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7. What is the difference between "in-line" and "dependent" bass trombones? Which is better?

I get asked all the time about the differences between dependent and in-line bass trombone valve systems and which I prefer - and why. This is a very involved issue, so in an effort to avoid leaving the reader confused, I will try to provide as comprehensive an answer as possible, while perhaps erring on the side of "too much" information.

The best place to start is with a description of the two systems, and I can find no better one than that which was posted on the trombone-l email list by Dennis Clason, a trombonist in New Mexico. I quote Dennis below with his permission, for which I am grateful. Dennis wrote:

There are two valve systems in use for double valve bass trombones. The dependent (also called stacked) system places the first (F) valve on the neckpipe of the trombone, and the second valve on the F attachment tubing. Because the second valve is on the F attachment, depressing the valve lever has no effect unless the thumb valve is depressed. Thus the expression "dependent". Dependent systems were developed first as a response to a few composers treating the bass trombone as a completely chromatic instrument from low B (rather than low C). Bartok figured prominently among that group.

In-line valve systems were developed by Burt Herrick and Larry Minnick in the late 60s and early 70s. This system places both valves on the neckpipe, and hence they can operate "independently" of one another. In-line systems have the disadvantage of always blowing against the resistance of two valves, instead of one. The resistance can be reduced by tricks like overbore valve sections, Thayer (and Thayer-inspired) valves, open wrap, etc. Olds made the first production in-line valve system basses in the mid 70s. The other manufacturers have since followed suit, and some do not produce dependent rotor basses (Conn, Holton and Benge).

In-line systems are thought to provide some added facility, because a fourth overtone series is available. While that is an indisputable fact, the advantage it provides is questionable, especially with some of the second valve tunings in use today.

Conventional valved instruments went through a long history of experimentation before the currently accepted convention of 2-1-3-4 semitones on the 1st through 4th valves was accepted. Tuning of the second valve on bass trombones is going through a similar period of experimentation. The dependent system designer has something of an easier task: because the second valve is not available in isolation, she can select her favorite fundamental for the combined valve tuning.

The independent system designer doesn't have that luxury. After all, the intent of the design is to give the player unlimited access to that section of tubing. This means that something will be mistuned. If we choose to tune the combined valves to a true pitch (relative to A-440), then one valve or the other will be mistuned when used in isolation. By mistuned, I mean that with the handslide closed, the fundamental produced by that valve alone doesn't belong to the 12 tone equally tempered chromatic scale. Conversely, if the designer chooses to make each valve produce a true pitch in isolation, the combined valves are mistuned (in the same sense used above). It's basically the same problem valve players have -- 1+3 is sharp, and you have to lower the pitch somehow.

Dependent systems were originally sold with a combined valve flat E tuning. After all, the goal was to give the player a low B, and the flat E tuning accomplished that. Prior to the advent of double valve basses, the player who needed a low B would pull the tuning slide to retune the F attachment to E. This was an obvious starting point for the second valve -- push a button instead of pulling a slide. One might argue that pulling a slide is a more natural act for a trombonist than pushing a button, but I won't. After these things had been around for a while, bass players began to think that low E was not particularly helpful, and something else might help more. After all, with low E tuning, the B is still down at the bottom of the slide stocking. Bach makes the most comprehensive set of second valve crooks that I'm aware of: they come as Eb, D and Db. The most commonly used second valve tuning (can I say the standard tuning?) is D. With this tuning, a bass trombone has fundamentals of Bb (open), F (valve 1) and D (valve 1 and 2). Incidentally, the Bb (open) and F (thumb) can be taken as given.

The D tuning makes a "pedal" Bb available at the end of the handslide. Some people refer to that as "7th" position, but a D trombone with a Bb slide length doesn't have a seventh position -- the note is actually in 5th position on the D trombone. And I probably should note here that one cannot take an E pull as necessarily present on the F attachment of a double valved bass. It ought to be, but there are too many exceptions.

