Tuesday, November 15, 2011


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The Euphonium

The euphonium is a brass instrument with a conical bell. It has the range of a trombone. Because it has valves, the euphonium has better technical capability than the trombone. Most people don’t even know what a euphonium is. Some people mistake it as a tuba. In some aspects it is a tuba. It is also called a tenor tuba. The shape and bore of the euphonium allow it to have a dark deep rich tone. Its valves allow for fast technical passages, which can sometimes even double woodwind parts. The word euphonium is derived from the Greek word “euphonia” meaning “well-sounding.” The euphonium being true to its name with its magnificent deep rich tone quality.

What is the difference between a baritone and a euphonium? There isn’t a lot of difference. The baritone is slightly smaller with a smaller bore and has a lighter tone quality. The euphonium has a larger bore with a more deep and powerful sound. Today in America, the term’s baritone and euphonium are used interchangeably.

The history of the euphonium begins in the early 18th century. The instrument that help gave rise to the euphonium was the serpent (see picture). The serpent was invented in 150 by a Frenchman, Edme Guillaume, making it one of the oldest instruments currently in use today. The serpent was used in military bands as a marching bass during this period. It was called the serpent because of its snake like appearance. Its only similarities to the euphonium are its fundamental length of the tube and the fact that it was played with a cupped mouthpiece. The serpent was usually constructed of wood, brass, or silver. It was played with a deep-cup mouthpiece made of bone or ivory. Instead of having modern valves it had six finger holes. In the 1th century, more holes were added that probably led to deterioration of playing since players falsely assumed that the intonation was thereby fixed.

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This gave the serpent a negative image from musicians and composers. Musicians, in order to play the serpent, had to be really good and had to have a good sense of pitch, as intonation was a serious problem. The musicologist Burney compared the serpent’s tone quality in incompetent hands to that of a “great hungry or rather angry Essex calf.”

In 181, Halary, who was a French instrument maker, patented a group of keyed bugles including a bass member called the ophicleide (see picture). It looked much like a modern bassoon and baritone saxophone. It used keys to cover tone holes. The first ophicleides were made with keys, while later models were equipped with 11 or 1. These keys allowed instrument makers to produce instruments of better intonation and of more power than the serpent. The ophicleide was available in several keys and sizes.

During the second and third decades of the 1th century valve devises were developed which revolutionized instrument design and manufacture. Adolph Sax established a wind instrument factory in Paris in the year 184. There he became highly respected as an inventor and designer of wind instruments. He developed a complete family of valved brass instruments from soprano to bass, which are direct descendants of many brass instruments used today. He developed these instruments primarily for use in military bands. As these instruments became available, composers began writing compositions for them. In Germany, Wagner established the tuba group by scoring the “Ring” for two tenor tubas, two bass tubas, and one contrabass tuba. Composers such as Strauss, Holst, Ravel and other composers started to so interest in the tenor tuba. This tenor tuba was basically the same thing as the althorn in Germany and the alto (mi flat of France. The tenor horn in Germany became the baritone in England and the baryton in France. The Baryton in Germany became the euphonium in England and the basse (si flat) in France. All these instruments differed in construction but they had about the same pitch and range.

In the 0th century, a unique euphonium was made with two bells (see picture). An additional second bell was added to the main euphonium. The small bell was used for trombone like effects and was triggered by and extra valve.

With the addition of the forth valve, the euphonium has become very desirable. The 4th valve expands the range and can be used to improve intonation. With the 4th valve engaged the musician can play notes below the bass clef with ease. In order for the musician playing the euphonium to play in tune, they must use the forth valve especially with lower notes. When you use two or more valves in combination, the euphonium will be short of tubing necessary to play that pitch. The note will be sharp. In order to correct this, the forth valve must be used. If you have a euphonium with four valves, change the following fingerings. C should not be played 1st and rd, but 4th. B natural should be played nd and 4th and not 1st, nd, and rd. Low F should be played 4th. Having a euphonium with a fourth valve and not using it is like having a Viper and keeping it in 1st gear.

Dr. D. James Blaikley invented the compensating system in 1878. It was protected by copyright for a hundred years. As soon as the patent ran out, all the manufactures copied his invention. The compensating system is used to improve the intonation of the instrument. Why do we need a compensating system? The formula for producing a length of tube to generated a certain pitch is the speed of sound in inches per second (1440) divided by pitch in cycles per second times two 1440 / (Pitch in Hz ). The problem with non-compensating instruments is when two or more valves are used in combination. On a three-valve euphonium, to play low F you must use the 1st and rd valve combination. On the non-compensating instrument, when you press 1st and rd, all together you get 151. inches of tubing. Low F vibrates at 4.65 Hz. When you plug that into the equation you get 15.5 inches of tubing required. The euphonium is short of .5 inches of tubing so the note is going to be sharp. This shortness of tubing, when using valves in combination, which the compensating system overcomes. The compensating system works via portholes in a designated “master valve.” The master valve is usually the rd valve on a three-valve euphonium and the 4th valve on a four-valve euphonium. When the master valve is used in combination with other valves, extra tubing is utilized. The benefits of using a compensating euphonium are enormous.

A musician should take special care in maintaining a euphonium. The euphonium is very delicate and can very easily be dented. Dents alter tone! Every day a couple of drops of high quality valve oil should be applied. The euphonium should be wiped down with a soft cloth to keep it free of dirt. Mouthpieces should be kept of dirt. Dirty mouthpieces are homes for germs and will affect your tone. A mouthpieces brush is useful to wipe out the grime and food debris. Monthly, the whole instrument should be given a bath. Flush the instrument with warm water. After your done rinse the instrument with cold water. Be careful don’t to dent the instrument in the bath. Use a clean soft lint-free cloth to dry the instrument. Every three months, a flexible cleaning brush should be used to clean tubing before giving the instrument its bath. Whenever tuning slides start to stick, they should be removed one by one by pressing the appropriate valve associated with that tuning slide and pulling on the slide. If you don’t press the associated valve when removing a side, there will be a loud popping nose. This can ruin the seals on your valves. Remove the old grease from the outside and the inside of the tubing and apply new slide grease or petroleum jelly. Occasionally, valves will get dirt and grime in them and will stick. If this happens, you need to clean out your valves. Open up the valves. Open them one by one so that you don’t get them mixed up. Use a cloth to clean out the dirt and grime on the piston and the piston chaff.

The euphonium is clearly an important instrument in the band. Bands that don’t have a euphonium are missing out on a lot. Hopefully this article helped clear up the mysterious instrument called the euphonium.

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