Trombone Is The Hardest Brass Instrument To Master (Here’s Why)

While all brass instruments have their challenges, most people struggle when learning the trombone.

The trombone is the most unique brass instrument. It is constructed with a slide that presents specific difficulties for new players.

Here are all of the challenges you will face as a beginner trombone player:

Here’s Why the Trombone is the Most Difficult Brass Instrument:

Most brass instruments have valves that allow the player to play accurate pitches. Trombone players have to maneuver a slide. This means that every player has to memorize the exact position for notes. Otherwise, they will be out of tune.

You Don’t Have Any Valves to Help You Change Notes

By just looking at a trombone, you’ll notice that it has a similar construction to other brass instruments.

It has brass tubing, a mouthpiece, and a bell, but that’s where the similarities end.

Instead of valves, trombones have a slide.

Brass instruments like trumpet or tuba have valves that are pressed down or raised to change pitch. Although each valve position could make several different notes, it is much easier to make the correct pitch.

Trombones have a long slide in which players move up and down to change pitches. By moving this slide, you alter the length of the instrument.

Having the slide lower allows the trombone to lengthen and hit lower pitches. Moving the slide higher will make the pitch go higher.

A beginner often finds it difficult to know exactly where their slide should be to make specific notes. Instead of memorizing which fingers to place down, they have to remember where their arm is positioned.

You Have to Learn All the Slide Positions By Heart

There are no notches to indicate where to place the slide for specific notes.

Even for beginners, trombones won’t show you exactly where a note is.

There are seven positions on a trombone. These can be tricky to learn, but you will eventually know how each one sounds.

Here is a great video on each of the slide positions:

The slide moves easily up and down, and this can make it difficult to learn notes.

Trombones are famous for their ability to make sounds that “bend” like a slide-whistle. Early players find it hard to play sustained pitches.

Although there are seven slide positions, beginners will start with the easier ones:

  1. The first position is the easiest to find.
    • You’ll move your right hand, the hand that moves the slide, all the way up.
    • When the slide is all the way in, you’ll be in first position.
  2. The third position is usually learned next.
    • Trombone players use the bell to find some of their positions.
    • The brace or the part that players use to move the slide will be close to the inside edge of the bell to play third position.
  3. You can find fourth position using the top part of the slide.
    1. When that piece is lined up with the bell, that’s fourth position.
  4. Sixth position is found when a player extends their arm almost all the way.
    1. This can be difficult for younger players.

If you’re having trouble finding sixth position, you can take your slide off completely.

On the bottom part that is normally covered with the slide, you’ll see a bump. This is where sixth position should be.

You can carefully put your slide back on, making sure to line it up with that mark. This way, you can practice how it feels to hold your instrument in sixth position.

As a beginner, you won’t have to learn everything right away.

Your teacher will take it slow, starting with first position. You’ll also learn the different notes that you can play using each position.

You Need Lots of Precision to Play Fast

Trombone players frequently face the challenge of playing quickly.

Trombones are the only wind instrument where a player has to move their arm to change pitches. With other instruments, players can move their fingers to hit different notes.

Fingers can move much more quickly than arms. This is why flute players are offered the more technical, fast passages while trombone players have simpler music.

Sometimes trombone players have to play these technical passages, so they have to practice moving their slide arm very quickly and precisely. Otherwise, their notes will sound unclear.

Because a trombone makes notes using a slide, players can’t slur any notes. With woodwinds, they can play fast passages and not have to worry about tonguing every note. Trombones, on the other hand, have to articulate every note they play.

Trombone players have to have precise articulation so that their notes don’t move pitch as they move their slide to the next note.

It’s Easy to be Out of Tune

It takes a lot of coordination to play the trombone in tune.

To play each pitch correctly, a trombone player needs to place their arm in the correct position. It is incredibly easy to have your arm too high or low, which affects the intonation.

A way to avoid this is to practice some ear training. Beginners often focus too much on the physical positioning of the slide instead of how it sounds. Students need to learn how to hear problems with intonation.

Beginners can practice intonation with tuners. This is a great way to check intonation during personal practice time.

Intonation will get better the more you play.

As a student starts to learn more notes and scales, they will gradually become more in tune. But this will take lots of practice time!

How Do People Learn Where to Position the Sliding Tube?

The best way to learn notes on the trombone is to use a tuner. Especially when you’re playing by yourself, you might not know if you are hitting the correct note. A tuner will tell you exactly what pitch you’re playing.

Trombone players, especially beginners, have trouble staying in tune. The more you work with a tuner, the better you’ll be at playing the correct pitch.

Say you’re practicing at home and trying to play an E using the second position. You can download a free tuner app on your phone to double-check your pitch.

If you are sharp, you can lower your slide. If you are flat, you can move your slide higher.

Trombone players learn positions by playing. Practice as much as you can and use resources like tuners. You’ll memorize those positions in no time!

Can You Teach Yourself to Play Trombone?

Getting started on your own can be a challenge, but it is possible to learn the trombone.

There are plenty of resources available to you during your learning process. Plenty of people have made educational YouTube videos, articles, and courses on learning the trombone.

Before you get started, make sure to research the basics.

You can learn what the fundamentals of trombone playing are and then google specific techniques. For instance, you can find in-depth videos on slide positions and how to improve intonation.

This is a great video to learn all of the basics of a trombone. It’ll show you how to assemble and then hold your trombone:

If you are new to brass instruments, it would be a good idea to start with just the mouthpiece.

Learn how to form a good embouchure by buzzing.

You don’t have to learn a wind instrument from a band director. Although they can be beneficial, you can also learn the basics on your own.

However, it’s important to find a good lessons teacher if you plan to play the trombone at an intermediate or advanced level.

Final Thoughts

Playing trombone can come with lots of challenges.

Every beginner will struggle with pitch and intonation, but this is part of the learning process.

Trombones are the only instrument with a slide, so it can be challenging to learn the correct positioning of notes. Other instruments can press down a key or valve.

Despite its challenges, beginners shouldn’t be scared to start learning the trombone. Other brass and woodwind players will have to learn the correct fingerings for notes, so you won’t be left behind.

If you’re learning by yourself, there are many online resources available to you. YouTube has many educators who break down the basics of trombone playing.

Lastly, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to learn everything at once, and have fun learning a new instrument!

Sources:

The Hardest Brass Instrument to Play

Trombone Slide Position Accuracy