How the trombone works

The trombone plays in concert pitch – this means that when the trombone player plays a written C, the note that comes out is the same as a C on the piano. Unusually the trombone is written in many clefs but most players begin their journey in bass clef, playing notes that look and sound like the notes played by the left hand on the piano. The only real exception to this is in British Brass Bands where the tenor trombone plays in Bb treble clef, as long as the player plays brass band music this isn’t a problem but other ensembles tend to stick to concert pitch in C bass clef.

Making a buzz

All brass instruments work by the player buzzing their lips together into a mouthpiece, which in turn vibrates the air inside the instrument creating a sound. All brass instruments are basically empty tubes that you can change the length of. On any length of tube you can play a pattern of different pitches or notes by changing your buzz using your lips and the controlling air that you blow through them.

You will have heard this pattern played by bugle calls; this is the known as the harmonic series, sometimes called partials, and whatever length of tube you choose the pattern remains the same. With the trombone, every time you add more tubing with the slide this pattern becomes lower in pitch so by choosing a tube length and a harmonic you can play all the notes you’ll ever need…with practice!!

On our start learning to play the trombone page we show you the steps to making your first note. If you’re having trouble making your first buzz, there’s some more help in these videos...