Trombone History – Facts and Curiosities

The trombone is a musical instrument belonging to the brass family, with a diverse and vast history.

It consists of a long tube of three segments and has at one end the nozzle and at the other end a bell. It is probably the most easily recognized and identified aerophone instrument, being the only instrument that truly incorporates a sliding section.

During its evolution, the trombone could be found in different formats which by itself could almost be classified as an instrument family.

Trombone history is marked with different curiosities and facts worth knowing since its creation until our days as it has the instrument has evolved between different periods.

Let’s find out more about it.

The Trombone in its Earliest Times

The trombone has existed for several centuries, in the most different names, but has remained practically unchanged for most of its existence. Its usage in the earlier times has been mostly in churches, military bands, and the courts of aristocrats, churches.

Curiosities About Its Name Origins Among Different Languages

The origin of the word trombone (used in English, Italian, French and Portuguese) is simple and curious: it derives from the Italian word tromba (trumpet) plus the suffix one, which, translated, means “great trumpet”.

Curiously, this designation has not always been well accepted, which is why it has undergone major changes in several other languages.

Another term for the trombone used by instrumentalists is the English word “sackbut”, which was in fact how it was widely known until the 18th century.

Francis Galpin, who devoted a considerable part of his time to the study of the etymology of this word, suggested that it must have originated from the Spanish word “sacabuche” used in the 14th century.

On the other hand, Curt Sachs points to the French word “saqueboute” (saquier + boter, that is, pull + push), also from the 14th century, as the probable origin of that term.

The term currently used in Germany to describe the trombone – Posaune – also has a curious history: the trombone has as its ancestor a kind of narrow and long trumpet called Buisine and, as the instrument evolved, the term also underwent modifications; the German equivalent for buisine was buzine, in the Middle Ages it became busune and, over time, changed to buzaun and finally Posaune since the 16th century.

The Modern Trombone

The modern trombone doesn’t differ much from that used in the most remote periods.

Its fundamental and distinctive properties and characteristics have remained, but the dimensions of the instrument have changed a lot. The modern trombone exists in various shapes and sizes, but the diameter of the tube is significantly larger than that of its ancestors.

  • a cylindrical tube whose diameter remains constant along its entire length
  • a mechanical extension that produces the shortening/stretching of the main tube (in rod trombones)
  • a hood that, in the case of rod trombones, extends proportionally with the articulated part in a proportion of 1/3.

Most Common Types of Trombones Used Nowadays

There are several types of trombones used today and their performances can be seen in school bands, marching bands, orchestras, jazz bands, instrumental groups of winds and/or brass, among other types of music groups.

The 3 most used types of trombone nowadays are:

  • straight tenor
  • trigger-type tenor (also known as F-rotor or F-attachment)
  • bass trombones

For a beginner trombone player, he or she will normally use the straight tenor trombone, a simple version that doesn’t have any tubing on the inside.

In philharmonic bands, the trombone has a very important double role of, on one hand, sustaining harmonic and rhythmic conduction and, on the other hand, constituting itself as a soloist instrument.

One recent evolution and innovation in the modern manufacturing of trombones have been the appearance of plastic as a material to create such instruments. It was with a plastic trombone (pBone model), that plastic instruments started their recent journey, and since then they have been getting more attention and reaching wider audiences.

Unique Facts About the Trombone

  • Beethoven, in his famous “Fifth Symphony“, was the first to compose a symphony specifically with a trombone part
  • The trombone is designed for right-handed players. If you are left-handed you will need to adapt. But don’t worry, some of the best trombonists of all time, like Slide Hampton, were also left-handed.
  • If you are familiar or a fan of Charlie Brown, the cartoon, did you know that the teacher’s (Ms. Othmar’s) voice is of a trombone? It was developed by Dean W. Hubbard, a musician, and professional trombonist.
  • The trombone only started to be included in an orchestra in the 18th century
  • Playing the trombone with one hand only? Easier, after the invention of a one-handed trombone with a double slide, by Eric McGavin
  • Trombone players must be patient while in a symphony or opera, as sometimes they are asked to wait for several minutes before playing
  • Normally the trombonists play the “darker” or saddest moments on operas, some of the most known can be heard on:
    • Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven
    • Till Eulenspiegel“, composed by Richard Strauss
    • Don Giovanni“, by Mozart
  • The largest trombone ensemble recorded and verified by Guinness World Records, gathered 369 players at an event organized by Arena Stage and FAME, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., USA, on 1 June 2012. There have been further attempts to overcome that record, but none as yet been verified by the Guinness World Records.

FAQs About Trombone History

When Was the Trombone Invented?

There isn’t an exact date for the creation of the trombone, although it is agreed to be the middle of the 15th century, making it an instrument at least 500 years old.

Who Invented the Trombone?

An evolution from a slide trumpet, its invention isn’t particularly attributed to any specific person, but evidence points to Flemish makers that were the suppliers to the court of Burgundy of wind instruments.