Tuba vs. Sousaphone (What’s The Difference?)

Tuba and Sousaphone are two of the largest members of the brass family. Like all other brass instruments, the sound is produced by buzzing the lips into a mouthpiece.

Tuba consists of three to six valves and a wide bell that faces upwards. The Sousaphone is another version of the tuba.

Sousaphones are often named as the marching tuba, most with three valves.

The difference between these two brass instruments is minor.

Other than the obvious shape difference, tubas and sousaphones can be differentiated by their large, flared bell that encircles the player.

The bell in the tuba is smaller than that in Sousaphone and faces upwards. In contrast, the broader bell of the Sousaphone faces above the player’s head and bends forward.

Differences between A Tuba and Sousaphones

Despite being part of the same musical family, tuba and sousaphones are different from each other.

It’s just that you need to have a keen eye for musical instruments and should have a love for music to spot the differences between them.

Let’s look into some of the prominent differences between these two instruments.

Shape

The major difference that distinguishes the Tuba and Sousaphone is the bell shape. The Sousaphone’s bell is designed to fit around the body of the player and is pointed forward.

Thus the sound is directed forward. Whereas the bell in a tuba is pointed upwards and doesn’t encircle the player’s body.

Additionally, the tuba can be played while sitting, whereas the Sousaphone is played while marching and walking.

The bell shape in the tuba doesn’t reach the musician’s head, whereas the bell shape in the Sousaphone is above the musician’s head and is supported by the right shoulder of the musician.

Importantly the bell in a sousaphone is removable while traveling somewhere or when this instrument is put into storage.

Pitch

The tubas come in different pitches; BBb, CC, EEb, and F keys. The lowest-pitched tubas (contrabass tubas) come in BBb or CC. The fundamental pitch of CC tubes is 32 Hz, while the BBb tubas have a fundamental pitch of 29 Hz.

Bass tubas are pitched in Eb or F, while the tenor tubas have a pitch in Bb. These tubas are pitch higher by an octave than the Bb contrabass tubas.

Euphonium is also a pitch higher by an octave than the BBb contrabass. The rarest forms, subcontrabass tubas, are also included.

On the other hand, sousaphones mostly come in one pitch; BBb (Low B Flat) key. Sousaphones comparatively have a limited range and have only three valves.

Size

The sousaphones have a larger bore of around 0.75 inches. It features a wide bell, and the bell diameter is as larger as 32 inches.

Comparatively, the tubas have a conical bore that increases in diameter along with the tubing’s length. The main tube of the tubas can come in different length variations. It can be between 18 feet, 16 feet, 13 feet, and 12 feet.

The Tuba weighs around 20 to 35 pounds.

The Sousaphone wright around 30 to 45 pounds.

Usage

Sousaphones were initially created for Sousa’s peerless concert band and were used in military bands and troupes. Soon they were used in jazz music and street bands in Asia and Europe.

On the other hand, tubas can be utilized during different performances, such as in orchestras, concert bands, pop bands, jazz bands, and brass ensembles.

More than one tuba can be used in a performance. For example, in the case of military bands, they use either two or more than two tubas.

Valves

Tubas and sousaphones vary in the number of valves integrated to make them. Tuba has three to six valves whereas, Sousaphone has mostly three valves and rarely has four-valves. 

Price

Another difference between these two instruments is the price. We have written about these in two different articles.

Price of the Tuba

Price of the Sousaphone

What Do These Brass Instruments Have In Common?

Though they both belong to the tuba family, these two instruments have other similarities. Before sousaphones came into existence, it wasn’t easy for marching bands to march with tubas.

Therefore, they wrapped the tuba around the player’s body. This tuba was more famously known as the helicon. Tubas and helicons have the same length as the main tubing as that of the sousaphones.

Another similarity between tuba and sousaphones is their tonal ranges. Tubas come with a tonal range that is quite low and include primary pitches such as Bb, C, Eb, and F. Tubas are classified according to the pitch they produce.

These classifications can be: 

  • 18 feet for Bb
  • 16 feet for C
  • 13 feet for Eb
  • 12 feet for F tuba.

Sousaphones also have these pitches but may have varied structures, depending on the pitch it will produce.

Since sousaphones are an innovation over tubas, they are approximately the same size as that of the tuba. They also have the same sound production, i.e., both the instruments produce the same sound.

For example, the tuba produces sound when the air stream from the lips and causes it to vibrate or buzz into the large cupped mouthpiece. It is the same with the sousaphones.

These instruments are commonly composed of sheet brass and are available in multiple finishes. At times, sousaphones are made from fiberglass.

Sousaphones and tubas have the same musical range. The parts played by these musical instruments are typically inscribed in concert pitch. Moreover, sousaphones are capable of playing all the parts written for the tuba.

Which Is Easier To Play?

The tuba is a much older instrument than the Sousaphone. Tubas are regarded as one of the hardest instruments to play. It is mainly due to its long tubing, of almost 16 feet, which is a lot to worry about if you have just begun playing an instrument.

