The word trombones is closely related to the word sackbut. Is sackbut a dirty word, something disgusting, part of a rare mammal, or another word for fanny pack? Well, it is not any of these things. Sackbut is the English name for trombones derived from the French word sacqueboute used in the fifteenth century meaning ‘pull-push’.
Trombones originated in the fifteenth century from trumpets. They have two parallel tubes held several inches apart by a bridge. A third tube is the slide which is U-shaped and connects the lower ends of the other two tubes overlapping them for several feet. The U-shaped tube overlaps the other two tubes to prevent the tubes from disconnecting as the trombonist moves the slide forward and back while playing. The purpose of moving the slide forward and back is to change the length of the tubes or air column and therefore change the notes and tone. Another way to change the pitch is for the player to change the vibrations of his lips. Early trombones had thicker walls and the bell at the end of the second tube expanded less with a softer sound than current ones. They were used mainly in small ensembles with stringed instruments during the 1400′s.
A family of trombones was not formed until the 1500′s when the alto (became rare in the late 1800′s), tenor, and bass were developed. Double, treble, and octave trombones were also constructed. Some persons mistakenly believe that the double trombone is an octave trombone, but in actuality it is not; it just means that it descends beyond G. The treble trombone, although rare, came into fruition in the late 1600′s and is an octave above the tenor trombone. Octave trombones were developed in 1618 and are one octave below the tenor trombone. After many attempts at developing contrabass trombones in England, France, and Germany, the double slide trombone was finally crafted in 1816. This double slide trombone was the size of a tenor trombone, but the tubing was folded as double tubing so when the player pulled the slide to the normal position it extended four branches versus two and lowered the pitch twice as much.
Over time, trombones have not changed appreciably since the 1600′s. Physically, the slide has remained basically the same with its easy maneuverability and adjustability. The bell retained its basic shape, but it expanded more to produce a bigger, bolder sound. The one addition that really helped the players’ technique was the addition of the valve around 1850 making it easier to access notes. Instead of using the slide, the valve lowers the pitch by directing airflow through additional tubing. With the addition of the valve, the tenor bass trombone replaced the bass trombone as the valve was used to lower it a fourth. In the 1900′s different valve types were developed-rotary, piston, and disc. Other changes in the 1900′s include the bell and cylindrical bore dimensions, different mute types, changes in the mouthpiece, and the different materials that trombones are made from, such as yellow brass, rose brass, or red brass.
These physical improvements transformed their sound into the big, bold, smooth, glissandos so characteristic of trombones. The players’ vibrato through notes and phrases of the beat was much clearer and pleasing to the listener’s ear. Trombones could now be appreciated for their excellent playability and range in the lower registers. They no longer were limited to just small ensembles, but expanded their playing arena to big bands, jazz bands, brass bands, concert bands, marching bands, orchestras, and military bands and most people upon hearing trombones can recognize their distinguishable sound. If you would like to pursue your musical ambitions, you can check out DJ Music Store where you will find highly crafted trombones at very reasonable prices.