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Summary: Knowing how to hold a trombone might seem obvious, but you can prevent severe injury and improve your technique by learning the fundamentals of holding any instrument.
Being able to hold your trombone properly every time you play will set you up for success long-term. Learning one misplaced finger or wrist position can create unwanted muscle memory and cause pain as you progress throughout your musical career. The more you can practice with the correct position, the more secure you can handle your instrument and play complex music.
Holding a trombone the right way makes it more enjoyable.
- If you’ve been holding it the wrong way for a few months or even a few years, you might find that the proper techniques suddenly make playing much easier.
- If you have a child who is just taking up a brass instrument, they are more likely to stick with it if holding the instrument is comfortable and straightforward.
Remaining comfortable and alleviating tension will avoid distractions and serve you well when developing your musical skills. Learning to play the trombone starts with holding it the right way.
Who Should Learn How to Hold a Trombone?
Everyone needs to learn how to hold a trombone properly if they plan on playing the trombone properly.
- The correct position allows you to provide adequate airflow to hit the notes correctly and get the projection you need.
- Knowing how to hold a trombone will help you correct the instrument so that your lips are positioned correctly, and your body has the correct posture.
- Holding a trombone the right way lets you operate the slide freely so that you can generate music that complements your skills and expertise as you play.
Have the Right Instrument
Shopping for a suitable trombone will ensure you start with the proper size. Having the right size is the first place to start when it comes to knowing how to hold a trombone. If your instrument is too big, holding it might cause physical pain or discomfort.
How to Hold Your Trombone
When you are ready to begin, you need to position yourself correctly. This video shows a better demonstration for visual learners:
Get a Proper Chair
Start with a proper chair. You don’t necessarily need to buy a unique “trombone chair.” Still, those straight-backed plastic chairs from high school band are a great model for what you need, which is: a straight, rigid chair (yes, maybe as you progress to that of a professional, you might use a cushion) that supports an upright posture.
When you sit in your chair, like singing, always sit straight, shoulders back, with your back away from the chair. You don’t want to lean back into the chair, or you might compromise your form. Sitting with your legs on the last few inches of the chair will give you enough space to position yourself securely with your instrument.
Tip: Don’t sit so close to the edge that you lean too far forward and tumble off the chair as I did in the 8th grade.
Most people have seen a pianist sit properly at a piano, with their back perfectly straight. This is ideally the same posture you should assume when learning how to play the trombone. Your head should remain upright, your shoulders back, your back straight as though you were sitting against a wall (but don’t), and your stomach tight and pulled in.
Why does this matter?
Because this position gives you an unobstructed airway which means you can produce the right amount of wind for your wind instrument. If you are hunched over, or curled down, or have your stomach just hanging out, you won’t be able to draw a breath as deeply as you need (or from the right part of your body), so you won’t be able to play effectively.
Have a Music Stand
Chances are, if you are learning how to hold a trombone, you are learning because you are going to play the instrument. With that in mind, you should set up all of your accessories before you know to position the instrument the right way. If you don’t, then you will have to learn on the fly how to set up things like your music stand.
Place the stand to the left of your instrument. If it is on your left side, you will be in a position to see it while you play, looking over to the left.
Tip: When you carry your trombone, hold it in front of your body rather than behind your body so that you don’t smack it into chairs, music stands, or other instruments behind you. I learned that lesson the hard way (also in 8th grade) when I knocked over the clarinet of a fellow student. We were never really good friends after that; my accidentally trodding on her instrument after I knocked it off her chair probably had something to do with it.
Your trombone will be one of two types:
- A basic trombone
- A trombone with attachments (valves)
The type you have will change the way you hold it. With attachments, you will position the trombone slightly lower, angled downward between your legs, while with a basic trombone, you will hold it more directly out in front of you.
With either, you want to have the trombone over your left shoulder, with your elbows in front and away from your body. Avoid holding your elbows tucked tightly into your body, but rather, keep them relaxed and held in front of you.
Your left hand and your left arm or what holds your trombone upright, so you need to be strong enough to maintain the instrument’s weight without being tense.
The left hand should be held out, flat, with your three bottom fingers wrapped against your palm. This is sometimes referred to as the “gun” figure such that your thumb in your pointer finger creates a small pistol shape.
