The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, it is a lip-reed aerophone ; sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips (embouchure) cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate. The trombone is usually characterized by a telescopic slide with which the player varies the length of the tube to change pitches, although the less common valve trombone uses three valves similar to those on a trumpet. The word trombone derives from Italian tromba (trumpet) and -one (a suffix meaning "large"), so the name literally means "large trumpet". Trombones and trumpets share the important characteristic of having predominantly cylindrical bores. Therefore, the most frequently encountered trombones — the tenor and bass trombone — are the tenor and bass counterparts of the trumpet. They are both pitched in B♭ — with the slide all the way in, the notes of the harmonic series based on B♭ can be played — but trombones generally read music in concert pitch. A person who plays the trombone is referred to as a trombonist.
The trombone consists of a cylindrical tube bent into an elongated "S" shape in a complex series of tapers, the smallest being at the mouthpiece receiver, and the largest being at the throat of the bell, before the flare for the bell begins. (Careful design of these tapers is crucial to the intonation of the instrument.) As with other brass instruments, sound is produced by blowing air through pursed lips producing a vibration that creates a standing wave in the instrument. The detachable cup-shaped mouthpiece, similar to that of the baritone, closely related to that of the trumpet, is inserted into the mouthpiece receiver in the slide section, which consists of a leadpipe, inner and outer slide tubes, and bracing, known as inner and outer slide stays. While modern stays are soldered, sackbuts (a medieval precursor to the trombone) were made with loose, unsoldered stays, which remained the pattern for German trombones until the mid-20th century. The leadpipe contains the venturi, which is a small constriction of the air column, adding a certain amount of resistance and to a great extent dictating the tone of the instrument; leadpipes may be soldered in permanently or interchangeable, depending on the maker. The telescopic 'slide', the defining feature of the trombone (cf. valve trombone) allows the player to extend the length of the air column, lowering the pitch. In order to prevent friction from slowing the action of the slide, additional sleeves were developed during the Renaissance and these stockings were soldered onto the ends of the inner slide tubes. Nowadays, the stockings are incorporated into the manufacturing process of the inner slide tubes and represent a fractional widening of the tube to accommodate the necessary method of alleviating friction. This part of the slide must be lubricated on a frequent basis. Additional tubing connects the slide to the bell of the instrument through a neckpipe, and bell or back bow (U-bend). The joint connecting the slide and bell sections is furnished with a ferrule to secure the connection of the two parts of the instrument, though older models from the early 20th century and before were usually equipped with friction joints and no ancillary mechanism to tighten the joint. The adjustment of intonation is most often accomplished with a tuning slide that is a short slide between the neckpipe and the bell incorporating the bell bow (U-bend); this device was designed by the French maker François Riedlocker during the early nineteenth century and applied to French and British designs and later in the century to German and American models, though German trombones were built without tuning slides well into the 20th century. However, trombonists, unlike other instrumentalists, are not subject to the intonation issues connected with valved or keyed instruments, and as such can adjust intonation "on the fly" by adjusting the slide positions, as need be. As with the trumpet, the trombone is considered a cylindrical bore instrument since it has extensive sections of tubing, principally in the slide section, that are of continuous diameter. This is in contrast to conical bore instruments like the cornet, euphonium, and tuba, whose only cylindrical tubing is in the valve section. Tenor trombones typically have a bore of 0.450" (small bore) to 0.547" (large or orchestral bore) after the leadpipe and through the slide. Some small bore jazz trombones, though, have two different diameters of tubing in the slide section to simulate a conical bore. Without this innovation, the trombone would sound extremely sharp and piercing. The bore expands through the backbore to the bell which is typically between 7" and 8½". A number of common variations on trombone construction are noted below.
