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What Is a Trigger Trombone?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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A trigger trombone is a type of trombone with extra tubing that can be accessed through use of a “trigger.” Most trigger trombones are tenor trombones with additional tubing to allow them to play in the key of F and reach lower notes. The additional tubing can be arranged in an “open” or “closed” wrap, and can be activated through use of mechanical or string linkage. Players can change between notes more easily on a trigger trombone. The trigger attachment was first invented in the 19th century by German instrument maker Christian Friedrich Sattler.

Additional tubing activated by a trigger is the key difference between an ordinary trombone and a trigger trombone. The extra tubing makes the note produced by the instrument lower, which increases the range of a tenor trombone down to the C below the bass clef. Without the tubing attachment, the instrument can only reach the E below the bass clef. A trigger mechanism is used to activate or deactivate the extra tubing. Activating this trigger changes the note without moving the instrument’s slide.

Two different wraps of tubing can be found on a trigger trombone, either open or closed. A closed wrap means that the additional tubing is contained to the bell section of the instrument. This keeps the instrument the same size and protects the extra tubing from damage during transport. An open wrap isn’t confined to the bell section of the instrument and slightly increases its size. Players who prefer open wraps think that the closed wrap restricts the flow of air through the instrument.

The trigger attachment on the trigger trombone can either be activated mechanically or through a string linkage. The mechanical linkage uses a ball and socket joint and a metallic arm to open the valve to the extra tubing. This makes an audible click when it is activated, but requires less maintenance than a string mechanism. The string mechanism is attached to the valve and is pulled when the player activates the trigger. This is silent but often requires adjustment or replacement.

Christian Friedrich Sattler invented the trigger trombone in 1839 to make a two-in-one instrument. Previously, players wanting to play lower notes on a trombone would have to find an F bass trombone. Sattler realized that by adding extra tubing within the bell section of the instrument, the pitch could be lowered. His original design, with the thumb-activated trigger, is still used on modern trigger trombones.

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