Why are there 4 valves on certain trumpets?

I often have to remind myself that many of you who read my Blog are not brass players, but you show a great deal of interest in what I do and also are curious to know the workings and origins of the equipment that I use on a day-to-day basis. As a result, one of the frequent questions I get is “why does that trumpet have 4 valves?”, so for this Blog I’ll try to demystify that topic.

Stomvi “Elite” 4-valve Piccolo Trumpet

Following the invention of piston valves in the second half of the 19th Century, there were many ongoing attempts to develop and improve what valved instruments could achieve, musically speaking. Whilst the addition of valves meant an increase in the number of notes attainable, there was still a desire to try to further increase the range possible on the instrument and perhaps more importantly, to improve the intonation (tuning) on certain “sour” notes, that were proving problematic. These would certainly include low D, D flat and C sharp below the stave

So how does it all work? Well, the 4th valve essentially removes the need to use the often problematic 3rd valve, with a selection of notes given below.

No fancy notation software here I’m afraid, just my wobbly hand and trusty pencil!

The D is normally played on 1st & 3rd valves. If you then think, 1+3=? Yes, it’s as basic as that! You now play D on 4th valve. The same goes for the low G.

Db (D  flat) & C# (C sharp) are both played 1,2&3, but alternatively you now play on 2&4.

The low F (required for Baroque works such as Handel’s “Let The Bright Seraphim” and “The Trumpet Shall Sound”) falls outside the natural range of the standard 3-valve instrument – F# being the lowest note, therefore a 3-valve Piccolo Trumpet in A would be of little use for these 2 particular pieces and the performer would have to resort to using a D Trumpet – not the choice of the vast majority of players, I suspect! With the 4th valve, it is possible to get the F natural, by playing 1&4. Result!

Stomvi “Elite” D/Eb 3-valve Trumpet

So,with the advent of the 4th valve, players now have a viable option that makes life easier, not just in an intonation and tuning sense, but also in facilitating tricky passages and also giving certain notes a better tone quality. For example, playing a D on 4th valve sounds more “open” and “free” than when played on the conventional 1st & 3rd valves. As an example, C-D trills are much easier i.e. rather than open-1st & 3rd, you play open-4th valve!

The 4-valve instruments are not just restricted to the trumpet world however. 4-valve flugel horns have been around for years, however it is now possible to get Bb Cornets and Eb Soprano Cornets with 4 valves, courtesy of Spanish instrument makers Stomvi. A notable flag-bearer and ridiculously talented exponent of the Soprano is the Cory Band’s Steve Stewart, who was playing on one, when I was guesting at a rehearsal with them the other night. It was fascinating watching (and hearing) how he utilised this 4th valve to maximum potential!

 Stomvi 4-valve Bb Cornet

If you’d like to try a 4-valve Stomvi instrument, contact Mark Carter at Mr. Tuba or call +44 (0)1633 871506 for further information.

For further information about Music for You please contact Andrew on 07973 869621.

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The tools of the trumpeter’s trade

In one of my recent blogs, I wrote about the different types of mute that a trumpet player has at their disposal, in order to create different sounds and timbres.

It therefore makes sense to develop this theme and write this time about the vast array of instruments used and needed by trumpeters nowadays.

Today, in the highly demanding and competitive world of music, the modern trumpeter is required to turn their hand to as many different musical styles and genres as they possibly can master (or get away with!) and like any craftsman, needs a fairly sizeable box of “tools” that can facilitate this.

Bb Trumpet

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Pictured – Eclipse Bb Trumpet in brushed gold

The main instrument that you’ll find all trumpeters playing all over the world, is the Bb (B flat) trumpet. This is what the vast majority of players start their musical journey on and such is its versatility, that it is used in all ensembles and styles of music, ranging from classical to jazz, and chamber music to pop and function bands. There are of course huge varieties of Bb trumpets, in terms of bore size and finish (lacquer, silver plate, raw brass, gold etc.) and this is down to player preference and budget ultimately.

It’s once the player gets to a certain level of proficiency and starts diversifying in terms of the range of styles of music that they perform, that the instrumental requirements and choice of instruments by the individual player, start to get interesting.

D/Eb Trumpet

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Pictured – Stomvi Elite D/Eb Trumpet in Silver Plate

The next instrument that many aspiring students will graduate on to will be the D and/or Eb Trumpet. This instrument is a 2 in 1 usually with interchangeable bells and slides and being a smaller instrument is the choice of kit for performing higher range repertoire and where a brighter sound is required. This would be particularly handy when performing works by Handel or Bach in an orchestra, or for soloists who are taking on the challenge of the Haydn, Hummel or Neruda Trumpet Concerti.

Flugel Horn

Pictured – Vincent Bach Flugel Horn in Silver Plate

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This instrument is exactly the same length as a trumpet, however with the bore being a conical shape and much wider, the sound is much mellower. You will usually find this played in a brass band (as I do in the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh), but this is also found in big bands and jazz combos and is a popular choice for jazz soloists wishing to showcase a more lyrical, silky sound typically in a ballad.

