The trombone is a wind instrument that is a member of the brass family. The differentiating characteristic of the trombone is a telescope-like slide which is controlled by the player to change pitches except for the valve trombone with three valves. Similar to other brass instruments, the vibrating lips of the player makes the air inside the trombone to vibrate, and this produces sound.
The instrument’s name is derived from the Italian word Tromba meaning trumpet and –one which means giant. Thus, it is named large trumpet. Both the trumpet and the trombone generally have cylindrical bores.
The creation of the trombone dates back more than six hundred years. Its original design was somewhat imitated from sackbut, an Old English instrument. The term sackbut originated from the French saquer which means pull and bouter meaning push. The trombone is the Italian for sackbut, and this is most probably the basis of the word trombone. At first, there were four types of trombones – soprano, bass, tenor, and alto.
At some period in the 19th century, trombones were constructed with valves similar to most brass instruments, but this was short lived. It has a significant difference from other brass instruments – the trombone sounds precisely as how it is written.
It is the sole modern brass instrument in the orchestra which can play all of the chromatic scale’s notes. Despite that, trombones were not included in the early orchestras because most composers and musicians thought these were solely suitable for solemn melodies.
Nowadays, trombones are played in symphony orchestras, military bands, big bands, and brass bans. Aside from those, the trombone is also performed in smaller musical ensembles such as brass quartets or trios and trombone quartets or choirs. These instruments are also commonly used for different music genres such as salsa, rock, swing, and jazz.
The trombone in the 20th century
In the first half of the 20th century, the trombone remained popular and widely used in the orchestra through works of various prominent artists like Leonard Bernstein, William Walton, and Richard Strauss.
Trombone gained a higher level of significance in chamber and solo music when new composers gave it outstanding parts in their works in the second half of the century.
In the second half of the century, new composers began giving back to the trombone a higher level of importance in solo and chamber music. Modern composers got a chance to establish a broader range through pieces such as the Sequenza V of Luciano Berio and the Sonata by Paul Hindemith. Improvements such as an increase in a mouthpiece, bell and bore measurements, variation of materials, different mute types, and new kinds of valves led many developments in the structure of the trombone.
There are various types of trombones. These are the contrabass trombone, bass trombone, tenor trombone, alto trombone, soprano trombone, and sopranino and piccolo trombones.
Playing the trombone
There are seven possible positions of the trombone. To vary the pitch, the player adjusts the lip shape. The contracting or relaxing of one’s lips changes the sound produced by the trombone. With the ability to do a glissando, it can also go up and down notes with ease and play all notes in the middle by simply controlling the slide.