Bass trombone
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 b'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.


For broader coverage of this topic, see Trombone § History.

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

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

Bass trombone in G, "Betty" model 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 Britain and throughout most of the British Empire, and also a limited uptake in France.[8][9] In British military and brass bands, the G bass trombone became standard, built largely by makers Besson, Boosey & Co., and Hawkes & Son (and later, Boosey & Hawkes) with no valves and a slide handle for reaching the longer sixth and seventh positions. The sight of the G bass trombone in the front rank of marching bands, with the player extending the long-handled slide, led to its "kidshifter" nickname, as if clearing a path for the band through the crowds.[10]

For use in British orchestras, instruments were made from the early twentieth century with a valve attachment in D, which extends the low register below D♭2, the lowest (non-pedal) note in seventh position. In 1932, Boosey & Hawkes introduced a "Betty" model, named after Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist William Betty, with a D valve and a second longer tuning slide for C (to obtain the low A♭1 above the first pedal G1). While British composers, writing for a G bass trombone without a valve, avoided writing below D♭2 between 1850 and 1950, the D (or C) valve allowed British orchestral players to play European repertoire written with bass trombones in F or E♭ in mind.[9]

The G bass trombone remained in use in orchestras until the 1950s, when London orchestral players began importing larger bore American instruments in B♭ particularly by Conn.[11] 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]

British organologist Arnold Myers suggests that the G trombone's small bore of around 12.35 millimetres (0.486 in), or 13.35 millimetres (0.526 in) for the "Betty" D valve models, lends a distinctive and uniquely British character to its sound, and historically informed performances of British works from this period should recreate this sound by employing small-bore tenor trombones and a G bass trombone.[9]

Recent developments

The modern bass trombone evolved largely in the United States, from the German large-bore B♭/F tenor-bass trombones in use by the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, manufacturers attempted to solve the problem of the missing low B1 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 Los Angeles manufacturer F. E. Olds in 1937, using a second dependent valve to lower the F attachment a semitone to E.[12]

In the 1950s, some American orchestral players had double-valve instruments custom-built, and these designs were eventually adopted by manufacturers. In 1961, American maker Vincent Bach released their double-valve "50B2" model with a second dependent E valve (later E♭ and D), based on an instrument modified in 1956 for the bass trombonist with Minneapolis Symphony.[12] In the late 1960s custom instruments appeared using a second independent valve that lowered the instrument to G, and to E♭ when engaged together with the first valve.[13] The first commercially available trombone using this configuration was the Olds "S-24G" model in 1973. Although new to the bass trombone, this idea was anticipated in Germany in the 1920s by Ernst Dehmel's design for a contrabass trombone in F with two independent valves.[12]

Bass trombone with two dependent rotary valves
Bass trombone with two independent axial flow valves
Bass trombone with two independent Hagmann valves
Bass trombones with two valves. Dependent standard rotary valves, left; independent Thayer axial flow valves, center; independent Hagmann valves, right.

The early 1980s saw the emergence of the axial flow valve, known as the "Thayer" valve after its American inventor, Orla Thayer. Trombonists frequently cite its more free-blowing, open-feeling playing characteristics and sound.[14] It was gradually adopted on high-end trombone models from US manufacturers by the 1990s, particularly from Edwards, S. E. Shires and Vincent Bach. This sparked further innovation in free-blowing valves; Conn patented its own CL2000 valve developed with Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg, and the Swiss Hagmann valve was adopted by European manufacturers.[14]


Main article: Trombone § Construction

The modern bass trombone uses the same 9-foot (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.[15]

Dependent and independent valves

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.[16] 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♭).[17]

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.[18] 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.[13]

Single-valve instruments

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.[19] 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.[20]


      \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 b'1
Range of the modern bass trombone.

The range of the modern bass trombone with two valves is fully chromatic from the lowest pedal B♭0 with both valves engaged (or even A0 with valve slides extended), up to at least B♭4. Although much of the established orchestral repertoire infrequently strays below B♭1 or above G4, and is typically written in the lower registers, there are some exceptions. French composers in the 19th century and early 20th century wrote third trombone parts for tenor trombone, writing as high as A4 (Bizet L'Arlésienne, Franck Symphony in D minor), and omitting notes below E2 except for occasional pedal notes (Berlioz in the 1830s used pedal B♭1 and A1 in Symphonie fantastique , and G♯1 in his Grande Messe des morts ).[21] English composers in the same period were writing for a bass trombone in G, and avoided writing below D♭2, even though instruments were made with a valve attachment in D by around 1900.[10]

The 20th century saw further extensions of the bass trombone range, such as the fortissimo pedal D1 in Berg's Drei Orchesterstücke (1915), and the high B4 in Kodály's 1927 Háry János suite.[21] Contemporary orchestral and solo classical pieces, as well as modern jazz arrangements, 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.[22] 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.[23]

George Roberts (affectionately known as "Mr. Bass Trombone") was one of the first players to champion the solo possibilities of the instrument.[24] One of the first major classical solo works for the instrument was the Concerto for Bass Trombone by Thom Ritter George.[25][26]



  1. ^ a b "Bastrombone, Pierre Colbert, 1593". Rijksmuseum (in Dutch). Retrieved 2022-05-02.
  2. ^ Yeo 2021, pp. 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, pp. 49–53.
  6. ^ a b Herbert 2006, p. 196.
  7. ^ Guion 2010.
  8. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 252.
  9. ^ a b c Myers, Arnold (2023). "The British Bass Trombone in G". Historic Brass Society Journal. 35: 16–36. doi:10.2153/0120230011002.
  10. ^ a b c 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. ^ Yeo 2021, p. 61, "G bass trombone".
  12. ^ a b c Yeo, Douglas (July 2015). "Evolution: The Double-Valve Bass Trombone" (PDF). ITA Journal. 43 (3). International Trombone Association: 34–43. Retrieved 5 October 2022.
  13. ^ a b Yeo 2021, p. 73, "independent valves".
  14. ^ a b Yeo 2021, p. 13, "axial flow valve".
  15. ^ Guion 2010, p. 64.
  16. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 29.
  17. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 182.
  18. ^ Yeo 2021, pp. 43–44, "dependent valves".
  19. ^ Herbert 2006, p. 197.
  20. ^ Guion 2010, p. 61.
  21. ^ a b Yeo 2017.
  22. ^ Herbert 2000, p. 174.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ 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.