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Why Do Some Trumpets Have 4 Valves? (Explained)

If you’ve ever seen a trumpet with four valves, you’ve probably wondered about the purpose of the extra tubing.

A fourth valve can help trumpet players with a lot of things.

Here’s Why Some Trumpets Have 4 Valves:

Some trumpets have four valves to help you play faster. The fourth valve offers extra fingerings that can be easier to play at faster tempos. An extra valve also allows you to correct your intonation, and it can extend the range of your trumpet down.

What Is the Fourth Valve on a Trumpet Used For?

Players can use the fourth valve on a trumpet for a few things. While you don’t need a trumpet with four valves, having one can come in handy.

Consider a couple of ways to take advantage of the extra valve if you have one.

Quicker Hand Positions:

First, having a fourth valve allows you to switch hand positions more quickly. The valve offers up a slew of alternate fingerings to help make playing certain passages less complicated.

That allows you to play faster, which is great since the trumpet often has fast-moving parts in music. A specific example of a useful fourth valve is when you’re trilling from C to D.

On a trumpet with three valves, you’d have to wiggle your first and third fingers. However, the fourth valve is the only one you have to move to produce the same trill if your trumpet has one.

Tuning Benefits:

The fourth valve can also make tuning notes on your trumpet easier. Since you get access to more fingerings, some of those fingerings are more in tune than the standard ones you’ve used.

Of course, many four-valve trumpets still have a slide ring to help you adjust the tuning. Then, you have a couple of options to make sure you sound good when you play with others.

For a specific example, D’s usual fingering uses the first and third valves. However, you can use the fourth valve to make that note sound more open and clear.

Other notes have similar options when you only need to use one valve. That can improve your sound without needing to get a new mouthpiece or adjust your embouchure too much.

How Do You Get a Good Grip on Trumpets With Four Valves?

If you’re used to playing trumpets with three valves, you’ll have a learning curve when you add an extra valve. Of course, your right hand has to get used to triggering all four valves in various combinations.

However, your left hand also has to adapt to holding the trumpet. The added valve can make your left hand feel a bit uncomfortable.

Fortunately, you can do a couple of things to help you get a better grip. Then, you’ll be able to continue playing for long periods.

Rely More on Your Longest Fingers:

You’ll have a bigger stretch from the first to the last when you play a trumpet with four valves. Because of that, your shorter fingers might not be able to wrap around the valves as easily.

You may need to rely more on your thumb and second finger to stabilize the instrument.

The rest of your fingers can still rest on the side of the valves, but reaching all around can be difficult, especially for players with smaller hands.

If possible, test a four-valve trumpet before you buy it. Then, you can figure out what you’ll need to do to hold the trumpet safely as you play.

Keep Your Hand Close:

Another thing you should do is keep your left hand close to the body of the trumpet.

Since you’ll need to stretch further than normal, you can’t get away with a rounded palm position.

You’ll be able to keep your left hand more comfortable, which can help you play for longer between taking breaks. Speaking of which, be sure you take a break whenever either of your hands starts to hurt, or you feel discomfort.

Do some hand stretches during your break and before you pick up your trumpet. Then, you can help reduce tension and feel better when holding and playing your instrument.

Can You Play Faster on Trumpets With Four Valves?

Getting a trumpet with four valves won’t automatically make you play faster. You’ll still need to practice your music and work on your fundamentals to increase the tempo of your scales and other exercises.

However, having an extra valve might help you increase the upper limit of your speed. If you want to play faster, consider how a fourth valve can help you.

Then, remember to practice to take advantage of the spec.

What Other Brass Instruments Have Four Valves? Here are 4 examples!

More Fingerings Available:

A trumpet with four valves offers 16 combinations of fingerings compared to the regular trumpet’s eight options.

That means you have more fingerings to choose from when you play.

Some fingers are best for improving your intonation, but others are better for technical passages. Instead of using two fingers, for example, you can get away with closing or opening the one valve for some notes.

You also won’t have to synchronize two fingers for trills if there’s an alternate that only uses one. Using the example of trilling from C to D, it can be hard to coordinate moving your first and third fingers.

When you have a fourth valve, you can trill just your pinky. The pinky is weaker, but you don’t have to match its trill speed with another finger.

Weak Pinky:

Speaking of your pinky, it can be a bit slower than your other fingers.

At first, you might not be able to play much faster on a four-valve trumpet compared to one with three valves.

Unless you’ve played another brass instrument with four valves, you’ll need to practice using your pinky. Then, you can get it to work a bit faster to help your playing overall.

But adding a new finger to your technique can slow you down temporarily. Keep that in mind when learning how to use the fourth valve and when deciding where to use it in your music.

What Brass Instruments Have Four Valves?

The trumpet isn’t the only brass instrument that can have four valves.

Consider a few other instruments where four valves are either the standard or an optional spec:

  • Piccolo trumpet
  • Trumpet
  • Flugelhorn
  • French horn
  • Euphonium
  • Tuba

Regardless of the instrument, four valves are more common on professional models.

Students usually start on an instrument with three valves, and you can always upgrade to one with four later.

Why Do Small Brass Instruments Often Have a Fourth Valve?

Small brass instruments often have a fourth valve for a few reasons.

The purpose of a fourth valve on other small brass instruments is similar to a trumpet, but there can be different applications.

Consider why you might want a small brass instrument with an extra valve:

Extend the Low Range

Depending on the instrument, a fourth valve can help extend the bottom of the range. For example, the piccolo trumpet’s fourth valve can lower the range by a perfect fourth.

That allows you to play a bit lower without switching to a Bb trumpet. Some pieces call for an F, while the piccolo trumpet can usually only play down to an F#.

Having that extra valve means you don’t have to leave out notes when you play. And you can play between the first and second partials chromatically, which can come in handy for lower parts.

Use Alternate Fingerings

As mentioned, a fourth valve opens you up to a lot more fingerings. You can use those fingerings when playing a lot of different things to make your sound better.

Whether you have to play fast or want to get a better tone, consider the alternate fingerings. The fourth valve often turns your trumpet into a “compensating” instrument.

You can use the fourth valve to redirect your air to help adjust the tuning slightly. Then, you won’t have to completely retune your instrument or manipulate your air with your lips.

Improve Intonation

When you play smaller brass instruments, your range will be higher. That means your sound is almost guaranteed to cut through a large ensemble.

However, higher instruments can be much harder to keep in tune. Even if you play 10 cents sharp, it can sound significantly more out of tune since the frequencies get closer and closer together.

Use the fourth if you can’t stay in tune with only the first three valves. Learn some alternate fingerings, and consider if the fourth valve turns the instrument into a “compensating” trumpet.

Final Thoughts

Some trumpets have four valves to help you get a better sound, either tuning-wise or speed-wise. Be sure to practice the trumpet slowly to hold it well and stay comfortable while playing.


Music for You: Why are there 4 valves on certain trumpets?