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00:00-47 – fixed pitch in different registers with one, two, three, four, and five valves halved, respectively
00:48-end – full-register glissando with one, two, three, four, and five valves halved, respectively

In half-valving, one or more valves are depressed halfway while attempting to produce ordinario phonation. As a result, there is a greater reliance on embouchure for determining pitch. Additionally, the timbre is changed, and the range of lip glissing increased significantly.

If the traditional sound of the tuba (ordinario) might be described as a spectrum from bright, focused tones in the highest register to dark, rumbling tones in lowest, this manipulation of hardware exerts a “muffling” filter onto that sonic field, giving it a veiled, hoarse quality. The sound lacks its usual robustness, and perhaps sounds a bit swallowed. It should be noted that while not perceptibly linear, the transition in number of valves halved from one to many is noticeable, especially when comparing the extremes.

Regarding glissando, the greater the number of valves halved, the wider the range. With all valves halved, it is possible to gliss the entire sounding range of the tuba with only one or two perceivable jumps.

Pitch range. Same as ordinario. Intonation is less consistent, because the partials are obscured. A player may become more confident with specific fingerings/embouchures with practice, but it will likely always be a struggle, if not impossible, to keep virtuosic, half-valved figurations from sounding sloppy and inaccurate.

Dynamic range. The lower end is the same as that of ordinario. The upper end depends on the number of valves halved: one valve allows for a maximum of ff, whereas all valves allow only for mf.

Practice tip(s). Try to keep a halved valve as close to halfway depressed as possible—that is, unless it is desirable to explore the spectrum from fully open (complete phonation) to fully closed (complete phonation, different fingering), with maximum obscuration of the partial in between.

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).


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.

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.