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What Is a Trigger Trombone?

A trigger trombone is a brass instrument with a unique feature: an extra valve, or "trigger," that extends its range. This allows for smoother transitions between notes, particularly in lower registers. Musicians appreciate its versatility in orchestral and solo performances. Wondering how this innovation shapes the sound of music? Explore the harmonious blend of tradition and technology in the trigger trombone's design.
Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson

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.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a trigger trombone and how does it differ from a standard trombone?

A trigger trombone, also known as an F-attachment trombone, is a type of trombone that includes an extra tubing loop activated by a trigger or valve. This additional loop allows the instrument to play lower notes and provides an alternative slide position for certain notes, making difficult passages easier to play. Unlike a standard tenor trombone, which typically has a straight bore, the trigger trombone has a more complex design that offers a broader range of notes and improved technical capabilities.

Why would a trombonist choose to play a trigger trombone?

A trombonist might choose a trigger trombone for its extended lower range and the flexibility it offers in slide positions. This can be particularly beneficial for playing complex musical passages, reducing the amount of slide movement required. Additionally, the trigger trombone can produce a fuller, richer sound in the lower register, which is desirable in orchestral and solo performances. The added versatility makes it a popular choice among intermediate and professional players.

Can beginners learn on a trigger trombone, or is it only for advanced players?

While beginners can learn on a trigger trombone, it is generally recommended that they start with a standard tenor trombone. This is because the fundamental skills of slide technique and tone production are more easily developed on a simpler instrument. Once these basics are mastered, a player may transition to a trigger trombone to explore its additional capabilities. However, some educators do support starting on a trigger trombone if the student is physically large enough to handle the instrument comfortably.

How does the trigger on a trombone work?

The trigger on a trombone operates a valve that, when engaged, redirects the air flow through additional tubing, effectively lengthening the instrument. This lengthening lowers the pitch of the instrument by a perfect fourth, from Bb to F in the case of a standard F-attachment trombone. The trigger is typically operated by the player's left thumb and can be used in combination with the slide to reach alternative positions and notes that are not accessible on a straight trombone.

Are there different types of triggers or attachments for trombones?

Yes, there are several types of triggers and attachments for trombones. The most common is the F-attachment, but there are also other configurations such as the D-attachment, which drops the pitch by a major third, and the Thayer valve, which offers a more open airflow. Additionally, some trombones feature multiple triggers, such as the independent double trigger bass trombone, which has both an F-attachment and a Gb-attachment for even greater range and flexibility.

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