The trumpet buttons 1,2 and 3 lowers the pitch by 2,1 and 3 halfsteps. So pressing button 1 and 2 gives the same result as only pressing the third button.

So why is the third button so rarely used alone? Why press two buttons instead if you don't have to? I have seen it be used for fast drills that would be almost impossible otherwise, but I cannot understand why it isn't the default for playing the notes E and A.

  • In my youth and during the military service I always used the fingersttings like you discribed. One reason is mentioned in my answer. Another reason could be that most pieces for brassbands are in the keys of G,C,F or Bb. and the fingersetting 1,2 insread of 3 is more comfortable. After a time out of some dekades I’ve started to practice my instrument again and in a Euphonium Bb Solo in D (actually C) I use more often the 3rd valve exactly because of the reasons you’re counting. Mar 2, 2019 at 21:59

2 Answers 2


Because valve #3 is normally tuned slightly flatter than #1 + #2. This is to do with the physical fact that each semitone down requires the tube length to increase by the same PROPORTION, not by the same fixed length.

The real situation is complicated by most professional-quality instruments having finger-operated slides on valves #1 and #3, allowing them to be lengthened. But #3 is still normally adjusted to be longer than the sum of #1 and #2, so it would make notes normally played by #1 + #2 too flat.

On a trumpet without 'triggers', low C# and F#, the only notes requiring #1 + #2 + #3, are, if not un-usable, certainly difficult to play in tune.

  • As I’m using three different instruments I have always to compensate the pitch by the lips or other fingerings. Even the natural tone sol (F) of the yamaha euphonium is too high that I play it as1,2 when there is a long note to hold. Mar 3, 2019 at 7:45

Button=Valve (wind instrument) Component of brass instruments

Valves are used on brass instruments to change the tube length to allow a chromatic play. When the valve is actuated, the air is passed through an additional pipe loop of a certain length, extending (usually) the air column of the instrument.

The first valve lowers the natural tone by two semitones (12.4%), The second valve lowers the natural tone by one semitone (6.0%), The third valve lowers the natural tone by three semitones (19.1%),


If two or more valves are used in combination, the intonation of the sound heard does not correspond to the calculated sum of its intervals, but to a tone that is too high. This is because the additional tube length switched by each valve into the resonator body is only calculated to increase the air column of the open instrument by a certain interval, but does not take into account the air column already extended by another valve.

The intonation when using multiple valves at the same time is therefore basically more or less unclean if no compensation takes place in any form. Quintessence from this realization: The fewer valves are needed, the better the tone is right.


There are basically as few valves as possible to use. With the small differences of the "short" valve combination (1 + 2), the compensation is usually done by ear via the approach.

As you’re supposing: The use of the clean handle 3 would be desirable, but in practice usually not possible, since in the fingering tables of the instrumental schools and thus in the training, the combination 1 + 2 in the foreground.

For instruments of rather short overall length like the trumpet, the difference in combinations with the third or first valve is usually compensated by simply pulling out the valve train of the third valve. Therefore cornets, wing horns as well as high-quality tubes and euphoniums have often already standard triggers as an additional intonation aid.

  • 4
    Would it be unkind to suspect Albrecht Hügli''s answer reached us via a translation program? He obviously knows his stuff, but it's coming across rather incomprehensibly. And surely "calculated to decrease the air column" should be "calculated to INCREASE the air column"?
    – Laurence
    Mar 3, 2019 at 1:01
  • No, this wouldn’t be unkind at all! This is the source:als.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ventil_(Blasinstrument) and ths is even more incomprehensible. You are rightthe term in the original for “decrease” was”draws down”. It would have been much easier to say it in my own words than to translate the whole stuff by copy paste. Mar 3, 2019 at 7:26
  • @LaurencePayne If you feel that an answer can be improved and that you can do it, then feel free to do so. That's how this site works.
    – klutt
    Apr 8, 2019 at 19:09

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