Timeline History of the Tuba

Renaissance to Baroque
The tuba we know today, being made fully of brass has
descended and developed quite extensively over the past
couple of centuries starting out in Europe within the
Renaissance and Baroque periods. In these periods an
instrument constructed of a curved or straight wood body and
a mouthpiece, the Cornett, was the predecessor of the modern
day trumpet. This instrument was the base model for the
construction of the Serpent. The Serpent is the great grand
father of the tuba. The Serpent, not in the same family as the
cornett but related by design, included the addition of a brass
mouthpiece and sometimes a lead pipe. The body of the
instrument was curved wood with some openings and keys
similar to woodwind instruments. The shape of the wooden
body of many Serpents was bent to restrict the overall
length/inconvenience of the instrument thus making the lower
half look like a snake or like the name of the instrument, a
Renaissance to Baroque
Although the Cornetts were designed, updated and used many centuries before
the serpent, the serpent started finding it’s way into ensembles in the 1700’s.
Above: a picture of cornetts.
Right: a picture of a Serpent
Classical to Romantic
The Ophicleide was the predecessor to the
Serpent. Created in 1817, the Ophicleide was
created as an improvement to the serpent.
Where the serpent was designed so that the
player could play it comfortably, the Ophicleide
was designed to fix the intonation problems.
The big difference between the Serpent and
the Ophicleide is that the Serpent’s body is
made of wood that was curved and the
Ophicleide is made out of brass in a “U”
Classical to Romantic
Left: This is a picture of an
Mid-Romantic Period
The Cimbasso is not really a relative
of the tuba, it was developed to
complete the lower timbre of the
Trombone range in an orchestra.
Thus being designed after a
Trombone. Verdi did not like the
sound of the tuba-like instruments of
his time so he decided to have
Milanese instrument maker, Pelitti
design a Contrabass Trombone with
valves. Because of its popularity in
Verdi’s operas, Othello (1887 and
Falstaff (1893), The Cimbasso
became a popular choice to use for
other Italian operas by composers
such as Donizetti and Bellini.
Above: Picture of a Cimbasso
The Mid-Late Romantic to 21st Century Periods
In the late 19th
century into 20th
century the Helicon
tuba was created.
This tuba was
specifically made for
people to march
The Mid-Late Romantic to 21st century Periods
The sousaphone
developed at the end of
the 19th century was
created for John Phillip
Sousa because he did
not like the sound of
the instruments that
were used in his
marching bands.
The Mid-Late Romantic to 21st century Periods
The Tuba that we all know and love today was designed
in the middle of the Romantic period. The big change
that allowed the instrument to be adapted more to
ensembles over the course of time was the invention of
valves. Valves, first created in the early romantic period
were designed to allow instruments to become fully
chromatic. Valved Instruments did not come into wide
popularity until the turn of the 20th century. This allowed
the instruments to be refined in terms of intonation
because one valve slide can tune that specific harmonic
series as opposed to the entire instrument.
The Piston Valve
This is an example
of the piston valve.
It has a very simple
design and allows
the instrument to
change harmonic
Rotary Valve
The rotary valve is
also a popular
option on Tubas
today. It works
similar to the piston
valve by changing
the harmonic series
but it rotates instead
of moving up and
The Modern Tuba
Finally we get to the
tuba we have today.
The Modern Tuba has
been designed in 4
keys BBb, Eb, F and
CC. These Tuba can
come in different sizes,
from 3/4 to 6/4. Thus
unlike most other
modern instruments
that have specific
dimensions the Tuba
has a very broad range
of sizes.
Meinl-Weston 2000 CC Tuba
The Modern Tuba
Left: a Miraphone Firebird F Tuba, Center: a 22J Conn Recording BBb Tuba,
Right: a Besson BE980 Sovereign Eb Tuba
Info page
These are the links to the information that I found to compile this timeline history.
picture on front cover
picture of cornett
picture of serpent
info on serpent
info on cornett
info in ophicleide
picture of cimbasso
info on the cimbasso
picture of rotary valve

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