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Trombone: The Best Instrument

Updated: 3 days ago

The following is the letter I sent my brother when I learned his son had chosen to play the trombone in high school. The letter speaks for itself.


Mike’s choice of musical instruments reflects his desire to excel beyond his peers and embrace a higher, nobler path. Let Mike know the trombone is the best musical instrument because:

  • Unlike trumpets, clarinets, and flutes, which can be played by less musically capable people, rarely are there too many trombones in a band or orchestra. But--

  • The trombone is easier to learn to play than the oboe or bassoon. After years of devotion required to master a musical instrument, you wouldn’t want your son to sound like the duck from Peter and the Wolf (oboe) or Alfred Hitchcock (bassoon).

  • It has been believed since the 1500s that the trombone sounds more like the human voice than any other musical instrument. (Les Miserables) Beethoven described the trombone as the “Voice of God.” Felix Mendelssohn (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) said the trombone was “too sacred for frequent use.” Richard Strauss, however, once said while conducting, “Don’t look at the trombones. You’ll only encourage them.” This was undoubtedly because he was jealous of them.

  • Trombones are used in various musical groups, including jazz bands, dance bands, Dixieland bands, concert bands, marching bands, orchestras, symphonies, and polka bands. This is because the trombone sounds good everywhere.

  • Trombones are always in the front row of the marching bands because trombones are superior to the other instruments. In New Orleans, when a band performs from a moving truck, the trombonists sit with their legs hanging off the back end and are given the special name of “tailgaters.”

  • One of the oldest nicknames for the trombone is the sackbut. A sackbut was a lance with a large hook on the end to pull enemy cavalry off horses in battle. Wise people do not mess with trombone players!

  • Because of the trombone’s slide, the trombone is one of the few instruments entirely in tune. The physics of music does not permit instruments with valves, levers, keys, or buttons to be in tune for all notes. Performers of these lesser instruments must play naively out-of-tune (the usual practice) or compensate on a note-by-note basis by changing the position of the mouth or adjusting a tiny slide, as is the case with trumpets, cornets, and tubas. Trombones have a much larger slide.

  • Trombone players were highly sought after during the Classical and Romantic musical eras. The trombone at the time was very difficult to play compared to the other instruments. Therefore, the trombone players--being folks with extraordinary intelligence and foresight--effectively unionized. They began to charge too much. Consequently, composers of the day refused to write music for them because their music was too expensive to perform. This is why there are many violin concertos but few trombone concertos.

  • The voice of Charlie Brown’s school teacher was made by a muted trombone.

  • The word for paperclip in French is trombone. Parisians can’t do their paperwork without thinking of the greatest musical instrument.

  • Best of all, the trombone can do a genuine glissando. Everybody likes glissandos.

Only a person with great respect for the subtleties of musical beauty and one appreciative of the long and rich musical histories of cultures and societies worldwide would have the innate desire to embrace the most sacred of musical instruments, the trombone. You should be proud of your son’s wise choice.

* * * *

Bonus reward

Your prize for reading this letter is watching six excellent videos that prove the trombones rule: Wayward Son, Happy, Bohemian Rhapsody, Lord of the Rings, Jungle Book, and Star Wars (notice the wide range in tones).

And finally...wait for of the best trombonists in the world, Joseph Alessi.

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