An Introduction to the Trombone

by Mr. Adrian Mitchell, Band Director and Music & Arts lesson instructor

Tools for Success

*SP indicates items included in the Trombone Starter Pack sold at Music & Arts.

Music Stand (SP) Shop Now >
Nothing substitutes for a music stand. A student shouldn’t practice with music placed on a piano, the trombone case, the bed or anywhere else. Proper playing posture cannot be achieved if the music is not positioned directly in front of the student at eye level or slightly below eye level.

Slide Oil / Cream (Main Slide) (SP) Shop Now >
This is necessary for the DAILY maintenance of the trombone. A student practicing and oiling on a regular basis will go through at least one bottle every two months.

Mouthpiece Brush (SP) Shop Now >
This is necessary for the WEEKLY maintenance of the trombone. One brush lasts years.

Slide Grease (Tuning Slide) (SP) Shop Now >
This necessary for the MONTHLY maintenance of the trombone. One container should last several years.

Snake Brush (SP) Shop Now >
This is necessary for the MONTHLY maintenance of the trombone. This is also needed for the full cleaning you’ll do three times a year. One snake lasts many years.

Metronome Shop Now >
This is not in the starter pack. A metronome is an electronic device that produces steady clicks to help the student count notes and to keep a consistent rhythm. Trombone students should purchase metronomes loud enough to be heard over the sound of their instrument.

CD Player / MP3 Download
Most beginning band books now come with audio CD’s or MP3 downloads, so a CD player or MP3 player is helpful in the room where the student will practice. This can be a stereo system, smartphone, tablet or an inexpensive boombox. A portable player with earbuds is NOT acceptable because the student cannot hear the true sound of the trombone at the same time as the audio guide tracks.

Basic Trombone Maintenance

Daily Maintenance
The main trombone slide MUST be oiled every day before the trombone is played. This involves removing the slide and applying oil or cream to the inner slide tubing. “Spit” or water should be let out before putting the trombone back in its case. Fingerprints should be wiped off the exterior before putting the trombone away.

Weekly Maintenance
For weekly trombone maintenance, the main slide must be removed and the interior slide tubing is cleaned with a swab or cloth. The mouthpiece is cleaned inside using the small thin brush found in the Starter Pack with running water. Soap is NOT needed or recommend.

Monthly Maintenance
The main slide and tuning slides are removed, wiped clean with a paper towel and fresh slide cream and oil or grease is applied to all the sliding surfaces. After reinserting the slides, wipe away all excess grease.

The main slide lead pipe (the tube into with the mouthpiece is inserted) is cleaned inside using the “snake” brush found in the Starter Pack with running water. Soap is NOT needed or recommended.

3 Time per year cleaning
A full interior cleaning is needed periodically. My usual recommended schedule for students is Winter Break, Spring Break and Summer. While most students are comfortable performing a full cleaning at home, a full cleaning service is also offered (for a fee) by the Music & Arts repair facility.

Trombone Practice

When a student comes for lessons, one almost universal goal is to move them to (or stay at) the top of the class or near the top of the class. My practice guidelines are based on the amount of practice that I feel is necessary to achieve that goal.

Scheduling the right amount
My recommended daily practice minutes are measured by a student’s grade level multiplied by four. So, if the student is in 6th grade, their minimum practice should be 24 minutes daily. In 9th grade, it should be 36 minutes.

My guidelines assume six days of practice and one day off each week. So, calculating WEEKLY practice needs for 6th grade, we get 144 minutes calculated this way: 6 x 4 = 24 minutes daily, 24 minutes x 6 days = 144 minutes weekly.

If the student’s schedule allows fewer than six days of practice per week, then the DAILY amount needs to be recalculated to achieve the same WEEKLY total. For example, 144 minutes divided over five days means 29 minutes each practice session. 144 minutes divided over four days means 36 minutes each practice session and 144 minutes divided over three days means 48 minutes each practice session.

Measuring the practice amount
Here’s where things can go wrong. 24 minutes of practice does NOT mean sitting at the music stand for 24 minutes with five minutes spent oiling the slide, five minutes spent counting notes and five minutes of resting between songs because “my lips hurt.”

24 minutes of practice means 24 minutes of sound coming from the trombone––no matter how long it takes to get there. A focused student can do 24 minutes of practicing in 25 or 26 minutes. An unfocused student may stretch those 24 minutes into an hour.

For the first few weeks, dividing the practice into two sessions may be desirable so long as it doesn’t become an excuse to cut practice time by half by never getting around to the second session. If the practice is divided, I prefer that the first session be about 2/3 to 3/4 of the total daily practice.

Scheduling and Measuring Practice

Hand Position
Proper hand positions are shown here:

LEFT HAND: The bottom three fingers (middle, ring and pinky) wrap around the main slide brace, the index finger rests on the lead pipe while the thumb suspended or resting on the “F Attachment Trigger” (for trombones that have one).

RIGHT HAND: The thumb, middle and index fingers are utilized to move the main slide and are placed on the main slide brace. The remaining fingers can be suspended or placed underneath to support movement of the main slide.

Trombone hand position Trombone hand position Trombone hand position

The cheeks must NOT puff out when playing. If the student claims they cannot play any other way, quickly seek the advice of a professional teacher. Do not let them continue this way.

One common bad habit is placing the left elbow in the side to support the instrument. Elbows must stay two to eight inches away from the body, preferably both elbows the same distance out. A younger student will want the elbows lower than an older student, which is acceptable, but they must not touch the side of the body.

Poor posture can be in the form of leaning back in a chair or leaning to one side or leaning forward with the elbows on the knees. My personal recommendation is that the student sits on an exercise ball while practicing because this automatically promotes excellent posture, while also strengthening the core (abdominal) muscles that are important to playing trombone as well.

Speed Bumps

The trombone slide won't move

  1. The main slide lock is engaged. The main slide is located in proximity to the lead pipe. Make sure to disengage the lock in order for the slide to move freely.
  2. The main slide is dry and not lubricated. Make sure to maintain the slide with cream or oil in order for the slide to move freely.

The notes sound "gurgly"
Spit accumulates in the curve of the main slide. This is natural, so there is a “spit valve,” euphemistically called a “water key” in most instruction books. The spit normally needs to be emptied several items during each practice session. Trombone players need to keep a section of yesterday’s newspaper, towel or a carpet scrap under the music stand for this purpose.

The mouthpiece is stuck in the trumpet
This happens occasionally from bumping the mouthpiece or dropping the trombone. Music & Arts has a special tool that will remove stuck mouthpieces without damaging the trombone or the mouthpiece. There is no charge for this in-store service. If you try to do this yourself, you’ll likely damage both the instrument and the mouthpiece.

Yes, it is possible to play with braces. About 25% of students are able to play with little or no difficulty. Another 25% find it’s a convenient excuse to quit playing. The remaining 50% can play with the help of either dental was or a wonderful product called Brace Guard (available at Music & Arts.) There is usually an adjustment period which may be painful for a few weeks, but Brace Guard can dramatically shorten the adjustment period.

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