A Short History of the Trombone

By David Guion • October 02, 2004 • • 2 min read


The trombone has a long, complicated history. Scholars at work in various specialized areas, such as the history of music in a particular time or city, the history of opera, etc., have discovered many important facts that have never made it into any of the standard reference works.

Rather than try to explain the history of the trombone in one long chronology, it seems more useful to examine its role in a number of overlapping traditions. As political, economic, and cultural conditions have changed, some entire types of musical experience have disappeared. The instruments that have not been associated with some other kind of music at the time have disappeared as well. The trombone was on the brink of extinction at least once, but managed to hang on long enough to prove itself useful in some new setting.

Each tradition is on a separate page in this article. There are cross references where necessary, and they can be read in any order. "The Alta Band Tradition" is by far the earliest, however, and it seems best to begin there.

Some of the traditions that I will describe are still current today. In order to make this article no more complicated to navigate than necessary, I have combined some things that are very different, yet have enough in common as far as the use of the trombone is concerned to be considered together. There are also some pockets of trombone repertoire that do not quite fit into any of the traditions. The section called "Flashes in the Pan Tradition" is devoted to these miscellanies.

Each section ends with a selected reading list. I have tried to list only English-language works that are easily accessible in the United States, but that has not been possible. For topics about which writers in English have not published research , or in a couple of cases only in a thesis or dissertation, it seems better to point out foreign-language or relatively inaccessible research rather than nothing at all.

  1. The Alta Band Tradition (Start here) ca. 1360-1780
  2. The Church Music Traditions ca. 1520 - present
  3. The Tradition of Courtly Extravaganzas ca. 1520 - 1670
  4. The Operatic and Symphonic Traditions ca. 1760 - present
  5. The Wind Band and Popular Orchestra Traditions ca. 1795 - present
  6. The Solo and Chamber Traditions ca. 1815 - present
  7. A Little Something About Jazz ca. 1900 - present
  8. Flashes in the Pan ca. 1420 - present