10 Interesting Facts About Trombone

By Zachariah Friesen

Here are 10 interesting facts about trombone that you may not have known. Allow me to indulge you:

1. The trombone is derived from an instrument called a sackbut.

Yes, you read that correctly, sackbut. The name sackbut is derived from the Middle French words saquer and bouter literally means “pull, push”. This is a very fitting name for the instrument since it was the first instrument to have a movable slide. This is unique to the instrument. The sackbut was mainly used in sacred and court music settings during the 1600s. Interestingly, the trombone has changed very little since its precursor, the sackbut. Many other instruments have been improved with major revisions to their original design. Apparently, trombone was the closest to perfection!

2. The trombone is said to be the “Voice of God”.

Some say that Beethoven and other composers described the trombone as the “Voice of God”.  This may have been due to the ability of the trombonist to achieve perfect intonation at all times. The trombone is essentially a big tuning slide! The range of the instrument also closely resembles that of the voice, more so than any other instrument. The funeral of Ludwig von Beethoven featured a trombone quartet written by Beethoven. It is said that the 3 Equali depicted the sadness and sonorous grief of a great legend passing away and is still played frequently today.

3. If trombones indeed represent the Voice of God, it’s usually when he’s not very happy!

The trombone has also been used to musically depict the depths of Hell in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, the chopping off of a head in Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel, thunder and lightning in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, and the raucous crowd anticipating and delighting in a beheading in Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.

4. The role of the trombonist, more often than not, is to wait.

Trombonists are often asked to count a large amount rests or simply wait until the end of a symphony or opera before they get to play. A good example of this can be found in the first known use of the trombone in a symphonic setting, Beethoven’s 5th symphony. The trombones only get to play in the 4th and final movement of the symphony. This means that the trombones will only play about 30 minutes into the symphony. Now that is a lot of waiting! Likewise Beethoven’s 9th symphony and Brahms 4th symphony call for very important trombone writing after 30 to 40 minutes of waiting. Such is the life of a trombonist. We are generally the culprit of awaking potential sandmen in the audience by the 4th movement. Trombonists are happy to oblige.

5. Trombone is not lefty friendly.

All southpaw trombone players who are left hand dominant are forced by the constraints of the trombone to be right hand dominant. It is rather interesting to think that many of the greatest trombone players in the world are using their “weak” hand to be surgically precise with cat-like speed and reflexes on the slide. One of the greatest jazz trombonists in history, Slide Hampton,  defied all of these obstacles and had a successful career playing the trombone left-handed. Leave it to a trombone player to not follow the rules or common practice and do it successfully.

Slide Hampton - Round Midnight

Slide Hampton – Round Midnight

6. That noise you hear when Charlie Brown’s teacher speaks to the class or to Charlie Brown: that’s a trombone!

Trombonists often use a plunger mute in jazz to achieve the effect of a human voice speaking.  The creators of the great Charlie Brown series decided to incorporate that unique sound into the show. For those who are curious, trombonists do have to be careful not to confuse their plunger mute with their household plunger, which are exactly the same thing but with absolutely different uses. Leave it to the trombones to incorporate the bathroom into the performing world.

Peanuts (TM) for Trombone

Peanuts (TM) for Trombone

7. “Don’t look at the trombones it only encourages them.”

This famous quote has been attributed to Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss on different occasions. I’m not sure who said it, but I know it to be true.

8. “The trombone is too sacred for frequent use.”

This quote, attributed to composer Felix Mendelssohn, explains a lot as to why only a few of his compositions call on the trombones to join the party. He did however encourage his friend Ferdinand David to write a concertino for trombone, which has become one of the most standard pieces in the trombone solo repertoire. This piece is the most often performed solo in the repertoire and is a requirement for nearly every solo competition and nearly every trombone audition. Despite the quote, Felix Mendelssohn did, in this case, make a significant contribution to the trombone world.

Ferdinand David - Concertino for Trombone

Ferdinand David – Concertino for Trombone

9. The first documented use of a trombone in public was a wedding gig.

Our penultimate fact speaks to the first documented mention of the trombone, which was in 1488. The Duke of Burgundy was married in 1468 and was so kind as to have a trombone play at his wedding. Do your part to recreate history and hire a trombone player for your wedding!

10. “I don’t know why but the trombone makes me very uncomfortable.”

