The trombone dates back to the fifteenth century. In over 500 years the instrument has not changed mechanically, but, like other instruments, has been developed to play louder. In the 19th century, trombone design split into two different models: French and German. Britain adopted the French model but the German model was the basis of the modern instrument we now play today.
The German model has a wide flaring bell, capable of producing a rich heavy sound so characteristic of German Romantic orchestral music. The narrower French model created a brilliant sound that shines over the orchestra.
After the invention of the valve in the 1820s some makers made trombones with valves, and some are still made today. There were even trombones made with six valves!
Although trombones are made in different sizes, such as soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass, the most common instrument today is the tenor trombone. Some of the larger trombones are so big that they have a handle at the slide so that the player could extend the slide all the way out! However, the slide trombone is preferred to the valve trombone since most players agree that when the trombone loses its slide it loses its true identity. It is an important instrument in the orchestra, band, jazz band and popular music.
Audio: Duke Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’
played on a tenor trombone by Conn
A most interesting and peculiar type of trombone is the buccin. As you can see instead of the regular bell buccin’s have a bell in the shape of a dragon’s head. The buccin was used in France in the first half of the nineteenth century in military bands. Can you imagine why? Such an appearance would intimidate the enemy!