• Some Thoughts On Playing the Euphonium by Geoffrey Whitham

    Some thoughts on playing the euphonium
    by Geoffrey Whitham

    Published with kind permission of British Bandsman:

    It is advisable for the euphonium student to learn the extensive use of the 4th valve. Most players think that the 4th valve is for extending the range into the pedal register. While this thought is correct, the 4th valve, like any other valve, has its natural harmonics and, in combination with the other valves, can achieve a very wide usage in the higher register of the instrument.

    I was 18 years of age when I went on solo euphonium at Black Dyke Mills, and I remember vividly a TV show from Alexandra Palace with Sir Malcolm Sargent. Each soloist had to go to the front to have his instrument demonstrated. Sir Malcolm asked me what the 4th valve was for and my answer was "for playing the low notes". So much for my knowledge of the 4th valve at that time!

    Low D and Db should always be played with the 4th valve depressed, D just 4th and Db 2/4. Played in this way, these notes are more or less guaranteed to be in tune, providing of course, that the player can play in tune.

    In the following chart I have shown the seven positions of the 4th valve.

    4th Valve Fingering Options (click to enlarge):

    This valve, like valves 1,2 and 3, has its eight natural harmonics, plus the usual overtones, but you will see from the chart that the 4th valve is not 'just for playing low notes'. Also, as will be seen, one can completely eliminate the use of the weak 3rd finger. An example of this use occurs in the 'Lament' from Variations on The Shining River by Edmund Rubbra.

    (Click to enlarge in new window):

    The above example, which is reproduced by kind permission of Novello/Paxton, publishers of the brass band score, provides good practice for the use of the 4th valve in the high register.

    While this passage is playable with ordinary fingering, by keeping the 4th valve depressed the passage becomes very easy, as will be seen in this example.

    I am bound to admit that using the 4th valve in the higher register has a different 'feel' and, therefore, needs a different approach, but with extensive practice the use will become as familiar as the normal fingering. You will probably find that the notes feel thin in the higher register, but with a little more pressure on the diaphragm (not the lip), the notes will fill out. The same method used with the ordinary fingering will naturally fill out the higher register generally. I have noticed recently, while listening to some euphonium players, that while the middle and low registers are fairly full, the high register tends to become thin and rather "tenor horn-ish' in sound.

    I was fortunate enough in my early days to have heard the really great euphonium players: Alex Mortimer, Frank Webb, Bert Sullivan, Rowland Jones, Harry Mather, Harry Cheshire and Fred Spencer. All of these players could project tone (not noise) in any register of the instrument. The size of the man does not matter. Some of these men were quite small, but each had the same common denominator in that they projected the sound with the diaphragm, not with the chest. I tried to emulate these methods and sound— whether I was successful or not is not for me to say. Each player had his own particular playing characteristic. Alex Mortimer had a big sound and absolute artistry; Rowland Jones, not as big a sound, but a wonderful singing tone and style; Frank Webb, Bert Sullivan, Harry Mather were the complete "stand up" soloists, Harry Cheshire was the complete band euphonium player and Fred Spencer achieved the utmost clarity at any speed, and complete reliability with the band. These players were my yardstick when I was a young player and I tried to learn from each one something which I thought would help me to develop my own style.

    I have probably changed tack from the subject I started on, but I do think that it is a good idea to listen and learn from the great players of your time. I remember a conversation with Bert Sullivan about players of his era (some 30 years before my own) and he came up with a player named Ernest Shaw, a former Black Dyke euphonium player. Unfortunately, I was not old enough to have heard him play, but Bert said that by far he was the most competent euphonium player of his era, both for sound and artistry.

    In some ways I think we may be losing some of the main attributes of playing—not only euphonium players, but players of other instruments. The accent seems to be on playing as many notes as possible at high speed. While this is all very well, we must never forget the other side of the coin. My advice to any up- and-coming young player is to first of all develop the sound, a rich, warm round sound that only the euphonium can produce, in every register of the instrument. Study the art of phrasing; learn to play simple tunes with expression (this is very difficult to do without it sounding corny or over sentimental); and, of course, develop your technique.

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