A Euphonium for you

The euphonium is a german instrument designed in 1843 by Ferdinand Sommer when he developed a valved bugle with the range of a baritone. 1

Also named

You may hear about it with other names like tenor tuba or euphonion. Pronounced “yoo·

fow·nee·uhm”, from the Greek meaning “well-sounding” and called bombardino in Spanish, and eufônio in Portuguese. A person that plays it’s called a euphonist, but it’s also correct to call them euphoniumist and even euphophonist.2 

What’s the difference?

The difference with a baritone is that the baritone is more compact, has a smaller bell and it also sounds brighter. There’s no such thing as a baritone euphonium, they are separated instruments. 

The difference with a tuba is that a BBb tuba, for example, is twice as long as the euphonium and is an octave lower. There’s also the euphonium tuba, which is an instrument that doesn’t exist. So you can say that the euphonium is just a smaller tuba.

Category

The Brass family meaning it makes sound from vibration on the metal when you blow air.

Variants

The types are determined by valves and compensation3, meaning they have either 3 or 4 valves and are either compensating euphonium or non-compensating euphonium, all on the key of Bb.4

3 or 4 valved 

Beginner models have 3 valves and intermediate ones 4, the 4th valve is usually on the side and it’s used to reduce the tone by 2.5 tones.

You can use the 4th valve to replace the 1-3 & 1-2-3 valve combination, it helps alternating fingerings and extending low registers.

A 5 valve model used to exist in the 19th century, and the added valve lowered the register by 1 step, but it became obsolete once the compensating models improved over time.

Compensating and Non-compensating

When a non-compensating instrument plays a low register it’s usually slightly sharp (out of tune), the compensating models have extra tubes to make those notes sound in tune. 

Marching

With the look of a really big cornet, the marching euphonium is meant to be held with the bell facing forward as you march instead of upwards while you sit, the instrument weighs around the same as a non-marching model, so the decision on which to play comes to the way you prefer to hold it.

Double bell

Rare model with an extra smaller bell, with the use of an extra valve you can change the bell (can’t play both at the same time). The smaller bell sounds like a trombone so it’s used when there’s none (trombones). 

History

The evolution goes from the serpent, the predecessor of low brass, who evolved into the ophicleide. When the piston valves were invented most brass instruments were invented, including the euphonium who started as a bugle with a low range.

The best for you

For a beginner we suggest a compensating 3 valve Bb euphonium since it is the most beginner-friendly combination, the compensation will help play notes on tone more easily and the 3 valves will play most of the songs you try to play.

For kids a euphonium may be a lot, mostly because of its size, this time we do not recommend plastic euphoniums, they cost around the same and weigh less, but all the models we could find had problems with upper range and stuck valves, instead of giving them a french horn or a cornet may be better if they do want a euphonium, our suggestion is the same as the “for beginners” section above.

Famous players like Stephen Mead and Nicholas Childs had a 4 valve compensating euphonium so if you’re going professional, you don’t have any excuse with one of those5.

It’s important to mention that you can play the instrument even if you’re disabled, like this video shows.

Don’t worry about brands and don’t worry too much about models and series. What matters is the store you buy them from.

Now that you know, you can check on Ebay here.

Getting it another way

So far we have talked only about the physical instruments, but there are more options than that.

You can get an app for android called euphonium fingerprints if you want to learn every note for your euphonium, but sadly you can’t play it, for both android and ios there’s an app called “Tonestro”, there you can play sheets into the phone microphone and the phone will tell you if you play the right note and in the right time or not, sadly you need to have a euphonium to use the app.

You can also replicate it using a synthesizer / keyboard / midi and you can also get a plugin/vst for your music production software.

Prices

VariantLowest priceHighest price
3 Valve non-compensating$390 USD$1,700 USD
3 Valve compensating$500 USD$2,000 USD
4 Valve non-compensating$500 USD$2,400 USD
4 Valve compensating$2,000 USD$4,500 USD

For reference, the cheapest we found was a 3 valve compensating model and was an old model, a little bit rusty and used and the most expensive was a silver-plated 4 valve compensating with a year of guarantee, a case and a mouthpiece.

Sizes

VariantsSmallestBiggest
3 Valve24 x 10 x 18 In (60 x 25 x 45 Cm)30 x 12 x 20 In (76 x 30 x 50 Cm)
4 Valve 33 x 23 x 15 In (83 x 58 x 38 Cm)35 x 24 x 18 In (88 x 61 x 45 Cm)

Weights

VariantsLightestHeaviest
3 Valve 12 Lbs (5.4 Kg)13 Lbs (5.8 Kg)
4 Valve 12 Lbs (5.4 Kg)13 Lbs (5.8Kg)

Materials

Brass (copper with zinc) and it might have a lacquer (layer) of gold, silver, or steel with some additional painted color on top of it.  Material has no effect on sound but it does in price and durability.

How to play – first lesson

The euphonium is easy and fast to learn because you don’t need to deal with the instrument has a lot of different pitches. Once you get comfortable with the way to hold it and embouchure, you can learn each note and then start with full songs.

To learn to play each note you need a finger chart (or position chart).

We recommend learning to read sheet music or any of the different notations, (options for learning). Don’t forget all the details that combined make a big difference like the way you hold it, efficient warmups, correct tuning. 

“Louis Armstrong changed all the brass players around, but after Bird, all of the instruments had to change – drums, piano, bass, trombones, trumpets, saxophones, everything.”

-Cootie Williams.

References

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Britannica
  3. JP Musical Instruments
  4. Trumpet to euphonium
  5. 4BarsRest

6 Replies to “A Euphonium for you”

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