Also:       tenor trombone      tenor-bass trombone      bass trombone      Posaune      

Title: The Virtuoso Trombone--Ballade pour trombone et piano, by Frank Martin; Christian Lindberg, trombone, and Roland Pontinen, piano. Label: BIS. Format: CD. Catalogue#: CD-258. Track: 3.

Title: Pinnacles--See See Rider; J. J. Johnson, trombone. Label: Milestone. Format: CD. Catalogue#: OJCCD-1006-2. Track: 5.

Title: Davis Taylor, Bass Trombone—Moonrise with Memories, by Frederic Rzewski; Davis Taylor, bass trombone. Label: New World Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 80494-2. Track: 3.

Contextual Associations

The trombone is an end-blown lip-reed aerophone with a telescoping slide that originated in Europe but today can be found throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. It is played both by professionals and amateurs, males and females. Its contexts of use are numerous: it is a standard instrument in the symphony orchestra, in military, marching, and concert bands and wind ensembles, and in various chamber brass ensemble configurations; it can be used as either a solo or section instrument in jazz bands and combos; and it has been incorporated in various folk and popular music idioms throughout the world. The Moravian church has had a rich tradition of trombone playing in its religious and secular rituals since the 18th century. There exists a considerable classical solo repertoire of original pieces and transcribed works for the trombone, both unaccompanied and accompanied (by a keyboard instrument or an orchestra, i.e., concertos), dating from the Baroque era to the present. The performance of this solo repertoire is today most concentrated in university music departments and conservatories around the world, which typically include in their faculty a professor of trombone and offer degrees in trombone performance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels; some of this repertoire is also heard in the domain of secondary school music programs where it is utilized for solo competitions. Professionals operate in one or both of two general spheres: the classical/educational domain, centered in professional orchestras and academic institutions where performers teach, present formal solo recitals, perform in faculty chamber ensembles, solo with school ensembles, and direct student ensembles; and the jazz/commercial domain, where they perform at concert and club venues as members of established bands/combos or as back-up musicians for other performers, produce commercial recordings, do studio session work (recordings for movies, television, and commercials), and free-lance as teachers and clinicians. Amateur trombonists find performance opportunities in school (secondary and tertiary) and municipal bands, orchestras, and jazz bands and combos. 


