I suppose it wouldn’t be right to make a website all about trombones without taking some time to actually talk about the instrument. In this article, we’ll answer a ton of questions about trombones like:
- What are they?
- How many types are there?
- How do I get one?
- How much do they cost?
- How do I learn how to play one?
- What sort of accessories should I get for it?
- How do I maintain one?
As you browse this article, you may find helpful links to other articles that describe the topics more deeply. Feel free to follow those links for more information.
What Is a Trombone?
Quick answer: it’s the golden instrument in the Trill Trombone logo.
More specifically, a trombone is a low brass instrument which means it’s related to instruments like the tuba and euphonium. Like all low brass instruments, the trombone is played by buzzing into a mouthpiece. Of course, what makes the trombone unique is that it doesn’t feature any valves (usually). Instead, pitch is controlled by moving a large slide.
Unlike instruments with valves or keys, trombones have no mechanism for identifying slide positions. In other words, the slide is really nothing more than a large tuning slide. However, that doesn’t mean that musicians don’t have a way of marking positions. In fact, trombones have seven positions which are roughly spaced in half steps to form part of a chromatic scale. To reach a complete octave, trombone players have to change the tightness of their lips.
In terms of construction, trombones can come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. In general, however, there are really only three main sections:
Together, these pieces are assembled into the trombone. Of course, some horns have other features including extra tubing, trigger attachments, and various bores. In fact, there are actually two main classes of trombones: tenor and bass. That said, they do make alto, soprano, contrabass, and even valve trombones but more on that in the next section.
To learn more about the construction of a trombone, check out my article on trombone anatomy.
How Many Types of Trombones Are There?
Quick answer: a lot. In fact, there are at least 10 main types of trombones. Although, only two are used regularly: tenor and bass.
As hinted at previously, there are a lot of different kinds of trombones. In addition to the two main types of trombones, tenor and bass, there are also less common varieties which include:
The kind of trombone described in this article most accurately describes the tenor and bass varieties. However, as you can see, there are a lot of different types of trombones.
Of this list, I think one of the more interesting varieties is the superbone which is a hybrid between a regular slide trombone and a valve trombone. In practice, the superbone looks like this:
Of course, I wouldn’t be doing this article justice if I didn’t at least share a couple videos of trombones at the ends of the pitch spectrum. Up first, here’s a clip of Wycliffe Gordon playing a soprano trombone:
On the other end of the spectrum is the contrabass trombone:
Of course, sometimes these horns are featured with a double slide. Though, I imagine that’s just a personal preference.
How Do I Get a Trombone?
Quick answer: head to your local music store, make an online purchase, or hunt for a deal on Craigslist.
Now that we know what a trombone is, let’s talk about how to get one. In general, there are two main ways to purchase a trombone: online or at a local music store.
If you’re looking to get a horn online, I recommend reading a lot of product reviews:
After all, you likely aren’t going to be able to try the horn before you buy it. That said, I’m sure there are plenty of retailers that have some form of money-back guarantee which might be right for you. If you want to save money, it might be worth your time to hunt down a used trombone on sites like Craigslist or eBay.
In my case, I got my first trombone—a beginner Bach—when I was 12 from a local music store. Back then, my parents were able to walk in and have a chat with an expert about which horn they should get their kid. In addition, they were able to negotiate terms for renting or outright purchasing the horn.
Of course, you may not have access to a small business that you can support. Fortunately, there are larger chains of music stores like Guitar Center which sell tons of musical equipment—including instruments that you can usually try before you buy.
In addition to purchasing a horn yourself, you may find that local bands or schools have horns you can borrow. Otherwise, you could ask someone you know to get you one for a holiday.
How Much Does a Trombone Cost?
Quick answer: unfortunately, the cost of a trombone varies drastically. For instance, a pBone will run you about $150, but a professional horn could cost you over $5,000.
Now that you know where to look for a trombone, it’s probably a good idea to give you an idea of how much you’ll be shelling out. In general, you’ll be able to snag a beginner horn for under $500. In fact, I’ve already put together a list of budget horns in that price range.
