How to Buy a Trombone
By Roger M. Verdi
Many young people say they are attracted to the trombone because "it looks
like fun." Well, it is fun! The only brass or wind instrument that has
a slide to change pitches, the trombone is an entertaining and rewarding
instrument for young and old alike. It is also extremely versatile. Trombones
are found in wind bands, orchestras, marching bands, jazz and rock bands
and other chamber ensembles. Most school music programs will give a young
trombonist plenty of opportunities to perform.
The trombone is the middle instrument in the brass family,
functioning one octave below the trumpet and one octave above the tuba. Trombones also
have their own family and come in a variety of sizes. Young students begin on a basic
B-flat tenor trombone, the instrument most often found in bands and orchestras. There
is a lower relative to the tenor trombone called the bass trombone. Bass trombones have
extra tubing with one or two thumb-operated rotor valves, and a larger bell. Frequently,
a bass trombone is used as the lowest member of a trombone section. Another member of the
trombone family is the E-flat alto trombone, a higher-pitched cousin sometimes found in
orchestras. Tenor trombones may also have an f attachment, extra tubing with a thumb-
operated rotor similar to bass trombones. This extra tubing preserves the basic tenor
trombone while providing the option of additional lower register. Valve trombones _ i
nstruments with trumpet-like piston valves _ do exist, but are seldom used and considered
a rarity. Tenor trombones also come in different sizes. Wider-dimensioned or large-bored i
nstruments provide a darker, fuller sound, while small-bored instruments provide a brighter, clearer sound.
For all the variety of the trombone family tree, all students should
start out with the basic B-flat tenor trombone, and pursue other options after a period of study.
THE TROMBONE FAMILY
|The trombone is the middle instrument in the brass family, functioning one octave below the trumpet and one octave above the tuba. Trombones also have their own family and come in a variety of sizes. Young students begin on a basic B-flat tenor trombone, the instrument most often found in bands and orchestras. There is a lower relative to the tenor trombone called the bass trombone. Bass trombones have extra tubing with one or two thumb-operated rotor valves, and a larger bell. Frequently, a bass trombone is used as the lowest member of a trombone section. Another member of the trombone family is the E-flat alto trombone, a higher-pitched cousin sometimes found in orchestras. Tenor trombones may also have an f attachment, extra tubing with a thumb- operated rotor similar to bass trombones. This extra tubing preserves the basic tenor trombone while providing the option of additional lower register. Valve trombones _ instruments with trumpet-like piston valves _ do exist, but are seldom used and considered a rarity. Tenor trombones also come in different sizes. Wider-dimensioned or large-bored instruments provide a darker, fuller sound, while small-bored instruments provide
IS IT HARD TO PLAY?
The trombone is a middle-range instrument. Its sound, while full and large, does not have
the forceful prominence of the trumpet. However, the trombone's middle-register status does
not limit the instrument to accompaniment lines _ trombones do have solo or feature parts.
Trombonists, like all brass instrumentalists, must therefore develop an embouchure or correct
lip formation, to produce a tone and move from high to low registers. Under the guidance of a
qualified teacher, a student will produce a tone and play a few notes at the first lesson.
With continued instruction and about half an hour of practice a day, most students will
progress rapidly. As noted earlier, many young people say the trombone slide looks fun.
Some others say it looks hard. Valves do seem like a more efficient means of changing notes.
A trombonist must move the slide several inches as quickly as a trumpet player depresses
valves. In practice, however, most students learn to move the slide in a quick and fluid
manner. The trombone slide has seven positions, each position giving a series of notes
depending on embouchure tension. As a student develops pitch recognition, he or she
learns correct slide placement, not unlike a string player learning where to place fingers
on a fretless fingerboard. Students who listen to recordings and live performances of slide
trombonists in both the jazz and classical arena will hear musicians whose skill often
surpasses that of valve instrument practitioners. With proper instruction and a serviceable
instrument, most students progress rapidly and find the trombone not hard, but rewarding and
BUYING YOUR FIRST TROMBONE
|The staff of any reputable musical instrument store can assist
ou in purchasing your first trombone. The director of the school music program as well as
private teachers will certainly have opinions as to brand and instrument features.
