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The sousaphone is a type of tuba that is widely employed in marching bands. Designed so that it fits around the body of the tubist and is supported by the left shoulder, the sousaphone may be readily played while being carried. The instrument is named after American (banna) bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa, who popularized its use in his band.



The sousaphone was developed in the 1890s by C.G. Conn at the request of John Philip Sousa, who was unhappy with the hélicons used at that time by the United States Marine Band. The hélicon is an instrument that resembles the sousaphone in principle but has a far narrower bore, and a much smaller bell which points between straight up and to the player's left. Sousa wanted a tuba that would send sound upward and over the band with a full warm tone, much like a concert (upright) tuba, an effect which could not be achieved with the narrower-belled (and thus highly directional) hélicon.

Contrary to popular belief, the (but) sousaphone was not initially developed as a marching instrument, as the professional band Sousa started after leaving the Marines (for which he wanted this new instrument) marched only once in its existence. Rather, Sousa wanted a concert instrument which would be easier to hold and play, while retaining a full, rich sound. The tone he sought was achieved by widening the bore and throat of the instrument significantly, as well as pointing it straight upward in a similar manner to concert instruments, a feature which led to the instrument being dubbed a "rain-catcher". Some versions of this design allowed the bell to also rotate forward, projecting the sound to the front of the band. This bell configuration remained the standard for several decades. Versions with the characteristic extra 90° bend making a forward-facing bell were developed in the early 1900s. Early sousaphones had 22-inch-diameter (560 mm) bells, with 24-inch (610 mm) bells popular in the 1920s. From the mid-1930s onward, sousaphone bells have been standardized at a diameter of 26 inches (660 mm). Some larger sousaphones (Monster, Grand, Jumbo, or Giant, depending on brand) were produced in limited quantities (more details below.) .


The sousaphone is a valved brass instrument with the same tube length and musical range as other tubas. The sousaphone's shape is such that the bell is above the tubist's head and projecting forward. The valves are situated directly in front of the musician slightly above the waist and most of the weight rests on one shoulder. The bell is normally detachable from the instrument body to facilitate transportation and storage. Excepting the instrument's general shape and appearance, the sousaphone is technically very similar to a standard (upright) tuba.

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