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Trombone


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Overview
The trombone is a member of the brass family. As with all brass instruments, the sound is produced by buzzing the lips into a mouthpiece. A feature of the trombone that makes it unique from other brass instruments is the slide. While most brass instrument change pitches by pressing valves that alter the length of the air flow, the trombone player moves the slide in and out to the change the length of the instrument. Students who wish to play the trombone should have a good ear and be able to sing in tune. Students who have a good ability to match pitches will know when the slide is slightly too far in or out. But other than that, it's a relatively easy instrument to start with.

History of the Trombone

The trombone is the first of the modern orchestral instruments to appear in its present configuration, having been developed in the 15th century from a large trumpet (tromba) through the addition of a slide as can been seen in paintings of the late 15th century.   The medieval name for the instrument was sackbut.  Throughout the 16th century trombones were commonly used in ceremonial groups as well as by church musicians.  The slide mechanism made it suitable for a larger variety of music during a time when trumpets and horns were limited to military signaling due to their limitations for tonal centers (no valves yet, use of crooks to change tonal centers).  The trombone tone was relative mellow and combined well with voices and other instruments and, therefore, their use was far more prominent than other brass instruments.  Bach and Handel used the trombone occasionally but often in unison with voices.  Beethoven introduced the trombone into symphonic music in his famous Fifth Symphony but it was not until around the mid 1800s that the trombone became firmly established as a member of the orchestral instruments. 

How a Trombone is Made

The modern trombone is a brass instrument manufactured with a cylindrical bore except for the portion which expands into the bell, and has a cup shaped mouthpiece.  It has two separate pieces: a cylindrical bore section held together by crossbars and forms the slide….the outer slide can be moved away and toward the player over the inner slide, and a conical bell section.   The cylindrical portions are manufactured by an extrusion process utilizing sophisticated computer machining technology and the bell section is spun into its exacting shape on a lathe and mandrel.  The raw brass is typically finished with a natural lacquer and a silver plate finish is common as well.  However, modern manufacturers can apply numerous color finishes and there is even a plastic trombone (P-Bone) on the market. 

 

Trombone Parts

The parts of a trombone include the bell section, slide and mouthpiece.  The slide section attaches to the bell section with a simple, threaded collar and the mouthpiece goes into the slide section.  The slide takes the place of the valves used on other brass instruments.  There are 7 recognized slide positions, each a semitone lower as the slide is lengthened, thereby changing the natural tuning of the trombone from Bb to A, Ab to G, etc.  The typical range for each position as approximately two octaves.  Some trombones also include another section of tubing in the bell section which can be activated by opening a rotary valve with the left hand thumb.  This assembly is called the F attachment because the additional tubing extends the range of the instrument the interval of a 4th (Bb to F).  It also facilitates alternate slide positions so the player can eliminate difficult slide position changes (i.e. moving from 7th to 1st position rapidly).

So your Student wants to play the Trombone, now what?

It is always best to have an experienced, qualified professional (player and/or teacher) try-out young students on the instrument they are interested in.  In the case of the trombone the size of the student is a consideration due to the size of the instrument.  Students will need to be able to reach all 7 slide positions and also produce enough air support to create good tonal quality.  Tooth and lip structure can also be minor considerations for selecting trombone.  Those with thicker lips tend to more easily produce a good tone than those with thinner lips due to the size of the mouthpiece.   Most students can be taught to produce enough air support and smaller students can eventually grow enough to more comfortably reach the 6th and 7th slide positions.   Consultation with a professional will provide a thorough review of these considerations.

How to Choose a Trombone

There are many “knock off” manufacturers of musical instruments and, even though these may look like good quality instruments supported by professional musicians and music educators, the materials and craftsmanship utilized is of poor quality which results in poor resonance, durability, and tuning characteristics.  It is always best to select a trombone recommended by experienced professionals who know which instruments are made by reliable and time tested manufacturers.  

Recommended Beginner Trombones

Jupiter 332L has .500” bore with a lacquered brass outer slide, the Jupiter 432L has a .500” bore with a nickel silver outer slide.  The Jupiter 432RL has the addition of a rose brass bell.  The Conn TB301 has a .500” bore with a lacquered brass finish and the Bach TB600 has a slightly larger bore size of .509” and a lacquered brass finish.
All are very popular beginner trombones.

