The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips (embouchure) cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate. Nearly all trombones have a telescoping slide mechanism that varies the length of the instrument to change the pitch. Special variants like the valve trombone and superbone have three valves like those on the trumpet.
The word trombone derives from Italian tromba (trumpet) and -one (a suffix meaning “large”), so the name means “large trumpet”. The trombone has a predominantly cylindrical bore like its valved counterpart the baritone and in contrast to its conical valved counterparts, the euphonium and the horn. The most frequently encountered trombones are the tenor trombone and bass trombone. The most common variant, the tenor, is pitched in B♭, an octave below the B♭ trumpet and an octave above the B♭ tuba. The once common E♭ alto trombone became less widely used as improvements in technique extended the upper range of the tenor, but it is now enjoying a resurgence due to its lighter sonority which is appreciated in many classical and early romantic works. Trombone music, along with music for euphonium and tuba, is typically written in concert pitch, although exceptions do occur, notably in almost all brass-band music where tenor trombone is presented as a B♭ transposing instrument, written in treble clef. A person who plays the trombone is called a trombonist or trombone player.
The trombone is a predominantly cylindrical tube bent into an elongated “S” shape. Rather than being completely cylindrical from end to end, the tube is a complex series of tapers with the smallest at the mouthpiece receiver and the largest just before the bell flare. The design of these tapers affects the intonation of the instrument.
As with other brass instruments, sound is produced by blowing air through pursed lips producing a vibration that creates a standing wave in the instrument. The detachable cup-shaped mouthpiece is similar to that of the baritone horn and closely related to that of the trumpet. It has the venturi: a small constriction of the air column that adds resistance greatly affecting the tone of the instrument, and is inserted into the mouthpiece receiver in the slide section. The slide section consists of a leadpipe, the inner and outer slide tubes, and the bracing, or stays. Modern stays are soldered, while sackbuts (medieval precursors to trombones) were made with loose, unsoldered stays (this remained the pattern for German trombones until the mid-20th century).
The ‘slide’, the most distinctive feature of the trombone (cf. valve trombone), allows the player to extend the length of the air column, lowering the pitch. To prevent friction from slowing the action of the slide, additional sleeves were developed during the Renaissance, and these stockings were soldered onto the ends of the inner slide tubes. Nowadays, the stockings are incorporated into the manufacturing process of the inner slide tubes and represent a fractional widening of the tube to accommodate the necessary method of alleviating friction. This part of the slide must be lubricated frequently. Additional tubing connects the slide to the bell of the instrument through a neckpipe, and bell or back bow (U-bend). The joint connecting the slide and bell sections is furnished with a ferrule to secure the connection of the two parts of the instrument, though older models from the early 20th century and before were usually equipped with friction joints and no ancillary mechanism to tighten the joint.
The adjustment of intonation is most often accomplished with a tuning slide that is a short slide between the neckpipe and the bell incorporating the bell bow (U-bend); this device was designed by the French maker François Riedlocker during the early 19th century and applied to French and British designs and later in the century to German and American models, though German trombones were built without tuning slides well into the 20th century. However, trombonists, unlike other instrumentalists, are not subject to the intonation issues resulting from valved or keyed instruments, since they can adjust intonation “on the fly” by subtly altering slide positions when necessary. For example, second position “A” is not in exactly the same place on the slide as second position “E.” Many types of trombone also include one or more rotary valves used to increase the length of the instrument (and therefore lower its pitch) by directing the air flow through additional tubing.
Like the trumpet, the trombone is considered a cylindrical bore instrument since it has extensive sections of tubing, principally in the slide section, that are of unchanging diameter. Tenor trombones typically have a bore of 0.450″ (small bore) to 0.547″ (large or orchestral bore) after the leadpipe and through the slide. The bore expands through the backbore to the bell, which is typically between 7″ and 8½”. A number of common variations on trombone construction are noted below.
“Trombone” is the Italian word for the sackbut, the earliest common form of trombone, and is derived from trumpet in the Latin tromba or drompten, used in the Low Countries. The first records of it being used are around 1440, but it is not clear whether this was just a nickname for a trumpet player. In 1487 a writer links the words trompone and sacqueboute and mentions the instrument as playing the contratenor part in a danceband.