The original Minnick/Herrick independent systems I've seen were tuned as G on the second valve (Olds also followed this pattern, Holton provides a G crook for their double rotor bass). This tuning gives as additional series (G [finger], very flat Eb [both valves]). I surmise that people converting from dependent systems had some problems with that, because the stock tuning on these instruments now is a very flat G on the finger valve. This gives fundamentals in the following series: D (both valves), and sharp Gb (finger). Note that this is the same as the tuning for the Bb/F/D dependent system. The only difference is the availability of a very flat G (or sharp F#) on the finger valve alone. Any technical advantages (and there are some) are derived from the availability of this "mistuned" valve by itself.

There are alternate crooks available for some independent basses. Bach sells crooks for the 50B3O in G, D, and C. Edwards sells a D crook, and will build your horn in G or "flat" G at your preference. With D tuning on the finger, low B is in 1st with both valves down. Using C on the finger, you get something akin to a flat Bb or possibly A with both valves, I would guess (I've never played this tuning and have no way of checking it out.) The tuning information is summarized in the table below.

Valve System Open Thumb Thumb & Finger Finger
Dependent ("stacked") B flat F D --
B flat F E (1) --
B flat F E flat (2) --
B flat F D flat (3) --
B flat F C (4) --
Independent ("in-line") B flat F flat E flat G
B flat F D flat G
B flat F B D (3)
B flat F ?? flat B flat or A C (3)


Dennis' description is the best and most comprehensive I have seen of the two types of tuning and valve set-up. I would like, however, to add a bit to the history of the dependent tuning, as we owe a great debt to the pioneers that convinced instrument companies of the value of adding the second valve to the bass trombone.

Dr. Roger Challoner Green, an amateur (in the best sense of the word) trombonist in England, has written a book about the trombone called, In Pursuit of a Dream, in which he details his love for the instrument, it's history, and the adventure he has had in producing the first recording of a bass trombone soloist accompanied by a British brass band. In his chapter, "Bass Trombone: In Praise of a Neglected Instrument," Dr. Green attempts to discover who was responsible for the "invention" of the commercially made double valve bass trombone. He writes:

Edward Kleinhammer, the legendary bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony, was one of the two players who independently was responsible for the design of the currently fashionable double valve bass trombone. In the late '50's (everything seems to have happened at this time!) Kleinhammer added some extra tubing to his F attachment which meant, through the operation of a second valve, the trombone could be pitched in E. With this addition the player had at his command an entire chromatic scale - with the extent of its range being entirely dependent upon the strength of the player's embouchure. For the first time it meant that excerpts like the glissando in the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra could be expertly managed. [N.B. Bartok was writing from experience with a bass trombone in F (no valves) which would negotiate the gliss (from low B to F) with no problem from seventh to first position. The instrument was never popularized in the United States, thus causing a problem that took decades to solve. - D.Y.]

Concurrently another distinguished bass trombonist, Kauko Kahila of the Boston Symphony, was conducting experiments of his own in an effort to solve the low B problem. Kahila was in the bass trombone chair of the BSO from 1952 to 1972. In an article published in the International Trombone Association Journal, Douglas Yeo (later to take the bass trombone position in the BSO) interviewed Kahila who described his part in the development of the double valve horn:

"The double valve came about when we were playing the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra which, as you know, was commissioned by Koussevitsky and premiered by the Boston Symphony. (Author's note - the Bartok Concerto was first performed in 1944, with John Coffey being the first bass trombonist to negotiate the gliss from low B to F.) I figured there must be a way to get the low B, and if I added another length of tubing I could do it. I made the plans for it and submitted it to the Reynolds Company and they said, "Sure, we'll do it." So it worked. But you know the mechanics of the trombone; the air doesn't go as freely through the valves. But I didn't have too much trouble. I used to make the gliss pretty well with it. The secret is to hit it, and when you move the slide, you're already off the second valve. Anyway, Reynolds gave me one of the horns since I had the idea and then they commercially marketed it - Ostrander used on in the New York Philharmonic, too. I didn't use it too much, only when I had to because I liked my single valve Reynolds and my Schmidt better. But it was a good horn." (A Conversation with Kauko Kahila, Douglas Yeo. International Trombone Association Journal, Volume XV, Number 3. Summer1987. Pages 18-22.)

