Bass trombone

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Bass trombone
Bass trombone.jpg
Bass trombone with two valves in F and D
Brass instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification423.22
(Sliding aerophone sounded by lip vibration)
DevelopedLate 16th century
Playing range

      \new Staff \with { \remove "Time_signature_engraver" }
      \clef bass \key c \major \cadenzaOn
      \ottava #-1 \tweak font-size #-2 bes,,,1
      \ottava #0 e,,1 \glissando g'1
      \tweak font-size #-2 bes'1
Related instruments

The bass trombone (German: Bassposaune, Italian: trombone basso) is the bass instrument in the trombone family of brass instruments. Modern instruments are pitched in the same B♭ as the tenor trombone but with a larger bore, bell and mouthpiece to facilitate low register playing, and usually two valves to fill in the missing range immediately above the pedal tones.


Trombones in Syntagma Musicum (1614-20), by Michael Praetorius.

The earliest bass trombones were the bass sackbuts, usually pitched in G, F, or E♭ below the B♭ tenor. They had a smaller bore and less flared bell than modern instruments, and a longer slide with an attached handle to allow slide positions otherwise beyond the reach of a fully outstretched arm. The earliest known surviving specimen is an instrument in G built in Germany in 1593.[1] This instrument matches descriptions and illustrations by Praetorius from his 1614–20 Syntagma Musicum.[2] These bass sackbuts were sometimes called terz-posaun, quart-posaun, and quint-posaun (Old German, lit.'third' or 'fourth' or 'fifth trombone', referring to intervals below B♭), though sometimes quartposaune was used generally to refer to any of these.[3] The octav-posaun in B♭ refers to a very large and unwieldy predecessor of the contrabass trombone, a full octave below the tenor.[4]

Bass sackbut in G, built 1593. Rijksmuseum, Netherlands.[1]

Bass sackbuts were used in Europe during the Renaissance and early Baroque periods. By the 18th century the F and E♭ bass trombones were used in Germany, Austria and Sweden, and the E♭ bass trombone in France.

The "tenor-bass" trombone[edit]

German instrument maker Christian Friedrich Sattler in 1821 created an instrument he called the Tenorbaßposaune (lit.'tenor-bass trombone'), a tenor in B♭ built with the larger bore and mouthpiece from the F bass trombone. It facilitated playing bass trombone parts in the low register, but was missing notes below E2. Treatise author Georges Kastner and other contemporary writers described a dissatisfaction with bass instruments in F or E♭, due to their slow and unwieldy slides. The invention of valves was quickly applied to create valve trombones in the 1830s which replaced the slide altogether; these became popular in military bands and Italian opera.[5]

In 1839 Sattler invented the quartventil (lit.'fourth valve'), a valve attachment for a B♭ tenor trombone to lower the instrument a fourth into F.[6] Intended to bridge the range gap of the tenor trombone between E2 and B♭1, it was quickly adopted for bass trombone parts, particularly in Germany. These instruments in B♭/F gradually replaced the larger bass trombones in F and E♭ over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries.[7] Late Romantic German composers specifying Tenorbaßposaune in scores intended a B♭/F trombone capable of playing below E2; Arnold Schoenberg called for four in Gurre-Lieder (1911).

The bass trombone in Britain[edit]

Bass trombone in G with D valve. St Cecilia's Hall, Musical Instrument Museums Edinburgh

From about the mid-nineteenth century, the bass trombone in G enjoyed a period of extended popularity in France and especially Britain.[8] In brass bands in Britain, the G bass trombone was standard, built largely by makers Besson and Boosey & Hawkes with no valves and a slide handle for reaching the longer sixth and seventh positions. For use in British orchestras from the early twentieth century, it was often built with a D or C valve attachment. The G bass trombone was in use until the 1950s, when London orchestral players began importing larger bore American B♭ instruments, particularly by Conn.[9] The G trombone lingered on in some parts of Britain and former British colonies well into the 1980s, particularly in brass bands and period instrument orchestras.[10]

Recent developments[edit]

The modern bass trombone has evolved from the large-bore B♭/F tenor-bass trombones in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, manufacturers attempted to solve the problem of the missing low B♮1 on such instruments by adding a second valve. In the 1920s, manufacturers Conn and Holton made B♭/F bass trombones with a Stellventil (lit.'static valve') that could lower the F tubing to E when manually set. The first true double-valve trombone (where the second valve can be operated while playing) was made by Olds in 1937, using a second dependent valve to lower the instrument to E, and having no effect alone.

In the 1950s, several bass trombonists in North American orchestras had double-valve instruments custom-built, and it is from these designs that the modern double-valve bass trombone has evolved. In 1956 Vincent Bach modified their bass trombone for Lawrence Weinman, then bass trombonist with Minneapolis Symphony. It added a dependent E valve similar to the Olds model. This instrument became the 50B2 model, first sold in 1961.[11] In the late 1960s another design appeared using a second, independent valve that can be engaged separately to lower the instrument to G, and to E♭ when combined with the first.[12] The first commercially available trombone to use independent valves was the Olds S-24G model in 1973.[11] Although new to the bass trombone, this idea was anticipated in Germany in 1921 by Ernst Dehmel's design for a contrabass trombone in F with two independent valves.[11]


