There are many different types of trombone. The most frequently encountered trombones today are the tenor and bass, though as with other Renaissance instruments such as the recorder, the trombone has been built in every size from piccolo to contrabass (pitch of brass instruments). See trombone for information about the instrument in general.
The cimbasso is a brass instrument in the trombone family, with a sound ranging from warm and mellow to bright and menacing. It has three to six piston or rotary valves, a predominantly cylindrical bore, and is usually pitched in C, F or E♭. It is in the same range as a tuba or a contrabass trombone.
The modern cimbasso is most commonly used in opera scores by Giuseppe Verdi from Oberto to Aida, and by Giacomo Puccini, though only in Le Villi, though the word also appears in the score of Vincenzo Bellini's Norma, which premiered in 1831. In addition to opera orchestras, the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi included the instrument in his scoring of the symphonic poem Pines of Rome and it can also be commonly heard in motion picture soundtracks.
The early use of "cimbasso" referred to an upright serpent of a narrower bore than the "basson russe", usually made of wood with a brass bell. Later, this term was extended to a range of instruments including the ophicleide. In general, after the advent of the more conical bass tuba, the term cimbasso was used to refer to a more blending voice than the "basso tuba" or "bombardone", and began to imply the lowest trombone. Giuseppe Verdi, who at times specified a preference for the blending timbre of a low trombone over the heavier-sounding tuba, developed an instrument with the firm Pelliti, which was a contrabass trombone in BB♭ wrapped in tuba form. In most of Verdi's operas the cimbasso used nowadays are the common types of the 'bucino' form: mouthpipe and middle section in front of the player, and bell section forward pointed, in a downward angle. This causes a very direct, concentrated sound to be projected towards conductor and audience.
The cimbasso (its name derived from 'Corno Basso' Contra-basso ) in its original form had a bell pointed upwards like the wider-bored tuba, the FF EEb and BBb basses. Verdi disliked the wide-bore "damned Bombardoni Austriche!", not only because of the hoarse, broad tone, but also because of the Austrian origin of those wide-bore 'Bombardone-tubas'. This attitude was inspired by the hated Austrian occupation of northern Italy in the years before the Risorgimento. These instruments were, however, well appreciated in the military brass and reed bands, playing the bass role of the string basses.
It is a challenge for instrument builders and players of low-brass, to get copies of the cimbassos Verdi used. To begin with the 'Bas-valve' horns were derived from 'Basson Russe' until the tuba formed 'Trombone Basso' as used after 1867 until Otello/Falstaff (1884). Another challenge is, following the initiative of John Eliot Gardiner, to accompany 19th century operas, including Verdi's juvenilia and early period pieces until his mid-life period, to perform with a 'Period' orchestra. This includes the most discussed instruments of that era, also used by Verdi, the cimbasso / low brass instruments, and the 3-string contrabasses described by musicologist Bonifazio Asioli in about 1820s. The cimbasso in its original form as developed by Verdi and atelier Pelitti, included the diapason a' on 430 Hz instead of the norm around 1848, 435 Hz.
The contrabass trombone is usually pitched in 12' F a perfect fourth lower than the modern tenor or bass trombone and has been through a number of changes in its history. Its first incarnation during the Renaissance was in 18' B♭ as the "Octav-posaune". During this period it was built as an oversized bass trombone with a long slide and extension handle to reach the lower positions. The innovation of the double slide took place towards the end of this period and was applied to the bass and contrabass trombones. The slide was wound back on itself to produce four tubes, each of which moved in tandem with its partner and halved the usual length of the slide shifts. During the nineteenth century, the contrabass trombone enjoyed a revival and it was constructed according to the double slide principle. At the turn of the 20th century, Conn manufactured a small number of contrabass trombones, of which three are known to survive.
Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876) employed the contrabass trombone for the first time in the opera house. D'Indy used this instrument several times; in his Symphony No. 2 in B♭, Op. 57 (1902-3), Jour d'été à la montagne, Op. 61 (1905), Souvenirs, Op. 62 (1906), Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia Brevis - de bello gallico), Op. 70 (1915), and Poème des rivages, Op. 77 (1919–21). The contrabass was also used in Strauss's Elektra (1908), and Schoenberg's mammoth cantata Gurre-Lieder (1913), with the latter scored for a section of seven trombones including alto and contrabass. Puccini's last opera Turandot (1924) also employed the contrabass trombone, albeit that they were scored for the Italian-valved contrabass instrument (the "Cimbasso"). Although the contrabass trombone has not proven to be a permanent addition to the opera or concert orchestra, and is only required in a small number of mainly 20th century works, it has become increasingly used in film scores in recent years. Pierre Boulez wrote for the contrabass trombone in his work Pli selon pli ("Fold By Fold").