Recommended Intermediate Trombones

The Jupiter 532L features a lacquered brass finish and a .525” medium bore size.  The Jupiter 536L is like the 532L with the addition of an F attachment.  The Jupiter 636L is like the 536L but the bore size has been enlarged to .547” (large bore).  The 636L is also offered with an open wrap F attachment and a rose brass bell.  The Conn 52H Artist trombone features a .547” bore and a rose brass bell.

Recommended Professional Trombones

The Jupiter 1236L-O is a Bb tenor trombone with F attachment and the primary bore size is .547” with the F section being .563” and the instrument also has 3 interchangeable leadpipes.   The  Jupiter 1236RL-O adds the rose brass bell.  The Conn 88H-O has a primary bore size of .547” and the F section is .562” and has a rose brass bell.   This instrument has been a prominent choice of professional players for decades.

Custom Trombones

Conn-Selmer, Jupiter, Yamaha and BAC (Best American Craftsman) all offer numerous customized features to meet the demands and needs of the most discriminating professional players.

Buying a Trombone vs Renting a Trombone

Most instrumental music teachers endorse qualified instrument rent to own programs prior to purchase of a musical instrument because these agreements, when backed by reputable music merchants, offer these terms: (1) monthly rental fees apply to the purchase price (2) maintenance and repair coverage (3) return with no further obligation (4) reduced price for early purchase (5) instrument switch policy.  Renting allows parents time to discover if their student will maintain the interest to continue playing the instrument prior to purchase.

Types of Trombones

Tenor trombone is pitched in Bb and has a complete chromatic range and its sounding pitch is written in music notation (non-transposing instrument).  Bass trombone is pitched in F and is pitched a 4th below the tenor trombone.  Owing to its great length it is difficult to handle and is generally replaced by the tenor-bass trombone which has the size (and pitch) of the tenor trombone but its bore is that of the bass trombone which makes the sound similar to the bass trombone and facilitates lower tones.  The F attachment valve lowers the pitch a 4th from Bb to F and this instrument is most commonly found in modern bands and orchestras.   There are also valve trombones, the valves replacing the slide, making it more like a bass trumpet.

Types of Trombone Brass

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and has excellent resonance qualities for the manufacture of musical instruments.  Rose brass will have more copper in the formula than yellow brass and produces a darker tonal quality.  It will also be softer and will dent more easily.

 

Gold Trombone vs. Silver Trombone

Brass is finished to prevent corrosion and many finishes are available and each provides a different tonal quality with silver producing a brighter tone and gold a much darker tone.  Lacquer is a standard finish a produces a tonal quality between the silver and gold.

 

Trombone Mouthpieces

The Bach 12C is the best selling model for all around playing and often recommended by teachers for beginner students.   The Bach 6 ½ AL  is also frequently recommended because, like the 12C, has a medium wide rim shape but the cup size is slightly deeper which allows the lips to vibrate more which, depending upon the player, can help produce a richer and darker tone quality.  Brass players have a very large selection of mouthpiece configurations to choose from and should try several mouthpiece configurations to discover what works best for them (not somebody else).  The following information is taken from the Vincent Bach Mouthpiece Manual published by the Selmer Corporation:

RIM:
Wide:  increases endurance
Narrow: Improves flexibility, range
Round: Improves comfort
Sharp:  Increases brilliance, precision of attack

CUP:
Large:  Increases volume, control
Small:  Relieves fatigue, weakness
Deep:  Darkens tone, especially in the low register
Shallow:  Brightens tone, improves response, especially in the high register

Throat:
Large:  Increases blowing freedom, volume, tone; sharpens high register (largest sizes also sharpen low register).
Small:  Increases resistance, endurance, brilliance, flattens high register

3 Reasons to buy a second trombone mouthpiece

Brass instrument players may utilize more than one mouthpiece to accommodate different styles of playing (symphonic, jazz, solo, etc.) and select mouthpieces to address desired tonal quality, register, and endurance.  Each person has unique lip formation and thickness attributes as well as individual tooth structure so mouthpiece selection is highly individualized.