Renaissance and Baroque periods
The sackbut was used extensively across Europe from its appearance in the 15th century to a fading out in most places across the mid-late 17th century. It was used in outdoor events, in concert and in liturgical settings. The groups varied from alta capella, wind ensembles, with voices, and the first ‘orchestra’-type ensembles in religious settings like St Mark’s Basilica in Venice in the early 17th century. Famous composers writing for the trombone in this period include Giovanni Gabrieli and his uncle Andrea Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz. There are also some solo pieces written specifically for trombone in the early 17th century.
When the sackbut returned to common use again in England in the 18th century, Italian music was so influential that it was known as the “trombone”, although other countries used the same name throughout the instrument’s history, viz. Italian trombone and German Posaune. The 17th-century trombone was built in slightly smaller dimensions than modern trombones, and had a bell that was more conical and less flared.
During the later Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel used the trombone on a few occasions; Bach used it in combination with the cornett to evoke the stile antico in some of his many cantatas and Handel used it in the Dead March from Saul, Samson, and Israel in Egypt, all of which were examples of a new oratorio style, popular during the early 18th century.
The use of the trombone in the Classical era was mostly limited to Austria, where the repertoire of trombone solo and chamber literature has its beginnings with composers such as Leopold Mozart, Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Albrechtsberger and Johann Ernst Eberlin who were featuring the instrument, often in partnership with a voice.
Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used the trombones in a number of their sacred works, including two extended duets with voice from Mozart, the best known being in the Tuba Mirum of his Requiem. Mozart also used trombones in several of his operas. The inspiration for many of these works is thought due to the virtuosic players in the courts at Vienna and Salzburg, including Thomas Gschladt and several members of a family named Christian.
The trombone retained its traditional associations with the opera house and the Church during the 18th century and was usually employed in the usual alto/tenor/bass trio to support the lower voices of the chorus, though Viennese court orchestra Kapellmeister Johann Joseph Fux rejected an application from a bass trombonist in 1726 and restricted the use of trombones to alto and tenor only, which remained the case almost until the turn of the 19th century in Vienna, after which time a second tenor trombone was added when necessary.
The construction of the trombone changed relatively little between the Baroque and Classical periods with the most obvious feature being the slightly more flared bell.
The first use of the trombone as an independent instrument in a symphony was in the Symphony in E♭ (1807) by the Swedish composer Joachim Nicolas Eggert,although the composer usually credited with its introduction into the symphony orchestra was Ludwig van Beethoven, who used it in the last movement of his Symphony No. 5 in C minor (1808). Beethoven also used trombones in his Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”) and Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”).
Many composers were directly influenced by Beethoven’s use of trombones, and they became fully integrated in the orchestra by the 1840s. Early to mid 19th-century composers such as Franz Schubert, Franz Berwald, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Franz Liszt, and Charles Gounod, included trombones in their operas, symphonies and other orchestral compositions.
The 19th century also saw the erosion of the traditional alto/tenor/bass trombone trio in the orchestra. While the trombone trio had been paired with one or two cornetts during the Renaissance and early Baroque periods, the disappearance of the cornett as a partner and eventual replacement by oboe and clarinet did not fundamentally alter the raison d’être for the trombones, which was to support the alto, tenor and bass voices of the chorus (typically in an ecclesiastical setting), whose harmonicmoving lines were more difficult to pick out than the melodic soprano line. The introduction of the trombones into the orchestra, however, allied them more closely with the trumpets and it did not take long for an additional tenor trombone to replace the alto. The Germans and Austrians held on to the alto trombone somewhat longer than the French, who came to prefer a section of three tenor trombones until after the Second World War. In other countries, the trio of two tenor trombones and one bass became standard by about the mid 19th century.