My readings around the subject of the double valve conception have not produced a definite image in my mind as to which of the two pioneers deserves more congratulation.Of the innovators Kleinhammer and Kahila - which of them produced the first double valve? I suspect that they both discovered the answer independently and both can take equal responsibility and praise for its design. To settle the argument in my own mind I wrote to the two great players to seek first hand their part in the development process. As you will see from their replies, which of the two was the real pathfinder and herald of innovation is still difficult to gauge. I'm not in the position to adjudicate in this matter and, therefore, pick a winner - I feel they are equally to be applauded for intuition and skill inproviding today's bass trombonists with such a classic instrument.

On 25 September 1995, in a hand-written reply to my request for information, Ed Kleinhammer wrote:

"My story starts with an appointment with Mr. Vincent Bach who was in Chicago during a convention in the early 60's, when he had his factory in Mt. Vernon, New York. I explained the story about the bass trombone and its inadequacy to Mr. Bach and he understood the problem of the one valve instrument in use for many years. But he told me point blank that it would be too expensive to tool up for the added valve. He was a very frugal person - and a very nice man, doing a great job in trombone manufacturing.

"So I thought and thought about a two valve bass trombone and discussed it with Allen Ostrander - an enterprising person, as you know. Allen got the Reynolds people interested in it and they are probably the first one to make a permanent two valve bass trombone.

"In the meantime I went to the Holton people in Elkhorn with an idea that would not cost the manufacturer the big financial risk and the people at Holton were interested - partly because they did not have a bass trombone in their catalog! They invited me to help them design a bass trombone and they would use my idea of the second valve accessory that you see pictured in The Art of Trombone Playing. One could but the conventional basspos [bass posaune] with or without the accessory, which at the time was priced at $125. I felt proud of my so called invention. And it worked, too.

"Anyway, almost all the buyers of the Holton bought the accessory also. Then started the two valve basspos. Different kinds, different keys, and also the "in-line" arrangement that is sort of the bass pos of today. At any rate Allen and I awakened the instrument manufacturer to a long needed instrument."

In response to my quest to seek the definitive statement on the development of the double valve I received a letter dated 27 September 1995 from Kauko Kahila. In the pertinent section of his letter he states:

"After a while, one gets tired of faking a low B and this put my mind to work, how to add tubing to be able to play the low B. Then, the idea of adding another valve to engage the extra tubing when needed; this worked very well. I drew the plans and the Reynolds Company agreed to make it. Since then my original idea has been improved on by other companies, but someone had to have the idea first. In this case it happened to be me. So - that's how the double valve bass trombone was born. I still have the original horn and play on it one hour a day."

Despite this primary source evidence I am still not clear in my own mind as to who was the prime mover on this journey into innovation. My preference, as I have already stated, is to keep an open mind and as with so many inventions of the past, accept the view that these two great gifted players of the bass trombone worked independently and came up with the same solution.

The first bass trombone I bought was a dependent valve Bach 50-B2 in 1975. At the time it had two side by side trigger paddles, which was the standard dependent issue (with rollers on the triggers; Holton had something called the "magic bar"). I quickly had it converted to a thumb (1st valve) and third finger (second valve) operation.

In 1983, when I bought a second horn, I had it converted to a single valve instrument with one Thayer valve (#B6 from Ed Thayer's first batch - it still works great) and in July 1984, the ITA Journal published an article I wrote called, In Defense of the Single Valve Bass Trombone. I hadn't looked it for many years, so I pulled it out recently in light of all the recent posts on bass trombone valve setups and realized I still agreed with my basic premise: that a single valve bass trombone works well in almost all symphonic playing situations, and that the dependent valve double valve bass trombone has some significant advantages to the in-line system.

Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of personal preference, and there's no "right" system to use. But here are a few quotes from my 1984 article.

