HISTORY: A Brass instrument invented by composer and conductor John Philip Sousa, and the instrument maker J. W. Pepper (Philadelphia). The design was adapted from the tuba and the helicon. There were many helicons available at the time, including the 1883 Czerveny "Kaiser Bass" with a helicon shape. Sousa was happy enough with the sound of the helicon in a marching situation, but was looking for a mellower sound for his concert settings. In 1893, Pepper built an instrument that allowed the bell to be pointed upwards for the concert setting and forward for the march. He called it a sousaphone to thank Sousa for his suggestions. Other companies made their versions and the instrument maker C. G. Conn made a sousaphone preferred by Sousa in his bands. Today's sousaphone (starting with the 1908 Conn version) has a forward bell which coils around to rest upon the performer's shoulder thus allowing the instrument to be carried with greater ease while marching. After the introduction of the sousaphone, John Philip Sousa predicted that in a few years, every home would have one.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The sousaphone is basically a tuba that coils around the performer's body with a flared bell that faces forward. As such, it is similar to the tuba in how it is played. The main difference is the sousaphone wraps around the performer's body to make the instrument easier to carry in marching bands. It is It is made of the same brass material and can also be silver plated like a tuba. Many of the popular models are made of a fiberglass material that make it much lighter in weight, designed for more comfort when carried for long periods. Most sousaphones have only three valves.
SOUND PROPERTIES: The sousaphone is played in the same manner as all other brass instruments. The performer vibrates his/her lips against the mouthpiece producing a tone, and the pitch is controlled by three valves.
RANGE: Sousaphones can be pitched in nearly any key. Most sousaphones are in the key of B flat, however, it is not unusual to find instruments in E-flat. The sousaphone notes sound at the same octave as written, so it is a non-transposing instrument. The lowest note written for the sousaphone is the F1 below the bass clef staff. The high range goes to the F4 above the bass clef staff. A professional performer can extend the range more than an octave above this and extend the low pitches into the pedal range of the instrument.
Photo courtesy of G. Leblanc Corporation
Last Updated: 2013-02-14 14:32:34