By the time the trombone gained a footing in the orchestra and opera, trombonists were no longer usually employed by a cathedral or court orchestra, and so were expected to provide their own instrument. Military musicians were provided with instruments, and instruments like the long F or E♭ bass trombone remained in military use until around the First World War. However, orchestral musicians adopted the trombone version with the widest range that they could easily apply to any of the three trombone parts that typically appeared in scores—the tenor trombone. The appearance of valve trombones in the mid-19th century did little to alter the make-up of the orchestral trombone section; though it was ousted from orchestras in Germany and France, the valve trombone remained popular almost entirely to the exclusion of the slide instrument in countries such as Italy and Bohemia, and composers such as Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Bedřich Smetana, and Antonín Dvořák scored for a valve trombone section.
Especially with the ophicleide, or later the tuba subjoined to the trombone trio during the 19th century, parts scored for the bass trombone rarely descended as low as parts scored before the addition of either of these new low brass instruments. Only in the early 20th century did it regain a degree of independence. Experiments with different constitutions of the trombone section during the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Richard Wagner’s addition of a contrabass trombone in Der Ring des Nibelungen and Gustav Mahler’s and Richard Strauss’ occasional augmentation by adding a second bass trombone to the usual trio of two tenor trombones and one bass trombone, have not had any lasting effect; the majority of orchestral works are still scored for the usual mid- to late-19th-century low brass section of two tenor trombones, one bass trombone and one tuba.
19th-century wind bands
Trombones have been a part of the large wind band since its inception as an ensemble during the French Revolution of 1791. Over the course of the 19th century various wind band traditions were established, including military bands, brass bands (primarily in the UK), town bands (primarily in the US), and circus bands. Some of these groups, especially military bands in Europe, made use of rear-facing trombones, where the bell section pointed behind the player’s left shoulder.
These different wind bands all played a limited repertoire with few original compositions that consisted mainly of orchestral transcriptions, arrangements of popular and patriotic tunes, and feature pieces for soloists (usually cornetists, singers, and violinists). A notable work originally for wind band is Hector Berlioz’s 1840 Grande symphonie funèbre et triomphale, which uses a trombone solo for the entire second movement.
Toward the end of the 19th century, trombone virtuosi began appearing as soloists in American wind bands. The most notable was Arthur Pryor, who played with the Sousa Band and later formed his own.
In the Romantic era, Leipzig became a centre of trombone pedagogy. The trombone began to be taught at the new Musikhochschule founded by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Later, the Paris Conservatory and its yearly concours would also contribute to trombone education. At the Leipzig academy, Mendelssohn’s bass trombonist, Karl Traugott Queisser, was the first in a long line of distinguished professors of trombone. Several composers penned works for Quiesser, including Ferdinand David (Mendelssohn’s concertmaster) who wrote in 1837 the Concertino for Trombone and Orchestra, Ernst Sachse and Friedrich August Belcke, whose solo works all remain popular today in Germany. Queisser almost single-handedly helped to reestablish the reputation of the trombone in Germany and began a tradition in trombone playing that is still practised there today. He championed and popularised Christian Friedrich Sattler’s new tenorbass trombone during the 1840s, leading to its widespread use in orchestras throughout Germany and Austria.
Sattler had a great influence on trombone design. He introduced a significant widening of the bore (the most important since the Renaissance), the innovations of Schlangenverzierungen (snake decorations), the bell garland, and the wide bell flare—features still found on German-made trombones today that were widely copied during the 19th century.
The trombone was further improved in the 19th century with the addition of “stockings” at the end of the inner slide to reduce friction, the development of the water key to expel condensation from the horn, and the occasional addition of a valve to increase the range of the tenor and bass trombones. Additionally, the valve trombone came around the 1830s shortly after the invention of valves, and was in common use in Italy and Austria in the second half of the century.
In the 20th century the trombone maintained its important place in the orchestra with prominent parts in works by Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, Olivier Messiaen, Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Rachmaninov, Sergei Prokofiev, Ottorino Respighi, Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen, Leoš Janáček, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Béla Bartók.
With the rise of recorded music and music schools, orchestral trombone sections around the world began to have a more consistent idea of a standard trombone sound. British orchestras abandoned the use of small bore tenors and G basses in favor of an American/German approach of large bore tenors and B♭ basses in the 1940s. French orchestras did the same in the 1960s.
