Tuba and Euphonium Fingering Charts: How to Use Them

Learning a musical instrument is always a commendable but large endeavor, requiring hours of practice and dedication. What better instrument is there than the classic rich sounds produced by a euphonium or the iconically distinct warm sounds of a tuba? But how do you start? 

This guide will take you through the basics of learning how to play notes on a euphonium or tuba using finger charts, as well as other important factors that need to be considered when learning how to produce melodious sounds on these instruments.

Tuba and Euphonium Fingering Charts How to Use Them

What are Fingering Charts?

Like a guitar where each note is played by using a different combination of finger placement and strings, brass instrument players play different notes using different combinations of depressed keys known as valves. Fingering charts is a written communication of these combinations.

When first learning a brass instrument, a fingering chart is a really handy tool to have at your disposal as it tells you how to play the notes. This is useful if you haven’t played that note before, or if you are still getting used to playing your instrument and are having difficulty remembering all the combinations.

For brass players, these three keys are pressed down with the right hand using the index, middle, and ring fingers. Some tubas and euphoniums have a fourth valve to make finding the right note easier.

If your instrument does, the way this is pressed will depend on the design of your instrument but is usually either the little finger of the right hand or with the left hand.

Types of Chart

The charts are either diagrams or numbers under the staff – also known as a stave which is the five parallel lines with gaps that the notes are written on – and this is either written under the note in sheet music or as part of a larger glossary that includes all notes 

If the chart is written in number form, the numbers that appear are the valves that are pressed. For the first valve, played with the right index finger, the number one will be present.

For the second valve, played with the right middle finger, there will be the number two. For the third valve, played with the right ring finger, there will be a number three.

For example, a euphonium reading music written in treble clef would play a middle F4# using the second valve. This would be shown on the chart using numbers by a number two beneath the note.

A C3# note or middle C# would be played with all three valves pressed so numbers one, two, and three would be written beneath the note. 

A tuba reading in bass clef would play an F2# using the second and third valves. This would be shown as a two and three beneath the note. An A3# note would be played with no valves pressed so no numbers would appear under the note. 

Other fingering charts use diagrams rather than numbers but the principle is the same.

Most commonly these types of charts use circles – if the circle is colored in you press the valve down, if the circle is not then you do not press it down.

A euphonium player reading treble clef and playing a C3# would see three circles shaded in so would press down all three valves in order to find the note. If the next note is a G4, there will be no circles shaded in so the player will not press down any valves.

A tuba player reading bass clef and playing an A2 note would see one blank circle, one shaded circle, and one blank circle. This means that the player needs to press down only valve two to play the note. 

Multiple Combinations

For both euphonium and tuba players, there are sometimes multiple ways of playing the same note. 

A euphonium player reading treble clef and wanting to play a D5 can either play this using the first valve or the first and second. On a fingering chart, this will be written as the number one alongside the numbers one and three or will be drawn as one shaded circle followed by two blanks alongside one shaded circle then a blank circle then a third shaded circle. 

Generally, it is considered best to play a note using the combination with the fewest valves. However, using alternate fingering combinations may make the note you are playing more in tune. This is particularly important if you are playing as part of an ensemble so it is a good idea to keep the multiple fingering combinations in your mind.

How Valves Work

Tuba and Euphonium Fingering Charts How to Use Thems

For all brass instruments, the air is forced down the mouthpiece, around all the tubes, and then out the bell which makes a nice rounded sound. By pressing down the valves, more tubing is made accessible for the air traveling around the instrument which alters the pitch of the sound.

For tubas and euphoniums, the length of tube that the air passes through gets longer in by pressing the valves in the following pattern:

No valves

Valve two

Valve one

Valves one AND two

Valves two AND three

Valves one AND three

Valves one AND two AND three.

This pattern is visible when looking at the front of your instrument and following the pipes around the valves and looking at the length of the pipes that make a loop out of each valve.

When looking at your instrument you will notice that valves one and two combined are just a bit shorter in length than valve three alone. This is what allows for alternate finger combinations. If, for example, you are playing a note that requires valves one and two but it is a little sharp, playing the note with just the third valve may be enough to bring the note back into tune. This is also the reason why some euphoniums and tubas have a fourth valve

The Fourth Valve

The fourth valve exists to correct common tuning errors for euphonium and tuba players by making more tub lengths available to passing air. The fourth valve is not always included on a fingering chart but if it is, it will be represented by either the number four or four shaded in circles.

As it is not always included, it is important to understand how the valve works. Much like valve three is the same length as valves one and two combined, the fourth valve creates a path of tubing that is the same length as the valve combination one and three.

Valve four used as a replacement for the one and three valve combination is usually only used for lower notes. A tuba reading bass clef and wanting to play C2 could use either valves one and three or valve four, depending on which combination of valves produces a note that is more in tune. 

Other Things to Consider

Learning the fingering patterns of notes is certainly a good way to begin learning an instrument, but is by no means going to guarantee you find the correct note every time. This includes tuning issues, discussed above. There are some other important factors that have to be adjusted for you to play correctly.

Firstly, notes require different types of embouchure which is the tightness or firmness of your mouth while you play. For higher-pitched notes, you need to make your embouchure tighter by tensing your mouth. For lower pitched notes the embouchure is looser so the mouth needs to be more relaxed. 

If a euphonium player does not make their mouth firm enough when trying to play an F5, which is played with the first valve, they will actually end up playing a D4 if they are far too loose around the mouth or an A4# if the embouchure is only a little loose. This is because all these notes are played with the same key and the looser the embouchure the lower the note.

Airflow also needs to be considered. A fast airflow will help you reach higher pitch notes and a slower airflow will help keep lower pitch notes in tune. This does not mean that less breath is needed for low notes, just that the air is moving with much less force so is slower for a more gentle vibration for lower notes. 

Airflow and embouchure are equally important to tuning. As every instrument is different, it is a good idea to experiment with tuning by adjusting these factors to ensure that the most accurate note that can be played is what you are producing. 

A tighter embouchure will sharpen a note, making the pitch sound higher, as will faster airflow. Looser embouchure and slower airflow will make a sound flatter.

If, for example, using valves one and three creates a C2 for a tuba player that is too sharp but using valve four makes the same note sound too flat, the player needs to either loosen their embouchure and reduce airflow using valves one and three or needs to do the opposite when using valve four. 

Final Thoughts

Learning how to play the euphonium or a tuba is a very rewarding experience that can be difficult. Fingering charts make the early stages of learning how to play much easier. 

While they give most of the information on how to play a specific note, either through numbers or by way of colored circles, they do not paint the full picture. Player experimentation is definitely needed to discover how your instrument works and the best way to achieve a rich, tuneful sound.

Alternate fingerings listed on finger charts are a good way to remind the player that they may need to adjust their playing to remain in tune, either by using these alternate fingerings or by adjusting their airflow and embouchure. 

Knowing how to adjust playing style for your euphonium or tuba comes with practice, but fingering charts are certainly an indispensable tool for the early learner.

David Williams
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