[quoted from In Defense of the Single Valve Bass Trombone, Douglas Yeo. International Trombone Association Journal, Volume XII, No. 3, July 1984. pp. 20-23. With 4 photos.]

"The resistance problem [in in-line bass trombones] is a real one, and even those people that use it will tell you, as they've told me, that the main advantage [to in-line] is a whole new set of 'trigger positions' that allow them greater flexibility to execute difficult passages with more ease. That, however, seems like a small benefit for the sacrifice in tone quality. In fact, I have never heard someone, either professional or student, plan an 'in-line' bass trombone that didn't sound better on a dependent horn. For me, the sound sealed its fate. In addition, [with in-line] there is the problem of having to press two trigger paddles simultaneously when going from an open horn to a double valve note. With the necessary trigger configuration of thumb and middle finger on 'in-line' horns, and the resulting different spring tensions, a synchronized motion is difficult if not impossible. [With a dependent horn, you can put down the second valve alone, which does nothing by itself, and then when going from open to double valve notes, simply press the first valve down. The motion is clean and clear.]"

"But I have strayed from my thesis - that for the symphony bass trombonist, neither of these double valve bass trombones are wholly satisfactory [or necessary]. . ."

"The answer, of course, is that prehistoric dinosaur, the single valve bass trombone. I made a rather careful survey of the roughly 131 pieces of symphonic music I've played over the past three years in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (not including 'pops' concerts - more on them later) and I came up with a rather startling discovery - 126 of the pieces, of 96.5%, required the use of only one valve. Three pieces had isolated low B's that necessitated a 'pull' of the F slide (more on that later, too) and only two pieces (Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and his Miraculous Mandarin ) absolutely required a double valve trombone. . . Virtually everything could be played on one valve! The choice seems clear."

" "Now . . . wait a minute," you may say. "Don't tell me that you can play technically difficult things on just a single valve horn." To which I will say, "Show me some in the symphonic literature I can't!" It's a myth that the orchestral literature is full of technically impossible parts to play. Among those pieces I've done with only one valve are Ein Heldenleben , Die Walkure (the complete opera), the Berg Violin Concerto , The Planets , all the Brahms symphonies, Pines of Rome ; the list goes on. Sure, it takes a little thinking, but I have never felt uncomfortable with using just one valve. It is the same logical principle tenor players that use a 'straight horn' instead of an F attachment horn use. Why play on equipment that I don't need most of the time?"

"In [commercial, studio, pops] situations (and in the world of brass quintet playing, for that matter), there is no denying that the double valve horn gives you greater flexibility and allows you to play those truly difficult technical passages [easier]. . . I use my double valve horn at any rehearsal where I don't know what to expect. . ."

"In the October 1983 ITA Journal I wrote an article (Bass Trombone Equipment Survey. Volume XI, Number 4. October 1983. Pages 22-23.) that surveyed the equipment used by 24 of the 29 major American symphony orchestra bass trombonists. The results were very interesting. In brief, of the 24 players, 3 use single valve horns as their primary instrument and 21 use double valves. But of those double valves, only 9 are 'in-line."

The only thing I would add today is that I have played many more orchestral pieces in the intervening 12 years and if anything a greater percentage of pieces can be played by only one valve. "Can be played" is different than "desire to play," though. There is no doubt that two valves can make life easier at times. To quote Dennis Clason again:

"There is a difference between a passage that requires a second valve, and one made easier by its presence. A passage that requires a second valve has both B and F appearing. We could argue all summer about passages made easier with the second valve."

When I worked with YAMAHA to develop a new bass trombone, we made the YBL-822G as a dependent bass trombone with a removable second valve so it can be used as a single valve horn (there is a photo of this instrument on my Trombone Gallery page). I understand other manufacturers are now following our lead and doing or considering doing the same thing.

My preference for dependent over in-line remains today. I frankly haven't seen much to recommend in-line instruments, as the loss of the goose neck is a major sacrifice in the sound. Even with Thayer valves (I played on them for many years and still own two horns equipped with them) in-line horns sound different than dependent or single valve ones - you're still blowing through two valves ALL the time, even for the 80%+ of notes we play on the "open" horn. The multitudinous positions one can use for various notes on the in-line horn simply aren't enough of an advantage for me, as a good player with a good technique can get around to most things in most pieces with just one valve. Some people use a double valve as a "crutch" which is too bad. Even bass trombonists need to develop a good technique.

