Alton Trombone

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The alto trombone is a brass instrument that is slightly smaller than the most common tenor trombone and is pitched a fourth higher. Like all other trombones it has a conical bore and uses a slide mechanism to change the pitch of the notes. The alto trombone is generally pitched in Eb and the player must read an alto clef, rather than the common treble clef in sheet music.
History of the Alto Trombone
The alto trombone, like all other trombones, has been thought to have been developed from ancestral brass instruments like the slide trumpet that shared the trombone's unique sliding mechanism to change the instrument’s pitch. These trumpets were frequently used in the 13th to 15th century to mark celebratory occasions amongst the nobility of German-speaking territories. During the renaissance era, an instrument called a sackbut lengthened the tubing of the slide trumpet and folded it in a recognisable fashion to today’s alto trombone. Before the 18th century, trombones were used in religious services to create sounds that signified power and magnificence. It is believed that the alto trombone was developed at this time to thicken the sound of the trombones section and create harmony. The first alto trombone dates back to 1652. It is claimed that Wolff Birckholtz may have created some of the first designs in Nuremberg, Germany. The alto experienced its peak in popularity between the 17th and 19th, when composers like Berlioz and Ludwig van Beethoven began to popularise the use of the trombone in orchestras. Trombone quartets also increased the use of the alto trombone. However, by the mid 20th century, the alto had become regarded as an inessential upper register instrument. A revival has sparked instrument producers like Yamaha and John Packer to mass produce the alto trombone once again.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£180 - £3,500

Hear the Alto Trombone

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How to Play

A brass instrument played by sliding a U-shaped slide to change the length of the tubing, producing different pitches.

In Popular Music

Alto trombone is less common in popular music than its tenor and bass counterparts, however it does feature in some twentieth century recordings. The alto trombone was played in songs like 'It's Only a Paper Moon' by Ella Fitzgerald and 'Laura' by Frank Sinatra.

Famous Players

Arthur Pryor, Frank Rosolino, Bill Watrous

Close Relations

Tenor Trombone, Bass Trombone
Video Credit: Schmitt Music Trombone Shop
Understanding the Alto Trombone




18th century






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