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Problems with Third Valve Technique

Gary Corcoran | April 2017

This gem from our archives originally ran in the May 1980 issue.

    Many students at the intermediate level and beyond develop habits that inhibit the effective improvement of finger dexterity. Of these habits, most seem to be related to the use of the third valve and might involve one or more of the following problems.

    Incorrect fourth-finger position. By placing the fourth finger into the trumpet’s finger hook, the student may create tension and rigidity in the third finger. This problem is compounded when the right thumb is extended along the underside of the leadpipe, further stretching the hand. Remind the player that the fourth finger is inserted into the finger hook only when the trumpet is being held by the right hand while turning a page in the music or when inserting a mute with the left hand. For normal playing he should support the instrument with the left hand. The right hand should be placed in a relaxed position with the tip of the thumb between the first and second valve casings, the first three fingers arched naturally with the fingertips on the valve caps, and the fourth finger on top of the finger hook.

    Incorrect third-finger position. Some students let the third finger drop below the valve cap and curl in toward the palm. When it is needed, the student must take extra time to move the finger up and onto the valve cap before the valve can be depressed.
A similar problem results when students let the third finger drift toward the second valve. A few students will even use both the second and third fingers to play the second valve – a habit especially common on euphonium and tuba.

    Lifting the fingers off the valve caps. This tendency increases the distance the fingers must travel to depress the valves, and because the third finger is used less than the other two, it often flies the highest. Rapid finger technique usually depends on minimizing movements and omitting unnecessary ones, so finger motion should be quick and deliberate, but not exaggerated.

    Insufficient use. Use of the third valve is more common in the lower register than in the middle and upper registers where the open tones in the harmonic series get progressively closer together. As the student’s upper range begins to develop, problems with third-valve technique may occur simply because the third finger is not being used as much as the other two. Also, conductors usually select music that lies well for certain instruments. For the trumpeter, some keys are inherently more awkward than others, largely because of the number of fingerings requiring use of the third valve. Therefore, many students and conductors shy away from these awkward keys which impedes third-finger dexterity.
    To correct some of these problems the teacher may ask the student to spend some time each day playing short remedial exercises. Each should be repeated several times, giving the student an opportunity to observe his hand position and finger movements closely. Emphasize proper placement, minimal motion, and relaxation. I have used the following exercises to improve third-valve technique.

    When the exercises can be played evenly and rapidly, the student should work on his technique in a normal manner, checking periodically to see that no further difficulties are developing with the sometimes troublesome third finger.