- Your thumb should wrap around the base of your instrument or rest behind the trigger if you have an F attachment.
- The three fingers you rapped against your palm, the pinky, ring finger, and middle finger should talk around your first slide brace.
- Your index finger is what extends to the mouthpiece.
- If you can’t reach the mouthpiece with your index finger, keep it in the brace with your bottom three fingers.
Tip: Always keep the fingers on your left hand bunched together so that the slide doesn’t accidentally pinch your pinky while you practice.
Your right-hand holds on to the second slide brace. You hold the slide brace using your pointer, ring finger, and thumb. You should keep the right wrist very relaxed and flexible, but the fingers should be firm.
The other fingers can rest below the slide.
The trombone controls pitch via a moveable slide. The slide is responsible for controlling how much of your air travels through the instrument. The amount of air dictates the pitch: the less air, the lower the pitch, and vice versa.
So, in order to get more air into your trombone (to get a higher pitch), you need to extend the slide. How you choose to grip the slide is up to you, but in general, you want to hold it by pinching the bottom corner between your first two fingers and your thumb.
Best Beginner Trombones
If you are learning how to hold the trombone, you need a good beginner trombone. Below are a few that I recommend for beginners because they are affordable, good quality, and come from reputable manufacturers.
The Selmer TB 711 is very lightweight, only 4 pounds. There is a mouthpiece and case included so you can start right away. The outer slides are brass, and the outer hand slide is nickel silver. I like that it has a removable balance weight which not all beginner models have. The balance weight is great for young kids because it acts as a counterweight when holding up the instrument, but once you get strong enough, you won’t notice the weight or strain on your muscles, and you won’t need the balance weight. Other beginner models, however, won’t let you remove it.
- Has a case, mouthpiece, and side cream
- Good construction meant for beginners and children
- Comes with a detachable balance weight
- Not American made
If you are an adult or at least an older teenager and you want to get a good trombone, the Yamaha YSL-448G is a good option. It comes with an F attachment and is well manufactured such that you probably won’t need to invest in another one until (or if) you reach a professional level of music.
- Has a giant bell and bore that gives better projection which makes it suitable for big bands
- Good weight distribution makes it easy to hold
- Comes with a case and mouthpiece
- The F-attachment can be hard for beginners, especially small children.
- It is more of an intermediate level instrument for beginners who are in high school or college
If you prefer American-made, Bach instruments are great, especially the Bach TB301. Even though this is a beginner student model, it is well made with standard brass and a clear lacquer finish. I assure you that younger students probably haven’t heard of Bach instruments, but adults have, and I have never had issues with their designs.
- The quality is top notch
- The inner slide tube is chrome-plated nickel silver
- There is a mouthpiece and case included so you can start practicing how to hold a trombone right away
- This will cost more than comparable Yamaha models
- It comes with a balance weight for beginners, but you can’t take it off
Answer: Several manufacturers are highly regarded for their beginner trombones, including Bach, Selmer, and Yamaha.
Answer: No. With the right positioning, neither hand should touch the bell while playing the trombone. The trombone itself should remain pointed below a horizontal level, about 45 degrees to the ground. You might want to hold it upward, facing the sky (especially after 30 straight minutes of practice), but having it a bit lower will prove more comfortable for you.
Answer: Many people make the mistake of holding the trombone slide too hard. Usually, they grip it with a claw-like handgrip, with too much pressure and tension. The right wrist should remain loose to bend freely when you move the slide.
Think of how flexible your wrist is when you bounce a ball up and down, ready to softly catch and slide the ball back down with a wrist arch. This is the same looseness that you should feel when playing the slide. You will find it much easier to move the slide faster and with better fluidity if you keep your wrist loose.
Knowing how to hold the trombone is essential for anyone, whether you have a five year old in your family who is just starting with the instrument or an experienced brass musician just beginning with a new instrument. It might seem obvious, and for some people, they can pick up an instrument and never learn the proper way to hold and get by just fine, or so they think.
Taking the time to understand how to hold a trombone can improve your technique and prevent severe injuries to your wrists and your hands.
Learning the improper way to hold any instrument makes it very difficult for you to change the way you hold your instrument, later on, so creating the perfect technique at the very beginning will help alleviate distractions while playing with the music and allow you to show off your skills.
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