In 1921, Ernst Dehmel, a German inspector of orchestras and bass trombonist from Berlin, patented a new design of contrabass trombone, utilising the old German military band bass trombone in F, equipped with two independent rotary valves to replace the handle required on the long slide and to fill in the missing notes between the first partial (fundamental) in closed position and the second partial with the slide fully extended. This bass-contrabass instrument is the precursor of the modern contrabass trombone, which is still largely constructed according to the same principles and, to all intents and purposes, completely replaced the older double slide variety, which is very rarely seen today. Bore sizes for the slide of the contrabass trombone are typically in the 0.567 to 0.635 inches (14.4 to 16.1 mm) range; the most common sizes on contrabass trombones in F are between 0.567 and 0.580 inches (14.4 and 14.7 mm) as the larger sizes are usually reserved for the contrabass trombone in low B♭. The bell diameter is typically 10 to 11 inches (25 to 28 cm).
Since World War II the contrabass trombone in F with two valve attachments has been primarily in use in orchestras, though the 18' B♭ version is still used by many. Originally due to reasons of limited space conditions in opera orchestra pits, the bell section was provided with a coil to reduce the length of the bell bow, but since the 1970s the long, straight form has taken precedence. Through the combination of both valves the extension handle on the outer slide also became redundant and the instrument is provided with five or six working positions on the slide. Valve tuning combinations are E♭/B♭, D/B♭, or more rarely D/C.
The range of the contrabass trombone (excluding fundamentals or pedal notes) demanded by Wagner is from E1 to E4, though composers since then have required even lower notes - even as low as B♭0. Given that the older B♭ contrabass is less common nowadays in professional ensembles, the F contrabass trombonist produces notes below F♯1 as fundamentals, allowing full access to the range of the older B♭ contrabass trombone and extending the range even lower.
The use of a contrabass trombone almost always requires the addition of a fourth player to the trombone section and while in the past parts for the instrument were sometimes played on a tuba or, more recently, a bass trombone, it is nowadays considered unacceptable to use anything but a contrabass trombone to play these parts, at least in professional settings. Most opera house orchestras and some symphony orchestras require the bass trombonist to double on the contrabass trombone.
The modern bass trombone is pitched in B♭. Its tubing length of 9 feet (2.7 m) is identical to that of the tenor trombone, but it has a wider bore, a larger bell, and a larger mouthpiece. These features generate an overall darker, weightier tone that speaks with a more assured authority in lower registers, when compared to the tenor trombone. Modern bass trombones also have one or two valves (the latter being by far the more common) which, when engaged, change the key of the instrument. This allows the player to bridge the gap between the first partial with the slide in first position and the second partial with the slide fully extended in seventh position. These valves may be configured in a dependent or independent system. In a dependent system, the first valve lowers the key of the trombone to F. The second valve can only be engaged in conjunction with the first valve, and commonly lowers the key of the trombone to E. With an independent system, the first valve still lowers the key to F, but the second valve commonly lowers the key to G♭ when engaged alone or D when engaged with the first valve. 19th and early 20th century examples of the modern bass trombone were sometimes made with a valve attachment in E rather than F, or with an alternative tuning slide for the attachment tubing enabling the pitch to be lowered to E♭. Bore sizes of the bass trombone are generally larger than those of large bore tenor trombones. Typical specifications include a bore size of 0.562 inches (14.3 mm) in the slide and 0.580 inches (14.7 mm) through the valve attachment tubing, with a bell from 9 to 10.5 inches (23 to 27 cm) in diameter. Bass trombones with just one valve often have a long tuning slide which allows the valve to change key to E rather than the usual F.
The range of the modern bass trombone is fully chromatic from the lowest fundamental with the valve attachment tubing deployed. A bass trombone with a second valve in Gb is capable of playing a from a Bb0 (or even A0 with valve slides extended), up to C5 - many professionals are capable of extending the range even higher, though such demands may be taxing and/or unreliable to the player. Older or more conservative compositions often shy away from extremes, and will infrequently stray above an F/G4 or below a Bb1. Contemporary orchestral and solo classical pieces, as well as modern jazz arrangements, will often further exploit the wide tonal range of the bass trombone.
There is usually one bass trombone in a standard symphony orchestra performing works in the Romantic period or later. It is also seen in military bands, brass bands, jazz bands, wind ensembles, and a variety of brass groups; the bass trombone is usually played by the third trombonist in a symphony orchestra trombone section, the first two parts usually being played by tenor trombones. In jazz, the most notable uses of the bass trombone are in two of pianist Herbie Hancock's recordings, Speak Like a Child (1968) and The Prisoner (1969) which employ the instrument for purely voicing purposes.
