- First, instead of having valves like the rest of the brass instruments, the trombone uses a metal slide to make change in the sound it creates.
- The standard, straight, trombone is made of a long, slender metal tubing which is made in the shape of a “U.” In fact, the are two “U” shaped slides that are called the “inner slide” and “outer slide.” These slides connect to the other half of the trombone that, when connected, is in the form of an “S.” The trombone uses these slides to extend and shorten the length of the instrument. As a result the standard trombone is around the length of 9 feet when it is all stretched out.
- To play the instrument, the trombone is played by holding it horizontally and buzzing into a mouthpiece. The right hand is used to push and pull the sliding “outer slide” to change the length of the instrument which changes the pitches it can play.
- There are seven standard playing positions (with variations of each position) on the slide. The lowest note can be produced when the slide is fully extended.
- The trombone is several centuries old and has been improved on over time. For many years it was associated with church music and branched out into more secular music that entertains the masses of many genres.
- An ancestor of the modern trombone is called the sackbut. This name came from the French word saquer (to pull) and bouter (to push.) And in Italian the word trombone actually means “Big trumpet.”
The Coming of the Bass Trombone
Differences Between the Tenor and Bass Trombone
In theory the tenor and bass trombones can, and often are, the same lengths, however there are different ranges you should expect them to be able to play in. The larger bore and larger mouthpieces make it difficult for the bass trombonist to play in the higher ranges and easier in the lower ranges.
In contrast to how many tenor trombonists work to increase their range, bass trombonists work in the opposite manner. Bass trombonists think of developing range downward. This is done by starting in a comfortable range and working their way down. The bass trombonist must operate comfortably as far down as pedal E. He or she should be able to comfortably sound tones all the way down to pedal Bb.
One of the biggest mistaken beliefs is that bass trombone players often don’t seem to practice much in the real bass trombone register. These players should spend most of their time practicing from low Bb on down, with extra emphasis on playing the notes that use the trigger.
In the downward direction, tenor trombonists without an F attachment, reference books state that they are not suppose to have notes below low E or pedal Bb. However, it is wise to practice down in this area because it helps open up the sound on the overall horn. Essentially, these players can play down to low E, skip the next series of notes that the instrument cannot play and then practice in the pedal Bb to pedal E low range. Again, this depends on the individual.
Relating this concept back to the bass trombonist, for all practical purposes, the upper register shouldn’t be ignored either and players should be able to get up to at least a high Bb.
The Trigger F Attachment
The trigger F attachment refers to the (often) rotary valve that is depressed by a thumb trigger to engage an extra partial on the horn and offer additional alternate positions. But, consider is there a difference in F attachments on the tenor and bass trombones. The answer is no. They are the same. In fact, this attachment benefits both horns by giving the instrument the ability to lower itself a fourth to F. The biggest advantage to this is that the area between low E and pedal Bb is and strong. This is particularly helpful for bass trombonists. In addition, now anything that was played in 6th position can be played with trigger and 1st position.
The Future of Trombone
The days when trombones used to play musical passages requiring exceptional agility and technical skill continue to expand in expressiveness. Now trombonists are also expected to play in very light and delicate passages as well. It takes careful work on the horn to play with a very legato intent.`
The fact that more modern trombones have and use F attachments, it also important to work on matching the sound with and without the trigger. This is a facet that too often gets overlooked by players who use the trigger.
Another problem is that too often a conductor may see a trombonist with the F attachment and put him or her on a bass trombone part, whereas the player may not have the sound, register or technique for the low parts. In fact, the horn itself may be too small for the bottom parts. Likewise, we also see the opposite where players with large horns are sometimes given the labor intensive first trombone parts that go up quite high.
In the past, the bass trombone has mainly been in an orchestra, or wind ensemble, and played more less glorified tuba parts. However, this is certainly not the case today. Contemporary bass trombone parts call for much more finesse than before. In fact, many professional bass trombonists have popularized the instrument by demonstrating tremendous amounts of flexibility and control.
Bass trombonists have advanced to the point where now the instrument provides a whole new resource for composers and arrangers. Now these writers can come to expect an other dimension of sound color unique to the world of music.
Douglas Yeo FAQ: Bass Trombone Valve Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved July 3, 2022, from https://www.yeodoug.com/resources/faq/faq_text/valves.html
Farrant, D. (2022, June 1). The different types of trombones: Hello music theory. Hello Music Theory: Learn Music Theory Online. Retrieved July 3, 2022, from https://hellomusictheory.com/learn/types-of-trombones/
The Instrumentalist. (1976). Brass anthology.
What’s the difference between alto, tenor and bass trombones? – yamaha M. Yamaha Music. (2022, February 11). Retrieved July 3, 2022, from https://hub.yamaha.com/winds/brass/whats-the-difference-between-alto-tenor-and-bass-trombones/
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, June 10). Bass Trombone. Wikipedia. Retrieved July 3, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bass_trombone