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Tuba vs. Sousaphone – What’s the Difference?

05/06/2024

While similar in certain respects, the sousaphone and tuba have their differences. One of the most confusing things, however, is that the sousaphone is classed as being part of the tuba family. So how are the two different?

The sousaphone stems from the United States, in which John Philip Sousa wanted an instrument that sounded like a tuba but was able to project over a marching band. It also needed to be easy to play whilst on the go. So, to make the sousaphone portable, its body is designed to wrap around the player.

The tuba, on the other hand, provides a more focused sound that’s ideal for orchestras.

In this article, we discuss tuba vs. sousaphone, looking at their construction, sound, and what they’re used for. We’ll also give you some recommendations for each instrument, in case you’re in the market for one!

Key differences

TubaSousaphone
SizeSmaller bellBigger bell
SoundMellow and soft soundLouder, with a raspy tone and greater projection
Music genres/settingsJazz bands/orchestrasMarching band
Our recommendationStudent Eb Tuba by Gear4musicJupiter JSP1000B Sousaphone, Lacquered

Tuba vs. sousaphone 

Shape and size

Student Eb Tuba by Gear4musicThe sousaphone is circular and designed to wrap around the player, making it ideal for marching bands. Its bell is forward-facing and can reach up to 32 inches, giving it a larger appearance.

In contrast, the tuba is more compact and typically used in orchestras. Its bell points upwards or to the side, providing a different kind of sound projection. Although the tuba is smaller and more versatile for various musical settings, the sousaphone’s design makes it perfect for outdoor and mobile performances. 


Materials

Sousaphones and tubas are traditionally made from brass as this is an incredibly durable material that provides a rich sound.

However, sousaphones can also be constructed from fibreglass for a lighter weight, making them easier to carry during performances. The choice of materials affects their weight, sound quality, and suitability for different performance settings. 


Sound

Marching band

Creative Commons License by Prayitno

Sousaphones and tubas differ in tunings and sound. Tubas are commonly pitched in BB, CC, EE, or F, and feature a smaller bell, providing a focused sound. An extra valve on the tuba extends its lower bass range, enhancing its versatility in orchestras.

Sousaphones, usually pitched in BB, have a larger, forward-facing bell, creating a brighter tone suited for marching bands. 


Where sousaphones and tubas are played

With its forward-facing bell, the sousaphone projects sound effectively over loud crowds, making it ideal for marching bands and parades. Its brighter tone helps it cut through the large sounds of jazz brass bands and marching ensembles.

On the other hand, the tuba has a focused sound and lower bass range, making it a versatile instrument that’s suitable for orchestras, jazz bands, brass ensembles, and concert bands. It can blend seamlessly into pretty much any musical setting and provide a great bass. 

Our tuba recommendations 

Student Eb Tuba by Gear4music

The Student Eb Tuba by Gear4music features a lacquered gold finish and a copper leadpipe, offering durability and a warm tone. Its piston valve keys ensure smooth playability, making it ideal for beginners.

It comes with a hard foam carry case with straps that provides excellent protection and easy transport. This instrument is perfect for brass band playing, offering professional features at an affordable price. 


playLITE Hybrid Tuba by Gear4music

The playLITE Hybrid Tuba by Gear4music features a durable ABS plastic body, making it significantly lighter than traditional brass tubas. Equipped with four aluminium-lined rotary valves, it offers fast action and smooth playability.

Don’t be deterred, however, by its plastic construction, this tuba still produces a clear, resonant sound with great projection – the only difference here is that the instrument is much lighter, making it ideal for younger players or those looking for something more portable and easy to carry. 

The playLITE Hybrid Tuba comes with a plastic mouthpiece and a hard foam case. 


Coppergate Professional F Tuba by Gear4music

The Coppergate Professional F Tuba by Gear4music features a yellow brass bell and a cupronickel leadpipe, ensuring durability and a deep, rich tone. Its six rotary front action valves offer smooth playability and precise control.

The instrument comes with a lacquered finish, a mouthpiece, and a lightweight hard foam case for easy transport and protection.


Coppergate 4 Valve Professional Eb Tuba by Gear4music

The Coppergate 4 Valve Professional Eb Tuba by Gear4music also has a yellow brass bell and cupronickel tuning slides for durability and a warm, mellow sound.

With a four-valve compensating system, the tuba enhances projection and intonation, making it ideal for progressing players. The tuba includes a mouthpiece, marching strap, and a hard foam case with wheels.

Our sousaphone recommendations

Coppergate Fibreglass Bb Sousaphone by Gear4music

The Coppergate Fibreglass Bb Sousaphone by Gear4music is crafted with a lightweight fibreglass bell, meaning it’s easy to play during long performances. Its construction also features three stainless steel valves that offer fast action and durability, and it has an authentic, rich tone that projects extremely well.

This sousaphone comes with a lead pipe, mouthpiece, and a robust ABS case. 


Jupiter JSP1000B Sousaphone

Ideal for professionals, the Jupiter JSP1000B Sousaphone features a lightweight fibreglass body and lacquered brass finish.

Its stainless steel pistons offer smooth, fast action, enhancing playability and response, whilst the accurate tuning across all registers makes it perfect for marching bands. There’s also a removable valve section for easy maintenance and a soft carrying case for protection. 

FAQs

What is the difference between a tuba and a sousaphone?

The difference between a tuba and a sousaphone is that the tuba can be played in a variety of musical settings, whilst the sousaphone is more suited to marching bands. 


Is a tuba louder than a sousaphone?

The sousaphone is louder than a tuba; it’s designed to project sound to a greater level, making it ideal for marching bands. Tubas, however, produce a much more focused sound that suits smaller ensembles and orchestras. 


What is a small version of a tuba called?

A small version of a tuba is known as a baritone or a euphonium. 

Student Eb Tuba

Final thoughts  

 If you’re looking at tuba vs. sousaphone and wondering which one to buy – the first thing to consider is where you’ll be playing it. If you’re part of a marching band or an ensemble in which you need the sound to be projected far and wide, the sousaphone is for you. However, if you’re part of an orchestra or an ensemble in which you need a more direct sound, the tuba will be your best bet. 

We hope our guide has helped you discover a bit more about these brass instruments!

 

Digital Marketing Apprentice

Laura is a Content Writer with 15 years of drumming experience. Laura's musical tastes range from Led Zeppelin to Phoebe Bridgers.

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