IT: trombone – FR: trombone – GER: Posaune


The trombone is a cylindrical brass tube folded back on itself twice into which a cup mouthpiece is inserted. A slide mechanism is used to lengthen the tubing. With the slide in first position, the fundamental is pitched in Bb. An F attachment provides a trigger to lower the fundamental a perfect fourth, eliminating awkward slide position changes.

Range and Natural Dynamics

FIGURE 4.7 Trombone range


The trombone sounds as written. Bass clef is used primarily, but tenor clef may be employed for extended high passages. The compass of the tenor trombone extends from E below the staff upwards approximately two and a half octaves. Many modern tenor trombones are equipped with an F attachment, in which case their range begins on C and extends upwards almost three octaves.

The bass trombone has a larger bore and a wider bell, its upper register is not used as often as that of the tenor trombone, and it is more frequently called upon to sound pedal tones, the actual fundamental pitch found in each slide position. The fuzzy growl of the pedal tone is something of a special effect, first used by Berlioz in his Requiem. In addition to an F attachment, many bass trombones have an E attachment, which extends the range down to BB. Attachments altering the fundamental to E, G, and G are also available for trombones.

Tone Quality

The tone is full, rich, and dignified through the range. The instrument is capable of wide dynamic variations at any pitch level, balances exceedingly well with all other instruments, and has the power to be heard in any context. Trombones work well in open or closed voicings and perform sustained chords in accompaniment very well. The modern trombone is one of the most versatile instruments in the orchestra.

Technical Abilities

Dexterity is very good in the upper range, where alternative slide positions for many notes are available. In lower ranges agility is limited by rapid slide movements, a problem largely alleviated by using the F attachment. Legato notes are tongued lightly, and rapid short figures and repeated notes work well. Double-, triple-, and flutter-tonguings are possible. Frequent rests are helpful because the instrument requires a lot of breath support. Wide leaps are somewhat out of character, and tremolos are simply not possible. Lip trills or valve trills with the use of the trigger are the only type of trills available. A short glissando, within the length of slide in either direction, is a common effect. Instances of a solo trombone given the melody are relatively rare in the symphonic literature. The alto trombone, which is no longer in use, was a standard member of the trombone choir in the 18th and 19th centuries. The trombone was not commonly used in symphonic literature until Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

FIGURE 4.8 Chart showing notes in each slide position

Avoid successive rapid slide movement between distant positions-low B to B, first to seventh positions.

Musical Example

FIGURE 4.9 Trombone line: Beethoven, Symphony No.9, fourth movement, measures 1-9

Refer to the fourth movement of Brahms’s First Symphony for a classic example of trombone writing, in the Excerpts in Score section.

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