But there are those who love the in-line horn so my advice is simply to try out the different set-ups and get what you like and what works for you. One man's passion is another man's poison. Some people intensely dislike the dependent valve bass trombone, finding it limiting. Others can't imagine life with only one valve. Because in-line doesn't work for me (I tried playing it for 2 years and it just didn't agree with me) doesn't mean it's "bad." I've never told a student what to buy and never will. Give things a fair shake and try before you buy.

Whenever I start wondering where the equipment craze will take us, I remember the great recordings with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony made in the 1950's. At that time, Edward Kleinhammer was playing a Bach 1.5 G mouthpiece on his Conn single valve bass trombone. He still sounds pretty good to me!

The discussion continues because, after all, we're talking about an issue of personal choice and preference. After posting the above comments on the trombone-l email list, Russell McKinney, who at tht time was bass trombonist of the Utah Symphony, offered some comments in support of the in-line set-up. I am gra (now retired)teful for Rusty's permission in allowing me to reprint his comments. Rusty wrote:

We have now recieved a great deal of information on Bass Trombone valve systems from Dennis and Doug. They gave a lot of interesting & valuble information and clearly state that it is up to the individual to decide. I am a firm believer in the in-line system and would like to offer a different viewpoint on the subject.

Now that Thayer valves are available, I find the question of sonic superiority to blowing through 1 or 2 valves to be mostly a moot point. I have been playing an Edwards now for about a year and it is by far the best instrument I have ever played. I really have no complaints about it. The scale is even top to bottom and all the notes are there all the time. The technical possibilities are greater than on a single valve or dependent system (gliss. and scale patterns that make more efficient use of the slide motion). I probably use the second (Gb) alone more than the F-valve. I use Low F and the C above it on the Gb valve most of the time. It puts you in a closer position to head to 4th & 5th and you can tune in either direction.

As for double valves, when they are both engaged, it doesn't much matter how they are configured-- you blow through both of them. With Thayers there is virtually no air turbulence to contend with so why not have them in line so you can take advantage of the technical potentialities? I agree that there is a noticeable difference between standard rotors in-line and dependent ones in terms of resistance and thus sound. But there are ways to get around it and practicing is one of them. I won three different auditions on my old Bach 50 with in-line rotors (it had a custom open wrap job). I had a number of little valving tricks to make the valve vacuum and resistance work for me. I don't have to mess with all that on my Edwards with its in-line Thayers. By the way I also played a Bach 50 converted to Thayers and it was an improvement over the other Bach, but the Edwards is far and away better, at least for me.

It is of course true what Doug says about being able to play most symphonic literature on a single valve horn. But I have to play much more than that. I do a lot of studio work and other commercial stuff and I need two valves because I need to play low B's and C's as if they were just two more good notes on the horn. Most people find it hard to afford one good horn let alone two, particularly students, so a double-valve is a must. Also solo playing, to my mind anyway, most often calls for two valves.

I have played a fair number of pieces on a single valve and I can do it fine, but it requires alot of planning. I also will admit that sometimes nothing beats open postions (no valves) for technically hairy passages. I do have an adapter for my Edwards that allows me to remove the Gb valve and I use it for Mozart and Beethoven sometimes. The horn is a bit more responsive, so I can go lighter more easily, but it isn't that much of a difference and my colleagues don't hear a difference unless it is brought to their attention. Anyway, I like to have the technical advantages at my disposal and now that I have an instrument that is sonically unaffected by this arrangement, it isn't usually worth the trouble to take the horn apart to remove a valve. I mostly got the adapter so I can keep playing my Edwards if the Gb valve needs work.

