A staple in music genres such as jazz, pop, rock and marching bands, trombones are the perfect sonic equalizer when playing multiple wind instruments together. The resonance of a trombone is lower than the breezy smooth sounds of saxophones but higher than the brassy full sound of a tuba or any other lower brass.
Oddly enough, very little factual data is known about the trombone. Researching trombone’s tends to be patchy across the board. The few facts we do know is it was originally called the “sackbutt” (spelled in various ways). The sackbutt was originally created from the bass trumpet. It made its debut back in the 15th century when a slide was added onto the bass trumpet. Originally with a smaller bell, the sackbutt transformed over each century to finally represent what we know as our modern day trombone. Today, the trombone is a permanent element in orchestras, marching bands and jazz bands.
How It’s Played
Other than sound, the trombone is unique because instead of valves and tone holes, the trombone plays a chromatic scale using a tuning slide. The tuning slide is comprised of two hollow metal rods in which one should fit perfectly in the other. By placing your slightly closed lips to the mouthpiece and creating a buzzing sound with your lips you should be able to make a noise into the trombone. That air/sound travels down the mouthpipe, through the tuning slide and out of the bell. When blowing into the trombone, by pushing the slide in and out you will be able to change the pitch of the sound with a few minor adjustments to the speed of the air and to your embouchure (the position and use of the lips, tongue, and teeth when playing a wind instrument).
Care and Keeping of your Trombone
Brass instruments tend to be a bit easier to care for than wind instruments. However, if not cared for correctly, they are a hassle to get back into playing condition. The most temperamental part of the trombone is the slide. One little knick in the slide can keep your trombone slide from moving.
Another problem tends to be corrosion. If not properly cleaned and oiled the trombone can become corroded from the extra moisture and end up not working properly. Online Trombone Journal provides a detailed step by step of what you should and not do when cleaning your trombone.
Renting Vs. Buying
Trombone’s tend to be relatively affordable for students. As a student, you will want to buy or purchase a tenor trombone, the most commonly used. Intermediate and professional trombonist look for trombones with an F attachment.
A rule of thumb when purchasing any brass or woodwind instrument: If the instrument does not have a serial number and/or a brand name, put it down and walk away. When it is time to repair your instrument, they are very difficult to find parts for and may be more expensive to repair in the long run.
Some reliable brands tend to be the following:
If you are just starting out and don’t want to buy an instrument, renting may be a good option for you. Businesses who rent instruments will, often times, have an insurance or maintenance plan for the rentals. This is usually a good option for trombones, especially if you have a student starting band. All sorts of damage can happen to your instrument despite how careful you or their classmates are.
If purchasing a used instrument, look out for the following to be sure it will be in good playing condition:
- Try out the slide, it should move in and out freely. There should be no bends, dings, or grating noises in order to be classified in good condition.
- Small dents and dings on the bell are ok but problem areas tend to be the slide and smaller tubing.
- Holes in the trombone are problematic.
- The instrument should have a brand name and serial number.
All in all, if you don’t feel comfortable purchasing a used instrument, the best thing would be to take a band director or professional trombone player with you or to get their input on your purchase. Student model trombones, used and new, tend to range from $300- $1,500.
Lastly, don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by information. Owning and playing an instrument is truly rewarding and worth the time and effort you put into it. I hope that this can be helpful to you in your future endeavors when it comes to purchasing or simply learning more about the instrument you love.
Written by Leah Houston