20th-century wind bands
During the first half of the century, touring and community concert bands lost their popularity in the United States and were greatly reduced in number. However, with the development of music education in the public school system, high school and university marching bands and concert bands became ubiquitous in the US. A typical concert band trombone section consists of two tenor trombones and one bass trombone, but using multiple players per part is common practice, especially inpublic school settings.
20th-century solo and chamber music
In the second half of the century, new composers began giving back to the trombone a level of importance in solo and chamber music. Pieces such as Edgard Varèse’s Octandre, Paul Hindemith’s Sonata, Charles Wuorinen’s Trombone Trio and Luciano Berio’s Sequenza V led the way for lesser-known composers to build a wider repertoire. Popular choices for recital music today include Stjepan Sulek’s Vox Gabrieli, Jacques Casterède’s Sonatine and Jean Michel Defaye’s Deux Danses. Some well known trombone concertos from this period include works by Pascal Dusapin, Derek Bourgeois, Lars-Erik Larsson, Launy Grøndahl, Nino Rota, Christopher Rouse and Henri Tomasi. Jan Sandström composed two concertos to be performed by Christian Lindberg, his Trombone Concerto No. 1 (1990) is called Motorbike Odyssey or Motorbike Concerto. In 1995-6, Johan de Meij wrote his T-Bone Concerto for trombone and concert band. Artists such as Mark Hetzler have recorded works from Berg, Webern, and Stravinsky transcribed from other instruments (such as oboe, clarinet and strings) to show the difficulty, versatility and range of solo music the trombone can handle very sensitively.
Use of the Trombone in Jazz
In the Dixieland era of jazz in the 1900s the usually present in the “Dixie” groups to assist in the Bass or Tuba player’s job of outlining the chords for the other instruments to improvise over. It was not until the “Big Band” era of Swing came about in the mid 1920s that the trombone began to be used as a solo instrument. Prime examples of early trombone soloists are Jack Teagarden and J.J. Johnson. These are some of the players that brought jazz trombone into the spotlight as an instrument of soulful expression, but also one of technical skill.
Numerous changes in construction have occurred during the 20th century, including the use of different materials, increases in mouthpiece, bore and bell dimensions, new valve types and different mute types.
Today, the trombone can be found in wind ensembles/concert bands, symphony orchestras, marching bands, military bands, brass bands, and brass choirs. In chamber music, it is used in brass quintets, quartets, or trios, or trombone trios, quartets, or choirs. The size of a trombone choir can vary greatly from five or six to twenty or more members.
Trombones are also common in swing, jazz, merengue, salsa (e.g., Jimmy Bosch, Luis Bonilla, and Willie Colón), R&B, ska (e.g., Don Drummond), and New Orleans brass bands.
The most frequently encountered trombones today are the tenor and bass, though as with many other Renaissance instruments, the trombone has been built in sizes from piccolo to contrabass.
Trombones are usually constructed with a slide that is used to change the pitch. Valve trombones use three valves (singly or in combination) instead of the slide. The valves follow the same schema as other valved instruments-the first valve lowers the pitch by 1 step, the second valve by 1/2 step, and the third valve by 1-1/2 steps.
Some slide trombones have one or (less frequently) two rotary valves operated by a left-hand thumb trigger. The single rotary valve is part of the F attachment, which adds a length of tubing to lower the instrument’s fundamental pitch from B♭ to F. Some bass trombones have a second trigger with a different length of tubing. The second trigger facilitates playing the otherwise problematic low B.
Basic slide positions
The modern system of seven chromatic slide positions on a tenor trombone in B♭ was first described by Andre Braun circa 1795. In 1811 Joseph Fröhlich wrote on the differences between the modern system and an old system where four diatonic slide positions were used and the trombone was usually keyed to A. To compare between the two styles the chart below may be helpful (take note for example, in the old system contemporary 1st-position was considered “drawn past” then current 1st). In the modern system, each successive position outward (approximately 3.25″) will produce a note which is one semitone lower when played in the same partial.