On the other hand, the sousaphones are almost the same size as the tuba, but its special design is the one that differentiates it from the tuba and makes it a lot easier to play.

The sousaphones are designed in a manner that can easily fit around the body of the player. Therefore, it makes it convenient for the marching bands to carry sousaphones.

The bell shape of the Sousaphone is a feature that wins the battle against the tuba. The wide, flaring bell of a sousaphone is designed and positioned over the head of the player.

The Sousaphone’s bell is naturally supported by the right shoulder of the player and is pointed forward. Thus, the distinctive and pleasant sound of the Sousaphone is projected forward.

To sum these features, sousaphones are comparatively easier to play because they are lighter and are not awkward to carry while on the marching field. This is why sousaphones are preferably used in both marching bands and concerts.

However, these two brass instruments are almost the same. Thus, if you know how to play the tuba, you are likely to know how to play the Sousaphone.

So, plan to master playing any of these instruments. It won’t be difficult for you to learn the rudiments of playing the other.

Which Is Easier To Begin Learning?

Primarily, learning how to play an instrument isn’t just enough. Before you learn how to play an instrument, it is important that you should know how to read a music theory.

Among various other factors, the important ones are which instrument you pick to learn to play, how easily you can learn, and if you can read the theory.

Several people who aren’t familiar with tuba and Sousaphone often make the mistake of considering them as completely different instruments while, in fact, they are the same, just designed differently.

Someone who knows and is used to playing the tuba or any other brass instrument might encounter little difficulties while getting used to the Sousaphone.

But it doesn’t mean that you cannot learn how to play Sousaphone at all. Sousaphones aren’t created as an overly difficult instrument for people to learn to play, even if they are new to playing brass wind instruments.

Therefore, many beginners are recommended to start with a sousaphone and then gradually make their way towards learning a tuba.

You just need to learn to control your breathing and the pitch through your lips for playing sousaphones.

Integrating the Sousaphone is quite easy. The music played by a sousaphone is very much similar to that of the tuba.

The convenience, special design, and ease of playing sousaphones turn out to be the main reason why many people will opt for sousaphones over tubas.

The Origins of the Tuba

The valve apparatus design opened ways that lead to the creation of big musical instruments. Valves were incorporated in many of the brass instruments.

An ancestor to the modern tuba, the bass tuba was patented by the bandmaster Wilhelm Wieprecht and German instrument inventor Johann Gottfried Moritz on September 12, 1835.

The original Wieprecht-Moritz instrument was an F instrument, similar to its Bombardon (helicon) analog.

The word tuba was derived from a Medieval Latin word, trumpet. A person playing the tuba is often known as a tubist, tubaist, a tuba player, or a bass player.

Tubas are available with a different number of keys, including BB flat, CC, E flat, F, and GG. These instruments are non-transposing as the music is read and played in concert pitch. There are several model arrangements for the tuba.

Tubas are created with a compensating valve design and are held in the transverse position. They have four rotary keys, the bell can face upwards or bent forward, can have up to six valves, the bell diameter varies from 37-74cm.

They can be made out of brass that is often encrusted with copper, nickel, or silver, or have bells made of plastic or fiberglass, the bell tubing can be wide or relatively small, and opens up like a funnel.

Additionally, tubas have a wide conical bore with a deep cup mouthpiece.

J.W. Pepper and the Birth of Sousaphones

The invention of sousaphones is no less than a mystery!

Sousaphones were created by redesigning the tubas in a larger size. Back in 1890, John Philip Sousa, an American conductor, and composer, came up with the idea of sousaphones.

As the name suggests, sousaphones were named after John Philip Sousa, but the identity of who is the original sousaphone manufacturer is still a debate between J.W. Pepper and C.G. Conn.

The large bell of Sousaphone is one of the notable features. The bell encircles a player’s body and is supported by the right shoulder.

The bell typically points forward that enables the instrument to project its sound towards the front.

Often marching bands and other troupes use this large, round bell as a symbolic attribute during their lineup and formations.

With passing time, sousaphones were invented by many others, including J.W. Pepper and C.G. Conn.

Despite all other inventions, it was Conn’s Sousaphone that was commercially available in the market, and even Sousa preferred the design.

Primarily, sousaphones were used by marching bands. Later, they were a popular instrument in jazz music in the 1920s.

Conclusion

While comparing these two brass wind instruments (as we have done above in detail), one should remember that tubas and sousaphones are almost the same and belong to the common tuba family of instruments.

People can often confuse the two instruments, the tuba and the Sousaphone, with each other. While sousaphones were recreated from a tuba, these two instruments differ in their shape and appearance. But the sound produced from these two instruments is almost the same.

Therefore, due to their similarities, the tubas and the sousaphones have been popular instruments in orchestras, marching bands, concert bands, jazz bands, and brass ensemble.

Even today, these two brass instruments are the important instruments in a performance or in a band.

Tuba and Sousaphone both secure the harmony for the whole band with its deep rich sound.

All you need to do is blow the air; buzz your lips into the mouthpiece and use your fingers to press down the valves to change the sound.

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