How to take care of your trombone

Trombone players are constantly blowing warm, moist air thru the instrument and, just by the nature of things, will include microscopic particles of whatever is in the player’s mouth and saliva.   Inside the trombone a culture will start developing which will make the instrument smell bad and also perform poorly…..plus the obvious health considerations.  Trombones can be completely disassembled quite easily and cleaned with warm (not hot) water and flexible cleaning brushes made for cleaning insides of the trombone slides, tubing, mouthpiece and bell section (there are several sizes of brushes which can be purchased in cleaning kits).  Great care must be taken to not scratch the slide parts (inner and outer slides) since even microscopic scratches can cause slides to stick because tolerances are small  to prevent the escape of air when the trombone is being played and to allow for a very thin layer of lubricant between the slides. Many players use a silver polish or lacquer polish to clean the finished (lacquer, silver, gold, etd.) parts prior to flushing instruments.  Once the trombone body (including the slide) is flushed out and rinsed clean it can be set aside to dry or dried with a very soft cloth.

The inner slide will have a build-up of slide lubricant which can be easily removed by using warm water and a very soft cloth or paper towel.  The insides of the outer and inner slide can be cleaned with warm water and a flexible cleaning brush (cleaning “snake’) specifically made for this purpose.  Once all parts are rinsed clean and dry, they can be re-assembled.   The main tuning slide will need tuning slide grease and the hand slide will need to be lubricated.  Common methods for lubricating the hand slide are slide oil or using a slide lubricant in combination with a distilled water spray bottle (the water beads up on the lubricant and creates a ball bearing effect).  Several hand slide lubricant kits are available on the market and most work very well.

Instrument repair shops also have several superior cleaning methods if you’d prefer to have your trombone professionally cleaned.    However, you can easily clean and maintain a trombone on your own with just cleaning tools and basic supplies (slide oil tuning slide grease, soft cloth, polish cloth, cleaning brushes)

Top Trombone Brands

The most recognized brands include Selmer, Bach, King, Jupiter, Yamaha and a new entrant gaining a lot of professional player endorsement is the BAC (Best American Craftsman) models.   These manufacturers offer a wide variety of materials and craftsmanship configurations to satisfy even the most selective and discriminating professionals as well as offering diverse models for beginner and intermediate musicians.

How to Play the Trombone

One of the most important aspects of playing trombone is consistent, daily practice of fundamentals:  endurance, flexibility, scales, tonguing and breathing techniques, etc.  The art of trombone playing at a professional level requires intense commitment to a total mastery of these basic fundamentals.   There are numerous books and publications dedicated to these fundamentals for all levels of accomplishment and are typically titled for beginners, intermediate players, and advanced players. 

The sound of a trombone is generated by the vibration created by pursing the lips together and forming an embouchure, frequently taught by having students think the letters “P” or “B” while slightly setting the muscles in the corners of the mouth, and then simply blowing air from the diaphragm area while maintaining a very relaxed and open throat and esophagus.  The resulting vibration between the lips is often referred to as the “buzz” due to the resultant sound.  Placement of the trombone mouthpiece on the lips is often suggested to be 1/3rd upper lip and 2/3rd lower lip inside the cup of the mouthpiece although modifications vary from player to player.  Also, the angle at which the trombone is held varies widely due to the amount of overbite or underbite of the teeth structure.   Beginner trombonists should seek the advice professional players to help them determine what mouthpiece placement and instrument angle will be best for them.   Experimenting to find the best location is advisable since there is so much variation from person to person, or in the absence of an available teacher.

Trombone students next learn how to manipulate the buzz to create low, middle, and high register notes so the entire practical range of the trombone is accomplished with the maximum amount of flexibility (the ability to move between notes with ease).   Some slight flexing of the lip muscles will change the “buzz” from a low to a higher sound.   Many teachers utilize a pivot system which simply pivots the trombone up slightly to reduce mouthpiece pressure on the lower lip for lower notes (allows the muscles strands of the lower lip to vibrate more easily) and pivots the trombone downward to place slightly more pressure on the bottom lip for higher notes (places more mouthpiece pressure on the muscles in the lower lip and causes the muscle strands to vibrate more rapidly like a shortened violin or guitar string…..the shorter the string the higher the note).  This technique should only be introduced to advancing players. Beginners have plenty to manage just creating good tonal quality in the mid-range.

