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Euphonium Valves – Three, Four, and Compensating Set Ups and Making Sense of Them All!
Brass instruments, in their simplest form, are simply pipes. At one end, the musician hums their lips to create a sound that leaves the instrument at the other end. Any pipe (even gardening pipes as shown on YouTube) can produce large intervals. These intervals are dictated by harmonic series, commonly referred to by brass players as a partial series. In order to sound the intermediate notes of the partial series, the performer must be able to change the length of the tube in the instrument. Some instruments, such as the trombone, have a movable slide, while others, including euphoniums, baritones, trumpets, and horns, have valves to change the amount of air flow.
A valve is a device in many instruments that directs air flow to a separate section of piping before returning to the main pipe. Under pressure, this “extra” piping is used, which increases the length of the working pipe and reduces the pitch. On almost all modern horns, the valves work the same way: Valve 2 lowers the pitch by one half, Valve 1 lowers the pitch by one whole step (two half steps), and Valve 3 lowers the pitch by one. and a half step (three half steps). If there is a fourth valve, it reduces the step by two and a half steps (5 half steps).
However, there is a small defect on the valves. The 2-3 valve combination is slightly sharp, the 1-3 combination is always quite sharp, and the 1-2-3 combination is always very, very sharp. Let’s find out why this phenomenon happens.
Now you’re probably wondering how instrument makers know how many tubes to add to lower the pitch by half a step. And if you don’t, I’ll still explain it! Due to acoustic theory, to halve the pitch, the working length of the instrument must increase by about 1/15, or 6.67% of the working length. To illustrate, I’ll use an instrument that’s 100 inches long (which is actually almost the length of a euphonium). This means that the length of the second valve should be 100/15 or 6.67 inches to reduce the slope by half a step. Now, to drop it half a notch, you need to add 106.67/15 or 7.11 inches, so the length of the first flap must be 6.67 inches + 7.11 inches or 13.77 inches. Now let me explain that last statement, since it may have thrown some of you off. The reason the first valve wouldn’t just be a 2 (6.67) is because to reduce a pitch, you have to have enough pipes to lower the pitch by half (6.67″) and then enough pipes to lower it. slope half a step (7 .11 in.) The same theory applies to the third valve and it is 21.36 in. long.
The formula for the theoretical tube length TL required to reduce a specified number of half-steps x for a gauge of length L is TL = L (16/15) ^ x. Example: Lowering a 100″ instrument by 3 half steps: TL = 100(16/15)^3. TL = 21.36.
Thus, valved instruments are set up so that each valve is tuned separately. Problems arise when performers must use valve combinations to adjust the pitch by more than three halves. As you can see from the previous calculations, every time you add another half step, the working length must increase more than the previous increase. In the example of a 100-inch instrument, the third valve increases the length to 121.36 inches to produce a tuned note three half steps below the original pitch. Lowering the height a half-step past this mark requires an 8.09-inch tube. However, since the 2nd fret is only 6.67 inches long, this combination is a bit sharp. This problem is self-exclusive and the 1-3 and 1-2-3 combinations have a shortfall between actual length and “tuned” length of 2.94″ and 5.04″ respectively. As you can see this creates a big problem, actually the 1-2-3 combo is about the fourth step!
Valve 4 solves some problems and adds others. The 4th valve adds 38.08 inches of tubing for our 100″ instrument. This replaces the 1-3 combination as the fourth valve has the right amount of pipes to tune. Likewise, the 4-2 combo creates a more tuned pitch than the 1-2-3 because it only has about 2.54 inches of pipe missing from the theoretical length. So that’s great, now we have all seven common combos relatively in line, right? That’s true, but this 4th valve gives access to a range that three valve instruments cannot reach. If you use combinations with 4 valves, euphoniums can reach notes like D that are below the bar, which is not possible with 3 valves. Now we come to the 4th valve curse. By using the 4th valve in conjunction with the other valves to reach those low notes, the problem described above is further reduced. To lower the pitch by a full step after the 4th valve is pressed, 19.02″ is added in addition to the length of the 4th valve. Generally, the first valve would lower the pitch by a full step, but remember the length of the first valve tube? 13.77″. Again, this problem is exacerbated as more valves are pushed down .Using a 1-2-3-4 combination which, using the half-step definitions of the valves, should give the B natural a half-step above the pedal Bb. However, with the low B natural, the tubes are a whopping 203.38 inches! The total length of all four valves is only 173 .22 inches… That’s just enough for a slightly sharp C! That’s right, that means B natural is not possible (without the performer’s lips) on a non-compensating 4-valve euphonium.
