In Defense of Learning the Trombone

Not how you should hold the trombone.

I’ve decided to learn to play the trombone. When I told friends this, they invariably replied “What? WHY?” Most scoffed at the idea. Some questioned my sanity, and my manhood.

Now, I understand their incredulous reactions. After all, there isn’t a shortage of trombone players. I’m pretty certain that the bands of the world are mostly NOT waiting for some heroic slide jockey to arrive, horn in hand, to fill their empty hearts and trombone chairs. But I have my reasons, which I shall attempt to articulate here.

The mustache adds burliness to the tone.

The mustache adds burliness to the tone.

The impulsive reason – It seemed like a good idea at the time.  At one of the schools where I teach elementary music, there was an unused trombone in storage. I figured it would be a waste to let it sit in a cabinet all year, so I “borrowed” it.

The practical reason – I already play the trumpet reasonably well. But that’s the only instrument that I am really proficient on, aside from a little piano. I’ve found that there are more teaching opportunites for musicians who can teach the whole brass family, rather than just the trumpet. I’ve actually got a couple of beginner students playing trombone now, so I have to stay at least one lesson ahead of them!

Similarly, there is some extra freelance work available for trumpeters who double on trombone. Now, I’m not out to steal Vikram’s gigs, but it seems the ability to record complete horn arrangements is a valuable and marketable skill. I know several guys in town who double on the larger brass. Incidently, Roy Hargrove is credited with “Horns” on D’Angelo’s seminal album Voodoo, leading me to suspect that Roy played some trombone as well.

The philosophical reason – I believe that an improvising musician ought to be able to take ANY instrument and make meaningful music with it.  It doesn’t have to be flashy, it doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it should make some sense. Since my ability to make music with the trombone was limited to banging on the bell with the mouthpiece, I thought that I ought to take some time to learn the basics. With my trumpet training and a few pointers from Vikram, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Dabbling with instruments other than your main axe can be liberating. Freed from the pressures of having to play correctly, sound good, etc., one can reconnect with that feeling of curiosity, exploration, and FUN that often escapes professional musicians. By just playing around on the trombone, I remove my music making from the world of the trumpet, and set off in a new direction – into a territory that is mysterious and exciting.

Additionally, addressing the challenges of playing the trombone has already started to ricochet back to impact my trumpet playing positively.  The amount of air needed for the bigger horn was a wake-up call, and I’ve started taking fuller breaths on both instruments. The larger mouthpiece really magnified the way that my lips were responding to the air and where I was using too much pressure, and this has caused me to do begin an embouchure adjustment on my trumpet. Of course, the biggest challenge for me thus far has been finding the slide positions, but this is a great source of ear training, since every different note requires miniscule adjustments to play in tune.

This will be an ongoing project for me, so I might post occasional updates if there are any newsworthy developments. After I work out the slide positions on the trombone, I intend to get my hands on a slide trumpet – I think I could definitely lock-up a niche for myself as the first-call slide trumpet player in Los Angeles. Over my lifetime, that could literally mean TENS of gigs!

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Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 8:13 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Awesome!

  2. Tens? Maybe dozens! Think of the possibilities!

  3. Trying to steal my gigs is like trying to rob a pay phone.

  4. do it Matt!!!!…but I gotta tell u….Chuck Findley will be the 1st call slide trumpeter in LA for a while
    steven bernstein

    • Hi Steven, thanks for reading. I didn’t know Chuck Findley played slide trumpet – thanks for crushing my hopes and dreams!

      By the way, what model of slide trumpet do you play?

  5. Dick Akright built mine
    Chuck’s is a Calicchio…Domenic built a few of them
    I have a Calicchio w/a “Dizzy” bell that makes it even harder to find positions

  6. Don´t get too good… Trombone players don´t like trumpet players that get too good on trombone! CHeck out James Morrison – http://www.jamesmorrison.com.au
    There´s a price on his head, sponsored by Trombonists Anonymious International inc.

  7. “Dick Akright built mine”

    I can’t find any information, so I’ll try to go right to the source:

    Mr. Bernstein,
    What are the specs on your custom “natural” slider?
    The bell looks bigger and longer than either a miraphone or jupiter.
    And what is the leadpipe setup you use. It’s impossible to tell from what few photos I can find.
    Thanks,

    Mat Minsky
    Boston, MA


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