Bass trombones in G, F, E♭
Older, now obsolete versions of the bass trombone were of smaller bore than the modern bass trombones described above. They were usually pitched in G, F, or E♭, and had a longer slide with a handle attached to the outer slide stay to allow for full extension of the slide. They were mainly used in Europe and the British Empire. They were sometimes called Terzposaune, Quartposaune, and Quintposaune (from the German name for the intervals third, fourth, and fifth lower than B♭), though sometimes Quartposaune was used generally to refer to any of these.
The oldest of these instruments were the E, D and C bass trombones, which were used in Europe during the Renaissance and early Baroque periods; by the 18th century the F and E♭ bass trombones were used in Germany, Austria and Sweden and the E♭ bass trombone in France, though these fell out of favour in the early nineteenth century and began to be replaced by the tenor trombone, later (after 1840) the tenorbass trombone with F rotary valve attachment.
The bass trombone in G (the orchestral version was in G equipped with a rotary valve attachment actuating D or C, extending the range to A2 or A♭1) enjoyed a period of extended popularity in France during the second half of the nineteenth century, and in Great Britain and the British Empire from approximately 1850 to the 1950s, though it lingered on in some parts of Britain until the 1970s and 1980s and is still occasionally to be seen there in brass bands and period instrument orchestras.
The range of the E♭ bass trombone is A1 to B♭4, that of the F bass trombone is B1 to C5 and that of the G bass trombone is D♭2, or A1 or A♭1 with a D or C valve attachment (the C attachment being used expressly for playing parts written for the contrabass trombone), to D5.
The tenor trombone has a fundamental note of B♭ and is usually treated as a non-transposing instrument (see below). Tenor trombones with C as their fundamental note were almost equally popular in the mid-19th century in Britain and France. As the trombone in its simplest form has neither crooks, valves nor keys to lower the pitch by a specific interval, trombonists use seven chromatic slide positions. Each position progressively increases the length of the air column, thus lowering the pitch.
Extending the slide from one position to the next lowers the pitch by one semitone. Thus, each note in the harmonic series can be lowered by an interval of up to a tritone. The lowest note of the standard instrument is therefore an E natural — a tritone below B♭. Most experienced trombonists can play lower "falset" notes and much lower pedal notes (first partials or fundamentals, which have a peculiar metallic rumbling sound). Slide positions are subject to adjustment, compensating for imperfections in the tuning of different harmonics. The fifth partial is rather flat on most trombones and usually requires a minute shortening of the slide position to compensate; other small adjustments are also normally required throughout the range. Trombonists make frequent use of alternate positions to minimize slide movement in rapid passages; for instance, B♭3 may be played in first or fifth position. Alternate positions are also needed to allow a player to produce a glissando to or from a higher note on the same partial.
While the lowest note of the tenor trombone's range (excluding fundamentals or pedal notes) is E2, the trombone's upper range is theoretically open-ended. The practical top of the range is sometimes considered to be F5, or more conservatively D5.
Many modern tenor trombones include an extra attachment of tubing - about 3 feet (0.91 m) in length - which lowers the fundamental pitch from B♭ to F. There are two different forms of this tubing, open wrap and traditional, or closed, wrap. The traditional wrap is curved and fits inside the main tuning slide while the open wrap extends past the main tuning slide and only has one curve in it. The F attachment is engaged by using a trigger which operates a valve (this is different from the three-valved valve trombone). This type of trombone is typically built with a larger bore size (0.525 or 0.547 inches (13.3 or 13.9 mm)) and is known as a B♭/F trombone, F-attachment trombone, or trigger trombone. Trombones without this feature have become known as straight trombones.
The F attachment originated in an instrument developed by German instrument maker Christian Friedrich Sattler during the late 1830s and patented in 1839. It gained popularity at a time when the older German E♭ and F bass trombones had fallen out of favour with orchestral players and were being replaced by a B♭ tenor trombone with a wide bore and large bell proportions. This instrument was known as the tenorbass trombone (German Tenorbaßposaune)—it was a tenor trombone in B♭ with the bore and bell dimensions of a bass trombone, and was used to play both tenor and bass trombone parts.
Sattler used the rotary valve attachment to provide a way to play the notes between the fundamental B♭1 (first position) and the second partial E2 (seventh position). The valve allowed players to produce low E♭, D, D♭, C (and, with adjustments, B), thus making the full range of the old bass trombone in 12' F available and extending the chromatic range of the tenor trombone through the fundamentals to E1.
