If you’ve watched a full orchestra, a jazz band playing in different venues, or even a marching band on the streets, you may have noticed some of the instruments used in these setups. This includes the brass section, such as the saxophone, the trombone, and the trumpet. While the saxophone is the instrument widely recognized for its distinguishing sound used in recent jazz and pop records of the time, you may also fall in love with the trombone for its mellow sound that can blend in with almost every music piece.
So, let’s dissect the different trombone parts, shall we?
The Three Main Trombone Parts.
I have to admit: trying to learn the anatomy of the trombone is like trying to assemble spare parts for a machine or, in my case, dissecting an entire organism to learn what makes it up… but I’ll try my best to explain everything for you. So…
According to Jeremy Grifski, there are three main sections in a trombone. These are the mouthpiece, the slide, and the bell. These three main trombone parts are the ones that are regularly assembled and dismantled. Of course, each section also has its unique features (for example, the slide is composed of the inner slide and the outer slide). We’ll take a look at these as you read this article further.
Everything Starts with The Mouthpiece.
The mouthpiece is that cup-shaped object where you blow air into. Some of you may think, that the mouthpiece is just nothing but a chunk of metal or plastic, but there are actually different parts that make up the mouthpiece. These are the rim, the cup, the throat, and the backbore. Let’s explore it further.
The rim is where you place your lips against. It can be either curved or flat, which can have its effects on the tonal range, according to Melanie Griffin. Normally, a flat rim can be easier to play on, but it will give you less tonal flexibility. On the other hand, curved rims can give you more tonal range flexibility but it will be harder for you to blow.
Just beyond the rim is the open space called the cup. The tone color, the dynamic range of the sound, as well as the player’s control and stamina, may depend on the cup’s depth: The deeper the cup, the larger and darker the tone will be, but the higher the need for control. The cup can actually affect the size of the mouthpiece (the bigger the cup, the larger the mouthpiece).
Next to the cup is the throat. This regulates the back pressure and tone quality. The size of the cup can affect the size of the throat, and may play a factor in the player’s control and stamina.
Last, the backbore, also called the bore, is the short tube that connects the mouthpiece to the slide. Grifski may think that the bore may not be as important as the rest of the mouthpiece, but it is responsible for not only attaching the mouthpiece to the horn, but directing air through it. Its design can affect the tonal quality and its range. According to Griffin, larger bores have a darker sound good for orchestras, whereas smaller bores have a sharper sound, which is good if you’re playing jazz and pop.
Here are some tips when dealing with the mouthpiece:
- It is recommended for beginners not to change mouthpieces every often, as it often takes time to get used to a certain design.
- The size of the mouthpiece also corresponds to the number indicated: lower numbers have a larger mouthpiece. Always check for your specs.
- Make sure that the size of the bore should fit the shank.
- Mouthpieces can be made of different materials, although they are usually made of brass with silver or gold plating. This should also be considered for those who have allergies. One indicator of someone allergic to the material is having sore lips after playing. Also, if the materials are non-conductive (i.e., not made of metals or other conductors), this can help the player play through cold temperatures.
You Need to Slide to Change your Pitch.
The slide, according to a Spiegato article, is that long section of tubing located in front of the mouthpiece. This part is the one that extends outward as you play the trombone. The slide is actually responsible for allowing the trombone players to create a glissando, a shifting sound. (This is actually something new for me to digest. Allow me to show you a video from the United States Navy Band to describe what a glissando sounds like.)
The slide contains the inner slide and the outer slide, which are arranged in a telescopic manner, according to Dan Farrant. This means that the inner slide is located inside the outer slide. To keep the two slides in good shape, the inner slide should be lubricated, as the metal in the slides shouldn’t cause much friction. In addition, Farrant also describes the stockings, which are located at the end of the inner slide. They are tiny ridges of metal that can be hard to see. This helps reduce the friction on the slide by keeping the contact area small.
The slide braces are located perpendicular to the slides. These serve two functions. The brace closest to the player helps in stabilizing the slide, whereas the one farthest from the player is the grip used to move the slide.
There’s also the slide lock that holds the slides together. This is actually the small ring that rotates in place between them. This is a safety feature that helps prevent the outer slide from dropping when you pick up the trombone.