One more thought in reference to what Doug said about his survey of equipment. I have always thought that one of the main reasons that his survey turned out as it did, with the majority of players choosing some form of dependent valve system as their main horn, was due largely to what those players learned to play on. Many of those bass trombonists had been in their jobs for some time and played dependent systems probably because that was the best thing available when they learned to play. At that point in a successful career, why change? The few times I have had to borrow a dependent horn from our principal here in Utah, when mine was being repaired or whatever, I have made a fool of myself at some point by trying to use the second valve alone. Likewise when I studied with John Engelkes (Doug's predecessor in Baltimore, now in the San Francisco Symphony) he was demonstrating some passages on my horn and kept getting unexpected results because he was used to holding the second valve down in certain passages with no consequence. Anyway, my point is successful players don't fix what isn't broken, and you don't take unneccesary risks. It would be interesting to take another survey of orchestral bass trombonists now that there are younger players in a lot of those jobs.

I played single valve horns and dependent horns, but I really got serious with the Bass trombone with the in-line system. That is probably mostly why I prefer it, to use my own argument. But I do think it offers significant advantages technically. I also think that with an open wrap and Thayer valves that the sound is not an issue. Dennis Clason in an earlier post seemed to take a dim view of those who go for the latest gadgets and I understand his point. I, however, am all for any technical improvements to the Bass Trombone that enable me to spend more time playing music and less time trying to mitigate technical hazards.

Well, I hope I have made some sense in all this. I agree with Doug and Dennis that is is a personal preference. I do want to register my vote for in-line and urge everyone getting into the Bass Trombone business to check it out as well and then decide. Sure, there are great players who never played on anything but 1.5G's and single valve horns, but that equipment probably represented the best that was available to them. I imagine most of them would have used whatever gave them the greatest playing advantages, if anything better had been available to them at that time.

Rusty's comments are valuable in order for each of to keep in perspective the fact that there is no "right" system that works "best" for everyone. While each player will of course feel that the system they play is "best" for them, it is simply not possible to put an imprint on a valve set up (or mouthpiece, leadpipe, bell weight or any kind of equipment, for that matter) that is THE choice for everyone. Each person can have cogent, persuasive reasons why they like what they play and those reasons are rarely "right" and "wrong" - they are simply "different." Above you've heard from Dennis, Rusty and me and we all have differing, and even somewhat contradicting advice. But that's O.K. There are very few "truth statements" when it comes to selecting a trombone - it is primarily a matter of personal taste and preference.

For new players, the options available in purchasing a horn are myriad. There are good players on every kind, style, make, wrap, and type of trombone. Every horn has something to offer - and that's the great thing about the free market, we have all these (sometimes confusing) choices. There are fine players that use single, dependent and in-line systems; I have had students over the years that have gone on to have successful careers in orchestras that play in-line (Rusty, for example) and dependent (Randy Campora, bass trombonist of the Baltimore Symphony). It really is less what you play than how you play.

Dennis Clason concludes his thoughts on the matter thusly:

"Like most things in life, your instrument and its tuning is a matter of paying your money and taking your choice. There is no single answer that's right for everybody. As a consequence, it's a mistake to assume that someone else's solution is necessarily right for you. Consider what kind of playing you do, and use the equipment that makes your playing easier."

Following up on this thought, may I add one word of caution for young players: don't buy a horn (or mouthpiece, or anything in the world, for that matter) just because "Joe Bigname" uses it. Buy it because YOU like it. Of course you should get advice from different people, inquire of people whom you respect and check out what your peers are using; contributions to the trombone-l email list can be very helpful. But in the end, make an informed, personal decision and buy (or use) what YOU like. As I said earlier, one man's passion is another man's poison.

Remember these lines from Paul Hindemith's poem, "Das Posthorn" from the 4th movement of his Alto Horn Sonata (which, by the way, is a terrific piece on either alto or bass trombone - I find it much more interesting to play or listen to than his "Trombone Sonata"):

"Nicht deshalb ist das Alte gut, weil es vergangen,
das Neue nicht vortrefflich, weil wir mit ihm gehen."

(Hindemith's own translation:)

"The old is good not just because it's past,
nor is the new supreme because we live with it."

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