The bass trombone, like all brass instruments, is sounded by the vibration of the player’s lips. Its construction, sound and general playing method is similar to that of the tenor trombone. In comparison to the tenor trombone, the bass trombone has a wider-flaring bell, greater length of tubing, deeper tone quality and lower range.
The bass trombone used today is the result of many improvements in design that have taken place since the seventeenth-century. The first ancestor of the bass trombone was pitched in F or Eb (a fourth or fifth below the tenor trombone pitched in Bb) as described in 1619 by Praetorius in his Syntagma musicum. In order to utilize the seven positions necessary on this early bass trombone of great length, a slide extension measuring about thirty inches was necessary. Because of this a swivel handle was employed to allow for extra reaching ability. In 1839, twenty-one years after the invention of the valve, the German instrument maker C.F. Sattler developed a design for a Bb trombone with F attachment which allowed trombonists to use the same slide positions as on the tenor trombone yet use an extra set of tubing as needed for lower notes by use of a valve. In time instrument makers developed the two-valved bass trombone pitched in Bb which was converted to F by the first valve and into E or Eb when the second valve (which activated the first valve in conjunction) was used. A recent development is the in-line double-valve bass trombone which allows for independent use of each valve. This allows for quick conversions between Bb, F, Gb (sometimes G), and D (sometimes Eb) which in effect makes the instrument like four trombones in one.
The bass trombone is heard in various settings today such as the symphony orchestra, bands, some brass ensembles (often serving as a replacement for the tuba) and rarely as a solo instrument. The bass trombone (or tenor-bass, being a composite of tenor and bass trombones) is a necessity in the modern orchestra due to the demanding literature written by twentieth-century composers such as Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg.
For more information about the trombone in general, please see the separate listing under Trombone.