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"The trombones are too sacred for frquent use." Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47)
The first trombone date from the late 15th century, they were called sackbuts meaning " "pull-tube" and they were played in bands at royal festivals and weddings. In a painting from the 1490s on a church wall in Italy, one of a group of flying angels is shown playing the sackbut.
The oldest trombone in the world was made in Nuremburg in 1551. Like all trombones it was designed to be taken to pieces when it was not being used. The sliding section and the bell are made to lock in tone another for playing but they come apart and pack alongside one another. This means that the long, thin instrument can be carried about easily. The modern trombone has changed little since then, except that the tube and bell are bigger.
Although it was common throughout Europe by the 16th century, it was most exclusively used in church music, particularly for dabbling up choir voices with its soft mellow tone.
The trombone is a member of the brass family and was the first of today's orchestral instrument to appear in its present form. The trombone has always been one of the most versatile among brass instruments. Indeed it is a mark of its wide tonal range that it became as popular in military and dance bands as it had done earlier in the church.
The first classical composer to score for the trombone regularly was Beethoven, who used it for the first time in his Fifth Symphony in 1808, since then the trombone has played a central role in the orchestra, which usually includes two tenors and one bass trombone. Its bright rich sound is effective for adding volume and depth as well as for cutting through all the other instruments when required.
Twentieth-century avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg was the first to make use of the trombone's unique glissando effect (sliding the pitch of a note up or down) and ever since it has enjoyed a special place in everything from jazz and pop to classical music, from military and dance bands to musicals and of course comic effects.
How the trombone works
The trombone is made of cylindrical brass tubing connected to a mouthpiece at one end and expanding into a bell at the other end.
Apart from the mouthpiece, there are two sections that can be fitted together so that one slides in and out of the other. Bass trombonists, however often use an attachment for the deeper notes. The slide replaces the valves on other brass instruments and like them alters the space in which the air vibrates. Thus changing the pitch.
There are seven natural positions on a trombone from which two octaves of harmonics can be produced. So when a player establishes a natural tone, he can produce harmonic notes by keeping the slide in the same place, while changing the pressure of the air through the mouthpiece.
Three main or common sizes for the trombone:
- The alto trombone
The small alto instrument is less common and players tend to keep it for long high notes that need to be played softly.
2. The tenor trombone
In brass bands and orchestras, the trombone section is mainly made up of tenor trombones. In most marching bands you will see the trombones marching at the front, this is so that long slides don't hit anyone in front of them as they march along.
3. The bass trombone
The bass trombone is the biggest of the family. It has a much larger flared bell than the tenor. This how you can spot the bass trombonists in the brass section of the orchestra. Most bass trombones play an instrument with extra tubing placed in the bell section of the instrument, over the player's shoulder. By operating a valve that opens or shuts this extra tube. The player can make the instrument work like a tenor trombone with the tube shut or a bass with the tube open.