Partials and intonation
As with all brass instruments, progressive tightening of the lips and increased air pressure allow the player to move to different partial in the harmonic series. In the first position (also called closed position) on a B♭ trombone, the notes in the harmonic series begin with B♭2 (one octave higher than the pedal B♭1), F3 (a perfect fifth higher than the previous partial), B♭3 (a perfect fourth higher), D4 (a major third higher), and F4 (a minor third higher).
F4 marks the sixth partial, or the fifth overtone. Notes on the next partial, for example A♭4 (a minor third higher) in first position, tend to be out of tune in regards to the twelve-tone equal temperament scale. A♭4 in particular, which is at the seventh partial (sixth overtone) is nearly always 31 cents, or about one third of a semitone, flat of the minor seventh. On the slide trombone, such deviations from intonation are corrected for by slightly adjusting the slide or by using an alternate position. It should be noted that though much of Western music has adopted the even-tempered scale, it has been the practice in Germany and Austria to play these notes in position, where they will have just intonation (see harmonic seventh as well for A♭4).
The next higher partials—B♭4 (a major second higher), C5 (a major second higher), D5 (a major second higher)—do not require much adjustment for even-tempered intonation, but E♭ (a minor second higher)is almost exactly a quarter tone higher than it would be in twelve-tone equal temperament. E♭ and F5 (a major second higher) at the next partial are very high notes; a very skilled player with a highly developed facial musculature and diaphragm can go even higher to G5, A♭5, B♭5 and beyond.
The higher in the harmonic series any two successive notes are, the closer they tend to be (as evidenced by the progressively smaller intervals noted above). A byproduct of this is the relatively few motions needed to move between notes in the higher ranges of the trombone. In the lower range, significant movement of the slide is required between positions, which becomes more exaggerated on lower pitched trombones, but for higher notes the player need only use the first four positions of the slide since the partials are closer together, allowing higher notes in alternate positions. As an example, F4 (at the bottom of the treble clef) may be played in first, fourth or sixth position on a B♭ trombone. The note E1 (or the lowest E on a standard 88-key piano keyboard) is the lowest attainable note on a 9′ B♭ tenor trombone, requiring a full 2.24 m of tubing. On trombones without an F attachment, there is a gap between B♭1 (the fundamental in first position) and E2 (the first harmonic in seventh position). Skilled players can produce “falset” notes between these, but the sound is relatively weak and not usually used in performance. The addition of an F attachment allows for intermediate notes to be played with more clarity.
The pedal tone on B♭ is frequently seen in commercial scoring but much less often in symphonic music while notes below that are called for only rarely as they “become increasingly difficult to produce and insecure in quality” with A♭ or G being the bottom limit for most trombonists.
‘Harmonic’, ‘inverted’, ‘broken’ or ‘false’ glissandos are those that cross one or more harmonic series, requiring a simulated or faked glissando effect. The trombone is one of the few wind instruments that can produce a true glissando, by moving the slide without interrupting the airflow. During a trombone glissando, the slide direction must not change or the sound breaks. Every pitch in a glissando must have the same harmonic number, and a tritone is the largest interval that can be performed as a glissando.
Trills, though generally simple with valves, are difficult on the slide trombone. Trills tend to be easiest and most effective higher in the harmonic series because the distance between notes is much smaller and slide movement is minimal. For example a trill on B♭3-C4 is virtually impossible as the slide must move two positions (either 1st-to-3rd or 5th-to-3rd), however at an octave higher (B♭4-C5) the notes can both be achieved in 1st position as a lip trill. Thus, the most convincing trills tend to be above the first octave and a half of the tenor’s range.
Unlike most other brass instruments in an orchestral setting, the trombone is not usually considered a transposing instrument. Prior to the invention of valve systems, most brass instruments were limited to playing one overtone series at a time; altering the pitch of the instrument required manually replacing a section of tubing (called a “crook”) or picking up an instrument of different length. Their parts were transposed according to which crook or length-of-instrument they used at any given time, so that a particular note on the staff always corresponded to a particular partial on the instrument. Trombones, on the other hand, have used slides since their inception. As such, they have always been fully chromatic, so no such tradition took hold, and trombone parts have always been notated at concert pitch (with one exception, discussed below). Also, it was quite common for trombones to double choir parts; reading in concert pitch meant there was no need for dedicated trombone parts.