Sattler's intention was not to create a trombone that would replace the older F and E♭ bass trombones, but rather to provide an instrument with the ability to cover the range of the bass and tenor trombones seamlessly. The tenorbass trombone did replace the older bass trombones, however, and the bore and bell size were increased later in the nineteenth century to allow for models designed specifically to cope with bass trombone parts; modern bass trombones are derivatives of these late nineteenth century B♭/F trombones that are used to play parts originally intended for the bass trombone in G, F or E♭. Since engaging the valve changes the tubing length, additional alternate positions for notes become available. The resulting increase in facility and the addition of the low E♭, D, D♭ and C make these instruments popular among experienced orchestral tenor trombonists.
As the tubing length increases by a factor of one third, the distance between each position must be one third longer when the valve attachment is engaged. This results in only six positions being available, as the slide is too short for what is effectively a bass trombone in 12' F. Because of this, the B two ledger lines below the bass staff is impossible to play unless the attachment is tuned down to E, or the embouchure is loosened. The range of the tenorbass trombone is therefore E1 to B♭1, then C2 to D5.
The alto trombone is pitched in E♭ (occasionally with a D or B♭ rotary valve attachment) or F, a perfect fourth or fifth higher than the tenor trombone and was commonly used from the 16th to the 18th centuries as the highest voice in the brass choir.
Until recently, little was known about trombone repertoire from the 18th century. In recent years, the discovery of new repertoire and emerging information regarding the Austrian alto trombone virtuoso Thomas Gschladt demonstrates that the alto trombone enjoyed a period of prosperity between the years 1756-1780. In the 1960s an incomplete concerto by Georg Christoph Wagenseil was recorded by conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt: this Concerto demands advanced technique from the performer and is the first known concerto form work for the trombone. Shortly after this recording was released, another concerto, written by Leopold Mozart was discovered. But due to the advanced technique required in this concerto (particularly the lip trills), it was considered too difficult for the trombone and musicologists concluded that it was instead most likely written for the French horn. New information regarding Gschladt demonstrates that music of this difficulty was written for the alto trombone during the mid- to late 18th century and that music we previously thought impossible on the instrument was certainly possible. Like Bach's trumpet soloist Gottfried Reiche and Mozart's horn soloist, Joseph Leutgeb, Gschladt then represented the best of contemporary trombone soloists. Gschladt was very close to Leopold Mozart who wrote a Serenade specially to be performed only by him, and when Gschladt was unavailable, Mozart preferred using a viola soloist over another trombonist.
In addition to Leopold Mozart and Wagenseil, Michael Haydn's Serenande in D (1764) with its extended range, trills, technique, and endurance demands contributes to this idea that there was perhaps a golden age of the alto trombone between 1756-1780 and was this piece was also most likely written for Thomas Gschladt. The Serenade joins these few works that remain from an era of alto trombone virtuosity.
It declined in popularity from the early 19th century, when the trumpet acquired valves and trombones became an established section in the symphony orchestra, and it was replaced by a tenor trombone as the range of the parts can usually be covered by the tenor instrument. While some first trombonists have used the alto trombone as indicated, it was unfashionable from the mid-19th century to the late 20th and has only recently enjoyed something of a revival.
As the slide is shorter, the positions are different from the tenor and bass trombone slide positions most players are familiar with. The tone of the alto is more brilliant than that of the tenor or bass trombone. The bore of an alto trombone is similar to that of a small tenor trombone - usually around 0.450 to 0.500 inches (11.4 to 12.7 mm) with a 6.5 or 7 inches (17 or 18 cm) bell.
The range of the E♭ alto trombone (excluding fundamentals or valve attachments) is A2 to B♭5, though it is typically not scored any higher than F5.
The alto trombone is primarily used in choral, orchestral and operatic settings, although it has enjoyed a history as a solo instrument, primarily in 18th century Vienna. Modern composers have rediscovered the instrument and the alto trombone has begun making more appearances in modern small-scale compositions like the chamber opera The Burning Fiery Furnace written by Britten in 1966. Today, first-chair professional orchestral tenor trombonists are expected to play the alto trombone when required.
