Sousaphones are musical instruments that are so big; it almost seems as if the player is wearing it instead of playing it. The wrap around look was actually the notion of the inventor, American composer John Phillip Sousa, after whom the instrument is named.
They were originally made from metal, which must have made it somewhat of a chore to carry around, but contemporary ones are made of fiberglass. This of course makes it much easier to manage. Sousaphones are conical, valved, brass instruments.
Nowadays, they are made of fiberglass, but are also made using yellow or silver sheet brass. Like other brass instruments, they have silver, lacquer or gold plating. Also, they are played using piston valves.
The fiberglass sousaphones are less costly, and the lighter weight makes it easier to carry. Originally nicknamed the “rain catcher” because of the bell-up design, Sousaphones were later designed with bells facing forward.
The size of the bell is about 26 inches, up from about 22 inches originally, so one cannot imagine what they would called today if the bell still faced upwards. They are also the ‘big brother’ of the brass instruments, because they can weigh as much as 50 lbs.
No need to worry though, they do have ‘small 18 pounders’. Sousaphones are a member of the brass family, and bear a strong resemblance to the tuba. They are not used in orchestra or classical music, but instead are very popular as marching band instruments.
An interesting fact about the sousaphone is that it has its own chair. Yes; and it’s even called a Sousaphone chair. Why a chair? Just imagine a 5 year old learning to play the Sousaphone and trying to support it. That paints a very funny picture doesn’t it?
It was for this reason that a music educator by the name of Henry Wenger realized the need for the instrument to have its own chair, and patented one. The chair also comes in handy if you ever have to use the instrument in a concert setting, because it allows the instrument to be played without the player being weighed down.
If you are a beginner looking to purchase a sousaphone, then it’s a good idea to buy one made of fiberglass. It will be cheaper and easier to manage. The 3 valve BBb (double b-flat) instrument is normally recommended for beginners, or for children in the school band.
Four valve instruments are also available, but are less popular, more expensive, and heavier in weight. The major models include Conn, King, Yamaha, and Jupiter. The Yamaha and Jupiter models are usually lower in price.
Professional sousaphones are more expensive and prices range from $4,000 to $6,000 and up. The cost of the instrument will vary, depending on the material that it is made of. Sousaphones play an important role in military and school marching bands, and form the basis of the band’s sound.
It has often been said that being able to play the tuba is good practice before taking up the sousaphone. However, it is actually an easier instrument to play.