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What Are the Differences between a Trumpet and Trombone?

Jay Leone
Jay Leone

The trumpet and trombone are both instruments that belong to the brass family of instruments. While there are many similarities between these two brass instruments, there are also several differences. Pitch is changed on a trumpet by pressing valves with fingers. Changing pitch on a trombone involves moving a slide back and forth instead of pressing valves. The trombone is not as popular as the trumpet among beginners because it is bulkier and a little more difficult to play than the trumpet.

Behind the cornet, the trumpet is the smallest of all brass instrument including the trombone. Trumpets are very compact and closely resemble cornets. The only distinction between these instruments is that cornets are slightly more cone shaped than trumpets. Trombones set themselves apart from other brass instruments in that they feature a long, distinct slide component. These instruments weigh more and are much bulkier than trumpets.

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Man playing a guitar

Valves on a trumpet are manipulated with the first three fingers of the right hand. The left hand is used to grip the instrument around the valves. The slide on a trombone is held and adjusted with the right hand while the left hand holds the instrument. Certain trombone models feature an extra valve that can be operated with a single finger on the left hand while still allowing the hand to hold the instrument securely.

There are several different types and sizes of trumpets available including “C” trumpets, “D” trumpets, piccolo trumpets, and “B” flat trumpets. A “B” flat trumpet is ideal for beginners. Most trombones are constructed to the same size but alto trombones and bass trombones are sized slightly different than the average trombone. These types of trombone however, can be very difficult to play and are usually only played by advanced trombone players.

Both instruments are widely used in several music groups. Trumpet and trombone players can be found in jazz groups, symphony orchestras, and brass quintets. Many everyday bands also utilize trumpet and trombone players. Trumpet solos are very common in jazz and orchestra performances.

While trumpet and trombone instruments are both easier to care for than most woodwind other instruments, trombones are generally a little more difficult to care for than trumpets. Maintaining a trumpet may involve regularly oiling valves and slides. The slide and tuning slide on a trombone should also be oiled regularly. It is important to treat a trombone's slide very delicately because any dents or bends can render the entire instrument unplayable.

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Discussion Comments


I always wondered how trombone players knew exactly which pitch to play, and how far to move the slide in and out. I still wonder. I've watched bands play all my life, and it is still a fascination to me.

I tried playing a friend's trumpet, but never could come up with much other than an agonized "oink" sound. I admire those who can play, though. About the only instrument I play with any proficiency is the Irish tinwhistle. That's more of a woodwind, I suppose, so I guess I was just born to play the woodwinds and not brass.

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