Some Trombone Section Questions Answered

The trombone section is often misunderstood with regards to how to voice chords in a big band setting. The fact of the matter is, you do not have to have a “bass trombone” to get a full sound from the section, and you certainly don’t have to write roots for the 4th player either.

This video is in response to some questions I was asked about the trombone section in general. I already thought of some stuff that I forgot to mention in this one, so if you do have questions, feel free to ask any questions or make comments below the video.


5 Replies to “Some Trombone Section Questions Answered”

  1. curt

    very helpful and I liked the reassurance of not having to have a bass trombone.

    Any thoughts on a trombone section of only two trombones?


  2. Jim Martin

    Curt: I am writing alot of arrangements for small band right now that only uses two trombones. To be honest, I struggle more with 2 than with 4. What I try to do more than anything is make the brass section sound complete. I then try to make the saxes sound complete as well. If you can do that, the chord will always sound good.

  3. Bill Riley

    The 4th trombonist has a challenge on his hand. Whether he/she has a bass trombone or not – or even a tenor horn with trigger – some arrangers are going to include trigger notes, with or without ossia notes (in parentheses) at the octave. Or the trigger notes may be avoided, but the shape of a line may tempt you to take a few notes down the octave. You have to hear how your part fits in with the bari sax, the bass, even the pianist’s left hand, and use your judgment.
    Then there are the big band classics, originally scored for 3 trombones, to which a fourth trombone part has been added that consists largely in salt-and-pepper notes that weave in and around the other parts; sometimes you find yourself playing higher than the tenor horns, and if you don’t understand your role in the harmonic fabric you can end up sounding pretty ridiculous.
    If I’m playing the lowest part in a 3- or 4-bone section, I usually show up with both bass and tenor horns and make an educated guess which will best suit the purpose of each chart. And in a 3-bone section, faced with charts containing 4 parts, I start by deciding whether to play the 3rd part or the 4th. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

  4. Jim Martin

    Bill: I agree with you on the bass trombone issue. Most charts however won’t put the bass trombone above the staff, so bass trombonists have no problem playing most literature. There is one chart that is a ball buster though – Rob McConnell’s chart on Just Friends. The unison soli on takes the bass trombone up to a high C. I’m suprised Rob did that, but he probably had a killer bass trombonist that loved it. Most of the guys I have played the chart with sweat bullets on that.

  5. Chris Stieve-Dawe

    Hi Jim,& greetings from Germany ! enjoyed your tutorial and agree with your last points especially, that is knowing who you are writing for. I usually write for 3 Tbns,ensuring my 1st Tbn doesn´t go over a G, reason being most of the amature Big Bands here don´t have a Bass Tbn and struggle to get three together anyway, and writing them too high is definite No,no.
    Thanks for everything you´re doing it´s much appreciated by many!

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