I know. That’s quite the silly question to most of us, but how many euphonium players out there have been at a party and tried to explain the difference only to have this question asked?
Are tuba and euphonium the same?
No. Many people do refer to euphonium as being a part of the “tuba family.” The tubing of a tuba is twice the length of a euphonium, and so it sounds exactly one octave lower than a euphonium.
The mouthpiece of a tuba is bigger, but the fingerings of notes are the same (as long as its a B-flat tuba).
We’ll go through a bunch of differences between other tuba family instruments, but I won’t get into some of the finer details. I’ll leave those for a longer article on what to look at when considering buying an instrument.
Are euphonium and baritone the same?
This question is much harder. My guess is that very few people can tell you the difference—this includes people who have been in a concert band for years.
We’ll need to start with some geometry. Recall the difference between a cone and a cylinder:
A cylinder is a tube that stays the same thickness, and a cone is a tube that starts small on one end and gradually gets wider. If you think of every brass instrument, the mouthpiece end starts small and the bell end is wide.
But actually some instruments get wider gradually the whole time and some instruments stay roughly a cylinder until the very end.
Brass instruments whose tubing is a cone are called conical, and brass instruments whose tubing is a cylinder are called cylindrical.
Instruments like the flugelhorn and cornet are conical while the trumpet is cylindrical. The basic physics of acoustics tells us that these two will have different sounds even if the key and fingerings are exactly the same.
Think about trumpets and trombones to remember the characteristic sound of cylindrical instruments. They typically have a brighter, more directed sound that can easily project over a whole band.
If you’ve heard a flugelhorn, you can remember that conical instruments have a mellower, warmer sound. It’s often hard to project soloistically with these instruments.
This brings us to the difference between a euphonium and a baritone.
A baritone is a cylindrical instrument, and a euphonium is a conical instrument. I can attest that the change in sound is drastic. I have no problem soloing on euphonium in a 100 person community band, but I sometimes can’t even make my part heard on baritone in a 30 person brass band.
Other than the type of bore, there’s a ton of variation that can happen on either.
Some people think a baritone’s bell faces forward while a euphonium’s faces upward. Others think a baritone has three valves while a euphonium has four. Even some manufacturers think a baritone is small bore and a euphonium is wide bore (referring to the leadpipe where you put your mouthpiece).
Trust me. I play in bands with four valve baritones and euphoniums with bells forward and small bore euphoniums. There are even double belled instruments of both types. These are not differences that change which type of instrument it is.
Are Tuba and Sousaphone the Same?
This one is a bit more complicated to answer. The sousaphone was invented back in 1893 at the request of John Philip Sousa to be a tuba that would be easier to use in standing and marching bands.
So they are actually pretty much the same instrument with a different shape. There are minor differences like the bore size, but bore differences vary across brands of instrument as it is.
Many people think sousaphones are made of a different material, because the one they played in high school was white and made of fiberglass (basically cheaper and lighter for carrying). This isn’t a requirement of the instrument and the original ones were made of the same materials as tubas.
So, sousaphones are the marching version of a tuba?
This isn’t quite right, either. First off, many non-marching bands intentionally use sousaphones for one reason or another. Sousa’s own band often didn’t march but still used the instrument.
The other thing to remember is that most people into serious marching band activities like Drum & Bugle Corps will think of a contrabass bugle (usually called a “contra”) as “the” marching version of a tuba.
Unlike a sousaphone that wraps around the upper body, a contra rests on the shoulder in a freestanding way.
Is There a Cylindrical Tuba?
This should be the burning question in your mind now. I’ve gone through all the other variants.
In a sense, this does exist, though I’m not sure anyone really thinks of it as a “tuba.” It’s called a cimbasso, and it essentially looks like a super weird trombone with valves:
This instrument doesn’t really exist in modern groups. I think it’s usually in F and not B-flat. But it is an example of a way to get a bass sound with the characteristics of a cylindrical brass instrument.
What other tuba family instruments are there?
It seems like we must have covered it all, but there are still a bunch of different instruments. Tubas don’t all have to be in B-flat. Tubas also come in C, E-flat, and F (and probably more, for all I know).
They also come as rotary valve and piston valve. Some even have five valves. The tuba family might be the most diverse family of instruments out there.
So, the next time you hear someone ask: are tuba and euphonium the same? Don’t laugh.
It’s possible you’ll be somewhere and someone shows up with a strange, large brass instrument you’ve never seen. You could find yourself asking if it’s a tuba.
At least now you know what differences exists, and so you’ll be able to ask interesting questions about it.