Once the basics of good tonal quality are established with how the trombone is held and placed upon the lips then beginner students learn the hand slide positions for each note of the scale.  There are 7 basic positions on the tenor trombone.   Advancing players often utilize a trombone with an F attachment which is operated by the left hand thumb and adds additional tubing which extends the range of the instrument and also affords optional slide positions in combination with the F attachment valve and hand slide positions.

Brass players also learn to utilize a number of exercises for building lip strength and flexibility and numerous method books are published specifically for these purposes.   The same is true for tonguing and learning single, double and triple articulation techniques. 

Students of the trombone can search online for literally all of these topics and locate numerous videos of quality players demonstrating the various techniques.

 

Trombone Breathing techniques

The use of quality air support is paramount for being an accomplished trombonist.  Among the fundamentals of proper breathing and air support are filling completely up with air and utilizing the diaphragm muscles of the abdomen to support pushing the air thru the instrument.  Many teachers will make reference to “taking the air all the way down” which simply means thinking of getting the air into your stomach instead of into your lungs…..proper breathing technique will expand the stomach and not the chest area.   The next important aspect of proper breathing technique is maintaining a relaxed esophagus and airway so air flows unrestricted into the instrument.   A more advanced technique also includes the position of the tongue from an “Ahh” syllable where the tongue is low in the oral cavity and an “Eee” syllable where the tongue is arched high.  The arched tongue tends to intensify the air to enhance higher notes.

How to make your first trombone sound

Place lips together and think of saying the letter “P” or “B” such as preparing to say “Pooh” or “Boy.”   Take a deep breath and blow air thru the lips without altering the position described.   If this is done successfully and “buzz” sound will occur created by the vibration between the lips.   When this is successfully executed then place the trombone mouthpiece on the lips and “buzz” with the mouthpiece.  When this is done successfully the mouthpiece is then inserted into the trombone and the “buzz” will create a full trombone sound.

How to find a teacher for Private Trombone Lessons

Teachers can be located by contacting local school band directors, music stores, and colleges and universities.  They will have trombone teachers/specialists on staff or will usually know contact information for recommended teachers.

What is a Mute?

Mutes are devices fitted to musical instruments to alter the sound or timbre.   Common trombone mutes are the straight mute, cup mute,  bucket mute and plunger mute.  Each creates its own unique and distinctive timbre of sound.  The type of material has a great deal to do with the mute’s sound quality and price.   Layered paper mutes are much less expensive than metal mutes.  Some metal mutes incorporate copper to mellow the muted sound

How to Tune a Trombone

Trombones have a main tuning slide which is part of the bell section.   Pulling the tuning slide crook out lengthens the trombone and lowers the pitch.  Pushing the tuning slide crook in shortens the trombone and raises the pitch.   Trombone players also have the unique advantage of a hand slide which lengthens and shortens the instrument and acts as a surrogate tuning slide.

Dangers of starting with a Used Trombone

Starting with a used trombone poses some obvious questions: (1) has it been consistently kept clean and is it sterile (2) is the slide in good condition (3) is the slide water key cork and assembly in good condition (4) are there serious dents that restrict airflow thru the instrument (5) is their significant finish deterioration (6) is their any red rot which has started to develop inside the horn.  It is always advisable to have a qualified expert inspect used instruments prior to purchase both for general condition and overall quality.

 

Famous Players
Glen Miller - created the jazz big band sound which kicked off the Big Band era.
Slide Hampton - famous trombonist who played all over Europe.
Tommy Dorsey - great player with his own big band.
Joe Alessi - Principal Trombone with the New York Philharmonic.
Frank Rosolino - was a virtuoso in the jazz idioms and well respected for his mastery of the instrument.
Arthur Pryor - trombone soloist and assistant conductor of the Sousa Band.
Denis Wick - for many years principal trombonist with the London Symphony
Christian Lindberg - Swedish soloist and one of few full time solo artists in the world
Bill Watrous - has his own big band in LA and known for his amazing agility and range and use of multiphonics