Position Chart for Trombone

Trombone - Trombonelessons.com

First of all, before getting down to playing the trombone you must be aware of the natural science behind this musical instrument. Knowledge of some technical aspects as well as the physical properties of the trombone in particular and brass instruments in general will help you learn to play.

Let's cover the fundamentals first. The trombone is a metal tube into which a vibrating stream of air is sent to make a sound. The air stream produced by your lungs is put into vibration by your lips. If you were asked to "buzz" the lips into any set length of tube, you could find some pitches. The material the tube is made of influences the timbre (tonal quality) and resonance of these pitches as well as the shape of any "mouthpiece" used.

Historically brass was used for making a number of musical instruments. Instrument makers preferred this material because of its exceptional resonant qualities. However first "brass" instruments were made of a variety of materials, including wood, animal horns, bones, shells, and other metals.

So, a tube of any length will produce a variety of pitches that will follow a specific pattern referred to as the natural Overtone Series, with each pitch known as a "partial". The lowest pitch is called the Fundamental pitch. For example, a trombone may be "in Bb" because it's fundamental when in first position is a Bb. Accordingly, a trumpet "in C" has a fundamental pitch of C with no valves pressed. If you press valves on a trumpet it adds length to the tube (like slide does on the trombone).

Every pitch above the Fundamental is considered to be an "Overtone". It should be noted that the terms partial and overtone are not synonymous. Unfortunately many people often confuse these terms.

So the first partial is the fundamental pitch. Then the first overtone will be the second partial.

When it comes to the pitch there are several rules in the Overtone Series to keep in mind. First of all, the natural series, which the beginner would expect to sound nice sounds anything but natural to our ears. So some adjustments should be made to please the human ears.

The adjustments require the use of the slide and may differ from trombone to trombone, but general rules are the following:

  1. Whatever the given position, the Overtone Series is considered to be an extension of the fundamental pitch. It means a Bb series in first position, an A series in second, Ab in third, etc. An interesting historic fact: before invention of the valves the only thing a player could do to change the overtone series was put in a different "crook" to modify the length of the instrument.
  2. In any Overtone series Partials 1,2,4, and 8 have the same pitch name, but in different octaves. For example, all Bb's in first position, A's in second, etc. In practice it means that these partials do not require any adjustment.
  3. The 5th partial is typically sharp in first position, then a little bit less sharp in 2nd position and gradually becomes flatter as you reach 7th position.
  4. The 6th partial is often sharp. If a pitch is sharp on your trombone, consider lengthening the tube to make the pitch lower. If the position is longer, you'll need to move the slide to make these adjustments. For instance, if you move the 6th partial F in first position 1/8 of an inch, you will need to move the Eb 6th partial in third position 1/4 of an inch. Again, this will depend on the instrument and you will need a tuner to find out the tendencies on your trombone!
  5. The 7th partial (Ab in first position) tends to be very flat in each position.
  6. The 9th partial is often sharp and the 10th is typically flat.

So get a tuner and try to find the pitches on your musical instrument!