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The euphonium is a conical-bore, tenor-voiced brass instrument. It derives its name from the Greek word euphonos, meaning "beautiful-sounding" or "sweet-voiced" (eu means "well" or "good" and phonium means "voice"). The euphonium is a valved instrument; nearly all current models are piston valved, though rotary valved models do exist.

A person who plays euphonium is sometimes called a euphoniumist or a euphonist, while British players often colloquially refer to themselves as euphists. Similarly, the instrument itself is sometimes referred to as eupho or euph.


[edit] Construction and general characteristics

The euphonium is pitched in concert B-flat, meaning that when no valves are depressed the instrument will produce partials of the B-flat harmonic series. In the United States, music for the instrument is usually written in the bass clef at concert pitch (that is, without transposition), though treble clef euphonium parts, transposing down a major ninth, are included in much concert band music¹. In the brass band tradition, especially in the United Kingdom, euphonium music is always written this way. In continental European music, parts for the euphonium are sometimes written in the bass clef but a major second higher than sounding pitch.

Professional models have three top-action valves, played with the first three fingers of the right hand, plus a "compensating" fourth valve found midway down the right side of the instrument, played with the left index finger; such an instrument is shown in the above picture. Beginner models often have only the three top-action valves, while some intermediate "student" models may have a fourth top-action valve, played with the fourth finger of the right hand. Compensating systems are expensive to build, and there is in general a wide discrepancy between the costs of compensating and non-compensating models. For a thorough discussion of the valves and the compensation system, see the article on brass instruments.

The euphonium has an extensive range, from far below the bass clef to F six ledger lines above or even higher in professional hands, though B-flat four ledger lines above the staff is an average cutoff for intermediate players. The lowest notes obtainable depend on the valve set-up of the instrument. All instruments are chromatic down to the E at the bottom of the bass staff, but 4-valve instruments can extend this somewhat further. "Compensating" instruments are chromatic into the pedal range, but "non-compensating" instruments suffer from tuning difficulties from D down to B. Below this, there is a region of obtainable notes from the first harmonic of the tube, extending from the B♭ below down to a limit specified by the instrument's set-up, exactly mirroring the valve fingerings an octave higher. 4-valve "compensating" set-ups can in principle reach the B over an octave below the bass staff, and many advanced players can readily produce this note.

As with the other conical-bore instruments, the cornet, flugelhorn, French horn, and tuba, the euphonium's tubing gradually increases in diameter throughout its length, resulting in a softer, gentler tone compared to cylindrical-bore instruments such as the trumpet and trombone. However, a truly characteristic euphonium sound is rather hard to define precisely; most players would agree that an ideal sound is dark, rich, warm, and velvety, with virtually no hardness to it. On the other hand, the desired sound varies geographically; European players, especially British ones, generally use a faster, more constant vibrato and a more veiled tone, while Americans tend to prefer a more straightforward, open sound with slower and less frequent vibrato. This also has to do with the different models preferred by British and American players.

Though the euphonium's fingerings are no different from those of the trumpet or tuba, beginning euphoniumists will likely experience more problems with intonation, response, and range compared to other beginning brass players. In addition, it is very difficult for students, even of high-school age, to develop the rich sound characteristic of the euphonium, due partly to the models used in schools and partly to lack of awareness of good euphonium sound models.

[edit] Name recognition and misconceptions

The euphonium is possibly the least popularly-known Western instrument of all, probably due to its scarcity of performance venues (see below). Most non-musician members of the general public in the United States do not recognize the name "euphonium," and so it must be described as a small tuba or compared to a baritone horn.

Despite great confusion (especially in the United States), the euphonium and the baritone are two different instruments. Some believe that the four-valved instrument is the euphonium, and that the three-valved instrument is the baritone horn, but this is not the case. Though they play in the same register, the baritone is significantly smaller in appearance, has a more masked tone, and most importantly, is cylindrical-bore, like trumpets and trombones. See David Werden's website for an excellent and thorough discussion of the differences between a euphonium and a baritone.

The so-called American-style euphonium, featuring three valves on the front of the instrument and a curved forward-pointing bell, was predominant in American school bands throughout most of the twentieth century and was almost universally labeled a "baritone" by both band directors and composers; this is probably responsible for much of the baritone/euphonium confusion. In reality, this instrument is a conical-cylindrical bore hybrid, neither truly a euphonium nor a baritone.

[edit] History and development

The euphonium, the baritone, the saxhorn family, and the German Bariton and Tenorhorn all trace their descent to the ophicleide and ultimately to the serpent. The euphonium is alleged to have been invented, as a valved instrument replacing the ophicleide, by Herr Sommer of Weimar in 1843, though Carl Moritz in 1838 and Adolphe Sax in 1843 have also been credited. The "British-style" compensating euphonium was developed by David Blaikley in 1874, and has been in use in Britain ever since.