Trombone parts are typically notated in bass clef, though sometimes also written in tenor clef or alto clef. The use of alto clef is usually confined to orchestral first trombone parts, with the second trombone part written in tenor clef and the third (bass) part in bass clef. As the alto trombone declined in popularity during the 19th century, this practice was gradually abandoned and first trombone parts came to be notated in the tenor or bass clef. Some Russian and Eastern European composers wrote first and second tenor trombone parts on one alto clef staff (the German Robert Schumann was the first to do this). Examples of this practice are evident in scores by Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich. Trombone parts may contain both bass and tenor clef or bass and alto clef sections. Trombone parts in band music are nearly exclusively notated in bass clef. The rare exceptions are in contemporary works intended for high-level wind bands.
An accomplished performer today is expected to be proficient in reading parts notated in bass clef, tenor clef, alto clef, and (more rarely) treble clef in C, with the British brass-band performer expected to handle treble clef in B♭ as well.
In brass-band music, the tenor trombone is treated as a transposing instrument in B♭ and reads the treble clef (while the bass trombone uses the bass clef in concert pitch, as in orchestral and concert-band music). This puts the notes in exactly the same staff position as they would be if the music were written in a (non-transposing) tenor clef, although the key signature and some accidentals must be adjusted. This is no mere coincidence, for brass bands used to employ a section of alto, tenor and bass trombones in the early to mid-19th century, later replacing the alto with a tenor trombone, all the while notated in the corresponding clefs. Eventually, in the early 20th century, musicians decided to replace the tenor clef with the transposing B♭ treble clef to aid new starters to integrate more quickly and effectively into the brass band—though the bass trombone, then in G, remained notated in concert pitch bass clef. (Company bands used B♭ and E♭ treble clef notation for many instruments in the band to allow players to more easily switch instruments when personnel changed.)
A variety of mutes can be used with the trombone to alter its timbre. Many are held in place with the use of cork grips, including the straight, cup, harmon and pixie mutes. Some fit over the bell, like the bucket mute. In addition to this, mutes can be held in front of the bell and moved to cover more or less area for a wah-wah effect. Mutes used in this way include the “hat” (a metal mute shaped like a bowler) and plunger (which looks like, and often is, the rubber suction cup from a sink or toilet plunger), a sound featured as the voices of adults in the Peanuts cartoons.
Variations in construction
Trombone bells (and sometimes slides) may be constructed of different brass mixtures. Some say that materials affect tone quality and timbre. The most common material is yellow brass (70% copper, 30% zinc), but other materials include rose brass (85% copper, 15% zinc) and red brass (90% copper, 10% zinc). Some manufacturers offer interchangeable bells. Tenor trombone bells are usually between 7 and 9 inches in diameter, the most common being sizes from 7½ to 8½ inches.
The smallest sizes are found in small jazz trombones and older narrow-bore instruments, while the larger sizes are common in orchestral models. Bass trombone bells can be as large as 10½” or more, though usually either 9½ in or 10 in diameter. The bell may be constructed out of two separate brass sheets or out of one single piece of metal and hammered on a mandrel until the part is shaped correctly. The edge of the bell may be finished with or without a piece of bell wire to secure it, which also affects the tone quality; most bells are built with bell wire. Occasionally, trombone bells are made from solid sterling silver.
Many trombones have valve attachments to aid in increasing the range of the instrument while also allowing alternate slide positions for difficult music passages. In addition, valve attachments make trills much easier. Valve attachments appear on alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass trombones. It is rare on the alto, but when the instrument does have it, the valve attachment changes the key of the instrument from E♭ to B♭, allowing the alto trombone to play in the tenor trombone range. Tenor trombones commonly have valve attachments, the most common being the F-attachment, which changes the pitch of the instrument from B♭ to F, increasing the range of the instrument downward and allowing alternate slide positions for notes in 6th or 7th position.
