The baritone is a member of the brass family. As with all brass instruments, the sound is produced by buzzing the lips into a mouthpiece. The baritone works in the same manner as a trumpet but its twice the length. It plays the exact same notes as a trombone and even uses the same mouthpiece. The biggest difference is that the baritone uses valves rather than a slide to change the length of the air flow. The baritone is relatively easy to learn for beginners. The deep beautiful tone from a baritone is attractive to many students who like the sound of a lower voice. Many students who like the tuba start out on the baritone with plans to switch to the tuba after a year or two of band. The tuba is the same as a baritone in nearly every way. Its just twice the length.
Taking care of a baritone is easier than a woodwind instrument and very similar to a trumpet or tuba. It is stored in the case in just two pieces. The only regular maintenance required is to oil the valves now and then and grease the slides as needed.
The baritone is played with the right hand on the valves. The left arm usually supports the bottom of the instrument. There are a number of shapes and sizes of baritones. Some have vertically angled valves with the mouthpiece attaching on the left side of the instrument. Others have diagonally angled valves with the mouthpiece attached on the right side of the instrument. The bell on baritones can be either straight up or bent forward. None of these differences really matter for younger players. Good brands of instruments are made with all of these configurations.
The difference in sizes for baritones is caused by how tightly the the tubing is coiled. Very small baby baritones look about half the size of a regular baritone but they are really the same length and the same pitch. The tubing is just coiled tighter. Another version of the baritone has a different name. Its called the euphonium. Euphoniums are played exactly like a baritone. The difference is similar to the difference between a trumpet and cornet. The tubing of the euphonium and cornet is more cone shaped or conical than the baritone and trumpet. However the euphonium is not a typical beginning instrument. Virtually all euphoniums are produced for advanced players. They tend to be more expensive and most have a fourth valve to allow use of advanced alternate fingerings. Beginners should use a baritone rather than a euphonium.
Buyers beware of another instrument that is a baritone look-a-like. The alto horn looks like a very small baritone but it is not a good choice for a beginning instrument. They are relatively rare but are available now and then in pawn shops or through the classified ads. Alto horns are usually pitched in Eb (E flat) where the baritone horn is pitched in Bb.
The baritone is not nearly as popular as the trumpet or clarinet. Less students performing an instrument means that the competition will not be as fierce. Good baritone players are considered very valuable assets by band teachers since there are so few of them.
The baritone has unique uses in various types of groups. We can hear baritones in bands, small ensembles or as a solo instrument. On the professional level, baritones or euphoniums are used heavily in military bands.
There are several good choices for purchasing a beginning baritone. A good beginning baritone from Giardinelli is the Getzen G8230. Since baritones are more expensive than most instruments, many schools have baritones available to lend to students. Before you buy, it would be worth asking your band director if school baritones are available.
Purchasing a used baritone can be a good option. There isnt a lot that can go wrong with a baritone compared to a woodwind instrument. If the valves move freely and the instrument doesnt have leaks or large dents, it is probably a decent instrument unless its manufactured by a substandard brand. Buying a used instrument is only recommended if you know an advanced baritone player or band director who can test the used instrument before you buy.