As someone who has never owned a trigger trombone, I’ve always been very interested in how they work. From my best understanding, an F trigger drops the pitch 5 half steps, but that was about all I knew. As a result, I decided to do some research and put together a guide on how to use a trombone F trigger.
In general, the F trigger on a trombone provides three uses. First, it drops the pitch of a tenor trombone by a perfect fourth. As a result, you can access an extended range which includes false tones and pedal tones. In addition, it adds new options for positions like middle C in 1st position rather than 4th. Finally, it opens up the possibility for trills.
In the remainder of this article, we’ll take a look at the anatomy of a trigger, how to hold a horn with a trigger, the benefits of having a trigger, and how to maintain a trigger.
Anatomy of an F Trigger
If you take a look at your horn right now, you’ll notice that the F trigger is made up of four main sections: the trigger, the linkage, the valve, and the wrap.
Typically, the trigger is a piece of metal that sits along the bell brace closest to the bell. As a result, when you wrap your hand around the the slide brace, your thumb will rest right on top of the trigger. Unlike a straight trombone, your thumb won’t go over the bell brace which may feel a little odd at first.
Then, the linkage is the mechanism which connects the trigger to the valve. In general, there are two types of linkages: string and mechanical. With a string linkage, you’ll notice a string that’s attached to the trigger and wraps around the valve. When the trigger is pressed, the valve will rotate into place. Meanwhile, the mechanical linkage functions largely the same way, but the string is replaced with a metallic arm.
On the other end of the linkage, you’ll find the valve which is the mechanism which changes where air flows in the trombone. In general, the rotary valve is the most common, but there are plenty of options including axial flow and dual bore.
Finally, the valve feeds into the wrap which is the additional tubing not found on a straight trombone. In particular, there are two different types of wraps, open and closed, which refers to the amount of additional tubing that sticks out from the bell. If you have an open wrap, you’ll notice that the tubing sticks out beyond the limits of a straight trombone. Otherwise, you have a closed wrap horn which is more compact.
Using an F Trigger for the First Time
Now that we know what we’re looking at, let’s talk about how to use an F trigger. First, grab your horn like you normally would with one hand on the slide brace and another hand on the slide. Of course, the only difference here is that your thumb will go on the trigger instead of over the bell brace. If you’re not totally comfortable with some of this terminology, check out my article on trombone anatomy.
With your hands in place, take a moment to squeeze the trigger a few times with your thumb. Notice the full range of motion of the trigger, and be careful not to push beyond that range. After all, I’d hate for you to break a string or bust a rotary valve.
If you’re doing everything correctly, your trigger should barely move. As you can imagine, the limited range of motion allows you to press and release the trigger quickly. After all, your music isn’t going to wait for you to mess with your trigger.
After you get a feel for your trigger, jump down into the next section to get an idea of what your F trigger can do for you.
Benefits of Using an F Trigger
Now that we know how to use the trigger, let’s talk about what an F trigger actually does. In particular, an F trigger drops the pitch by a perfect fourth. In other words, if you go to play a B♭ with the trigger down, you’ll actually play an F.
So, what does that mean for you? Well, you now have a whole host of new options for positions. For instance, if you need to hit C in 6th position, you can use the trigger in 1st position instead. Likewise, if you need to hit the B in 7th position, you can use the trigger in 2nd position.
In addition, the F trigger also gives you extended range. For example, the E below the staff is about as low as you can reasonably go on straight trombone without diving into false tone or pedal tone territory. With a trigger, you’ll have no problem going down another octave.
If you’re interested, check out this position chart for F trigger trombones. As a brief summary, here are a few noteworthy (pun intended) uses:
- Middle C – T1
- Low F – T1
- Low E♭ (false tone) – T3.5
- Low D (false tone) – T5
- Pedal E – T2.5
Here, T refers to the trigger. In other words, if you want to play middle C, play an “F” in 1st position with the trigger pressed.
Finally, the F trigger can open up the opportunity for trombone trills (like the website name!). Of course, I personally have never tried it, but I’ve heard it can be done.
Maintaining an F Trigger
Like all moving parts on a trombone, the F trigger needs to be maintained. And if you’ve read any of my other maintenance articles, you know I care a lot about keeping horns in good shape. As a result, I figured I’d share one last tip for the road: don’t forget to lubricate your valve.
To do that, there’s a cap on one side of the rotor which you should be able to unscrew. From there, you can apply a small amount of rotor oil directly to the mechanism. In addition, it’s a good idea to remove the main tuning slide and drip some oil down the tube. In both cases, you’ll want to jiggle the trigger, so you get proper coverage of the mechanism.
When I was researching maintenance tips for this article, I found that a lot of folks were very specific in their oil recommendations. For example, some folks recommended using valve oil while others recommended using special oils like rotor oil and bearing oil. In fact, I saw once source that recommended using three different types of oil.
That said, I recommend following whatever the manufacturer of your horn recommends. After all, they designed the horn, so they probably have a manual which dictates how to best take care of it. At the very least, cars do!
As always, you may want to clean the mechanism first. Of course, cleaning a valve is a much more complicated process than cleaning a slide, so make sure you look up a proper guide for your horn. That said, if you’re just looking for some general trombone cleaning tips, I have a whole article on that.
Perhaps in the future, I’ll write a more detailed guide. For now, this will have to do!
Over the course of this article, we covered a few questions related to the use of an F trigger. For instance, we talked about what a trigger might look like, how to hold a horn that has one, what the trigger actually does, and how to maintain one.
If you don’t feel like this article fully answered your question, feel free to let me know. I’m always happy to expand an article for the good of my readers.
Otherwise, that’s all I have for today. If you’d like to see more of this kind of content, let me know, and I’ll start doing my research. In the meantime, thanks again for your time, and don’t forget to respect the brass!