The modern bass trombone uses the same 9 feet (2.7 m) length of tubing as the tenor trombone, but with a wider bore, a larger bell, and a larger mouthpiece which facilitate playing in the low register.[6] Typical specifications are a bore size of 0.562 inches (14.3 mm) in the slide with a bell from 9 to 10+12 inches (23 to 27 cm) in diameter.[13]

Dependent and independent valves[edit]

Dependent (left) and independent valves (right) on the modern bass trombone

The bass trombone has typically two valves that lower the pitch of the instrument when engaged, to facilitate the register between the B♭1 pedal in first position and the E2 second partial in seventh.[14] The first valve lowers the key of the instrument a fourth to F. The second (when engaged with the first) will lower the instrument to D (or less commonly, E♭).[15]

The second valve can be configured in one of two ways, referred to as either "dependent" or "independent" (sometimes also called "in-line"). In a dependent system, the second valve is fitted to the tubing of the first valve, and can only be engaged in combination with the first.[16] In an independent system, the second valve is fitted to the main tubing next to the first valve, and can be used independently. The second independent valve typically lowers the instrument to G♭, and D when engaged in tandem with the first valve. Less commonly the second valve is tuned to G (combining to give E♭), or has a tuning slide that can tune the valve to either G or G♭ as desired.[12]

Single-valve instruments[edit]

A single-valve bass trombone in B♭/F

The low B1 note immediately above the pedal range is unobtainable on a standard trombone slide with a single valve in F.[17] Bass trombones from the 19th and early 20th century were sometimes made with a valve attachment in E rather than F, or with an alternative tuning slide to lower the pitch to E♭. Today, single-valve bass trombones have a tuning slide on the valve section that is long enough to enable access to the low B1 by lowering the pitch from F to E.[18]


      \new Staff \with { \remove "Time_signature_engraver" }
      \clef bass \key c \major \cadenzaOn
      \ottava #-1 \tweak font-size #-2 bes,,,1
      \ottava #0 e,,1 \glissando g'1
      \tweak font-size #-2 bes'1
Range of the modern bass trombone.

The range of the modern bass trombone with two valves is fully chromatic from the lowest fundamental B♭0 with both valves engaged (or even A0 with valve slides extended), up to at least B♭4. Many professionals can extend the range even higher, though such demands may be taxing to the player. While much of the established orchestral repertoire infrequently strays below a B♭1 or above a G4, and is typically written for in the lower registers, high B♭4 is called for in Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin and Kodály's Háry János suite.[19] Contemporary orchestral and solo classical pieces, as well as modern jazz arrangements, will often further exploit the wide tonal range of the bass trombone.


Since the Romantic period, the trombone section of an orchestra, wind ensemble, or British-style brass band usually consists of two tenor trombones and at least one bass trombone.[20] In a modern jazz big band, at least one of the trombonists will play bass trombone, often serving as the anchor of the trombone section or doubling the double bass and baritone saxophone.[21]

George Roberts (affectionately known as "Mr. Bass Trombone") was one of the first players to champion the solo possibilities of the instrument.[22] One of the first major classical solo works for the instrument was the Concerto for Bass Trombone by Thom Ritter George.[23][24]



  1. ^ a b "Bastrombone, Pierre Colbert, 1593". Rijksmuseum (in Dutch). Retrieved 2022-05-02.
  2. ^ Yeo 2021, p. 18–19, "bass trombone".
  3. ^ Baines, Anthony C.; Herbert, Trevor (2001). "Quartposaune". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.22657. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0.
  4. ^ Bevan 2000, p. 500.
  5. ^ Guion 2010, p. 49–53.
  6. ^ a b Herbert 2006, p. 196.
  7. ^ Guion 2010.
  8. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 252.
  9. ^ Yeo 2021, p. 61, "G bass trombone".
  10. ^ Dixon, Gavin (2010). "Farewell to the Kidshifter: The Decline of the G Bass Trombone in the UK 1950–1980" (PDF). Historic Brass Society Journal. 22: 75–89. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  11. ^ a b c Yeo, Douglas (July 2015). "Evolution: The Double-Valve Bass Trombone" (PDF). ITA Journal. International Trombone Association. 43 (3): 34–43. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  12. ^ a b Yeo 2021, p. 73, "independent valves".
  13. ^ Guion 2010, p. 64.
  14. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 29.
  15. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 182.
  16. ^ Yeo 2021, pp. 43–44, "dependent valves".
  17. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 197.
  18. ^ Guion 2010, p. 61.
  19. ^ Yeo 2017.
  20. ^ Herbert 2000, p. 174.
  21. ^ Tomaro, Mike; Wilson, John (2009). Instrumental Jazz Arranging: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard. p. 200. ISBN 978-1-4234-5274-4. OCLC 177016012.
  22. ^ Yeager, Johnathan K. (2006). Interpretive performance techniques and lyrical innovations on the bass trombone: a study of recorded performances by George Roberts, 'Mr. Bass Trombone' (DMA thesis). University of North Texas. p. 1. OCLC 1269365680. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  23. ^ Moore, Donald Scott (2009). The “Concerto for Bass Trombone” by Thom Ritter George and the beginning of modern bass trombone solo performance (DMA thesis). University of Cincinnati. p. 51. OCLC 501334342. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  24. ^ Rose, Keith Robert (2010). A Performance Preparation Guide to Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra (1964, Revised 2001) Composed by Thom Ritter George (born 1942). Open Access Theses & Dissertations (M.Mus thesis). University of Texas at El Paso. OCLC 670436765. Retrieved 31 July 2022.