.


As with the glissando, the two main techniques for producing microtonal intonation, apart from the natural tunings of partials, are embouchure and slide adjustment (hardware).


Sounding partials of various harmonic series, the tuba—like brass instruments in general—has a natural capacity for certain microtonal intonations. Natural intervals should be easily accessible for most players, provided they can counteract the years of training spent adjusting the instrument to equal temperament.

As explained in the section on Glissando, embouchure can in most cases be used to alter the base pitch by up to a semitone in either direction. However, range decreases as higher partials become closer together.

Cultivating the muscle memory to immediately find specific microtonal tunings via embouchure takes a great deal of practice. Most often, there will be a “best guess” approximation, followed by a quick adjustment. Again, capacities for speed and accuracy of microtonal intonation will vary from performer to performer. However, the composer should avoid writing virtuosic microtonality to be produced with this technique, unless willing to accept a great deal of inaccuracy.


The adjustment of a slide allows for an across-the-board shift in tuning for all fingerings that connect to the slide in question. Thus, the tubist could play a fast series of quartertones by fingering traditional well-tempered partials, which are detuned by the slide shift.

Playing and Vocalizing


It is possible to sing, growl, and engage in other vocalizing while simultaneously playing the tuba in a traditional capacity. The general effect on the vocalized component is one of muffling timbre and obscuring articulation. In some cases, this allows for a more natural blend of vocal and tuba phonation in the resulting multiphonic.

Pitch range. Vocal range depends on the performer in question (gender and fach). Tuba range is as normal.

It should be noted that many of the same muscles used to change embouchure are used in the production of vocal phonation. Changing the pitch of one may result in an undesired, but physically unavoidable, shift in the other. It is especially difficult to sing below the phonated pitch. Simply put, register and context are everything. It is highly recommended, therefore, that all examples be checked with the performer in question beforehand. In some cases, a given simultaneity or phrase might become possible with practice; in others, not.

Dynamic range. ppff.



Vibrato is a traditional technique on the tuba produced one of two ways—moving the jaw up and down (embouchure) or a controlled flexing of the diaphragm (lungs)—resulting in a pulsation of the sounding dynamic. With the tuba, unlike other instruments such as strings or the human voice, vibrato is primarily a function of volume, so wideness of pitch oscillation is not a controllable parameter. NB: In contemporary music, players will usually assume non vibrato unless otherwise directed.

Maximum speed. Approximately six to seven pulses per second.