Until the early 18th century, the trombone was called the sackbut in English, a word with various different spellings ranging from sackbut to shagbolt and derived from the Spanish sacabuche or French sacqueboute. This was not a distinct instrument from the trombone, but rather a different name used for an earlier form. Other countries used the same name throughout the instrument's history, viz. Italian trombone and German Posaune. The sackbut was built in slightly smaller dimensions than modern trombones, and had a bell that was more conical and less flared. Today, sackbut is generally used to refer to the earlier form of the instrument, commonly used in early music ensembles. Sackbuts were (and still are) made in every size from soprano to contrabass, though then, as now, the contrabass was rare. Renaissance and Baroque periods The trombone was used frequently in 16th century Venice in canzonas, sonatas, and ecclesiastical works by Andrea Gabrieli and his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli, and also later by Heinrich Schütz in Germany. While the trombone was used continuously in Church music and in some other settings (i.e., as an addition to the opera house orchestra or to represent the supernatural or the funerary) from the time of Claudio Monteverdi onwards, it remained rather rare in the concert hall until the 19th century. During the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel used the trombone on few occasions; Bach used it in combination with the cornett to evoke the stile antico in some of his many cantatas and Handel used it in the Dead March from Saul, Samson, and Israel in Egypt, all of which were examples of a new oratorio style popular during the early 18th century. Classical period The repertoire of trombone solo and chamber literature has its beginnings in Austria in the Classical Era where composers such as Leopold Mozart, Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Albrechtsberger and Johann Ernst Eberlin were featuring the instrument, often in partnership with a voice. Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used the trombones in a number of their sacred works, including two extended duets with voice from Mozart, the best known being in the Tuba Mirum of his Requiem. The inspiration for many of these works was no doubt the virtuosic playing of Thomas Gschladt who worked in the court orchestra at Salzburg, although when his playing faded, so did the general composing output for the instrument. The trombone retained its traditional associations with the opera house and the Church during the 18th century and was usually employed in the usual alto/tenor/bass trio to support the lower voices of the chorus, though Viennese court orchestra Kapellmeister Johann Joseph Fux rejected an application from a bass trombonist in 1726 and restricted the use of trombones to alto and tenor only, which remained the case almost until the turn of the 19th century in Vienna, after which time a second tenor trombone was added when necessary. The construction of the trombone changed relatively little between the Baroque period and Classical period with the most obvious feature being the slightly more flared bell than was previously the custom. The first use of the trombone in a symphony was in 1807 in the Symphony in E♭ by the Swedish composer Joachim Nicolas Eggert 1, although the composer usually credited with its introduction into the symphony orchestra was Ludwig van Beethoven, who used it in the last movement of his Symphony No. 5 in C minor (1808). Beethoven also used trombones in his Symphony No. 6 in F major ("Pastoral") and Symphony No. 9 ("Choral"). Romantic period Leipzig became a centre of trombone pedagogy; the trombone began to be taught at the new Musikhochschule founded by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Mendelssohn's bass trombonist, Karl Traugott Queisser, was the first in a long line of distinguished professors of trombone at the academy in Leipzig and several composers penned works for him, including Ferdinand David (Mendelssohn's concertmaster), Ernst Sachse and Friedrich August Belcke, whose solo works all remain popular today in Germany. Queisser almost single-handedly helped to re-establish the reputation of the trombone in Germany and began a tradition in trombone-playing that is still practised there today. He championed and popularised Christian Friedrich Sattler's new tenorbass trombone during the 1840s, leading to its widespread use in orchestras throughout Germany and Austria. Sattler's influence on trombone design is not to be underestimated; he introduced a significant widening of the bore (the most important since the Renaissance), the innovations of Schlangenverzierungen (snake decorations), the bell garland and the wide bell flare, all of which are features that are still to be found on German-made trombones today and were widely copied during the 19th century. Many composers were directly influenced by Beethoven's use of trombones, and the 19th century saw the trombones become fully integrated in the orchestra, particularly by the 1840s, as composers such as Franz Schubert, Franz Berwald, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Charles Gounod, César Franck, Claude Debussy, Camille Saint-Saëns and many others included trombones in their operas, symphonies and other orchestral compositions. The 19th century also saw the erosion