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The Trombone

The trombone is a member of the brass family. It has a predominantly cylindrical bore, and is characterised by a slide that the player uses to extend the length of the tubing, thereby lowering the pitch. The slide is based on seven positions that lower the pitch progressively by semitones, with first position (slide fully retracted) being the highest, and seventh position (slide fully extended) being the lowest. For trombones with an F attachment, it is possible to engage an extra length of tubing that lowers the basic pitch of the instrument by the interval of a perfect fourth. Trombones have been made in a variety of sizes, from piccolo to contrabass, but the most commonly encountered types today are the tenor and bass trombone.

Scholars are unsure exactly when and where the trombone first appeared, but its earliest known description appears in a late 15th century fresco by Filippino Lippi. The early trombone was known by a variety of names, including ‘posaune’ in German-speaking countries, ‘saquebot’ in French, and ‘sackbut’ in English. The trombone was used primarily in church music and small ensembles, and did not become a part of the orchestra until the late 18th century.

Composers have recognised the expressive capabilities of the trombone as a solo instrument, and have featured it in some notable orchestral solos including the Tuba mirum of Mozart’s Requiem, Mahler’s Symphony No.3, Sibelius’ Symphony No.7 and Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin. By the 20th century, jazz trombonists such as J.J. Johnson and Tommy Dorsey had become particularly influential in technical developments of trombone performance, such as irregular attacks, microtones, and glissandos. These can be heard on albums such as The Eminent J.J. Johnson and The Trombone Master.

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