Bass trombones also very commonly have F-attachments, which serve exactly the same function as on the tenor trombone. Some single valve bass trombones have E-attachments instead of F-attachments, or sometimes there is extra tubing on the F-Attachment to allow it to be used as an E-attachment if desired. However, many bass trombones have a second valve attachment instead, which increases their range downward even more. The most common second valve attachment is the G♭-attachment, which changes the instrument’s key to D when used in combination with the F-Attachment (or D♭ if used with the less common E-attachment). There are other configurations other than the G♭-attachment however.
The two valves on a bass trombone can either be independent or dependent. Double rotor dependent valve bass trombones were created in the late 1950s, and double rotor independent valve bass trombones were created in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Dependent means that the second valve only works when used in combination with the first, as it is located directly on the F- or E-Attachment tubing. Newer bass trombones have independent (in-line) valves instead, meaning that the second valve is located on the neckpipe of the instrument and can therefore operate independently of the other. Contrabass trombones also can have valve attachments. Contrabass trombones in the key of F typically have two valves tuned to C and D♭ respectively. Contrabass trombones in BB♭ on the other hand typically only have one valve, which is tuned to F, though some have a second valve tuned to G♭.
The most common type of valve seen for valve attachments is the rotary valve. Some trombones have piston valves used instead of rotary valves for valve attachments, but it is very rare and is today considered unconventional. Many variations of the rotary valve have been invented in the past half-century such as the Thayer Valve or Axial-Flow Valve, the Hagmann valve, the Greenhoe rotor, and several others, all of which were designed to give the trombone a more open, free sound than a conventional rotary valve would allow. Many of these new trombone valve designs have enjoyed great success on the market, but the standard rotary valve remains the most common for trombone valve attachments.
Some trombones have valves instead of a slide. These are usually rotary valves, or piston valves.
More often than not, tenor trombones with an F attachment, or trigger, have a larger bore through the attachment than through the ‘straight’ section (the portion of the trombone through which the air flows when the attachment is not engaged). Typically, for orchestral instruments, the slide bore is 0.547″ and the attachment tubing bore is 0.562″. A wide variety of valve attachments and combinations are available. Valve attachment tubing usually incorporates a small tuning slide so that the attachment tubing can be tuned separately from the rest of the instrument. Most B♭/F tenor and bass trombones include a tuning slide long enough to lower the pitch to E with the valve tubing engaged, enabling the production of B2. Whereas older instruments fitted with valve attachments usually had the tubing coiled rather tightly in the bell section (closed wrap or traditional wrap), modern instruments usually have the tubing kept as free as possible of tight bends in the tubing (open wrap), resulting in a freer response with the valve attachment tubing engaged. While open-wrap tubing does offer a more open sound, the tubing sticks out from behind the bell and is more vulnerable to damage. For that reason, closed-wrap tubing remains more popular in trombones used in marching bands or other ensembles where the trombone may be more prone to damage.
Some trombones are tuned through a mechanism in the slide section rather than via a separate tuning slide in the bell section. This method preserves a smoother expansion from the start of the bell section to the bell flare. The tuning slide in the bell section requires two portions of cylindrical tubing in an otherwise conical part of the instrument, which affects the tone quality. Tuning the trombone enables it to play with other instruments which is essential for the trombone.
Common and popular bore sizes for trombone slides are 0.500″, 0.508″, 0.525″ and 0.547″ for tenor trombones, and 0.562″ for bass trombones. The slide may also be built with a dual bore configuration, in which the bore of the second leg of the slide is slightly larger than the bore of the first leg, producing a step-wise conical effect.
The most common dual bore combinations are 0.481″-0.491″, 0.500″-0.508″, 0.508″-0.525″, 0.525″-0.547″, 0.547″-0.562″ for tenor trombones, and 0.562″-0.578″ for bass trombones.
The mouthpiece is a separate part of the trombone and can be interchanged with similarly sized trombones from different manufacturers. Available mouthpieces for trombone (as with all brass instruments) vary in material composition, length, diameter, rim shape, cup depth, throat entrance, venturi aperture, venturi profile, outside design and other factors. Variations in mouthpiece construction affect the individual player’s ability to make a lip seal and produce a reliable tone, the timbre of that tone, its volume, the player’s subjective level of comfort, and the instrument’s playability in a given pitch range.
