Are 4 valve baritones really all that bad?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Despot, Feb 24, 2009.

  1. Despot

    Despot Member

    Are 4 valve baritones really all that bad? As a eupho player, I find it hard to believe a 4th valve on a baritone is a bad idea. It can suffer from similar weaknesses in tuning.

    Sure, there's the argument it's not really needed. But that's also the reason why for many years you could buy Imperial and early Sovereign euphs and basses with only 3 or 4 valves. Older players didn't want them. But now who wants a 3 valver euph or bass for anything other than beginners or carolling? You could argue the repertoire has changed, and the increased range necessitates the extra valve, but surely the instruments had to exist in common usage first before the repertoire changed?

    I have to suspect conservatism is playing a role - that fear of change brass bands are renowned for!! But having said that I haven't played the new Besson or York instruments - so maybe I'm wrong?
  2. catto09

    catto09 Member

    I agree with you there. I've actually never played on a 3 valve Euphonium before, and i've been playing for about 7 years now...I had a brief spell on baritone in my band in the latter stages of last year. I did find Baritone harder to keep in tune, and the 4th valve increased that difficulty. This was an 8 year old Sovereign BE956, so one of the first 4 valve Baritones. I can remember a particular concert we played at. It was a Christmas concert, and i'd only played the baritone once before (surprisingly i managed to get a satisfactory tone out of it straight away?). The piece Sleigh ride, and in the first baritone part there's a bit, can't remember how many bars..., but it was 3 quavers one bottom C, Bottom D, bottom C. And you did it twice, using the dim. effect. On my euphonium, i could play this easily by using the 4th valve, but on baritone i just couldn't play it. Ended up having to use 1st and 3rd.

    I can imagine that they've improved a lot - but tbh. I didn't see that much use for the 4th valve at that time...
  3. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I'm not conservative about instrument design changes at all - but I don't think that it's an idea that has particular merit to it.


    1) You can play notes below low F#. Well, great. When has there ever been any call for these notes on a baritone? Can you think of a useful way to deploy them in a brass band? I can't, without getting deeply contrived.

    2) The instrument becomes almost as heavy as a euphonium. The 4-valve euphonium is ripe for an ergonomic rethink - holding it up is no good for the shoulders, while for most people, resting it on the lap is no good for the back. Adding a 4th valve to a baritone gives it the same problems - except that current 4-valve baritones can never be rested on the lap while playing, as they are wrapped more compactly. It's clear that this point has escaped the designers entirely.

    3) Before the 4th valve was common on euphoniums and basses it was common to see parts written for them where the writer had obviously wanted to take the instrument below low F#, but didn't dare. This just doesn't happen on the baritone, even in modern test-pieces.

    4) Linked to (3), the euphonium has a larger bore size and a greater amount of conical tubing. This makes it more resonant in the low register than a baritone, and gives these notes more musical meaning.

    5) I'm pleased to see that Besson have revised the bizarre design decision that led to the 3rd-valve compensating tubing being way too short...

    6) ...However, they seem to have replaced it with a bizarre design decision on the layout of the compensating tubing that leaves the right hand terribly cramped and with its thumb unable to go anywhere under the handrest loop...

    7) Tuning - the 3-valve compensating system on the baritone, properly implemented, produces every note that is needed or wanted, in good tune. The old Imperial baritones (narrow bore, 3-valve compensated) play beautifully in tune. The wide-bore Sovereigns were never R&Ded enough to be as good as this from a tuning point of view. This new Prestige seems anecdotally to be more of the same. Basically - they ought to redesign the instrument from scratch, with a different tubing layout, probably a more open wrap, and concentrate on making a wider-bore (a la Sovereign or Prestige) baritone with a functionally in-tune 3-valve compensating system - something that would be a simpler and cheaper design challenge than manufacturing a functionally in-tune 4-valve compensating system, in any case... I can't help suspecting that they are trying to sell us aspirations rather than instruments...

    8 ) The position of the 4th valve - if you're going to have one, surely the best position is behind the instrument, as on a euphonium? Isn't this blindingly obvious?

    So my position is that Besson are trying to pass off as a new development and the way forward something that must have been first considered and rejected as being pointless well over 100 years ago, and on many subsequent occasions since then. In addition to that, they don't appear to have R&Ded it in any meaningful depth, resulting in a seriously flawed design. It's pretty to look at, though.

    I seem to remember writing all this on another thread on here some time back...
  4. catto09

    catto09 Member

    MoominDave - you should go in to Marketting, or at least send this to besson via email with the title "FAIL" :p
  5. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    But it's so purdy... Concentrate on the gold trim...
  6. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Gold trim ... yeah! :cool: (makes a big difference .... not!)
  7. nigeb12

    nigeb12 Member

  8. NeilW

    NeilW Member

    (good, reasoned post BTW Dave)

    We have played something recently that had 2nd bari going down to bottom F though I can't remember what it was, of course!

    About the only positive of having a 4th valve is that it gives you more combinations of valves to choose from when trying to get particular notes in tune (as in the upper register of a Sov Euph!).

    That being said, or baritones seem to be more awkward to tune in the mid range rather than high....

  9. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    It was always the top A that Dave Stephens had trouble with - that's on the instrument that Mike's got now.

    I don't remember your instrument being problematic in the mid-range when I played it at the Reading contest in 2000?
  10. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Could it have been "Devil and the deep blue sea" ? That has baritones rattling around in Eb bass register, and goes down to an F natural in a number of places. Much as I think it's a brilliant piece, there really is no need for it either, because everywhere the baris are parpling away down there, they're unison with the euphs!

    There's a 1 bar 1st baritone solo in "Voyage of discovery" that I believe starts on a bottom G as well - which isn't a good note on baritone.

