How Trombones Work

Please note, I do not play the trombone, and have never actually used one. All this is based on research I have done. If you find anything in here that is blatantly incorrect, please feel free to let me know in a comment and I will fix it ASAP.

Youve probably seen one of these things before. Perhaps in a band, when dozens of happy high school students in pressed uniforms march down a street playing the school anthem. Or maybe in a concert hall, or in a club. But this instrument, the trombone, is one whose workings are not particularly easy to see from the outside.

A trombone is constructed of four basic parts:

  • The mouthpiece – This is wear air enters the the trumpet
  • The tubing The curving tube the goes through to get to the amplifier
  • The slider Part of the tubing, used to change the overall length of the tubing, which changes the pitch.
  • The amplifier Used to make the sound loud enough to be worth the effort of making it.

A trombone, being a brass instrument, gets most of its sound from the buzzing of the trombonists lips.It does not work to simply blow into the mouth piece, the lips actually have to buzz. The first note that a new trombonist will play will, most likely, be what is called the fundamental note on the trumpet. This is the lowest you can go on the trumpet without using the slide.

A trombone has an overtone series. This is a series of notes that are higher then and in harmony with the fundamental note. By tightening his or her lips ever so slightly, the next overtone is produced, which happens to be an octave above the fundamental note. The next note is a major 5th above the previous note. This goes on, and, in a harmonic series, there are generally eight overtones.

This is all very nice, but if that was our only way to change pitch we would be relatively limited in the notes we could make. This is where the slide comes in. The slide is used to lower a pitch by changing the amount of tubing the air has to pass through before it reaches the amplifier (the end of the trombone, where the sound comes out). As we know, little wind and brass instruments, such as the piccolo, tend to maker higher sounds and larger instruments, such as the tuba tend to make a lower sound. In trombones, the slider moves around inside the other tubing to make the overall length longer or shorter. This allows a player to play all notes of the scale, instead of just the ones in the overtone series.

And then, lo and behold, the sound emerges in all of its glorious splendor into the melody (or cacophony) around you. If everything is done right, it will be a nice clear sound that will be pleasant to the ears, and (if you are in one) will contribute to the overall sound produced by the group.

And that, my friends, is the fundamentals of the trombone.