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I'd like to buy a single tuba which will last the rest of my life. I'm trying to decide on which key: CC, or F.

I've only played BBb tubas before, and that was 15 years ago. I want to play orchestral and solo stuff at home, which tends to be higher-pitched and so the F tuba makes sense, especially with my out-of-shape chops. But I also want to play casually in concert bands. Concert bands will probably need some of the lower notes (Bb2 down to F1).

How low can good F tubas comfortably go? Can that be improved with a 5th and 6th valve?

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  • I'm seeing Eb ones for general use, C for pro symphony. Oct 26 '20 at 19:53
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This is a famous question for tuba players, but I'm not sure there's a single answer for you; I ultimately think it depends on what you want to privilege. (And before I proceed with my answer, I'll go ahead and say that I'm a tubist who only owns a CC, even though I'd love to own an F! I subbed for some professional orchestras back in the day, but these days my career is spent teaching music theory as opposed to playing.)

But to address your ultimate question, F tubas can go pretty low; with a fifth valve, it can play everything down to that pedal F with relative ease (if with a lot of fingers involved!). The problem is that, even in the hands of a great player, these lower notes tend to sound a little hollow, lacking the timbre that's so characteristic in those notes on a CC (or BB♭) horn.

As an example of this hollowness, check out this recording by Michael Lind of the second movement of the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto. Lind is my all-time favorite tuba sound, but check out those last three notes (starting around 4:15); you hear how wobbly they are, and they just lack the "beef" of a typical tuba sound. And believe it or not, this is only the D–C♯–B below the staff!

It also may be worthwhile to check out Lind's cadenza in the first movement. Watch with the music (it begins with the C below the staff) to see the sound that Lind is able to create on these lower notes to see if that's something you're interested in. Just remember that these are the sounds created by one of the all-time greats!

But ultimately, my recommendation is this: if possible, spend a week or two playing all kinds of repertoire on a CC tuba. Then, spend a week or two playing that same repertoire on an F tuba. (You could even meet in the middle and try it on an E♭ tuba; I know of at least one performer/teacher that spends most of her time on an E♭, and she both solos and plays in an orchestra.) Ultimately this is a personal decision, and so that time spent determining which is the best fit for you will be worth the hassle.

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  • Do people play the Vaughan Williams on a CC?
    – PiedPiper
    Oct 26 '20 at 22:47
  • @PiedPiper Students do, but professionals tend not to. That is, they typically only do it on CC if they don't have an F!
    – Richard
    Oct 26 '20 at 23:04
  • Thanks for the response. I ended up getting an F. I was surprised how easy the pedal F was to hit. I had a hard time hitting the low C with rotary valves, but it was easy with the piston valve tuba (melton 2250) that I ended up getting. Low range really isn't an issue (just lots of fingers) and high range is much easier. Your answer gave me the confidence to take the plunge. I couldn't borrow a tuba for weeks, but about an hour in the store was enough to convince me that I could do everything I want with this tuba. The limits of my playing are my own abilities, not the tuba.
    – Stewart
    Nov 5 '20 at 9:32
  • @Stewart Congrats on the new F, and consider me properly envious!
    – Richard
    Nov 5 '20 at 13:11
  • Short followup after some time with the tuba: The low end sounds great. The pedal notes actually sound better than I could ever make them with my BBb tuba. The limitation I notice in that range is more about the dexterity associated with using 5 valves. I've heard that CC tubas rarely use the 5th valve because playing so low isn't usually required, but it's frequent on F tubas. It'll take some time before I get the muscle memory in so I can do things quickly. I certainly won't be playing trills down there.
    – Stewart
    Dec 14 '20 at 12:56

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