A Conversation for Trombones

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Post 1

Dr. Funk

Excellent, excellent entry.

Some additional points of interest, just because we can:

You probably know this already, but for the benefit of the trombone-curious public, the trigger (or valve) on the trombone is not only so that the player can play especially low notes. You see, the coiled tubing that the trigger allows access to is exactly the length of the slide, so that employing the trigger has exactly the same effect as fully extending the slide. This means, apart from the ability to hit lower notes, that the trombone becomes a more agile instrument, as the player need not exercise her arm as much to play all the notes required of her. In slower passages, it's not as important, and there are some players who maintain that the valve tubing produces an inferior tone to that of the slide; in faster passages, however, it is a great relief, which can aid immensely in intonation--the hound of all trombone players, even the most skilled.

Regarding classical literature: while it is true that there is little solo literature for the trombone in the classical repetoire, there happen to be fantastic parts in orchestral pieces that are the trombonist's delight. The parts that come immediately to mind:

1. The famous passage from Stravinsky's "Night on Bald Mountain," a part that quickly parts a trombone player from his oxygen supply;

2. The opening passage, and subsquent horn riffs, in Sibelius' "Finlandia"--quite possibly my favorite passage written for trombone;

3. Many, many parts across Beethoven's symphonies. Beethoven is very much responsible for adding lower-register instruments to the orchestra, and trombonists the world over are greatly in his debt.

Outside of classical music--and jazz, for that matter--the trombone has an excellent part to play in the horn sections of latin and reggae bands, and even more in ska. From the Skatallites to Fishbone to the third-wave ska bands that play today, the trombone has often emerged as the most dynamic of the horns in ska. I think this comes from the ability of the slide to make the instrument far more loopy and weird than its chromatically impaired valve-and-button-based compatriots. Ska trombone players eschew the aformentioned trigger for this reason, and sometimes concentrate on just making the fantastic squiggly and thrashing noises that ska just wouldn't be the same without.

Ah, the trombone... thank you so much for writing this entry.


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Post 2

Gnomon - time to move on

And thank you, Dr Funk, for that fascinating information. It's obvious that you really know something about the instrument.


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Post 3

Dr. Funk

You're welcome. I used to play trombone lots and lots, so I learned a thing or two about it, despite my inherent stupidity smiley - smiley


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Post 4

Bassman - Funny how people never ceases to amaze me!

Hello Dr Funk, we meet again.

It's Bassman here. I used to play Trombone when I was at school, for a year or so. The problem I had was that my ear was much better than my reading. I would struggle through a piece reading, but do it fine when the teacher had shown me what it sounded like by playing it himself.

This is no good in an orchestra situation, I couldn't jam my way through convincingly enough, I just wasn't that good. The teacher moved away in the end, so that was the end of that.


Bassman smiley - cool


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Post 5

Bassman - Funny how people never ceases to amaze me!

Hello Dr Funk, we meet again.

It's Bassman here. I used to play Trombone when I was at school, for a year or so. The problem I had was that my ear was much better than my reading. I would struggle through a piece reading, but do it fine when the teacher had shown me what it sounded like by playing it himself.

This is no good in an orchestra situation, I couldn't jam my way through convincingly enough, I just wasn't that good. The teacher moved away in the end, so that was the end of that.


Bassman smiley - cool


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Post 6

Dr. Funk

Bassman,

It's no great loss to not play trombone in an orchestra--that's not where the real action is anyway. Back in the day, I had way, WAY more fun playing in a reggae band. As it turned out, I had a real ability to write horn lines that sounded like they were straight out of the 70s: as one of our guitarists said of his favorite one, "This sounds like chase music from Starsky and Hutch!" which I have no choice but to take as a complement. One of these days I'll pick my trombone up again, and I'd like to try being in a swing or a latin band. That'd be some good playin'.


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Post 7

Bassman - Funny how people never ceases to amaze me!

Great. I used to live in Wootton Basset in Wiltshire which was close to Swindon. A friend of mine played in a band called "Another Fine Mess" (AFM) who had a horn section - the Horny Shorts. They were great. One of the songs was called "Cardboard City" which had a beautiful trumpet solo, the thing that I liked was the trombone piece that went on behind it, it was most complimentary yet sparse.


Bassman smiley - biggrin


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Post 8

Musotech

Whoops! Dr Funk
'Night on a Bare Mountain' is by Mussorgsky not Stravinsky. Stravinsky wrote some good stuff for the 'bone, see Pulchinella with its duet for Trombone and Bass - great stuff. Other groovy tunes - Tuba Mirum from the Mozart Requiem, the quartet in Henry Woods 'Sea Songs' played at the Last Night of the Proms (NB run by BBC!) amongst many others.

On the topic of tone quality there is a difference between European and American style manufacture. German instruments are wonderfully rich and warm whereas the American style is bright and clean. Interesting to compare recordings using the different style of instrument.

Don't forget the valve trombone with its unique sound not quite trombone, trumpet or euphonium but something special.

Musotech


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Post 9

Dr. Funk

Oops. Right you are. I always confuse my -skys, which makes it really hard to get off the chairlift.


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Post 10

Iskandar

Just a few more notes about the trigger on the trombone.

As we all probably know the basic trombone is in the key of C. The reason the trigger changes the positions of some notes is because the trigger actually changes the key of the trombone. Tenor trombones have an f-trigger and bass trombones have both an f-trigger and a g-trigger.

I also play trombone and much prefer performing in Jazz/Swing bands as there is a greater chance of taking the lead. I have also discovered that trombones play significant roles in wind ensembles, but are mostly delegated to a background role in orchestra. The I fully believe that reason that many orchestral passages written for the trombone are considering challenging just because of how long the trombone player must sit in his/her chair without playing and then must perform an intricate passage without a change to warm up.

-Iskandar


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