Four valve compensation system
So how do you account for all this lack of pipes when more and more valves have been pushed down? The answer is compensatory euphonium. Compensating euphoniums pass air through a “double loop” when the 4th valve is depressed. This means that when air exits the fourth valve stem, it actually re-enters the valve block. This second gear has smaller compensating loops that air flows through when the 1st, 2nd or 3rd valve is pushed down with the 4th valve.
The beauty of this system is that since the compensating loops depend on pressing the 4th fret, the first 5 fingers (2, 1, 3, 2-3, 4) remain unchanged as their intonation is satisfactory. However, if you descend further (2-4, 1-4, 3-4, 2-3-4, 1-3-4, 1-2-3-4), an additional compensation loop is added to each flap. This brings the pitch of those fingers to a satisfactory level.
The compensation system also has another, additional benefit: when playing under the staff, musicians can use normal fingerings in addition to the 4th valve. For example, for a non-compensating euphonium, a musician should play the letter D under the staff with the fingers 2-3-4. However, the AD of the middle register is denoted by 3. With the addition of compensating loops, the compensating euphonium player plays D below the staff by simply adding a fourth fret to the 3.
Why does it seem so confusing?
At this point, your brain is probably spinning. That’s OK because as a performer you don’t need to know why the compensation system works. You don’t need to know the math and acoustic theory of what happens when you push down the 1st 3rd and 4th valves. The compensating euphonium does all the work for you. This solves the intonation problems caused by the valves. You don’t need to switch from regular fingers when playing under the staff to get compensatory euphonium.
Look at the professional tuba for example. These tubas can have five, six, even seven valves to play the low chromatic range! Don’t believe me? Find a video of Mnozil Brass on YouTube and stop it on a close-up shot. His instrument has seven valves! The fact is that compensating euphoniums offer a chromatic range with only four valves, while non-compensating instruments can achieve this by adding only one or two additional valves.
Fourth valve placement
Check out the Yamaha YEP-321S and then the YEP-842. Aside from the 842’s gold accents, the most obvious difference is the placement of the fourth valve. The 321S has valve 4 next to valve 3; this arrangement is called an in-line arrangement. On the other hand, the 842 has the 4th valve on the right side, about midway; this arrangement is called a 3+1 arrangement. For in-line valves, the 4th valve is controlled with the right pinky. For instruments that use a 3+1 arrangement, the fourth valve is operated with the left index or middle finger. Using the 4th flap with your right pinky can be troublesome when adding combos like 2-4 because your pinky doesn’t have enough strength. Therefore, from a physiological point of view, the 3+1 system is usually easier to use, especially for fast passes.
All Compensating Euphoniums are 3+1 (however, not all 3+1 Euphoniums are Compensating) which gives one additional bonus. Euphoniums are cone-shaped instruments, which means that the hole keeps getting bigger until it reaches the end of the bell. The exception is the clapper valves (1-2-3 on all horns and 1-2-3-4 on non-compensating four-valve instruments), where the opening remains constant. By moving the 4th valve down from the horn, the opening can widen, approaching the 4th valve. This extra extension allows for a more general cone-shaped design and gives a more distinctive euphonium sound.
So, which euphonium is right for me?
Most students start with a standard three valve system. This makes the horn light, blows freely and doesn’t make the horn too complicated. For beginners, a three-valve euphonium is the best choice, but as the musician develops, they need to be upgraded. Most high schools purchase a four-valve “inline” non-compensating euphonium for their students. A compensating euphonium costs a lot more and doesn’t change anything except the intonation in the low register. If you know when buying a personal euphonium that you will never need a compensation register, you don’t have to pay extra for it. However, I recommend getting a compensating horn, if for no other reason than that it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not. As for valve placement, I’ve found that most people prefer a 3+1 layout over an inline. The 3+1 layout is simply much easier and more convenient to use.
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