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Conventional wisdom says that marching tubas pitched in the key of G are “Contras,” whereas marching tubas pitched in the key of Bb are “Tubas.” Is there a definitive answer as to why this is? Even if there is, why should it matter? Yeah, “contra” sounds cooler, but isn’t it just a voicing description, as opposed to an instrument?

One of the music judges who judged the HS band I worked with called the tubas "contras" on her tapes for us a number of years back...our kids asked what a contra was. :tongue:

She was one of the best music judges we used to see...always loved her tapes.

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I searched the forums on the subject and didn’t find any recent discussions so I figured I’d start one. If the moderators feel this should be moved to the brass forums, please do so, but I think this is more about the naming quirks that come from our activity’s roots …

Conventional wisdom says that marching tubas pitched in the key of G are “Contras,” whereas marching tubas pitched in the key of Bb are “Tubas.” Is there a definitive answer as to why this is? Even if there is, why should it matter? Yeah, “contra” sounds cooler, but isn’t it just a voicing description, as opposed to an instrument?

Two anecdotes:

The first one happened less than a decade ago. I’m watching a DCI group (Bb hornline) with my folks. My mom turns to me and asks, “Are those large horns called ‘contras?’” I say they are, not wanting to go into the full history of G vs Bb -- especially considering this was right in the middle of performance. When I say so, this jackhole sitting in front of us turns around and goes out of his way to “correct” us, saying that only G horns can be called contras. If it wasn’t in the middle of a performance, I would’ve chewed him out, but I let it go.

The second instance was more recent. My buddy and I are at a bar the night before a DCA show. We’re chatting with a guy from another group. When he asks what we play, my buddy says we march Yamaha Bb contras. The guy “corrects” us, saying that ONLY tubas pitched in the key of G can be called “contras.” I’m too tired/buzzed to get into this debate. My buddy isn’t. He unloads on the poor guy a point-by-point argument, the gist of it being that the pitch of an instrument doesn’t determine the name. A Bb tuba is the contra voice in the brass choir, just like a G tuba is the contra voice of the brass choir. This stupid debate continues with neither side relenting.

So I now take this stupid debate from the bar to the internet. I don’t know which venue is more/less civilized, but have at it.

This is a simple answer...this falls under the the topic of "NO AMPLIFICATION REQUIRED". Listen to the 70's 80's and 90's and you will find a rich robust sound that is provided by merely 6-10 members, playing Large Bore Contrabass bugles. We have increased the number and moved to a smaller bore instrument(Tuba's) and there is simply no comparison. Sure people are lost in the "blow your face off mentality that still exists, and the quality of musicianship is the pinnacle of marching music and even other genre's, but taking nothing away from current era, the quality of instrumentation is simply unrivaled.

Edited by Eric M. Buckman

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They're still technically Contras. A tuba in the key of BBb or CC is considered a contrabass tuba, whereas an F or Eb tuba is considered a bass tuba. So the term "contra" can still technically be used without fear of angering a dino.

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A contra is the evolution of the original bugle. The original valveless horns morphed into 1 then 2 valves (primarily in G), while adding voices into the mix. To increase the harmonic range of the hornline, horns got bigger and bigger - sop to FH/Mello, bari, euph, and finally the contra. Parallel evolution with the band world, but different starting points.

A Bb tuba in drum corps is a band instrument on its side.

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Today's drum corps contra/tuba looks just like the marching tubas that marching bands have used for decades, if they didn't use Sousaphones. I believe you won't find the word "contra" in a musical instrument manufacturer's catalog. Therefore, for the sake of expediency and uniformity, I use the word "tuba" in all my writing about DCI corps. (I have no problem with anyone who wants to use the word, "contra.")

No matter what the instrument is called, seeing 20 of them in Madison Scouts' show two years ago was darned cool.

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I think someone touched on this.

Speaking concert instruments and their keys. Bass Horns (Tubas) are usually in the Key of Eb and F. Contrabass Horns (Contrabass Tubas) are usually pitched lower (as mentioned) with larger bores. Concert and Bb (or BBb, for you concert people) would be the appropriate voicing of a Contrabass horn.

Bugles are bugles. So it's actually interesting that someone (to the OP, in reference to the guy that "corrected" you) would acknowledge a Bugle (the object) by its voice and not a Tuba (the object) by its voice.

Most posters have pretty much touched on it properly...it's up to the staff. Some mix and match, referring to the instruments by their voice, or simply by their name.

Generally, instruments or vocals are voiced as so:

Soprano

Mezzo-Soprano*

Alto

Tenor

Counter-Tenor*

Baritone

Bass

Contrabass

*less often used

The following instruments have been used in Drum Corps (be it in one key or another)

Bugles (all voices)

Trumpets (Soprano)

Marching [French] Horn (Alto)

Mellophone (Alto)

Baritone Horn (Baritone)

Euphonium (Bass)

Tuba (Contrabass)

From my experience though, "basses" is usually used in reference to all the low brass/low voices instead of specifically to the Euphs.

So, as simply stated earlier...it's "cooler" to use voices in lieu of names for some horns. And a Tuba is an instrument, a Contra(bass) is a voice.

:fight:

Edited by maestro!

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No matter what the instrument is called, seeing 20 of them in Madison Scouts' show two years ago was darned cool.

:thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup:

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Tuba=Contra=Tuba. No matter what key, it's interchangeable really... but yeah, some dinos will get upset if you call their contra and tuba.

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Eh...I still call tubas "contras". You can call them whatever you want, really. I mean, who's gonna stop you? "Oh, I really love that passage the farfindinkles just played..." See? Try it some time. People will stare at you.

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The term has evolved somewhat over the last ten or twelve years. A lot of folks refer to any shoulder-mounted marching tuba as "contras". You'll still hear the terms interchanged by many staff members. I've used both at various times.

When I'm teaching, I generally will call them tubas...until they stop sucking. At that point, they graduate to contras. Worked as a nice motivational tool for younger members, and kids that studied their drum corps history.

When they *really* suck, the term "sousaphone" gets broken out :)

THE HORROR!!!!

(Although I have to admit, when we went from converted tubas to sousaphones (brass) in High School, the 'phones played SO much better than the tubas. They still looked stupid though...)

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