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.

Is there any point in attending networking events? Assume at your peril!

Music for You – Networking

My point then? Well, apart from an impassioned, informative and extremely enjoyable speech by Tim, who spoke of his own difficult personal journey (dealing with prejudice and bullying) and his love for the Creative Arts, here are a selection of  people who I met that evening:
Person A – I already knew and had done some business with previously, where he had provided my marketing materials
Person B – was an accountant who used to play a flute and was a prospective player for the Royal British Legion of Wales, whom I conduct
Person C – A Chartered Surveyor who previously played a brass instrument and we shared mutual friends and colleagues
Person D – was MD of a Commercial Finance Company, who had financed a fleet vehicle for a band that I have worked with and we shared a number of acquaintances
By the way, Tim, as well as being a singer and conductor also used to play a brass instrument with  brass band that I used to conduct!
So, next time you ask yourself whether attending a networking event will be worth it, or whether you will have anything in common with anyone in the room, think hard before answering! Remember the old saying “To assume, is to make an ASS of U and ME”!
Music for You provides quality live music for all types of Corporate Events. For more  details, please contact Andrew on 07973 869621 or andrew@andrewjonesmusic.com

Taking the plunge with an unknown quantity?

Booking a person or company that you’ve never worked with before is a real minefield, particularly when it comes to musicians for special events or occasions. Perhaps this testimonial from a recent client will reaffirm and convince you of Music for You‘s ability to deliver a quality service, when it’s most needed.

Music for Parties Celebrations

“Dear Andrew. From the first time that I rang you, until you left yesterday, you conducted yourself with so much respect, dignity and professionalism. Please never let that change. It was a pleasure to deal with you. I had every confidence that you would perform well……… I can’t thank you enough for performing, what was such an important thing to me. It was my last personal tribute to my Dad. You did an old Veteran proud.”

KR – Last Post (Salisbury).

There, convinced now? If so, please either fill in the enquiry form below, or call Andrew on 07973 869621 to discuss the musical requirements of your event. Music for You – it’s just that!

Spare a thought for the Bugler performing the “Last Post” on Remembrance Sunday

Last Post - 5RW Memorial

This Sunday will once again see many of us commemorating Remembrance Day at Parades and Memorial Services up and down the country.

One of the integral parts of that Service, will be the playing of the Last Post preceding the 2 minute Silence. For many, this is the most poignant part of the proceedings, bringing all sorts of emotions to the surface, from even the most robust and stiff-upper-lipped of characters, as memories of loved ones and fallen Comrades, as well as thoughts of current serving personnel in the Armed Forces are given heightened awareness.

I have been honoured and privileged to have been asked to play the Last Post at numerous Parades, Memorial Services and Funerals during the last 30+ years and since joining the Regimental Band of The Royal Welsh, have a heightened awareness of its relevance and meaning to members of the Armed Forces and civilians alike.

_MG_9670

For those who understand music theory and a little about brass instruments, the Last Post is merely a C Major Arpeggio (consisting of 5 different notes) usually played on either a Bugle, a Cornet or Trumpet. There are no valves (buttons) required and the music is such, that it can be performed by a player of around Grade 5/6 standard or above.

Understandably, the Last Post is something which is sorely missed if not performed, however can become the target of all kinds of criticism and at its worst, ridicule, if not played absolutely perfectly. “But it should be played, perfectly!” I instantly hear you cry.

Trust me when I say that anyone who is tasked with playing this short, simple piece of music, wants to play it to the best of their ability and get it note-perfect. The onus of representing your Village, Town, Royal British Legion Branch, local brass band, school band etc. is one which will have given many a Bugler sleepless nights this week, knowing that every note represents so much, to so many people and is the “ultimate tribute” to those who have fallen in conflicts.

Many of these Buglers however, are not professional musicians and are volunteers who are “doing their bit” for their local community. There may be instances where they have been “volunteered”, owing to nobody else being available, someone being taken ill at the last-minute, or nobody was brave enough to stand up and be counted and do it in the first place.

One hopes that the weather will be kind on Sunday, but even then, putting a freezing cold metal mouthpiece – some use plastic, but it never feels the same for the player – on lips that are tight from the cold and from hanging about waiting to play, doesn’t make for ideal preparation. Miss just one note and you can sense everyone wince and start inwardly tutting about it.

For a variety of reasons, there are less Buglers being available each and every year to perform at parades and the demand, sadly far exceeds the supply. Please be assured that your Bugler will try their damnedest to give as fitting and respectful a tribute as they can, but if it’s not quite note perfect, don’t be quick to criticize, but be thankful that you had a  Bugler there at all, to add that something special to the Memorial Service. Buglers, we salute you!

“We will remember them”.

For further details regarding the Last Post, please visit my website

Poppies (1500x1064)