Next is the spit valve. Now, it’s not always that your literal spit (or saliva) tends to enter the slides. Gross. But, what actually accumulates in the slides are condensed air. If this accumulates, according to Spiegato, the trombone may produce an unwelcome gurgling undertone to the sound. This is where the spit valve comes in. Also called the water key, it allows the excess “spit” to get out of the slide. According to Grifski, the spit valve is composed of a lever, a cork pad, and a spring, which holds the lever and the cork pad in place to hold the air in. If you want to remove the excess “spit” angle the slide downward. The liquid will collect in the U-bend.
Last in the slide section is the bumper or stopper. It is the small piece of rubber found at the very end of the slide, which serves as the slide’s main protector. Without the bumper, you cannot put the trombone to the ground when resting without giving it some dents due to the friction between the metal and the rough floor surface, especially if the venue has limited space.
Bells Aren’t for Ringing… It’s for Amplifying the Sound.
The trombone bell is the most visible of all the trombone parts and the largest component. Griffin described the bell as a cone-shaped part that flares around the edges. This is where the sound actually comes out.
Grifski further explores the parts of the bell into several components. Connecting to the slide is the slide receiver. It has a nut which typically connects to a set of threads on the slide unlike the mouthpiece receiver.
Just like the slide, the bell also has its bell braces, which connects the bell to the slide receiver. It also provides the structure for the tuning slide, which will be discussed later. As the back tube of the bell curls in on itself in a long U-shape to connect to the mouthpiece, the bell braces are situated in the middle of that U-shape to prevent the back tube from collapsing.
The last main part of the bell is the tuning slide. This provides the air from the slide to the bell. It also allows the player to adjust the tuning or pitch. As Griffin further describes, the tuning slide is the bottom part of the U-shaped curve. To adjust the tuning slide, the player can move it in and out of its slot. This will make the trombone tubing slightly longer or shorter, which may actually affect the overall tone of the instrument. That being said, especially if you happen to be a newbie, Grifski often states that this is often one of the most neglected trombone parts. This causes the tuning slide to be stuck, which is why trombone players have to play with adjusting the slide as soon as possible. It also helps if the also lubricate the tuning slides to prevent it from excess friction.
Farrant also has some additional trombone parts mentioned… you might wanna check into these, too
Of course, there is also the bell flare. This is where the sound is amplified. Now, the size of the bore will affect the size of the flare, which may also affect the tone of the trombone. For example, bass trombones have a larger bell flare.
Located in the tuning slide is the counterweight. As the trombone can be very long, the counterweight helps balance the instrument when you hold it, so the weight won’t focus on the bell flare.
Also, depending on the type of trombone that you may have, you might also want to check the F-attachment. This is actually a type of trigger. The F-attachment contains a rotary valve that allows the air to pass through an extra length of tubing, which is coiled up in the C-section (or B-flat section). This tubing allows the trombone player to skip the C (or the B-flat, in some trombones) and transpose down to the lower-octave key of F. (I bet Mr. Nathan Zgonc, the man in the YouTube video from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, will be able to show you how that happens.) To activate the F-attachment, a “button” connects to the rotary valve through a string or a metal lever depending on the model. This “button” is often located at your left-hand side, which can be pressed with your thumb. There are two general types of this attachment: the open-wrap and the closed wrap.
The open-wrap F-attachment has a few corners as possible. this increases the length of the instrument and creates a more open sound with less blow resistance.
The closed-wrap F-attachment has more corners contained within the bell section, which gives more blow resistance.
The F-attachment also has a tuning slide, which enables the more experienced players to adjust the pitch accordingly. Some professional players customize their trombones with this attachment so that they don’t have to extend their trombones too long to reach the lower octaves being played.
The bell mute is a piece of rubber or cork held over the bell. It helps modify the trombone’s sound by making it flatter and broader, which creates a wah-wah phrasing. This is good if you’re planning to play jazz. (There are different types of mutes, which can give the trombone player a way to modify the sound according to their preference. Paul the Trombonist can show you how.)
Any Last Words?
So there you have it, folks. Remember the three main trombone parts: the mouthpiece, the slide, and the bell. Each section can be broken down into several components, and may have a few more, depending on the model that you have.
The trombone may look simple, especially to someone who wants to learn how to play it, but as you become more experienced, it is important to know the different trombone parts well. Learning them will help you make some customizations and make some necessary repairs, if any.
Always remember: treat any instrument like it’s an extension of yourself.