    Whilst I find it hard to disagree with anything you've written, Dave, I'd also point out that the advent of a fourth valve on any instrument appears to have gone completely unnoticed in some circles. I've lost count of the amount of bass writing I still see which goes down to the low G, and then jumps up the seventh, joining the Ebs, when the music clearly leads further downward. Having previously mentioned Voyage of Discovery, I might as well go back to it now because I can't remember it having a single note in it that a bass player had to use a fourth valve to play - and yes it did have lots of that "jumping up the seventh" nonsense in it.

    Have to say I don't think there's any call for four valves on a baritone either. If it were introduced it should be to improve tuning problems (on which agree with you about a proper 3-valve compensating system being preferable.

    It should not be because composers could then write baritones below F# - because anyone with even a basic knowledge of brass instruments knows that baritones sound horrible down there anyway - so what's the point?
  11. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    I've been playing a 4-valve Yamaha bari for some years now, and I would not be happy at all if I had to switch back to a 3-valve.

    The tuning is far superior to the 3-valve Sov that I used to play, especially in the middle-upper register (I always had problems with top-line F on the Sov going ridiculuously sharp, and consistently had to use the third valve instead of 1-2).

    I don't find the weight an issue, and the instrument is very comfortable in my hands.

    Writing notes in the extreme low register for baritone is somewhat ludicrous, since the instrument just doesn't sound properly "down there".

    But the real value of the fourth valve is the doubling of the number of valve combinations possible, giving more flexibility in the player's choices.
  12. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I'd argue that this is a Yamaha vs Besson point, not a 4-valve vs. 3-valve one. Is that fair?

    What do you use it for? On euphonium, I only ever find it useful for notes that were previously fingered 1+3, or 1+2+3, which are not common in fast baritone writing. I know some players like to use it to help tame the wild high register tuning on Sovereign euphoniums, but the tonal results of this always seem to me to be more out of place than those obtained by simply bending the pitch - rather too close to the tone of a French horn.
  13. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    True. I've not played a Besson four-valve, and the three-valve Yamahas that I've played were inferior in many ways.

    I use it a fair bit in the upper register, depending on the key signature, the temperature, and the degree of flexibility in my lip that day. For example, if I have a B-flat, D, F arpeggio, I might use 4 for the D, instead of doing the whole thing with my lip. I also use it quite a bit for tuning issues in the upper register, because my ability to "bend the pitch" isn't what it used to be.
  14. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Using 1+3 for the D would fit that under the fingers more easily - but then that is only in tune on a 3-valve compensator.
  15. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    One of the perennial problems brass bands have is the D and C-sharp problem between baritones and euphs. Baritones are always sharp on 1+3 or 1+2+3, whereas euphs are usually much closer on 4 or 2+4 - does a four valve baritone solve that in the same way a four valve tuba does?

    Another accusation I've often heard is that they sound too much like a euphonium and that the distinction of tone is sometimes lost. Not sure how accurate this is though because both our current pair play on 3-valves.

    As for the options available to the player, that, I can understand and I do believe a fourth valve makes things a lot easier by eliminating a lot of the back-valve issues. some tricky runs are also easier in F than they are in Bb too.

    I honestly couldn't play without four valves now - but then I started on a four-valve new standard Eb bass, so I suppose I've never really known anything else.
  16. nigeb12

    nigeb12 Member

    Can't wait for the 4 valve tenor horn!!!! It would solve all tuning problems, avoid lip slurs, any tricky fingering and enable the instrument to play more easily in the bari/euph register. Wow!

    Bring it on
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2009
  17. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Hi Andi,

    Take a closer look at the instruments your baritone players are playing; chances are that they are 3-valve compensators - that is, the 3rd valve tubing feeds through 1 and 2, and each of those two has a tiny compensating loop on the back. 3-valve Sovereigns and Imperials were all (as far as I'm aware) built with this scheme, which, correctly implemented, makes 1+3 and 1+2+3 exactly as in tune as 4 and 2+4 under a 4-valve compensating scheme. Unless your baritones don't have this feature, this isn't the reason for their out-of-tuneness on these notes...

    I quite agree that modern baritones sound a bit too tubby. However... this is nothing to do with the number of valves - it's coincidental that wider bores were introduced at the same time as a 4th valve on Bessons... Shades of the rotary valve bass thread here...

    See above - 3-valve compensators do not have back-valve tuning issues.

    Why stop at 4? With 6 you could rule the world.
  18. catto09

    catto09 Member

    pfft - that'll never happen :p
  19. Moy

    Moy Active Member

    Please don't say that - just bough a new horn and that's my last.
    No 4th valve needed - we can lip notes in tune anyway.
    Now that thePprestige and York have triggers that should make life easier anyway.
  20. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Hi Dave

    Thanks for pointing that out about the bore. As with the tuba thread, I wasn't aware that a wider bore was implicit in a four valve instrument. Bit of defective cause and effect in the stories I've heard then!

    I wasn't actually referring to tuning issues when it came to this point.

    I was meaning how much easier it is from a manual dexterity point of view. In D major, for example, I find it far easier to go F#, E, D, C# on 2, 1+2, 4, 2+4 - rather than 2, 1+2, 1+3, 1+2+3.

    I also recall a passage in the finale of checkmate where I had repeated phrases semiquavers C, D, C, B, C and I found it much easier to hold my fourth and play 1+4, 4, 1+4, 1+2+4, 1+4 for this, than the more conventional open, 4, open, 2, open. Though this was nothing to do with manual dexterity, the notes just seemed to come out easier in F.

    PS - weren't some tenor horns already made with B-flat attatchments? Sure I;ve seen one somewhere....
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2009

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