If your child is an aspiring musician who has decided to take up the trombone, they’re far from alone. The rich, warm sound of a trombone makes it quite versatile in nature; it’s not uncommon for trombones to be found in marching bands, jazz ensembles, and orchestras. Although trombones are relatively simple in design and construction, purchasing a trombone can be quite complicated in nature. To get a better idea of what kind of trombone is right for your child, here is quick breakdown of the instrument.
Although there are a variety of specialty trombones available on the market, we’ll focus on the three main types: straight tenor, trigger-type tenor, and bass trombones. The simplest of the three is the straight tenor, which doesn’t contain any tubing on the inside. Trigger-type tenors have extra tubing within its main loop which makes the trombone longer and changes the tuning from Bb to F. Finally, bass trombones have bigger bores and contain an additional second rotor, which extends the horn’s low end even further. Although it’s not a requirement, many students start with a tenor trombone and eventually move onto the other horns. Others trombone players stick with a straight tenor the entire time.
As you research trombones, you may notice that some are categorized as “valve trombones”. Introduced about the same time as valves were incorporated into trumpets, valve trombones use valves instead of the traditional trombone slide. In some parts of the world, including Europe and South America, valve trombones are preferred over slide trombones, as the use of valves makes fast, technical, and difficult passages easier to play. Although valve trombones are an alternate for a regular trombone in some music styles and genres, these instruments aren’t typically used in school orchestras or marching bands. If you’re purchasing a trombone intended to be used in a school marching band, stick with a slide trombone.
Student, Intermediate, Professional
These manufacturer’s designations often appear in our trombone collection as part of the model name. While they do refer to the overall quality and feature sets of the instruments, they don’t reference specific features and will vary from brand to brand. Use these classifications for general guidance. Student trombones are machine-made and don’t contain any higher-end materials. Although they’re great for first-time players, most trombone players move onto an intermediate-grade trombone after a year or two of taking lessons. Due to their craftsmanship and size, professional trombones are typically reserved for those who play the trombone for a living.
The bore size, or the diameter of the trombone’s tubing, is another really important thing to consider when shopping for a trombone. While the bore size will affect many aspects of the instrument, the two most important are its playability and overall sound. For beginner players–especially very young ones– it’s best to chose a smaller bore horn, somewhere in the range from .500” to .525”. Not only are smaller bore trombones easier to play, but they require less air to create a good tone. Once your child masters a a trombone with a smaller bore, they may want to upgrade to a medium or larger bore instrument for a fuller, better sound. Keep in mind, this isn’t hard and fast rule- many trombone players continue to play smaller bore trombones for the rest of their lives.
Does Brand Matter?
As is the case with virtually every other purchase, the cost of a trombone has a lot to do with who manufactures it. To be on the safe side, stick with recognized names in the industry that have a reputation for manufacturing high-quality instruments, such as Bach or Yamaha. Brand names become even more important when purchasing a used instrument, as better brands are less likely to deteriorate over time. Ultimately, better brands are going to cost more so, if you’re on a tight budget, do your homework and find a lesser-known brand with great reviews to boot, or find a rent-to-own program that works for you and your budget.
Mouthpieces & Other Accessories
Similar to many other instruments, there are a variety of accessories a trombonist will need, including mouthpieces slide oil, and slide lubricant. The mouthpiece, arguably the most important part of a trombone, should be changed whenever the trombonist wants a different sound. For example, orchestral players often prefer broader, deeper mouthpieces that provide a richer tone, while jazz players prefer shallower mouthpieces. If you’re purchasing a used trombone, it’s a good idea to replace the mouthpiece before use. Also important are slide oil and slide lubricant, as regular maintenance is crucial to keeping a trombone in working order.
New vs. Used
In many cases, purchasing a gently used trombone is fine, as long as you replace the mouthpiece before use. When purchasing a refurbished or like-new trombone, make sure you won’t have to pay for expensive repairs on top of the purchase price. While sites like eBay are chock full of used trombones, you should proceed with caution- since you can’t see the instrument and you don’t personally know the seller, only purchase from eBay as a last resort. In most cases, purchasing a new trombone, or a used gently used trombone from a reputable site like Music & Arts, is your best bet.
Maintenance & Storage
Even if you purchase a high-end, well-built trombone, they’re fairly delicate instruments that will need to be well maintained and properly stored to stay in working order. Perhaps the most important part of trombone maintenance is keeping the slide well-oiled. If the slide can’t be moved effortlessly, the instrument becomes difficult to play and, over time, this can cause damage. When not in use, a trombone should be properly disassembled and stored in a dedicated case. If your child will be traveling to and from school with their trombone, it’s a good idea to invest in a sturdy, hard case.
New to brass instruments? Check out Brass Instruments: A Guide.
Want more info about the trombone? Check out this video: