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The trombone (meaning literally large trumpet), a member of the brass family of instruments, is thought to have originated in the 15th century. For centuries it was called a saqueboute or sackbut, possibly related to an old French word for “sword” and how playing the instrument resembles drawing or thrusting a sword.

Trombones have been heard in orchestral, chamber, military contexts. In the 18th century, it was mostly used in religious music. Beethoven’s “Fate” is probably the oldest recognized secular symphony to feature a trombone.

Because the design allows smooth shifts, glissandos, etc. between notes and pitches, it’s one of the instruments that best replicates the flexibility and range of a voice. In front of the mouthpiece, the long trombone slide is held by two braces. The slide has an arch at the other end, fitted with a bumper and spit valve or water key. The opposite arch is called the tuning slide. Along with additional braces and a counter weight, the main tuning slide connects the bell to the rest of the instrument.

In modern and popular music, the trombone is heard in jazz groups, marching bands, swing, and ska. Notable trombone players include Joseph Alessi (the Pulitzer-winning Principle with the New York Philharmonic), late bebop great and jazz composer J.J. Johnson, swing band leader Glenn Miller, New Orleans funk-rock band Bonerama, conductor and composer Christian Lindberg, and Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty, who has played with Foo Fighters, Mark Ronson, Zhu, Jeff Beck, and LeAnn Rimes).

What types of trombones are there?

The most common variations of the trombone in use today are tenor and bass. Lower than these are the contrabass, which has a double slide, and cimbasso, which adds valves for quicker variations in pitch. In the higher range are the alto, soprano, sopranino, and piccolo trombones. Each variation has been made with valves, although slide trombones are more popular now.

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