Notable orchestral, choral, and large operatic works scored for his instrument include:
The soprano trombone is usually pitched in B♭ an octave above the tenor and built with a bore size of between 0.450 and 0.470 inches (11.4 and 11.9 mm) and a trumpet-sized bell. It appears to have been created in the late 17th century, from which the earliest surviving examples date. Johann Sebastian Bach composed 4 cantatas, where 4 trombones are required. There is never an exact name for the first trombone part, but it is quite possible written for a "diskant-posaune". It was used in German-speaking countries to play the treble part in chorales, and this tradition survives in Moravian trombone choirs. During the 20th century some soprano trombones—dubbed slide cornets—were made as novelties or for use by jazz cornet players, but the instrument has never been widely used. It is easily replaced by the cornet or woodwind instruments and it is difficult to play in tune. Soprano trombone slides are short and often have only six positions rather than seven. The soprano trombone's high pitch and narrow/tight embouchure usually prompt bandleaders to assign its playing to a trumpeter, albeit at the risk of detriment to intonation and/or note selection accuracy if the trumpeter is less than fully familiar with slide work.
The range of the B♭ soprano trombone is E3 to C6, though it is not usually written higher than B♭5.
Sopranino and piccolo trombones
The sopranino and piccolo trombones are even smaller and higher instruments than the soprano; they are also extremely rare. Sopranino and piccolo are pitched in high E♭ and B♭ respectively, one octave above the alto and soprano trombones. They are called for in some trombone choir literature, the sopranino, for example, being used in the Moravian trombone choirs in the US. Bore sizes vary between 0.430 and 0.400 inches (10.9 and 10.2 mm) respectively, with bells approximately 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter. Owing to the very high pitch of these instruments and their use of trumpet mouthpieces, they are played primarily by trumpeters.
The range of the E♭ sopranino trombone is A3 to E♭6; that of the B♭ piccolo trombone is E4 to F7.
The valve trombone has been built in every size from alto to contrabass, though it is the tenor valve trombone which has seen the most widespread use. The most common valve-trombone has 3 valves. It plays just like a trumpet (1 octave lower). They are built in either short or long form.
The valve trombone enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 19th century when the technology of rotary valve and piston valve instruments was developing rapidly. By the end of the 19th century, mass production of reliable, higher quality slide trombones led to a return of its popularity. Despite the continuing popularity of the slide trombone, valve trombones have remained popular in, for example, Austria, Italy, Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Spain, Portugal, South America and India, almost to the exclusion of the slide trombone.
A bass or contrabass version of the valve trombone is the cimbasso and is used mainly in operatic works by Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.
Some passages, particularly fast musical figures, are easier to execute on a valve trombone than on a slide trombone. Many players consider the tone of a valve trombone to be stuffier and less open. Therefore, it is not common in orchestral settings, though Giuseppe Verdi in particular made extensive use of the ability of the valve trombone to negotiate its way through fast passages. As the B♭ tenor valve trombone uses the same fingering as the B♭ trumpet, it is occasionally a doubling instrument for jazz trumpeters. Notable jazz musicians who play the B♭ tenor valve trombone include Maynard Ferguson, Bob Brookmeyer, Clifford Thornton, Juan Tizol of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Rob McConnell and Bob Enevoldsen.
A valve trombone made by Adolphe Sax has a different system from that which is normally used. Instead of three valves in the style of the trumpet, it has one for each position on the trombone slide.
This unusual variation of the trombone has both a slide and valves. Different types of valve-slide trombone hybrid combinations were first manufactured in the early 20th century. One of the best known early types was the valide trombone invented by jazz trombonist and reedist Brad Gowans, which featured a slide on the inside on the valves which did not lock, forcing the player to actively use both hands. The most popular valve-slide trombone combination today is the superbone, which achieved fame and popularity thanks to the influence of jazz musician Maynard Ferguson, who used it in his band. The Superbone has a slide on the outside of the valves which locks, meaning its use is optional, and the player can play the Superbone valves with either hand.
The tromboon was created for humorous purposes by musical parodist Peter Schickele by replacing a trombone's leadpipe with the reed and bocal of a bassoon. The name of the instrument is a portmanteau word of "trombone" and "bassoon". Schickele called it "a hybrid—that's the nicer word—constructed from the parts of a bassoon and a trombone; it has all the disadvantages of both." It is called for in the scores of Schickele's fictional composer P. D. Q. Bach in the oratorio The Seasonings, in Serenude (for devious instruments), and in The Preachers of Crimetheus, II. The Lamentations of Jerry Maja.
A distinctive form of tenor trombone was popularized in France in the early 19th century. Called the buccin, it featured a tenor trombone slide and a bell that ended in a zoomorphic (serpent or dragon) head. It sounds like a cross between a trombone and a French horn, with a very wide dynamic range but a limited and variable range of pitch. Hector Berlioz wrote for the buccin in his Messe solennelle of 1824.