rotary vs piston valves

Rotary Valve vs Piston Valve Trumpets

Different trumpets have different valves, with the most common ones being rotary and piston pipes. These two valves determine the kind of results you will achieve when playing the trumpet.

Some of the differences between a rotary and a piston valve include:

  • Their weight
  • The kind of bracing they use
  • The way they are sealed
  • The way they travel in their casings

The differences among the valves also mean that each can create different elements. If you love playing a wind instrument and would like to improve your skills, it is important to know how the various differences between the valves will affect your play. You can also know the advantages and disadvantages of each valve and choose an instrument based on the valve that will complement your play.

Read on for an overview of the difference between rotary and piston valves.


The first difference between the two valves is in their maintenance scope. Generally, rotary valves require higher maintenance compared to piston options.

If you are playing the trumpet, you will have to oil rotary valves more often than piston valves. You will need to use different oils, including thin oil to grease the rotor and a medium thick one for the external valve.

Apart from this, you will have to pull out the 1st and 3rd slides every time you need to play them.

Finally, it takes longer to empty water from a rotary valve trumpet than form a piston valve instrument.

Scope of Use

Generally, rotary valve trumpets are popular in Austria and Germany. On the other hand, piston trumpets are more popular in France.

How they are Played

The valve trumpets are also different in the way they are played. For example, playing piston trumpets require you to press the first piston, which allows air to flow through the first slide. When the second and third pistons are presses, air will pass through the second and third slides as well. The pressing process makes the air paths to elongate.

With rotary valve trumpets, when you press the lever and turn the rotary 90 degrees, the air flowing in will be altered. As you play the trumpet, the tube stays longer when you push the lever, and shorter when you don’t press the lever.

Positioning of the Valves

You will feel a slight difference when you play trumpets fitted with piston and rotary valves. Generally, piston valves provide a more centered feel than rotary valves.

Cylindrical Bore

Piston trumpets have a large cylindrical bore than their rotary valve counterparts. However, their lead pipe and bell are smaller than that of the rotary.

Moreover, piston valve trumpets have a narrower pattern while rotary valve ones have a wider pattern that helps to avoid curves in the tubing.

Ease of Difficulty of Valving

How easy it is to navigate the valving process also brings out the difference between rotary and piston valve trumpets. The ease of half-valving a rotary valve is less. Moreover, your ability to bed the notes makes the instrument more ideal for classical music but less ideal for Jazz. Moreover, the valve lever travel is shorter, which makes half-valving a little more difficult.

The springs of a rotary valve have more tension than those of a piston valve. Therefore, you will need very strong fingers to navigate the instrument well.

Flatness and Sharpness of the Intonation

The intonation of the two types of trumpets is also slightly different. For example, rotary valve trumpets have a flatter tone compared to the piston variety. Rotary valve trumpets tone go flatter in the classical upper register. These trumpets are recommended for players that go sharp in this area.


Piston valves are more flexible in their technical passages. On the other hand, rotary valves are not very flexible and have a darker, more resonant timbre that is suitable for use in Bruckner and Strauss.

Blending With Other Instruments

Rotary and piston valves also differ in the way they allow the trumpet to blend with other musical instruments.

Rotary valves produce a mellow-like sound that makes it produce a sound that is harmonious with other instruments that may be accompanying it. On the other hand, a piston trumpet will produce a sound that stands out above all accompanying instruments.

Holding Position

Rotary valve trumpets sport a flatter look than their piston valve counterparts. The form of these two trumpets makes them suitable to be held in different styles when you want to blow. For example, the best way of holding a rotary valve trumpet is as if you are nibbling on a hamburger.

Tone Quality

The tone quality of rotary valve trumpets is a little broader than that of piston valves. Moreover, overblowing the trumpet is almost impossible. You have to take in a lot of air to play the rotary trumpet loudly.

The above are the major differences between rotary valve and piston valve trumpets.

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