Mouthpiece selection is a highly personal decision. Thus, a symphonic trombonist might prefer a mouthpiece with a deeper cup and sharper inner rim shape in order to produce a rich symphonic tone quality, while a jazz trombonist might choose a shallower cup for brighter tone and easier production of higher notes. Further, for certain compositions, these choices between two such performers could easily be reversed.
Instruments made mostly from plastic, including the pBone and the Tromba plastic trombone, emerged in the 2010s as a cheaper and more robust alternative to brass. Plastic instruments could come in almost any colour but the sound plastic instruments produce is different from the one of brass, lacquer, gold or silver.
Germany and Austria
German trombones have been built in a wide variety of bore and bell sizes. The traditional German Konzertposaune can differ substantially from American designs in many aspects. The mouthpiece is typically rather small and is placed into a slide section with a very long leadpipe of at least 12″–24″. The whole instrument is often made of gold brass, and its sound is usually darker compared with British, French or American designs. While their bore sizes were considered large in the 19th century, German trombones have altered very little over the last 150 years and are now typically somewhat smaller than their American counterparts. Bell sizes remain very large in all sizes of German trombone and a bass trombone bell may exceed 10″ in diameter.
Valve attachments in tenor and bass trombones were first seen in the mid 19th century, originally on the tenor B♭-trombone. Before 1850, bass trombone parts were mostly played on a slightly longer F-bass trombone (a fourth lower). The first valve was simply a fourth-valve, or in German “Quart-ventil”, built onto a B♭ tenor trombone, to allow playing in low F. This valve was first built without a return spring, and was only intended to set the instrument in B♭ or F for extended passages.
Since the mid 20th century, modern instruments use a trigger to engage the valve while playing. As with other German and Austrian brass instruments, rotary valves are used to the exclusion of almost all other types of valve, even in valve trombones. Other features often found on German trombones include long water keys and snake decorations on the slide and bell U-bows. Since around 1925, when Jazz.music became popular, Germany has been selling “American trombones” as well. Most trombones played in Germany today, especially by amateurs, are built in the American fashion, as those are much more widely available, and thus; far cheaper.
French trombones were built in the very smallest bore sizes up to the end of the Second World War and whilst other sizes were made there, the French usually preferred the tenor trombone to any other size. French music, therefore, usually employed a section of three tenor trombones up to the mid–20th century. Tenor trombones produced in France during the 19th and early 20th centuries featured bore sizes of around 0.450″, small bells of not more than 6″ in diameter, as well as a funnel-shaped mouthpiece slightly larger than that of the cornet or horn. French tenor trombones were built in both C and B♭, altos in D♭, sopranos in F, piccolos in high B♭, basses in G and E♭, contrabasses in B♭.
In recent years, several makers have begun to market compact B♭/C trombones that are especially well suited for young children learning to play the trombone who cannot reach the outer slide positions of full-length instruments. The fundamental note of the unenhanced length is C, but the short valved attachment that puts the instrument in B♭ is open when the trigger is not depressed. While such instruments have no seventh slide position, C and B natural may be comfortably accessed on the first and second positions by using the trigger. A similar design (“Preacher model”) was marketed by C.G. Conn in the 1920s, also under the Wurlitzer label. Currently, B♭/C trombones are available from many manufacturers, including German makers Günter Frost, Thein and Helmut Voigt, as well as the Yamaha Corporation.
Trombones in slide and valve configuration have been made by a vast array of musical instrument manufacturers. For the brass bands of the late 19th and early 20th century, prominent American manufacturers included Graves and Sons, E.G. Wright and Company, The Boston Musical Instrument Company, E.A. Couturier Co., Ltd., H.N. White Company, J.W. York, and C.G. Conn, Ltd.. In the 21st century, leading mainstream manufacturers of trombones include F.E. Olds, Vincent Bach, King Musical Instruments, Conn, F.A. Reynolds, Yamaha Musical Instruments and Jupiter Band Instruments.