1902 Encyclopedia > Trombone


TROMBONE, a musical instrument of brass. It has a cupped mouthpiece, and is formed of two principal parts _—the bell, the bore of which gradually widens, and the slide, which is composed of two cylindrical tubes parallel to each other, upon which two other tubes, communicating at their lower extremities by a pipe curved in a half-circle, glide without loss of air. The mouthpiece is adapted to one of the upper ends of the slide and the bell to the other end. When the slide, which is moved by the right hand, is closed, the instrument is at its highest pitch ; the note is lowered in proportion as the column of air is lengthened by drawing out the slide.

Formerly the trombone was known as the sackbut; its modern designation—great trumpet—comes from the Italian. The Germans call it posaune. It is difficult to say where or at what epoch the instrument was invented. In a manuscript of the 9th century, preserved at Boulogne, there is a drawing of an instrument which bears a great resemblance to a trombone deprived of its bell. Virdung1 says little about the trombone, but he gives an engraved representation of it, under the name of busaun, which shows that early in the 16th century it was almost the same as that employed in our day. By that time the trombone had come into vogue in England: the band of musicians in the service of Henry VIII. included ten sack-but players, and under Elizabeth, in 1587, there were six. English instrumentalists then enjoyed a certain reputa-tion and were sought for by foreign courts; thus in 1604 Charles III. of Lorraine sought to recruit his sackbut players from English bands. Prsetorius 2 classes the trom-bones in a complete family, the relative tonalities of which were thus composed :—1 alt-posaun, 4 gemeine rechte pos-aunen, 2 quart-posaunen, 1 octav-posaun,—8 in all. The alt-posaun was in D. With the slide closed it gave the first of
the accompanying harmonics: „ "T" f1
The gemeine rechte posaunen, |^=F=3^EZJ_Z^=== or ordinary trombones, were in
A. Without using the slide they gave the subjoined sounds:
-f- The quart-posaun was made
"IHI EEE3=r:-*^=:r—: 1 — either in E, the fourth below
~~ *- 1 "~ the gemeine rechte posaun,
or in D, the lower fifth. In the latter case it was exactly an octave below the alt-posaun. The bctav-posaun was in A. It was constructed in two different fashions : either it had a length double that of the ordinary trom-bone, or the slide was shortened, the length of the column of air being still maintained by the adaptation of a crook. The first system, which was invented by Hans Schreiber four years before the work of Praetorius appeared, gave the instrumentalist a slide by which he could procure in the lower octave all the sounds of the ordinary trombone. The second system, which Praetorius had known for years, was distinguished from the first, not only by modifications affecting the form, but also by a larger bore. Mersenne 3 calls the trombone trompette har-monique, but he does not appear to have made himself acquainted with its construction, for we can scarcely find an allusion in the confused text of his work to the tonality of the trombone then in vogue. He established this fact, however, that it was customary in France to lower the instrument a fourth below the pitch of the ordinary trombone by means of a tortil, a kind of crook with a double turn that was fitted between the bell and- the slide, "in order," he said, "to make the bass to hautbois concerts." The compass of the trombone is not limited to the mere harmonics obtained by leaving the instrument at its shortest length—that is, with the slide close up ; it in fact comprises seven positions, which are obtained by shifting the slide as many lengths and in such a way that each of these produces a series of harmonics a semitone lower than the length which has preceded. This system, so simple and rational, might have been expected always to serve for the basis of the technique of the instrument; but from the middle of the 18th century the art of playing the trombone became the object of purely empiric teaching. Only four positions were made use of. By the first—that is, with the slide close up—there was obtained from the ordinary trombone, then called the tenor trombone, the first series of the subjoined harmonics (the £>-numerals indicating the order): p_fei_l£_jtr the fundamental or first note ^ w—\-= being difficult to obtain ; the 2 3
second position produced
M. -fi the third
m—F— [—position
jgi Eb=f=j= — produced
o I
and the fourth

In thus lowering by semitones, the : sounds furnished by the four positions gave the tenor trombone a diatonic scale from —
This scale was formed with notes that could <£g |— ^0 _j=_ be perfectly just, but the result would have :«t_ <gg been less satisfactory to the ear if the player had strictly observed the rules laid down by the teaching of that period for the production of the chromatic intervals. Thus to pass from a note furnished by one of the four positions to another a semitone lower it was necessary to lengthen the slide by two fingers ; if the semitone higher was required the slide had to be shortened to the same extent. A consideration of the laws affecting lengths of pipes will show the viciousness of that rule.