A creation unique to the United States was the double-bell euphonium, featuring a second smaller bell in addition to the main one; the player could switch bells for certain passages or even for individual notes by use of a fifth valve, operated with the left hand. Ostensibly, the smaller bell was intended to emulate the sound of a trombone (it was cylindrical-bore) and was possibly intended for performance situations in which trombones were not available. The extent to which the difference in sound and timbre was apparent to the listener, however, is up for debate. Harry Whittier of the Patrick S. Gilmore band introduced the instrument in 1888, and it was used widely in both school and service bands for several decades. Harold Brasch (see "List of important players" below) brought the British-style compensating euphonium to the United States c. 1939, but the double-belled euphonium may have remained in common use even into the 1950's and 60's. In any case, they have become rare (they were last in instrumental catalogues in the late 1960's), and are generally unknown to younger euphonium players. They are chiefly known now through their mention in the song "Seventy-six Trombones" from the musical The Music Man by Meredith Willson.

Today the top makers of euphoniums are generally considered to be Besson, Willson, Courtois, York and Yamaha, though smaller makers (such as Sterling, Mirafone, Hirsbrunner and Meinl-Weston) do exist and are popular among professionals.

[edit] Performance venues and professional job opportunities

The euphonium has historically been and largely still is exclusively a wind band instrument; thus, the most common forums in which it can be found are concert bands and brass bands, where it is frequently featured as a solo instrument. Because of this, the euphonium has been called the "king of band instruments," or the "cello of the band," because of its similarity in timbre and ensemble role to the stringed instrument. Euphoniums typically have extremely important parts in many marches (such as those by John Philip Sousa), and in brass band music of the British tradition. The euphonium may also be found in marching bands, though it is often replaced by its smaller, easier-to-carry cousin, the marching baritone (which has a similar bell and valve configuration to a trumpet). A marching euphonium similar to the marching baritone is also used in many marching groups, primarily drum and bugle corps, two of which (Phantom Regiment and Teal Sound) march all-euphonium sections.

Other performance venues for the euphonium may include the tuba-euphonium quartet or larger tuba-euphonium ensemble, the brass quintet where it can supply the tenor voice (though the trombone is much more common), or in mixed brass ensembles. Though these are legitimate performance venues, (paid) professional jobs in these areas are almost non-existent; they are much more likely to be semi-professional or amateur in nature. Most of the United States's military service bands include a tuba-euphonium quartet made up of players from the band that occasionally performs in its own right.

The euphonium is not traditionally an orchestral instrument and has never been common in symphony orchestras. However, there are a handful of works, mostly from the late Romantic period, in which composers wrote a part for baryton (German) or tenor tuba, and these are universally played on euphonium, frequently by the principal trombone player. In addition, the euphonium is sometimes used in older orchestral works as a replacement of its predecessors, such as the Wagner tuba, the bass trumpet, or the ophicleide. At the bottom of the article are some of the well-known orchestral works in which the euphonium is commonly used (whether or not the composer originally specified it).

Finally, while the euphonium was not historically part of the standard jazz big band or combo, the instrument's technical facility and large range make it well-suited to a jazz solo role, and a jazz euphonium niche has been carved out over the last 40 or so years, largely starting with the pioneer Rich Matteson (see "List of important players" below). Jazz euphoniums are most likely to be found in tuba-euphonium groups, though modern funk or rock bands occasionally feature a brass player doubling on euphonium, and this trend is growing.

Due to this dearth of performance opportunities, aspiring euphonium players in the United States are in a rather inconvenient position when seeking future employment. Often, college players must either obtain a graduate degree and go on to teach at the college level, or audition for one of the major or regional military service bands. Because these bands are relatively few in number and the number of euphonium positions in the bands is small (2-4 in most service bands), job openings do not occur very often and when they do are highly competitive; before the current slate of openings in four separate bands, the last opening for a euphonium player in an American service band was in May 2004. A career strictly as a solo performer, unaffiliated with any university or performing ensemble, is a very rare sight, but some performers, such as Riki McDonnell have managed to do it.

In Britain, the strongest euphonium players are most likely to find a position in a brass band, but ironically, even though they often play at world-class levels, the members of the top brass bands are, in most cases, unpaid amateurs.

The Euphonium has also long been featured as an integral part and solo instrument in Salvation Army bands.

[edit] Notable euphoniumists

The euphonium world is and has been more crowded than is commonly thought, and there have been many noteworthy players throughout the instrument's history. Traditionally the three main national schools of euphonium playing have been American, British, and Japanese; now, however, euphoniumists are able to learn this specific art in many other countries around the world. Below are a select few of the players most famous and influential in their respective countries, and whose contributions to the euphonium world are undeniable, in terms of recordings, commissions, pedagogy, and increased recognition of the instrument.

