Skip to main content

«  View All Posts

The Different Types Of Trombones Explained

October 3rd, 2022 | 2 min read

By Ewan Moore

When you think of a trombone, the chances are you have a very clear idea of your traditional brass instrument with a slide. But did you know that there are actually many different types of trombone? It's true! Trombones actually come in various shapes and sizes, with different ranges to cover a variety of pitches.

Are There Different Types Of Trombone?

As we've just covered, yes! There are, in fact, no less than seven different sizes in the trombone family. 

From smallest to largest, these are:

  • Piccolo trombone
  • Sopranino trombone
  • Soprano trombone
  • Alto trombone
  • Tenor trombone
  • Bass trombone
  • Contrabass trombone

It's worth noting that not all of these types of trombone are seen regularly. The contrabass trombone, for instance, is fairly rare in most ensembles. Conversely, the bass trombone and tenor trombone are the most common, with the tenor trombone being the instrument most closely associate with the idea of a trombone. Let's go through the list and explain how each instrument stands out. 

Piccolo Trombone

The piccolo trombone is the runt of the litter, and rarely seen due to its limitations. The sound is shrill and high, and the slide is very small, which means it can be very difficult to play. 

Sopranino Trombone

Moving up a step, the sopranino trombone is exceptionally rare and usually only found in trombone choirs. This instrument is so hard to find, in fact, that most Google searches will simply throw up pictures and examples of the soprano trombone instead! As one Reddit user wisely points out, this is a nigh-on mythical bit of kit.

Soprano Trombone 

Not to be confused with the sopranino trombone, the soprano trombone is another smaller trombone. This one is actually more commonly played by trumpet players, as it's in the same pitch as the trumpet.

Like the previous two trombones, you won't often see a soprano trombone out and about. Once again, the smaller slide positions make it much trickier to play. 

Alto Trombone

Alto trombones are known for their brighter tone, and despite its smaller size, is not just used to play those higher notes. Some alto trombones even have a rotary valve that transposes the instrument down from Eb to Bb.

Alto trombones are occasionally used in orchestras, playing the first trombone part in the trombone section.

Tenor Trombone

The tenor trombone is by far the most commonly found type of trombone, and is pitched in Bb - the same as the pBone! 

You'll find the tenor trombone pretty much everywhere, from orchestras and jazz groups to big bands and rock and pop ensembles. In other words, it's a highly versatile and great-sounding instrument! 

Bass Trombone

The bass trombone is the second-largest type of trombone, and also the second most popular after the tenor. While the same suggests a lower pitch than the tenor, it's actually also pitched in Bb.

The major difference is the inclusion of two rotary valves which allow the instrument to play lower than the tenor could. It also has a bigger bell, mouthpiece, and bore size for a much deeper tone. 

Contrabass Trombone

The contrabass trombone is the lowest and largest member of the trombone family. Because of its low pitch, it has a long length of tubing. The longer slide is limited to five or six positions, meaning two rotary valves are needed for the missing notes by increasing the length of the tubing as needed. 

While not all that common, if you're going to see a contrabass trombone in action anywhere, it'll be in the orchestra where it's primarily used to add texture and depth to the brass section. 

Find Out More

Feel free to browse through our comprehensive learning guide, or take a look at the full range of pInstruments to see if there might be a better fit for you. And if you still feel you need to do a little more research, check out the following articles:

The Easiest Instruments To Learn

How Long Does It Take To Learn A Brass Instrument?

pBone Review Roundup: Is It Any Good?

New call-to-action

Ewan Moore

After seven years writing about video games, Ewan made the jump to the music instrument industry to stop his family asking when he was going to get a real job. Mostly, though, he adores music and is passionate about its vital role throughout life - especially in education. He also played guitar in several bands with deeply embarrassing names that won't be revealed here. With a degree in journalism from an NCTJ-accredited university under his belt, Ewan uses everything he learned as a writer over the last decade to help answer any questions you might have about pBone Music in an accessible (and hopefully entertaining) way. Because if you can write 1,000 words on SSDs and ray-tracing, you can explain why plastic instruments are accessible, sustainable, and fun.