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The valve trombone was developed around the same time period as valves were incorporated on the trumpet (19th century). For many players, the use of valves makes fast, technical, difficult passages easier to perform compared to the manipulation of the traditional trombone hand slide. However, the resulting tone of the valve trombone isn’t quite as open as a traditional slide trombone, so the current application for the valve trombone is somewhat limited to unique situations.
The basic concept is to take a three valve setup as found on the trumpet and build the same pistons/tubing in a trombone size so the player can change pitch without having to move the slide. In fact, a valve trombone is a very easy instrument for any other valve instrument player to use (such as a trumpet player). And visually the valve trombone will match with other trombones due to the same type of bell/mouthpiece/tubing length making it popular in a jazz band setting.
Most valve trombones have the same B-Flat (Bb) overtone series as the tenor trombone; although in some parts of the world the C valve trombone is common including in Mexico.
A number of jazz musicians have brought the valve trombone to prominence including Bob Brookmeyer and Rob McConnell. An interesting variation on the valve trombone called the “Superbone” was even developed in the 1980’s specifically for Maynard Ferguson. This superbone was a combination valve and slide trombone built by Leblanc that had both a complete valve section and a working slide just like a traditional tenor trombone. This instrument was immortalized in the Maynard Ferguson tune “Superbone Meets the Bad Man” which featured Maynard performing on the superbone in a duet with a baritone saxophone.
Today the valve trombone has found some popularity in schools where trumpet players can easily adapt to trombone music in a pep band, or jazz band setting. Additionally euphonium players can easily join a jazz band with a valve trombone and match the directional projection of the tenor trombone while retaining the identical fingering system as the euphonium.
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