of the traditional alto/tenor/bass trombone trio in the orchestra. While the alto/tenor/bass trombone trio had been paired with one or two cornetts during the Renaissance and early Baroque periods, the disappearance of the cornett as a partner and eventual replacement by oboe and clarinet did not fundamentally alter the raison d'être for the trombones, which was to support the alto, tenor and bass voices of the chorus (typically in an ecclesiastical setting), whose harmonic moving lines were more difficult to pick out than the melodic soprano line. The introduction of the trombones into the orchestra, however, allied them more closely with the trumpets and it did not take long for the alto and bass trombones to be replaced by tenor trombones, although the Germans and Austrians held on to the alto trombone and F or E♭ bass trombone somewhat longer than the French, who came to prefer a section of three tenor trombones until after the Second World War. By the time the trombone gained a regular footing in the orchestra, players of the instrument were no longer usually employed by a cathedral or court orchestra and were therefore expected to provide their own instrument. Military musicians were provided with instruments by the army and instruments like the long F or E♭ bass trombone remained in use there until approximately the time of the First World War, but the orchestral musician understandably adopted the instrument with the widest range which could be most easily applied to play any of the three trombone parts usually scored in any given work - the tenor trombone. The appearance of the valve trombone during the mid-19th century did little to alter the make-up of the trombone section in the orchestra and though it remained popular almost entirely to the exclusion of the slide instrument in countries such as Italy and Bohemia, the valve trombone was ousted from orchestras in Germany and France. The valve trombone continued to enjoy an extended period of popularity in Italy and Bohemia and composers such as Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák scored for a section of valve trombones. Especially with the ophicleide or later the tuba subjoined to the trombone trio during the 19th century, parts scored for the bass trombone rarely descended as low as the parts scored before the addition of either of these new low brass instruments; only in the early 20th century did it regain a degree of independence. Experiments with different constitutions of the trombone section during the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Richard Wagner's addition of a contrabass trombone in Der Ring des Nibelungen and Gustav Mahler's and Richard Strauss' occasional augmentation by adding a second bass trombone to the usual trio of two tenor trombones and one bass trombone, have not had any lasting effect; the vast majority of orchestral works are still scored for the usual mid- to late-19th-century low brass section of two tenor trombones, one bass trombone and one tuba. Twentieth century In the 20th Century the trombone maintained its important position in the orchestra with prominent parts in works by Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, Olivier Messiaen, Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Rachmaninov, Sergei Prokofiev, Ottorino Respighi, Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Jean Sibelius, Carl Nielsen, Leoš Janáček, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Béla Bartók. In the second half of the century, new composers began giving back to the trombone a level of importance in solo and chamber music. Pieces such as Edgard Varèse's Octandre, Paul Hindemith's Sonata and Luciano Berio's Sequenza V led the way for lesser-known composers to build a wider repertoire. Popular choices for recital music today include Stjepan Sulek's Vox Gabrieli, Jacques Casterède's Sonatine and Jean Michel Defaye's Deux Danses. The best known trombone concertos from this period include works by Derek Bourgeois, Lars-Erik Larsson, Launy Grøndahl, Jan Sandström and Gordon Jacob. Numerous changes in construction have occurred during the 20th century, including the use of different materials, increases in mouthpiece, bore and bell dimensions, new valve types and different mute types. Today, the trombone can usually be found in wind ensembles/concert bands, symphony orchestras, marching bands, military bands, brass bands, brass choirs, etc. It can be part of smaller groups as well, such as brass quintets, quartets, or trios, or trombone trios, quartets, or choirs (though the size of a trombone choir can vary greatly from five or six to twenty or more members). Trombones are also common in swing, jazz, merengue, salsa (prominent example: Jimmy Bosch), rock (Bill Reichenbach and James Pankow serving as two prominent examples), R&B, and ska (prominent example: Don Drummond). It is in jazz and swing music that it has arguably made the greatest advances since the turn of the 20th century with famous artists such as Ray Anderson, Tommy Dorsey, Delfeayo Marsalis, Miff Mole, Joe Nanton, Louis Satterfield, Reggie Young, Carl Fontana, Curtis Fuller, Wycliffe Gordon, Urbie Green, Al Grey, Ted Heath, Conrad Herwig, J. J. Johnson, Don Lusher, Albert Mangelsdorff, Glenn Miller, Kid Ory, Frank Rosolino, Frank Rehak,Steve Swell, Jack Teagarden, Bill Watrous, Ron Westray, Kai Winding, Trummy Young, and Slide Hampton.