The trombone is found in three basic designs: tenor, sometimes referred to as ‘straight’ (first gallery image); tenor with F-attachment (second gallery image); and bass (third image). At the heart of all three designs is an approximately nine-foot length of tubing (which produces a fundamental pitch of B-flat1) with two U-shaped bends that has a cylindrical bore for most of its length, a flaring bell, and a telescoping slide. It is made in two sections--the slide and bell joints--that are connected with a threaded collar. The slide section consists of two long parallel cylindrical tubes made of nickel silver connected near their top ends with a cross-stay; the final four inches or so at their bottom ends are slightly thickened to form sleeves or stockings. The outer slide is also made from two cylindrical tubes (of brass), these connected at their bottom end with a U-bend tube and near their top end with a cross-stay; the internal diameter of the outer slide tubes is slightly greater than the external diameter of the inner slide sleeves, providing a close fit that is lubricated to minimize friction. The ends of the inner slide tubes are inserted into the openings at the ends of the outer slide tubes to complete the slide mechanism. The bore of the bell joint begins small at the end that is connected to the slide section and gradually expands until the bell, where it flares dramatically. The U-bend is actually a tight-fitting tuning slide that unites two otherwise nearly parallel lengths of tubing. Three cross-stays unify and strengthen this joint. A detachable silver-plated brass cup mouthpiece is inserted into the available open end of the slide joint inner tubing (the other open end is connected to the bell joint). The other two trombones pictured in the gallery differ from the tenor trombone just described in the following ways: both include extra tubing brought into action with a rotor valve to increase the basic length of the instrument; and both have wider bores and wider bells. The rotor valve on the tenor with F-attachment facilitates the addition of about three more feet of tubing to the instrument’s basic length, lowering its pitch by a fourth to F1; the bass trombone also has an F-attachment operated by a rotor valve plus an additional slightly shorter length of tubing (lowers a major 3rd to G-flat1) operated by a separate rotor valve that can be used individually or in combination with the F-tubing (in combination the added tubing lowers the instrument’s pitch to D1). Both the bore and bell diameters of the tenor with F-attachment are slightly greater than those of the straight tenor, and the bore and bell diameters of the bass are greater than those of the tenor with F-attachment.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player, either standing or seated, grasps with his or her left hand a part of the cross-stays of the bell joint and the inner slide closest to where the two joints are connected and positions the trombone so that the mouthpiece touches their lips and the slide and bell are facing forwards. The cross-stay of the outer slide unit is pinched between the player’s right hand thumb and one or two fingers. When rotary valves are present for the addition of extra tubing, they are operated with the left hand thumb. The slide, operated with the right arm, allows the performer to lengthen the tube beyond its shortest length (i.e., fully retracted). With any given length of tubing, the performer may produce a fundamental pitch (called a pedal tone) and the notes in the natural harmonic series above it by controlling the force of the airstream (with their diaphragm muscles) and its modulation (with their embouchure muscles adjusting lip tension). A player must develop a sense of specific slide lengths (called 'positions,' of which there are seven) to produce pitches with desired frequencies.  Subtle and not so subtle pitch inflections (from slight bends to exaggerated 'smears' over a wide interval) made possible by the slide mechanism are explored to varying degrees in the different musical idioms in which the trombone is used. The basic usable range of the straight tenor trombone is about two-and-one-half octaves from E2 to C5, and across this range it is fully chromatic. Production of its pedal tones (E1 - B-flat1) is not dependable. Trombones with added tubing have extended lower ranges, and the larger a trombone’s bore the more facile it is in this register (listen to the third audio example). A trombone with an F-attachment can more dependably descend to F1, and a bass trombone like the one pictured here potentially to A-flat0. Trombones are non-transposing instruments written at pitch. Variation in the timbre of the instrument is achieved through the use of mutes placed in or held in front of the bell of the instrument (in the first image four mutes are seen--from left to right, metal straight, plunger, straight, and cup). For videos illustrating the player-instrument interface for these instruments, view the Philharmonia Orchestra website chapters on the tenor trombone and the bass trombone.


The modern tenor trombone has evolved, with only subtle design modifications, from the Renaissance sackbut (see also Then and Now: Trombone). It is difficult to pinpoint when the flaring bell shape of the modern trombone (as opposed to the funnel-shape of the sackbut bell) became established, but probably in the second half of the 18th century. Slide sleeves/stockings were introduced by the middle of the 19th century, so this might be as good as any date to highlight as the start of the modern trombone era. F-attachments were introduced in 1839 but did not become widely accepted until around 1900. 

Bibliographic Citations

Baines, Anthony. 1976. Brass Instruments: Their History and Development. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

________. 1984. “Trombone.” NGDMI v.3: 628-636.

Bate, Philip. 1966. The Trumpet and Trombone: An Outline of their History, Development and Construction. London: Ernest Benn Limited.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carse, Adam. 1975 (1965). Musical Wind Instruments. New York: Da Capo Paperback.

Herbert, Trevor. 2006. The Trombone. New Haven: Yale University Press.

“Instruments.”  Philharmonia Orchestra website, accessed September 14, 2015:


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

423.22 aerophone--chromatic labrosone slide trumpet: the tube can be lengthened by extending a telescopic section of the instrument whilst it is played

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with flaring open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: lip reed (player’s lips) placed over cup mouthpiece at end of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: incremental lengthening with telescoping slide of air cavity in which the standing wave is active

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple - changing length of standing wave by adding tube length with valves or slide and by selecting partials through overblowing


45.7 in. length (first trombone) 44.9 in. length (second trombone) 49.2 in. length (third trombone)

Primary Materials

spring - spiral





Entry Author

Roger Vetter