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Euphonium Valves – Three, Four, and Compensating Set Ups and Making Sense of Them All!
Wind instruments, in their simplest form are simply pipes. At one end, a musician hums their lips to create a sound, which leaves the instrument at the opposite end. Any pipe (even those for gardening as demonstrated on YouTube) can produce wide gaps. These intervals are dictated by the harmonic series, brass players usually call this the partial series. In order to play the notes between the partial series, the performer must have a way to change the length of the tube in the instrument. Some instruments, like the trombone, have a slide that can be moved, while others, including oponiums, baritones, trumpets, and horns, have valves to change the amount of tubes the air flows through.
A valve is a device in many appliances that directs air flow to a separate section of tubing before returning to the main tube. During depression, this “extra” tube is in use, therefore increasing the working length of the tubes and lowering the height. On almost all modern horns, the valves work the same way: the second valve lowers the pitch by one half step, the first valve lowers the pitch by one full step (two half steps), and the third valve lowers the pitch by one. Half steps (three half steps). If there is a fourth valve, it will lower the height by two and a half steps (5 half steps).
However there is a slight defect in the valves. The 2-3 valve combination will be slightly sharp, the 1-3 combination will always be fairly sharp, and the 1-2-3 combination will always be very sharp. Let’s examine why this phenomenon occurs.
Now you’re probably wondering how instrument makers know how many pipes to add to get the pitch down by half a step. And if you don’t, I’m still going to explain it! Because of acoustic theory, to lower the pitch by half a step, the working length of the instrument must increase by about 1/15, or 6.67% of the working length. For illustrative purposes I will use a device that is 100 inches long (which is actually close to the length of an oponon). This means the second valve needs to be 100/15 or 6.67 inches long in order to lower the height by one half step. Now, to drop it a half step further, you need to add 106.67/15 or 7.11″ so the first valve must be 6.67″+7.11″ or 13.77″ long. Now let me explain that last statement as it may have thrown some of you off. The reason the first valve won’t be a simple 2(6.67″) is that to lower the height a full step, there must be enough tubing to lower the height a half step (6.67″) and then enough tubing to lower it. raise it a half step (7.11″). The same theory applies to the third valve, yielding a length of 21.36 inches.
The formula for the theoretical length of tube, TL, needed to lower a specified number of half-steps, x, for a device of length, L, is TL = L (16/15) ^ x. Example: A 100-inch instrument descends 3 half-steps: TL = 100(16/15)^3. TL = 21.36.
So devices with valves are configured so that each valve, individually, is adjusted. Problems occur when operators must use valve combinations to adjust height in more than three half steps. As you can see from the previous calculations, every time you add another half step, the work length must increase more than the previous increase. Using the example of a 100-inch instrument, the third valve increases the length to 121.36 inches to produce a tuned tone three half-steps below the original pitch. To lower the height a half-step beyond this mark, an 8.09-inch tube is required. However, since the second valve is only 6.67 inches long this combination will be a little sharp. This problem just compounds itself and in the 1-3 and 1-2-3 combinations, the deficit between the actual length and the “according” length is 2.94″ and 5.04″ respectively. As you can see, this creates a big problem, in fact, the combination of 1-2-3 is about a sharp fourth step!
The fourth valve solves some problems and adds others. The fourth valve adds 38.08 inches of tubing in the case of our 100-inch device. This is a replacement for the 1-3 combination as the 4th valve has the correct amount of piping to be tuned. Also, the 4-2 combination produces more pitch than the 1-2-3 because it only lacks about 2.54 inches of tubing from the theoretical length. So that’s great, now we have all seven relatively common combinations tuned right? That’s right, however, this 4-valve gives access to a range that three-valve devices cannot reach. When used in combinations with the fourth valve, euphoniums can reach notes such as D below the bottom, a note that is not possible using three valves. Now we come to the curse of the fourth valve. When the fourth valve is used in conjunction with other valves to achieve these low notes, the problem described above compounds itself even more. To drop the height a full step after pressing the fourth valve, 19.02″ must be added in addition to the length of the fourth valve. Normally, the first valve would drop the height a full step, but remember the length of the first valve tube? 13.77″. Again, this problem is reinforced The more valves are depressed. Using a 1-2-3-4 combination, which using half-step valve settings, should provide a natural B a half-step above the pedal Bb. However, the tube length for a low B is a whopping 203.38 inches! The length The combined of all four valves only equals 173.22 inches…that’s only enough for a slightly sharp C! That’s right, it means that B natural is not possible (no lips from the op) on a non-compensating 4-valve oponium.
