Thursday, April 3, 2014


In Wilson Meredith’s Broadway hit, The Music Man, it took “76 trombones to lead the big parade.” Why did it take so many? Nobody knows. Except, probably, Wilson Meredith. It’s amazing that 76 trombones were required for this parade when you consider the Big Band Experience needs only one—played by Steve Pikal.

Brass instruments make up a large part of a big band’s sound. And today we’re going to meet one of those instruments. Have you guessed which one? That’s right: the slide trombone.

The trombone is the only instrument with a slide. This makes it the trombone’s key feature (and the reason why the trombone stands out at brass family reunions). The trombone player (trombonist, if you will) slides the slide to change the pitch. The longer the slide is extended, the lower the pitch.

The trombone is also the only wind instrument that, in theory, can achieve perfect pitch at all times. Why? The slide, of course! Because the slide is continuous, a trombonist can play an infinite number of pitches. This is different from other instruments where the musician can only press down certain keys or valves.

So the trombone slide is remarkable, but what else is cool about the trombone? The most common types of trombone are the tenor and bass trombone, although there are several different kinds, including the alto and the soprano. Okay, so that’s not so much “cool” as it is a “fact.” Back to cool things about the trombone:

- It contains approximately nine feet of tubing.
- The precursor to the trombone is called the sackbut, which, let’s face it, is just fun to say.
“Trombone” is the French word for paperclip (though maybe that’s a cool thing about paperclips and not trombones. Hard to say).

*Wondering about the title? Tommy Dorsey, the great bandleader and master trombonist of the Big Band era wrote “Trombonology” in 1947. Take a listen.

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