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Learn to Play Trombone with pBone Music

How to Play Trombone

In this beginner guide for those starting their trombone-playing journey, we’ll share some fundamentals about how a trombone works and the different types of trombones. We will delve into some practical lessons to get you started.

We will also provide you with some really useful initial resources, like trombone slide position charts, free resources including sheet music and backing tracks, and a series of easy-to-follow video lessons.

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What is a trombone?

The trombone is an old and important member of the brass instrument family. The trombone has been around in some form since the 1500s, developed from early trombones it was originally known as a sackbut.

By far the most common type of trombone is the modern Bb tenor trombone. This instrument was first produced about 1700 and apart from bore and bell size hasn’t really changed that much since.

Nearly every trombone player begins their journey on a Bb tenor trombone. The tenor trombone can be found playing in various musical styles and ensembles including classical, jazz, rock, pop, and folk music.

How Brass Instruments Work - Al Cannon

How does a trombone work?

The trombone plays in concert pitch: 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.

How Does The Trombone Work? | Discover Instruments | Classic FM

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!

How to hold a pBone pTrumpet Circle: Preparing to Buzz

What are the different types of trombone?

As well as the Bb tenor trombone the broader trombone family is much larger than you might at first realize, with instruments of all sizes and some specialized for specific genres.

The Trombone section

Trombones and their players are known for their gregarious nature and are usually found in sections! In most bands this will take the form of two tenors and a bass trombone and in a jazz genre big band, three tenors and a bass. Sometimes, especially when accompanying choral music, an orchestral section will have an alto, a tenor, and a bass and will spend most of the piece supporting the choir’s singers.

Of course, there are plenty of times when there is only one trombone player like in a jazz combo or rock/pop band horn section. Sometimes music theatre productions only have one trombone player and quite often this takes the form of a bass trombone player.


Nicole Part A_1-1

The Trombone Family

The B♭tenor, slide trombone is by far the most popular trombone and the one most players begin learning how to play trombone on. Like all brass instruments however, the B♭tenor trombone is part of a whole family of trombones ranging from the tiny sopranino trombone, which is a quarter the length of a B♭tenor to the big contrabass trombone which is up to twice as long as the normal B♭instrument. Some trombones use piston valves (like the B♭trumpet) and are called valve trombones and others have short, round rotary valves either instead of the hand slide or to augment the tube length options, but they all do the same job, adding tubing.

Instruments in the trombone Family

See and hear the trombone!

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Musical Vocabulary

Music terminology for beginners

When learning to play the trombone, having a grasp of some of the musical terms can really help with progression. Here are some examples to get you started!




Stave or Staff


Bars and bar lines

Time signatures

Getting started with trombone

If you are starting your trombone journey, our Learn to Play Trombone course is a great place to start. Follow the free video lessons with Liam Kirkman, the former president of the British Trombone Society.


Free trombone resources

These free downloadable resources are suitable for beginners or players looking to rediscover their love of the trombone.

Finding trombone lessons

There are a lot of opinions, information, and videos on the web about learning a musical instrument. That’s because finding a great, instrumental teacher to guide, inspire, and lead your child is one of the most important aspects in helping them develop as a musician. For support in finding a trombone tutor, check out our guide.