If you’re looking to upgrade from a beginner horn, you’ll need to spend quite a bit more money. For example, the Yamaha YSL-448G intermediate trombone runs nearly $2,000.
Finally, if you want a professional horn, get ready to really drop some cash. For example, I have a straight Bach 42 Stradivarius which currently runs about $3,500.
How Do I Learn How to Play a Trombone?
Quick answer: pick up a songbook, join a community band, find a private instructor, or watch some YouTube videos.
Once you have a horn that you want to play, it’s time to learn how to play it! For a lot of people starting out, that means buying a beginner songbook like the Essential Elements for Band songbook that I used when I first started playing trombone in 2006.
Typically, introductory songbooks will include sections that teach you the notes and positions while providing context with easy-to-play songs like Hot Cross Buns. As an added bonus, they often provide a CD which you can listen to and play with. If you don’t know where to start, I’ve written a list of the best songbooks for beginners.
Of course, in the internet age, we have access to all sorts of music lessons for free. For example, people like Mr. Glynn put together excellent beginner trombone tutorials to get you started:
Be aware that being self-taught means that you don’t necessarily get the feedback you may need. As a result, it’s a good idea to join a friendly community band (as you grow comfortable) or pick up a private instructor who will give you regular lessons.
What Sort of Accessories Should I Get?
Quick answer: figure out what you want to do with your horn (i.e. marching band, jazz band, concert band, etc.) and choose accessories that will compliment that aspiration. That said, it’s a good idea to get a music stand, a tuner, and some slide oil.
At this point, you probably already have a horn, and you may even be playing it. Now, you want to know what accessories are valuable.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of pitfalls with trombone accessories. In other words, most products aren’t going to be all that useful to you. That said, once you figure out how you want to play your trombone, the decision should become more clear.
In general, however, there are a lot of products to choose from:
- Slide lubricants
- Trombone care kits
- Music stands
- Sheet music
If you’re interested in joining a marching band, you might want to pick up a lyre, so you can march with your music attached to your horn. If you live in an apartment, you might find that a practice mute is right you, so you can keep quiet.
Of course, there are always accessories that just about every musician will use. For instance, it’s a good idea to pick up a music stand, so you have some way to practice at home. Likewise, trombone mutes are good in almost every situation.
Meanwhile, if you don’t have a smart phone, you’ll definitely want to get a hold of a tuner. Often times tuners double as metronomes, so you can practice your music at the right tempo.
Finally, it’s probably a good idea to look into the best slide lubricant for you. After all, that’s an accessory you absolutely cannot live without.
How Do I Maintain My Trombone?
Quick answer: take care of all moving parts (i.e. slides, water keys, triggers, etc.). If a moving part is not performing its function, it’s time to take the horn to the repair shop.
At this point, you have a horn, you’re playing it, and you have all the accessories you need. Now you want know how to keep your horn in good condition. Luckily, it’s not too hard.
First, make sure you clean your horn regularly. If you’re not sure how to do that, I have an article that breaks down the cleaning process into 8 steps.
Second, make sure to keep any moving parts on your horn in good condition. For example, your slide should be lubricated regularly to avoid damage from rubbing. If you’re not sure which lubricant to use, I’ve put together a review of the top three, and I’ve even made application guides for all three.
Likewise, you’ll want to keep your tuning slide greased, so it doesn’t get stuck. If you’re not sure how to do that, I’ve put together a how to guide.
In addition to slides, your horn should also have a water key (aka spit valve) which is held in place by a screw and a spring. If for some reason your water key gets damaged, air will escape your slide. As a result, you’ll lose a lot of sound and tone quality. Trust me—I’ve had it happen.
If you have any triggers, they typically have lots of moving parts. For instance, most have some form of rotating mechanism to change which tube the air goes through. If anything on the trigger is damaged, you’ll want to get a hold of a instrument repair shop right away.
Beyond that, most other damage is cosmetic (i.e. nothing to worry about). That said, you can get dents in your slide which can make it significantly more difficult to use. If this happens, you’ll want to get your horn in the shop.
Get Started Today!
If you came here because you knew nothing about trombones, now you have plenty of knowledge to get started. As always, thanks for taking the time to check out my work and remember to respect the brass!