Of all wind instruments the trombone has perhaps been least modified in form; changes have occasionally been attempted, but for the most part with only trifling success. The innovation which has had the most vogue dates from the end of the 18th century ; it consisted in bending the tube of the bell in a half circle above the head of the executant, which produced a very bizarre effect. It also gave rise to very serious inconveniences: by destroying the regularity of the proportions of the bell it prejudicially affected the quality of tone and intonation of the instrument. For a long time the curved bell with its serpent's mask
was maintained in military music, and it is only about twenty years ago that it was completely given up. By giving a half turn more to the bell tube its opening was directed to the back of the executant; but this form, in fashion for a little while about 1830, was not long adhered to, and the trombone reassumed its primitive form, which is still maintained. As appears from a patent deposited by Stolzel and Bliimel at Berlin on 12th April 1818, the application of ventils or pistons was then made for the first time. The ventils, at first two in number, effected a decided lengthening of the instrument. The first augmented the length of the tube by a tone, lowering by as much the natural harmonics. The second produced a similar effect for a semitone, and the simultaneous employment of the two pistons resulted in the depression of a tone and a half. The principle, therefore, of the employment of ventils or pistons is the same as that -which governs the use of slides.

For instance, a trombone is provided with three pistons, and without their help it produces the first of the following sets of harmonics
(the numbers indicating the order). fep-
Then by pressing down the second (l) ff: ~tz
piston we obtain a lengthening of the ^:~~~p=jj>=-j-=i=— —
column of air that lowers the in- —5*—f~ -strument by a semitone and makes
it produce the second set of harmonics ^2) -*L *
here shown ; with the aid of the first Tgy ,-———m y T—
piston we relengthen the column, so ^~^=^=^ ====-
as to get a whole tone lower, produc- ^
ing the third set of sounds ; the third (s) piston, in the same way, lowers the gg= instrument a tone and a half, as in ^—
f- -|— (4); by the simultaneous employ-
—i- ment of the second and third pis-
~ tons we arrive at two tones, as in (5);
^ the combination of the first and : third pistons lowers the instrument ; two tones and a half, as shown in (6);
M- finally, uniting the three pistons lowers
~ - r*—F~^~~ the trombone three tones and a half,
»—P—1= — as shown in (7).
- g: Notwithstanding the increased facility
fcr. T=p—$^—j 1=1 obtained by the use of pistons, they
— jf——i- -are very far from having gained the
suffrages of all players : many prefer the slide, believing that it gives a facility of emission that they cannot obtain with a piston trombone. For this illustration of the use of pistons, we have taken a tenor trombone in B^ ; the flat tonalities having been preferred for military music since the commencement of the 19th century, the pitch of each variety of trombones has been raised a semitone. At present six trombones are more or less in use, viz., the alto trombone in F, the alto in H\f (formerly in D), the tenor in B[> (formerly in A), the bass in G, the bass in F (formerly in E), the bass in E|j (formerly in D). This transposition has no reference to the number of vibrations that may be officially or tacitly adopted as the standard pitch of any country or locality. A trombone an octave lower than the tenor has recently been reintroduced into the orchestra, principally by Wagner. The different varieties just cited are constructed with pistons or slides, as the case may be. (V. M.)


1 Musica getutseht und auszgenogen, Basel, 1511.
2 Organographia, Wolfenbuttel, 1619.
3 Hannonie Universelle, Paris, 1627.

Der sich selbst informirende Musicus, Augsburg, 1762, by Johann Jacob Lotter.
Der sich selbst informirende Musicus, Augsburg, 1762, by Johann Jacob Lotter.
It need hardly be remarked that the higher semitone cannot be produced in the first position.
This was mentioned in the Leipsic Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1815, the merit of the invention being assigned to Heinrich Stölzel of Pless in Silesia.
Der sich selbst informirende Musicus, Augsburg, 1762, by Johann Jacob Lotter.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries