Pay the Piper

So you want to play a musical instrument?

You think you'd like to learn the trombone? We tell you the advantages and pitfalls, where to buy one, how to get lessons, what it will cost - everything you need to know

Why play an instrument?
What instrument to play
How to buy an instrument
Other costs
Where to get lessons
How much progress will I make?
Doing your practice
Music exams
Upgrading your instrument
Finding opportunities to play
Switching instruments
Violin & Viola
Double Bass
French Horn
Trumpet & Cornet
Other brass instruments
What's copyright?
Your questions answered
Links to other sites


The Trombone

Family: Brass
Cost: from £240 (the lowest price we could find, VAT included)
Best age to start: 11 years upwards
Easy to start? Yes, quite easy

This is one instrument everyone thinking of taking up an instrument should consider very carefully. There is a shortage of trombone players at every level all over the country, from school orchestras right up to the famous music conservatoires. Good trombonists are like gold-dust - so why not try and become one?
The Trombone is the larger relative of the trumpet and consists of a narrow tube of brass folded on itself to save space. The sound comes out of the flared bell, and is made by blowing a "raspberry" with your lips into the cup-shaped mouthpiece. In effect, your lips are vibrating like the reed of a clarinet, and this vibration becomes musical sound in its passage through the specially-shaped bore of the trombone. You can obtain a number of different "open" notes in this way by varying the tension of your lips (try blowing a raspberry and smiling at the same time), and can then produce the notes in between by moving the slide, which alters the length of the tubing, thus making the instrument temporarily a bit longer or shorter. The slide is unique to the trombone.
You hold the trombone in front of you with the mouthpiece to your lips (obviously!), the bell directly forward. Your right hand operates the slide, while the left supports the instrument. A trombone comes apart into two main pieces, and is carried in a rigid case which is quite long but not too heavy and offers excellent protection to the instrument.
The trombone is an easy instrument to start, and the amount of puff required is not too great. The real difficulty is having arms long enough to push the slide out to its furthest positions, so this is not an instrument for the very young or the very short! Many players begin at 11 or 12 years old.
The trombone is important to orchestras, wind bands, jazz bands and brass bands, so bearing in mind the shortage of players this instrument offers unparalleled opportunities.
There is little to go wrong with a trombone as it has only one moving part. It is easily dented, of course, and this can be expensive to repair especially if the damage is so severe the lacquer which protects the brass surface has to be renewed. The one moving part is the slide, and this does need very careful handling as if it is bent or dented the instrument won't work. There is little maintenance to do on a trombone, but the tuning slide needs to be moved and greased from time to time, and the slide itself will need dressing frequently with something - some trombonists use oil, others a little washing-ip liquid and others plain water from a squeezy bottle. Your teacher will advise.
Trombones are not as cheap as trumpets, but they are fairly reasonable at about £250 upwards. They are all the same size. Good makes are Besson, Conn and Yamaha. The normal type of trombone used by all beginners is called the "tenor" trombone.
Finally, there is a decision to be made about clef. When played in an orchestra or wind band the trombone's music is written in the bass clef (same as the left hand of the piano) at the correct pitch. When played in a brass band its music is written in the treble clef and is transposed accordingly. You will have to decide, in consultation with your teacher, which clef you are going to learn. On balance, unless you are quite sure that you are going to join a brass band, we would recommend bass clef.
To learn more about the trombone, get "The Rough Guide to the Trumpet and Trombone" - you can buy it online at a discounted price by clicking here. More advanced trombonists might enjoy Trombone Technique. While it's always best to have a teacher, many people do try to learn the trombone by themselves. A Tune a Day for Trombone is fairly old and may no longer be the best tutor book around, but we still think it's particularly suitable for lone students. It covers the euphonium as well.
If you'd like to listen to the trombone being played fantastically well, try this CD. Or if one trombone is a good thing, think how good four of them must be!
You will find some useful links at The Trombone Shrine.
• Not too expensive
• Easy to start
• Not too hard to find a teacher
• Opportunities for group music-making are excellent because there is a nationwide shortage of trombone players
• Not particularly prone to damage, but you have to be very careful of the slide
• Easy to transport
• Which clef will you learn?


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Copyright © David Bramhall 2005