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Breath Sounds

00:00-12 – breath sounds with dynamic variation
00:13-18 – exhale vs. inhale
00:19-end – whispering and mumbling

00:00-09 – (mostly) plosive consonants
00:10-16 – fricative consonants
00:17-end – plosives, gradually pulling away from mouthpiece

Breathing through the instrument without lip buzzing results in a resonance of breath within the body of the instrument. The degree to which the sound is muffled and its articulation obscured (e.g., for speaking/whispering) depends on how far the mouth is placed into the mouthpiece. It is also possible to accentuate and make perceptible the difference in sound between inhalation and exhalation. NB: At higher volumes, absent the resistance of lip buzzing, a performer will run out of air far more quickly.

Dynamic range. Niente to f.

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.

Valve Taps

00:00-23 – valve taps
00:24-end – valve taps activated through breath

Standard valve taps

Valve taps are a direct corollary to key clicks on a woodwind instrument. One depresses (and releases) a valve, and a percussive clunk sound is produced. There is no great, observable difference in the sound of different valves, unless one is in a close-miked situation. Even then, differences are extremely subtle.

Dynamic range. Niente to mf.

Valve oil. Valve oil is used to prevent friction. While it reduces various noise artifacts (e.g., squeaks) produced along the sides of the valve hardware, it actually allows for greater volume of the valve tap itself. The use or nonuse of valve oil can be specified according to the composer’s wishes, though it should be noted that, with or without, the sounds are fairly understated.

Aspirated valve taps

Breathing through the instrument as with Breath Sounds, but with fingering of valves, creates percussive articulation of the breath with every valve tap, producing a flapping sound similar to a flag in the wind.

Rhythmic control and articulation (through breath) are easily achieved with this technique. As with ordinary valve taps, there is little perceptible difference in the sound of different valves. And as with other, non-buzzed breath sounds, the lungs empty quickly at higher volumes.

Dynamic range. Niente to mf; flapping sound is drowned out by breath at higher volumes.



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.

Water Bath and Saliva

00:00-33 – buzz activation
00:33-end – breath activation

The traditional purpose of a water bath is to clean out the inner tubing of the instrument. However, if left inside the tuba during performance, it can alter various parameters significantly, depending on the amount of water. Timbre and articulation, for example, incorporate a high degree of indeterminacy. Sounding dexterity is (severely) limited. However, with the tuba’s massive resonance, the sound of water sloshing around can be marvelous, and unlike anything the tuba could otherwise produce.

In playing the tuba, there is a natural buildup of saliva in the instrument. As the amount increases, so do the frequency and perceptibility of the sounds it makes, which are often of a percussive nature, linked to sudden excitations of the instrumental body. This can provide similar opportunities for experimentation as the water bath, or just signal that the player should empty the spit valve!