The valve trombone was first made in the 1820’s in Vienna. This trombone was equipped with a piston valve system used in order to help facilitate rapid note changes. By the mid-nineteenth century, three types, namely the alto, tenor and bass trombone, were quite common in Europe. By the late mid 1800’s, they were quite popular in Italian and German orchestras.
The valve trombone, like all brass instruments, is sounded by the vibration of the player’s lips. Its construction is much like that of the regular slide trombone except that it has valves (up to six), either rotary or piston, which can be used to alter the length of the instrument quickly much like other valved brass instruments. This system, requiring valve operation and technique not necessary with the slide trombone, offers the valve trombone certain advantages over the slide trombone in that the valves help facilitate rapidly moving, technical passages. An additional advantage of the valve trombone is that it is more compact than the slide trombone. Despite its advantages, there are many disadvantages with the valve trombone as compared to the slide trombone including poor intonation, loss of the legato style inherent to the slide trombone, and elimination of the enlarging bore normally found in the slide trombone which gives it its unique sound quality. Some valve trombones are constructed with an upward-angled bell to alter their directional projection of sound.
Because of the intonation and inferior sound quality of the valve trombone, the popularity that it held in the early to mid-nineteenth century was short-lived except in special circumstances such as mounted cavalry bands where use of a slide was inconvenient or in certain bands where virtuosic flourishes were of great importance. In recent years, the valve trombone has made a comeback primarily in jazz settings where its technical advantages are of great value.
For more information about the trombone in general, please see the separate listing under Trombone.