Professional trombone playing - Part 1

Tips for trombone players

Dear fellow trombone player,

Although the tips and advice I mention here are probably incomplete, I felt now was a good time to share my 25 years of experience in this business with you. The single most importance thing I have learned is that pros know the importance of remaining critical of one’s own capabilities and actions.


Tip 1:
Do what you can with all your energy and never try to display (on stage) what you do not (yet) master.

Most musicians seem to have a "cool" image. They’re considered cool dudes with a relaxed take on life. As far a I’m concerned, being late for a gig is neither cool, nor professional. Wearing inappropriate clothes is not casual"”it’s unprofessional. Do you play the trombone in a punk band? Good for you, but don’t ever think about taking a suit and tie to your next gig, because that would be entirely out of place.

Tip 2:
Take a minute to reflect on your look and a matching outfit.

Making up your mind about the musical direction you want to take is the single most important decision.  

Tip 3:
A path emerges only to those who accept to follow it. 

Never stop believing in yourself, because that is the only way you will reach your goal!  

The trombone, your tool

What is the difference between a pro’s instrument and a student trombone? And how come instruments are so expensive? Is it really worth the while?

A trombone for beginners should have a light response to allow players to progress quickly. The main objective of a pro’s trombone is to have an optimal sound. Summoning all timbres from such an instrument requires solid breathing and embouchure techniques, because the instrument’s response is more stubborn than a student trombone.

Tip 4:
If you are unsure about the right instrument for you, ask your teacher to accompany you to the music store. A professional trombone is not something you buy online, by the way!

What is true for the instrument itself also applies to the mouthpiece: a mouthpiece that feels just right for one player may be bad and totally wrong for the next. Spend your money wisely. And whatever you do"”the narrower and shallower the cup, the easier it is to play high notes, but this will also affect your sound quality. The deeper and wider the cup, the fatter your sound will be. But this also means that you need to work harder on those high notes.

Correct posture

See Paul Schütt´s discussion of embouchure and breathing techniques (he’s the low-pitched brass tutor) for details.

Tip 5:
Try out different tongue, cheek and larynx positions and notice how this allows you to vary your sound.

Position of your slide arm

I have found that moving my right arm to the rest position between the 2nd and 3rd positions works well for me, the advantages being that I only need to move my hand to reach positions 1 and 4.

Moving just my hand is much easier and more effective than moving my arm.

Checking the correct slide positions

Have you ever noticed that positions 1~4 are easy to find, while 4~7 are rather more tricky? This is due to the angle from which we view the slide. Because watching straight down the slide is impossible, we are faced with a phenomenon called "parallax error" or "parallax shift". Luckily, our ears are far more difficult to fool. And serious pros like ourselves always listen critically to their playing ;-) The low Bb is assigned to the first slide position. The D, being the next note of the natural scale, is also located here. If we play a D and then extend the slide to the 5th position, we return to the low Bb. We thus have two notes we can compare with one another.

6th position: again an F, like for the first position. This is an excellent way to check. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for the 7th position.

But in this case, using a tuning device may prove helpful, because it is never fooled.  


In the second part of "Professional trombone playing", I will discuss alternative slide positions as well as lip and tonguing exercises. I hope the above has proved useful for you to become more aware of the factors at play while playing.  

All the best for your professional playing endeavors!