The trombone is one of the most unusual instruments commonly found in orchestras and marching bands, but also one of the most beautiful. The sonorous tones of a trombone played well can make a piece of music come alive. At the same time, there is that odd slide mechanism that separates the trombone from its brethren in the brass section.
The trombone is actually one of the oldest orchestral instruments around, dating back to at least the Renaissance. The first known mention of the word trombone was in 1488, but that mention was made in reference to its appearance at the wedding of the Duke of Burgundy 20 years earlier.
There are three types of trombones--alto, tenor and bass. The alto was the most popular type of trombone throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but the tenor took over the top spot in the twentieth century. The bass trombone is today the second most popular.
The most singular element of a trombone is the slide mechanism. It also has a cup-shaped mouthpiece through which the player buzzes air. At the end of the horn is the wide bell out of which the sound emit. This bell-shaped section is actually called the bore, and the bigger the bore is the louder the sound that is produced.
The slide on a trombone is actually called a valve. There are seven fundamental positions in which the valve can be placed and each of these positions produces a specific note. Trombones are made without the valve, but most trombone players play a slide trombone.
The trombone has long been a major instrument for orchestral compositions such as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Contemporary use of the trombone has also included jazz, swing and big band music, though it never quite caught on in rock and roll the way the saxophone did.
The most famous song about trombones is the rousing crowd-pleaser "76 Trombones" from the musical "The Music Man." The name trombone derives from two Italian words, tromba and one, and it means "large trumpet." The original name for what is essentially the prototype for the modern trombone is "sackbut."