Quick guide to popular Euphoniums

The Euphonium

The Euphonium, or the German Baryton, is a low wind / aerophone instrument made of brass. Most current models of the euphonium have piston valves that are pitched in the keys of B flat one octave below the trumpet or C. There are also some models with rotary valves.  

The euphonium usually leads the wind instruments in military and school bands. It appeared in the midst 1800s and was designed by Ferdinand Sommer of Weimar who originally named it Euphonion and derived its design from the cornet and the flugelhorn. Some people called it the tenor tuba. It’s large conical-bore produces sweet sound. Euphonos in Greek means “sweet voice”.

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Getting Started with the Euphonium

The Euphonium is a versatile instrument and can be played in both a marching band and in a symphony orchestra. But it is often unappreciated and, coming from the tuba family and named Baryton in German, it is often mistaken for a bass tuba, and oftentimes to a Baritone. Euphonium was frequently labeled as a baritone, even by composers of marching music. But compared to the Baritone, it has a bigger bore size and not cylindrical compared to the Euphonium; which is conical. Cylindrical bores maintain the same diametric size up to the bell’s flare. Conicals expand gradually as the bore reaches the bell. Thus conical bores create a warmer, mellower and sweeter but darker sound. A baritone can easily play the euphonium with a bit of adjustment of breath. Fingering and range remains the same but the euphonium is mellow while the baritone is brighter.

With a wide bore the shape of a cone, similar to the tuba, it is held vertically with the bell generally pointing upward. In other countries, like the United States, the bell points forward. It has 4 valves – the fourth to bring the compass down to bass staff pitches. It is often played in the bass clef and the treble clef above the rest of the brasses. The fourth connects the two lowest notes. Euphoniums have a double or alternative bell and tubing that provides lighter tones. The player of a euphonium is called a euphophonist, euphonist or euphoniumist. The British call them euphists.


Weight of the Euphonium

It is a big instrument shaped and configured to serve the needs of military and school bands. The arrival of German musicians to America gave advent also to the Bass-Baritone, distinguished the euphonium or Baryton (German) from the Baritone. The Bass Baritone had a thicker tube that created strong false-tones. It is shaped like the tuba but it plays like a tenor wind. It resembles the baritone in terms of range but having a bigger bore, it has different tone quality.


Purchasing an Euphonium

Beginners who want to learn how to play the euphonium are advised to buy a baritone, which is smaller and easier to handle, before they actually explore the euphonium. Developing a mouth position or embouchure on the mouthpiece of the euphonium may take years. Children are advised to wait until they’ve developed adult teeth.

Euphoniums can be purchased at a staggering 10,000 dollars brand new, not to mention vintage items that may be even more expensive; and if acquired used, one can find one worth about $500 dollars.  Relatively very expensive compared to the other wind instruments. Thus before buying one, make sure that you know how to care for it. It is particularly important to make sure that the valves are clean and not sticky nor seized. Although valves are generally durable and lasts a lifetime, broken valves can be replaced with high quality valves like corrosion resistant Monel. The brass that makes up the bell and other parts, especially those with 70% copper and 30% zinc (student models) or high grade brass 80 copper and 20 zinc for professional models, need to be kept clean to avoid corrosion. The euphonium is rather a large instrument but is portable and usually comes with a bag. It is a joy to own one.


Other Information About the Euphonium

There are five-valve euphoniums but are extremely rare and mostly were manufactured late in the 19th century such as the Clearbore created by Besson and Highman. These models are extremely rare and cost way more than 10,000 dollars. These models have the standard 3 valves on top and 2 on either side, with eight fingering positions.

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