You may already know how to play the trombone, but do you really know the science behind it? In this article you will learn about the different notes that can be played on the trombone, why the instrument is built this way, and where you should position your notes on the slide. In this article you will learn about the trombone slide chart. If you want to know more about your trombone and about playing in a correct intonation, join me!
The Trombone Slide Chart
The slide of the trombone is our way to play different chromatic notes. Every time you move your slide outward, you are making the trombone longer, and by that the note you are playing is also traveling longer. This is resulting in a change of pitch.
There are 7 main trombone positions, but as long as you play higher notes, the positions are less accurate, since they are based on the harmonic series. You can see this in the trombone position chart. In this trombone slide chart you can find all of the correct positions, from low E to a high Bb:
As you can see, some of the positions in the trombone position chart are marked with #/b. This indicates that you need to use your normal position, and then lightly tilt the slide higher (#) or lower (b). Experiment with a tuner and with your ear, and try to find the right slide placement for each note.
Trombone Slide Positions
Here you can find an illustration and explanation of all the trombone slide positions that can be used alongside the trombone position chart.
- 1st Slide Position Trombone
- 2nd Slide Position Trombone
- 3rd Slide Position Trombone
- 4th Slide Position Trombone
- 5th Slide Position Trombone
- 6th Slide Position Trombone
- 7th Slide Position Trombone
The Harmonic Series On The Trombone
According to Zachary Belles from the Jerry Evans School of Music, with each of the trombone slide positions you can play up to 7 different notes in the harmonic series. For example: in 1st position you are able to play in order from lowest to highest: Bb1, Bb2, F3, Bb3, D4, F4, and Bb4 (the numbers dictate the octave).
These notes in the 1st position, can be changed just by the way you buzz trough your mouthpiece. To play high notes you will need a tight embouchure and more fast moving air. In order to play low notes, you will need to loosen your embouchure, and use slower air movement.
In the next section we’ll explain about the second way to change notes, and the proper way to do so with correct intonation using the trombone slide chart as a guide.
Is It Really Necessary To Use Alternate Trombone Slide Positions?
In the trombone slide chart above, you probably noticed the marking (or b5)/(or #4). These are options to play these notes in alternative positions. Some of you may have thought “why should I learn how to use these positions, since I already know how to play these notes in the normal position”.
This will be an understandable argument, but the more you will play more difficult pieces, you will find that it will be close to impossible to use only the “basic” positions seen in the trombone position chart, since you will be required to play lines that will require too much movement.
If you want to start practicing your alternate trombone slide positions (which I would highly recommend), I would suggest that you’ll check out David Mathie’s article. In this article, David is explaining the importance of knowing your alternate position on the trombone, and giving great exercise that are focused on those positions.
David even wrote a song called “O Come All Ye Alternate”, which is composed almost entirely out of alternate positions!
But How Does A Trombone Actually Work?
The trombone is a fascinating instrument; it has a mouthpiece, connected to a slide tube that expands to a bell. Many trombone players believe that the trombone is the main part of the instrument, but in fact, the mouthpiece is the instrument that generates notes with the vibration of the lips. The trombone “fixes” those notes according to the harmonic series and projects them in a larger volume (like a guitar amplifier for example).
For example, when you buzz a middle C on the mouthpiece, you will get the same note on the trombone, as long you are in the right position. Using a trombone slide position chart you will soon understand the different positions. But if you buzz a C on the mouthpiece, and your slide is too high/low, you will get an “airy” sound that is not full.
This works the other way around: If you place your slide correctly in the 6th position, but the note you buzz on the mouthpiece is a bit higher/lower then C, then you will get the same result. So in order to get a full sound, you should make sure to pay attention to all of these different elements.
Check out this video made by Classic FM, which shows Matt Gee, Principal Trombone with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, explaining and demonstrating how the trombone works:
If you are interested in improving your intonation and overall playing abilities, you must be wondering “What should I do next?”. Well, I have a few great books that I would highly recommend you should get, if you don’t have them already.
This book is a completion of Etudes, originally made for vocalists, was adapted for the trombone. This is one of the reasons these etudes are so melodic. All of the etudes are focused on air and legato playing. The further you go, the book is slowly introducing alternate positions within the etudes, and every time there is a use for these positions, it is marked above the note.
If you want to focus on your slide technique, then this will be the book for you! Its is compiled of exercise that can improve you slide accuracy.
The trombone is an unusual and very special instrument that can be explored from so many different aspects. I hope you found some helpful information in this article, and good luck with your trombone journey!