Piccolo Trumpet

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Pictured – Stomvi Elite A/Bb Piccolo Trumpet in Silver Plate

The piccolo trumpet is the baby of the family and plays the very highest notes in the register. This is often the choice of instrument, when the range exceeds what the D/Eb can comfortably achieve and is fiendishly difficult to master if not played on a regular basis.

It almost always has 4 valves nowadays and is pitched in A or Bb and the fingerings for each note are played an octave (8 notes) lower than written on the music.

Tunes you might have previously heard played by a Piccolo Trumpet would be the trumpet solo from the Beatles hit “Penny Lane” and the theme music to the Champions League football, Antiques Roadshow and “Brideshead Revisited” programmes.

Bach’s B Minor Mass and Brandenburg Concerto No.2 and Handel’s “Trumpet Shall Sound” from Messiah and “Let the Bright Seraphim” from Solomon are just a few orchestral pieces that would demand the use of a “Picc”.

One of the greatest exponents of the piccolo trumpet, was French virtuoso Maurice André whose mastery of this instrument is the bench-mark and reference point for all aspiring trumpeters around the world. As with all experts in their field, he makes it all seem so effortless!

C Trumpet

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Pictured – B&S Challenger C Trumpet in Lacquer

The C Trumpet is the closest relative (in size) to the Bb trumpet and was historically the “weapon” of choice of American trumpeters in orchestras, however this is not so much the case nowadays perhaps.

It’s a versatile instrument which is popular for using in contemporary orchestral and chamber music, where a smaller bore is required to cover a greater range and also makes playing in certain key signatures a little more user-friendly. With many orchestral trumpet parts needing to be transposed (that’s another Blog for another day), the C sometimes facilitates easier transposition too.

Rotary-valve Trumpet

All the above instruments use piston valves to obtain the notes, but the Rotary Valve Trumpet has valves like the French Horn.

These trumpets would typically be seen in the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, plus other types of wind ensembles in those countries.

So now you know why trumpeters often look as if they are moving house, as opposed to going to a gig. Thanks once again for reading my blog and if you’ve enjoyed it, please share and drop me a line with brass and trumpet related topics that you’d like to hear more about.

For further information about Music for You, please visit my website

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Pictured – (L-R D/Eb Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet, Bb Trumpet)

All photography by Paul Fears Photography (except C Trumpet & Flugel Horn pictures)

 

 

What’s that funny looking thing sticking out of the end of your trumpet?

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I was at Llys Prês, a Cardiff-based instrument repair workshop the other day, and found myself taking a keen interest in the wide variety of tools that Denis Wedgewood had at his disposal. He patiently answered all my innocent (perhaps naïve) questions as to why that was a certain size or this was a particular shape and why he needed 3 or 4 very similar looking tools to complete a certain job, however I left the premises with no more skill; these things come under the heading of D.I.Y. – Don’t Involve Yourself, but certainly far more informed and enlightened as a result.

This then made me think about my own job and the tools that I have to use and I remembered Mrs. Wife asking me similar questions about playing the trumpet. One such question was regarding the “funny things you stick in the end of your trumpet” and what was the point of it all, so this has prompted me to explain a little to those of you who don’t know either.

These “things” are actually called mutes and their function is to change the tone and sound of the instrument, so as to create a variety of effects, moods and timbres to the music.

There are a multitude of mutes available on the market nowadays, with manufacturers constantly striving to develop unique, newer or improved products, so in the Blog I will cover the main mutes used by most trumpet players, however there will be many that I have left out due to the myriad out there.

The Straight mute – This is the most commonly used by players, but there are variations even for this type, as they can be made of metal, wood, fibre and plastic and have distinctly different sounds.

Straight Mute (Metal)

Straight Mutes (Metal) – The mute on the left is for a PiccoloTrumpet and the one on the right is a standard sized one.

Straight Mute (Plastic)

Straight Mute (Plastic)

Fibre Straight Mute

Straight Mute (Fibre)

The Cup mute – This as its name suggests, has a cup shape and makes the sound much mellower and softer. Some cup mutes have a moveable cup that slides closer to, or away from the bell of the trumpet, in order to change the tone slightly.

Cup Mute

Cup Mute

The Harmon mute – The Harmon mute is another mute where the tone can be altered, using a movable stem. The general tone is quite “nasal” and constricted and this is often used to portray a trumpet playing distantly. The further out you pull the stem, the darker the tone gets until you can actually remove it completely.

Harmon Mute (Stem in)

Harmon Mute (Stem in)

Harmon Mute (Stem removed)

Harmon Mute (Stem removed)

The Bucket Mute – This clips on to the bell of the instrument and is lined with a soft padding. This absorbs most of the brightness of tone, making the music sound muffled.

Bucket Mute

Bucket Mute

There are many more mutes, as I have already mentioned; such as the Plunger mute, the Solo-tone and a Practise Mute (designed to keep your neighbours happy when you start ripping through the Haydn Trumpet Concerto at 2.30 in the morning!), but I hope that this gives you an insight to these “things”, commonly known as mutes.

For more information about Andrew Jones and Music for You, please visit www.andrewjonesmusic.com