Four valve compensation system
So how do we explain all this lack of pipes as more and more valves are depressed? The answer is the compensatory cycle. Compensating euphoniums pass air through a “double loop” when the fourth valve is depressed. This means that when air leaves the fourth valve slide, it actually re-enters the valve block. In this second passage, there are smaller compensating loops that the air flows through, if the first, second or third valve is pressed in conjunction with the fourth valve.
The beauty of this system is that because the compensating loops depend on the 4th valve being pressed, the first 5 fingers (2, 1, 3, 2-3, 4) remain unchanged since their intonation is satisfactory. However, as you go down 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 valve. This lowers the height of these fingers to satisfactory levels.
The compensation system also has another advantage: when playing below the staff, musicians can use conventional fingers in addition to the fourth valve. For example, on an uncompensated ophonium, a musician would have to play D down below with fingers 2-3-4. AD in the middle register, on the other hand, is confirmed with 3. With the compensating loops added, an ophonium player compensates by playing D below the bottom by adding the fourth valve to 3.
Why does this seem so confusing?
At this point, your mind is probably spinning. This is fine because as an operator, you don’t need to know why the compensation system works. You don’t need to know the mathematical and acoustic theory behind what happens when you press the 3rd and 4th valves. Oppon Compensator does all the work for you. This solves the intonation problems that valves create. For compensating oponium, you don’t need to change the conventional fingers when playing under the staff.
Look at a professional favor for example. These tubas can have five, six, even seven valves to play a low chromatic range! don’t believe me Search for a video of Mnozil Brass on YouTube and pause it for a close-up of the Tubist. There are seven valves on his device! The fact is that compensating oponiums provide chromatic range with only four valves, while non-compensating instruments can achieve this feat with just the addition of an extra valve or two.
Fourth valve location
Look at the Yamaha YEP-321S, then look at the YEP-842. Aside from the gold accents on the 842, the most noticeable difference is the placement of the fourth valve. The 321S has its 4th valve alongside the 3rd valve; This arrangement is called an online arrangement. On the other hand, the 842 has its fourth valve on the right, at about the midpoint; This arrangement is called the 3+1 arrangement. In the case of in-line valves, the fourth valve is operated with the right pinky. For devices using the 3+1 arrangement, the fourth valve is operated by the left index or middle finger. Using the 4th valve with your right little finger can be problematic when adding combinations like 2-4 due to the lack of strength in your little finger. Therefore, physiologically, the 3+1 system is often easier to operate, especially in fast transitions.
All compensatory euphoniums are 3+1 (however, not all 3+1 euphoniums are compensatory) which provides one additional advantage. Euphoniums are conical bore instruments, meaning that the pitch gets larger until it reaches the end of the bell. The exception to this is in the valve slides (1-2-3 on all horns and 1-2-3-4 on four non-compensating valve devices), where the bore remains constant. By moving the fourth valve further down the horn, the bore can be widened as it approaches the fourth valve. This additional extension allows for a more general conical design and provides a more characteristic opon sound.
So which oponium is right for me?
Most students will start on a standard three valve system. This makes the horn light weight, blows freely and does not complicate the horn too much. For beginners the three-valve euphonium is the best option, but as the musician develops they must upgrade. Most high schools will buy four “stamped” valves without compensation for their students. Compensating euphonium costs much more and makes no difference in anything other than low register intonation. When buying a personal iPhone, if you know you will never need the compensation pad, there is no need to pay the extra money for it. However, I would suggest getting a compensation horn if for no other reason than that it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not get it. As for valve placement, I have found that most people prefer the 3+1 arrangement over the inline. The 3+1 arrangement is simply much easier and more convenient to operate.
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