Our final fact about the trombone comes from a quote by the great Sigmund Freud.

I appreciate your indulgence as do all trombone players, and I leave you with one final quote from another great mind about the instrument that is my world: the trombone.

“If it please your neighbor to break the sacred calm of night with the snorting of an unholy trombone, it is your duty to put up with his wretched music and your privilege to pity him for the unhappy instinct that moves him to delight in such discordant sounds.”

-Mark Twain.

Zachariah Friesen is the Online Merchandiser at Sheet Music Plus and is a freelance trombone player and private lessons instructor in the bay area.

8 Responses to “10 Interesting Facts About Trombone”


  1. 1 Anonymous November 21, 2012 at 10:41 am

    great article!!

  2. 2 Anne Brennand November 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Hi. This was fun to read! My father was in the Philadelphia Orchestra, and used to quote, to my sisters and me, some-one-or-other who said: “Tell your daughters to be careful to never date a trombone player”, and leave it at that.

  3. 3 David Stankus December 8, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Great article — I plan to share it with my fellow players.

    Definition of a trombone: A slide whistle with delusions of grandeur.

    What do you call a trombonist with a pager? An optimist.

  4. 4 Chauncey February 19, 2013 at 9:14 am

    In fact when someone doesn’t know afterward its up to other people that they will help, so here it occurs.

  5. 5 Butler George March 1, 2013 at 12:44 am

    Hi Zacharia, Nice little list. “Sackbut” was the term for the instrument only in England. In Italy, it was always “il (masculine, ‘the’, pronounced “eel”) trombone (pronounced “trrrom-BOne-nay.” In the German-speaking countries, it was “die (feminine ‘the’, pronounced “dee”) Posaune–pronounced “po-SAUWn-na”–probably derived from the thirteenth-century “buisine”, a type of long trumpet. As for being the “first” instrument with a slide: Well, it *may* or *may not* have been preceded by the medieval slide trumpet, an instrument with a single slide, most commonly seen in an altar painting of angel musicians by Hans Memling. The player held the instrument sill with one hand at the mouthpiece reciever, then moved the telescoping single slide–bell and all–back and forth. (Scholars are still not quite sure if the instrument even existed, but if it did, one was usually used in a group of of three players, the other being shawm players, or a shawm and a bombard.) If you do a search for “alta capella”, you’ll find something about these early wind groups that played music in the time of Johannes Ciconia (1370-1412.) Gilles Rapin is a present-day player of the slide trumpet, and he plays with a trio called “Alta.” (Scholarly reading: Keith Polk has written extensively on the alta repertoire. Peter Downey has discounted the possibility that the slide trumpet even existed, while Ross Duffin and Herbert Myers countered that it certainly could have existed.) You might also want to see Stewart Carter’s new book on the history of the trombone for a full and recent account of the instrument and its beginnings.

  6. 6 Butler George March 1, 2013 at 2:04 am

    #5, southpaws: We trombonists always get a giggle when we see an ad in a magazine, where a clueless photo editor has reversed an image, or maybe the instrument has been assembled backwards to better suit the photo stylist’s vision. But, I have met a couple of serious left-handed students of the trombone who assemble the instrument as Slide Hampton does. This is no problem for those who play a “straight” trombone–usually young students, or jazz and commercial players to flip the slide 180 degrees, where it attaches to the bell section, and have that 90-degree angle point one way or the other. It gets expensive to have custom work done on trombones with F-attachment, as the thumb lever must be moved to the other side. (It’s probably even more expensive for a bass trombonist, who nowadays usually has two valve lever mechanisms.) It can be done by a very good repairman, and I suppose that a symphony orchestra section would get used to a new colleague whose bell comes off of his right shoulder, if there is enough floor space to move a chair and music stand left or right a few inches.

  7. 7 International Trombone Week March 15, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Thank you for this fun post. ‘hoping your fine readers will take up their trombones and celebrate International Trombone Week this year: 7-14 April 2013. All are invited. Learn more: http://www.trombone.net/itw/ Follow @tromboneweek on twitter.

  8. 8 Jones sabo based on the amount of older mature people and youngsters quizzed on the issues accepted April 12, 2013 at 2:03 am

    I was examining some of your blog posts on this internet site and I think this website is very informative! Keep on posting.


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