United States

United Kingdom



  • Matthew van Emmerik former principal euphonium soloist with the Central Band of The Royal Air Force (UK) Besson Artist and Clinician. Euphonium lecturer and International soloist

[edit] Important literature

[edit] Original works

These are some of the major works of the original euphonium repertoire, divided into three rough categories of difficulty: those that would be appropriate for high schoolers, those for undergraduate college students, and those probably appropriate only for graduate-level or professional players.

Solos available with ensemble accompaniment (concert band, brass band, orchestra, or often all three) are marked with an asterisk (*); pieces not so marked exist with piano accompaniment only. When solos are unaccompanied or have other instrumental accompaniment, this is noted as well.

High school:

  • J. Edouard Barat, Introduction and Dance and Morceau de Concours
  • James Curnow, Rhapsody *
  • Joseph Deluca, Beautiful Colorado *
  • Percy Grainger, Tuscan Serenade* (edited for band from Gabriel Faure's Sernade Tuscane)
  • Donald Haddad, Suite for Baritone *
  • D. Warner Hutchison, Sonatina
  • Alfred Reed, Seascape *
  • Donald White, Lyric Suite


  • Fred Clinard, Jr., Sonata (unaccompanied)
  • Gordon Jacob, Fantasia *
  • Joseph Horovitz, Concerto *
  • Simone Mantia,Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms *
  • Philip Sparke, Fantasy *, Song for Ina, Pantomime * and Party Piece
  • Simone Mantia (various arrangers), Believe me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms


  • Samuel Adler, Four Dialogues (with marimba)
  • Jan Bach, Concert Variations and Concerto
  • Arthur Butterworth, Partita
  • Vladimir Cosma, Concerto *
  • James Curnow, Symphonic Variants*
  • Martin Ellerby, Concerto *
  • David Gillingham, Blue Lake Fantasies (unaccompanied) and Vintage *
  • John Golland, Concertos nos. 1* and 2 *
  • Ermano Picchi, Fantasie Orginale *
  • Amilcare Ponchielli, Concerto per Flicorno Basso *
  • Philip Sparke, Concerto *
  • John Stevens, Soliloquies (unaccompanied)
  • Roland Szentpali, Pearls

[edit] Transcriptions

Because the repertoire for euphonium is somewhat limited in scope and historical depth, euphoniumists often play transcriptions of literature written for other instruments, including cornet, trombone, bassoon, voice, and cello. These pieces may be transposed for the sake of range or key, they may be simplified technically, or they may be performed exactly as originally written. Here are some of the most commonly performed transcriptions, sorted by historical period and style, along with the instruments for which they were originally composed:




Early 20th century virtuoso

  • Jean-Baptiste Arban, Variations on 'The Carnival of Venice' (cornet)
  • Herman Bellstedt, Napoli Variations (cornet)
  • Edoardo Boccalari, Fantasia di Concerto (clarinet, cornet, or baritone)
  • Herbert L. Clarke, The Bride of the Waves, The Carnival of Venice and several others (cornet)
  • Arthur Pryor, The Blue Bells of Scotland (trombone)
  • Walter Rodgers, The Volunteer

French Conservatoire

  • J. Edouard Barat, Andante and Allegro (trombone)
  • Paul Veronge de la Nux, Concert Piece (trombone)
  • F. Alexandre Guilmant, Morceau Symphonique (trombone)
  • Camille Saint-Saëns, Morceau de Concert (french horn), "The Swan" from Carnival of the Animals (cello) and Cavatina (trombone)

20th century

[edit] Famous works with euphonium solos

[edit] The euphonium in orchestras

These are some selected orchestral works that have parts commonly played on euphonium. In the score these parts may be written for a variety of instruments, including euphonium, baritone, tenor tuba, bass trumpet, or ophicleide, but in performance practice a euphonium is often, if not always, used.

As can be seen, the euphonium and its related instruments enjoyed their greatest orchestral popularity in the late Romantic period in northern and eastern Europe. Despite the number of these works, virtually no orchestra has a euphonium player on its roster, and such parts are almost always played either by a hired extra, or by the tuba player or a trombone player doubling on euphonium.

[edit] References

[edit] External links

  • Tapmusic, A US-based store with a large range of well-known Euphonium CD recordings and sheet music.
  • World of Brass, A UK-based store with a large range of CD recordings from well-known euphonium soloists.
  • Tuba News, a free monthly online publication for tuba and euphonium players.
  • Tuba-Euphonium Press, one of the premier publishing houses for new euphonium and tuba music in all genres.
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