A major part of any orchestra or band, the trombone is an extremely important instrument as it offers unique contributions that add depth and continuity to musical compositions.
The trombone generally plays lower notes that serve as a brass bridge between the higher pitched, melodic trumpets, and the lower pitched, intonation-heavy tuba, sousaphone, and euphonium.
The trombone is also unique due to its defining feature: the slide. The slide allows it to make large swoops between notes, adding potential melodic features that can liven up marching bands and orchestras.
The contemporary trombone usually consists of brass (a mix of copper and zinc) with either a slide (more common) or valves, a bell, and a mouthpiece. The trombone, however, is over 600 years old and once had many different regional forms throughout Europe, the sackbut in Britain being the most humorously named.
Trombones did not feature prominently in the music world early on, appearing only sparingly in pieces by Bach, then more frequently in compositions by Mozart. Beethoven was the first to use trombones in a full symphony, and since that time most major composers have featured them in their symphonies and compositions.
Gershwin, Strauss and other famous composers of the 20th century continued featuring them prominently, and there is an extensive list of famous jazz trombonists – including Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Jack Teagarden – who made the instrument an even more common feature in the musical world.
Of course, The Columbia University Marching Band utilizes trombones in almost all of its performances. Because the band is voluntary (for now), the number of trombones playing can vary from one to four or five. Here’s a picture of four from homecoming ’09:
- They’re trombonists, thank you very much!