About The Trombone



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The trombone in its simplest form is the purest instrument of the orchestra. Like most wind instruments it began its life as a length of tubing but, unlike all other orchestral wind instruments that have been modified by valves, levers and other twiddly bits, the trombone remains a tube. It is virtually unchanged since its first authenticated appearance in the fourteenth century. A player of that time could, no doubt, be able to perform on the modern equivalent of their instrument whereas the players of other wind instruments might not even recognise the modern version of their particular instrument.

Tenor Trombone The only changes from the earliest sackbut are that the bore has been enlarged, the bells become more flared and the cup mouthpieces are made deeper. In addition, advances in metallurgical knowledge and manufacturing techniques make today's trombones more accurate and reliable performers. At one time, about 1800, the purity of the trombone was threatened by the introduction of valves but the resultant loss of tone quality meant that the idea was soon abandoned.

Such is the similarity between the sackbut and trombone that it is difficult to identify when one became the other. It is known that Giovanni Gabrieli was using antiphonal choirs of trombones in St Mark's in Venice at the end of the sixteenth century and that Monteverdi used five trombones in Orfeo in 1607. It is more than likely that for a while sackbuts and trombones were the same thing with the only difference being one of semantics.

Bass Trombone The trombone was much used in Baroque church music and by the late 1700s it was also an established member of the military band. At the end of the eighteenth century the trombone was regularly used in opera orchestras with Mozart using its expressive tones to great effect in Don Giovanni. The first known use of the trombone in a symphony orchestra was in Beethoven's Fifth in 1808 but it did not become an established member of the orchestra until about 1850. It was the likes of Berlioz and Wagner who gave the trombone a prominent role and from that time on it has flourished as an orchestral member.

Trombone means large trumpet from the Italian and it is a close relative of that instrument in that both have a cylindrical bore, cup mouthpieces and moderately sized bells. The size of the trombone with the wider scaled-up bore, broader bell and larger mouthpiece give the trombone a less brilliant, more mellow and noble sound than the trumpet. The obvious difference, however, is the way in which they convert the single harmonic series available for a lone tube into sufficient harmonic series to produce a full harmonic scale. The trumpet uses valves and the trombone uses a slide mechanism. There are seven slide positions (the fundamental plus six others) and, since the placement of the slide can never be truly standardised, the judgement of the player as she or he listens to himself or herself is crucial.

The trombone appears in several sizes but the most commonly used are the alto, the tenor and the bass. The alto is rarely used because it has such a small repertoire but two tenors and one bass regularly appear in orchestras, military bands and brass bands. The bass trombone is a tenor trombone with additional tubing activated by a valve that serves the function of a switch. It also has a larger bore to help create a darker sound for the low register.

The trombone is an established member of dance bands, concert bands and jazz ensembles.

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