How do the valves on a trumpet work?

Despite the trumpet having been around (in its various forms and guises) for a few thousand years, it may surprise many people that the development and addition of valves (the buttons to change notes) to the instrument didn’t occur that long ago, with the early versions dating from approximately 1825.

Adolphe Sax

Regardless though of who actually should be credited with the honour of inventing the valve as we know it today, one thing is certain and it is  that the addition of piston valves to brass instruments –in particular the cornet and trumpet – allowed the instrument to increase the extremely limited range of notes it could play.

Prior to the advent of valves, when performing the music of Purcell, Handel and Bach, certain adaptations were made to the Natural or Baroque Trumpet to enable modifications to keys and pitch, such as the addition of crooks – which were additional lengths of tubing to change the pitch or Harmonic Series (see below) available to the player – or the addition of holes (similar to a recorder) in order to improve intonation and make certain notes more “listener friendly”. There was still however a massive gap in the range of notes that the instrument could deliver. 

The next major development was supposedly from Viennese court trumpeter, Anton Weidinger who is reputed to have invented the keyed trumpet in 1770. This instrument was the catalyst for Joseph Haydn writing his much-loved Trumpet Concerto in Eb Major for Weidinger in 1796 and revolutionised what the Trumpet was capable of performing. The instrument however was to have a short lifespan, as due to its design flaws the tonal quality was deemed too unsatisfactory.

A Military Bugle

Playing the Bugle would be the equivalent of playing the modern-day trumpet with no valves pressed down (open valves), and a relatively experienced player would expect to be able to play a pattern of 5-7 notes (called the Harmonic Series) i.e. Bottom C, G, Upper C, E, G, Bb and High (Double C) as shown below. 

No valves pressed down (Open valves). Stomvi “Elite” D/Eb 3-valve Trumpet

The method of securing these notes is a separate blog in itself, but for now we’ll keep it simple and say that as the notes get higher, the player adjusts the air velocity by buzzing their lips faster.

The Harmonic Series (Open/no valves)

So back to the trumpet and the use of valves. When pressing the 2nd valve down, the air is diverted through a small length of tubing attached to the side of the valve, making the initial note sound half a step (semi-tone) lower. Therefore, this creates a new pattern of notes (or Harmonic Series) and instead of Bottom C, G, Upper C as above, the new series of notes is: Low B, F# (F sharp), Upper B, D#, F#, A, High B.
The slide attached to the 1st valve is the one closest to the player’s mouth and is twice the length of the 2nd valve slide, so when pressing down the 1st valve, the notes descend by 2 semi-tones (a whole tone). This creates the following Harmonic Series of Bb (B flat), F, Bb, D, F, Ab and High Bb.

Still with me so far? Good!
The 3rd valve slide is the equivalent in length to both the 1st and 2nd slides combined, so now you’ve a Harmonic Series 3 semi-tones lower and the ability to mix and match i.e. any note played on 1st and 2nd valves can also be played on 3rd only, facilitating “cheats” in difficult passages of music or when trills (a form of ornamentation, moving from one note to another rapidly) is easier to play on a “false” fingering.
You can then take the combinations further, with 2nd and 3rd valves; 1st and 3rd valves and finally 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
As a result, your Harmonic Series now looks like this:

The Harmonic Series using all valve combinations

For those of you who are one step ahead and thinking of the 4-valve Piccolo Trumpet from a previous blog that I wrote Why are there 4 valves on certain trumpets?, the 4th valve is used to add further notes to the range of the instrument and it can also be used instead of 1st and 3rd for better tuning and intonation, plus using it in combination with other valves, again facilitates an easier life for the player in certain tricky passages of music.

A 4-valve Piccolo Trumpet (Model is a Stomvi Elite) (Instrument Pictures courtesy of Paul Fears Photography

I hope that this has demystified “the valve” a little and given you a better understanding of how any valved brass instrument works. Thanks once again for reading the Music for You blog and would love some feedback from you in the Comments Section, including any future topics you would like to read about.
For further information about Andrew Jones, please visit my web-site.

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.

Selecting a programme for a Concert?

The opportunities of hearing Brass Quintets in Concert are sadly rare, as most of our work nowadays is either for Weddings or for corporate events, so when Music for You were invited to perform for the Rhymney Valley Music Club, we jumped at the chance.

The Music for You Brass Quintet

The Concert (which is supported by the Night Out Scheme/Arts Council of Wales) takes place on Saturday 1st of April at Siloh Christian Community Centre, Oakfield Street, Ystrad Mynach, Caerphilly, CF82 7AF and starts at 7.15pm.

Before we go any further, I’m in danger of assuming that everyone knows what a Brass Quintet is, so just in case, a Brass Quintet comprises of 2 Trumpets, French Horn, Trombone and a Tuba and this line-up has become the most popular for chamber brass ensembles over the years, as pioneered by the late great Philip Jones. He founded the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and when they weren’t performing as a 10-piece ensemble, this was their smaller group and he was hugely influential in developing chamber music for brass instruments.

So back to the Concert. Being the sole performers, the evening gives both the Quintet and members of the audience a chance to get their musical teeth into repertoire they would otherwise be unlikely to perform or hear, outside of a Concert setting. This in itself can cause problems however, as musicians often want to get stuck into some really challenging and high-brow repertoire that leaves all but the avid quintet connoisseur underwhelmed and unimpressed. On the flip-side, “dumbing down” a programme to contain a succession of light 3-minute “toe-tappers” or light classical items, means the audience are treated with contempt and the assumption that they couldn’t handle anything more serious than a John Philip Sousa march or maybe (if we were daring enough!), Samuel Scheidt’s (Yes, that’s his real name!) “Battle Suite”.

In compiling our programme for this particular event, we’ve tried to appease both appetites and hope that the audience will discover works by composers covering a 600 year period, that will be both enjoyable, stimulating and perhaps even educational. There will even be music from a living Welsh composer!

The Art v Commerce approach of programming concerts, has and always will be a hot potato for musicians and marketing departments the world over. I’ve always been a strong advocate for introducing audiences to new repertoire and composers, by gently broadening their musical horizons and not metaphorically ramming it down their throats, with the underlying message of “here it is, YOU WILL like it …. or lump it!” or “if you haven’t heard this before, you should have!”.

I very much hope, that we have succeeded in putting together a programme which is balanced for all tastes, but also gives us as performers, a rare opportunity to get our creative “juices” going a bit too. even the Brass Quintet aficionado will discover lots of new repertoire, so don’t expect the “same old, same old” programme!

Without giving too much away, there will be works by Handel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Gordon Langford, Edvard Grieg and Koetsier to name but a few.

So why not pop along and have a listen – it would be great to see you. Remember, there’s nothing quite like live music and even if there is something you want to watch on telly, you can always record it!

In the words of our strap-line “Music for You – it’s just that!”

Here’s a taster of one of the items being performed that evening Procession of the Nobles and you can learn more about Music for You by visiting our website

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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)