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Trombone, brass wind instrument with a cylindrical bore, a cup-shaped mouthpiece, and a slide mechanism. It originated about 1400 as an improvement to the trumpet and was built in various sizes, the most common being alto, tenor, and bass. Except for its thicker metal and narrower bell, which yielded a softer, mellower tone, the early trombone was basically identical to the modern one. Called sackbut (Spanish sacabuche, “pull-tube”), it was a favourite instrument in church and chamber music. It declined about 1700, except in town bands, but entered the expanding military band in the late 1700s, when it gained its present widely flared bell. Trombones with valves were introduced in the 1800s but were judged inferior in tone.

With its slide closed, a B-flat tenor trombone produces the third B-flat below middle C as its fundamental or pedal note and also the notes in the harmonic series of that B-flat (like a bugle or unvalved trumpet). The slide is successively opened through six more positions, giving a lower harmonic series each time. The range extends from the second E below middle C to the B-flat above middle C, plus four pedal notes (B-flat, A, A-flat, G; the remaining pedal notes, down to low E, are difficult to produce). Orchestral music also uses a bass trombone in F (usually supplied by a double tenor/bass trombone in B-flat/F, which has a valve to switch in extra B-flat bass tubing). Early orchestral compositions with trombone include Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787) and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (1808), but the trombone was not firmly established in the orchestra until about 1850.

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