Skip to main content

Glissando

 

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.

Tonguing

00:00-46 – single and double tonguing in different registers
00:47-end – fast-as-possible (double) tonguing

Tonguing is the articulation and/or rearticulation of phonation by means of an enunciated ta or tu, or for softer articulation, da or du. There are three main varieties—single, double, and triple—the latter two generally faster than the former, though this may not hold true for all players. Double and triple tonguing involve the alternation between ta/da (or tu/du) and ka (or ku). For example, double tonguing is performed with repetitions of ta-ka (yielding a duple emphasis), and triple, with ta-ka-ta, ta-ta-ka, or even ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka (yielding a ternary emphasis).

As a general note to composers, it is not necessary to specify tonguing, unless one wants to for compositional purposes. Players study this traditional technique early in their training and are used to figuring it out for themselves as part of learning a piece.

With extensive use of fast tonguing, fatigue is likely to set in and hinder a player’s ability to continue tonguing at maximum capacity. How quickly a player will tire depends on physical ability and practice regimen.

Single tonguing

Pitch range. Same as ordinario.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Approximately 9–10 per second.

Double tonguing

Pitch range. Same as ordinario, though more difficult and sloppier at extremes.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Approximately 12 per second and faster.

Triple tonguing

Pitch range. All registers, though more difficult and sloppier at extremes.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Approximately 12 per second and faster.

Trills and Tremolos

 

Standard trill

A traditional trill is the rapid alternation between two tones no more than a whole step apart.

Pitch range. Same as ordinario; whole-step trills become increasingly tricky and precarious in the highest register, where partials are so close together that slight fluctuations in embouchure result in a change or even failure of pitch. It should also be noted that some combinations may be more difficult for trilling based on a player’s manual dexterity.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. As fast as valve can be moved: approximately 12 per second.

Bisbigliando (timbral trill)

 

A bisbigliando is the rapid alternation between two fingerings of the same pitch. These often have slight differences in timbre, resulting in a timbral trill. There is also the inherent rhythmic element of changing air flow with every switch of fingering. On the tuba, this results in valve noise, which can be diminished/augmented with an appropriate direction to the player. There is also a slight variation in pitch between many such alternate fingerings.

Pitch range. Availability depends on tuning and number of valves. Generally speaking, more trills become available in the middle register and upward, as more alternate fingerings naturally occur. Timbral trills in the lower range tend to produce a sloppier result.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario, though at lowest dynamics, valve noise overshadows pitch; timbral trills are generally easier at higher dynamic levels.

Maximum speed. As fast as valve can be moved: approximately 12 per second.

Practice tip(s). Depending on the difference in number of valves for each fingering, there can occur a (significant) change in resistance to the air stream. One should keep in mind the possibility that one may need to increase the air pressure put into the horn (i.e., beyond that required for one fingering, so as to account for the other).

Tremolo

A tremolo is the rapid alternation between two tones more than a whole step apart. One can use this technique on a tuba, though with less agility than on a smaller instrument (e.g., trumpet), as there is so much more sound to “move.”

Pitch range. Same as ordinario, though more difficult (a) as partials get closer together and (b) with larger intervals.

Dynamic range. Same as ordinario.

Maximum speed. Same as trill, though accuracy is less certain.

Practice tip(s). It is important to emphasize the top note of the tremolo (i.e., to make the top note the focal point), as it is much easier to slur down than up, and tremolo necessarily involves both.

Vibrato

 

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.