If possible, it is useful to have a teacher or experienced player present while
selecting an instrument.|
Student, intermediate and professional trombones
Most major instrument manufacturers offer a line of instruments for the beginning student.
These instruments are priced in the $600 range. An intermediate instrument might cost $900
to $1,000 while a professional model will run $1,400 or more. A parent shopping for an
instrument may ask why the extreme price range or question the difference in student and
professional models. Student instruments are designed for student use. While serviceable
and adequate for the young player, student instruments do not have the superior
craftsmanship found in professional model instruments. It is advisable that young
students begin with a basic student model. The essentials of slide, bell and mouthpiece
are all included in good working order and should provide a young student years of pleasure.
If a student possesses a high level of interest after two or three years of study,
the purchase of an intermediate or professional instrument is advisable. Professional
trombones show greater craftsmanship and produce a more refined sound then student model
instruments. As noted earlier, even the basic tenor trombone will come in different bore
sizes and designs. As a student progresses, the type of music he or she is interested in
will dictate what type of professional instrument to buy. For instance, a student interested
in jazz might favor the brighter sound of the narrow-bored trombone. A student pursuing
orchestral music might prefer the broader sound of the large-bored instrument. Often
professionals will own several trombones and make changes depending on what type of music
they are called on to perform. As always, the help of both private teacher and music
director is critical in selecting the right instrument.
NEW VS USED
Buying a used instrument is another option in selecting a trombone. The instrument's one
moving part, the slide, should be checked first and most carefully. Small dents to the
exterior of the slide may severely hamper its operation. The inner slide, plated with
chrome, may also show corrosion and wear. Dents in the bell section are not as critical,
but may affect the sound and be costly to remove. The condition of the instrument's finish
or lacquer should also be considered, as it is the instrument's protection against corrosion
PICKING A MOUTHPIECE
|Most student instruments are equipped with a beginner-sized
mouthpiece, generally marked 12C. This is usually adequate for the beginner. Generally as
a student grows and progresses, changing to a larger-size mouthpiece is recommended. All
students are different, and as always the advice and guidance of a qualified teacher is
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?
These accessories will get you started.
1. Slide cream. Most music stores will offer a specially formulated cream for use on trombone slides. This is superior to oil which can lead to sluggish slide movement.
2. Mouthpiece brush, and cleaning snake. Frequent cleaning of the instrument will keep it in good working order.
3. Method books, recommended by your teacher or band director, are available at most music stores.
4. A portable folding music stand.
WHERE SHOULD YOU PURCHASE YOUR TROMBONE?
|Most new instruments will come with a manufacturer's warranty.
This implies that the instrument may need repair work, either from accidental damage or
manufacturer's defect. Many instrument retailers have a repair and maintenance shop.
Buying from a retailer offers this convenience.
Buying from a mail-order company is also an option. If you choose this option it is advisable
to investigate whether there is a qualified repair shop in your area. It is also possible to
buy from a private seller. In this case it is advisable to check all parts of the instrument,
and make certain there is a technician in your area qualified to service the instrument.
Above all, Have fun!
The performance of music is meant to be fun, so enjoy it! The trombone, a unique and
enjoyable instrument, will provide students with years of pleasure. Participation
in musical organizations is great fun at all levels. Playing the trombone, an instrument
found in nearly all musical settings, is a great way to enjoy participating in a wide
array of musical activities.
Roger Verdi is a free-lance performer and teacher in the New York area. He currently
performs with the Modern Brass Quintet, New Philharmonic of New Jersey, and Opera Northeast. He is adjunct professor of trombone at Kean University.