This guide has been put together to answer the questions that tend to pop-up in the early days of learning an instrument. This includes information to help you decide if trombone is right for you, what to expect from lessons and a look at practicalities, including costs and maintenance.
Is this the instrument for you?
The trombone has a long and interesting history with roots in the very first musical traditions that we know about. It is a member of the brass family and is a very expressive instrument, loved for its vocal-like qualities. Tenor in pitch, it is one of the closest instruments we have to the human voice. As well as being a powerful solo instrument, the trombone features in orchestral, jazz, brass band, salsa and most other genres of music.
Sound is produced in a way close to how you would sing – you make your own notes. This requires an element of ‘ear training’, but this is as natural as singing – you learn to hear the sound you want to produce first, then blow, holding the slide in the correct position (there are 7 to choose from!) This is easy to develop with a good teacher and good practice.
Age and suitability – what does the instrument require?
As with most brass instruments, players do need to be big enough to handle adult-size instruments. A trombone is supported by the left hand, and your right arm needs to be long enough to reach the furthest positions. The instrument is not as heavy as you may think; most are surprised by how light the trombone is – looks are deceiving in this case! Adult teeth are ideal, as front teeth play a part in forming an embouchure, but this is generally much less of an issue than with trumpets and horns where the mouthpiece is much smaller in size.
These requirements are typically manageable for Years 3-4, but this does vary. It is not uncommon for pupils to come to trombone after starting out on another instrument – all musical skills are transferable!
Learning – what to expect
Blowing a brass instrument should feel as natural as singing and the required posture to play the instrument should be tension-free, though holding it for extended periods of time may take some getting use to.
Lessons will vary between teachers, but expect to develop your breath control, musicality and expressive tools at every stage of your learning. You should build quite a library of pieces – most of the books written for brass players are comprehensive and provide a great amount of material for you to work with.
Again, this may vary between teachers, but trombone is mostly learned in the bass clef, with treble reserved for brass band players. From the higher grades, tenor and alto clef appear, for ease of reading in the high register.
Everyone should be encouraged to join ensembles, where available. Group learning is important at every level – working with other musicians develops your ear and you will learn a lot from those around you.
Costs and maintenance
The trombone has a simple design and therefore comes at an affordable price. Brand new instruments start from around £300 with pBones (useful for some beginners) priced at a fraction of that. Professional models – typically hand-made, bespoke design – are available new from around £3,000, coming in far under the price of any other orchestral instrument.
Trombones do not have the ‘breakables’ that come with learning strings, reeds and drums. At any level, you simply need your instrument, a mouthpiece, case, lubricants (which are used sparingly), and a collection of learning materials.
Like any brass instrument, the trombone is low-maintenance. Slides and valves, if you have them, need lubricating from time to time. The instrument will need to be cleaned inside every few months, but the mouthpiece more often as this is the first part to get clogged up with whatever you blow into the instrument.
Looking for visuals? Head to Yamaha’s website for their visual guide on ‘How to play the trombone’.
Is something missing? Do you have further questions, or something to add to this introduction to the trombone? Please feel free to comment below, or get in touch, here.
Hello Jane, Just discovered your website courtesy of my previous violin teacher, Sarah Jane Lloyd. I play Bb tenor trombone (too) and have printed your arrangement for this instrument to play in honour of all our CV-19 heroes. I am a retired Nurse, but this episode is far from my past career experiences! However, my comment on your blog aout starting to play trombone, esp in the section about ‘breakables’, is that I feel an added comment about the quality of the slide function, and thereby its ‘protection’, is essential to better playing / learning. Rationale: I have 3 ‘bones; my No.1 Yamaha and two of lesser quality. Of the other two, one has not been treated so well (by others) and the slightly sluggish / lumpy slide function does reduce the playing efficacy. As for my Yamaha, I treat it like a new-born baby when I’m playing; so careful esp with the slide. That’s it! Thank you, Peter Wildsmith. Burton on Trent, Staffordshire.