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Thread: Strictly Trombones

  1. #1
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    Strictly Trombones

    Hi all. I thought I'd gather some thoughts on the trombone and create a decent post, perhaps even something someone might come across in a search and be helped by.

    Caveat 1): most of thoughts will come from the perspective of funk and, since it has dominated by musical landscape the last year or two, Salsa.

    Caveat 2): I'm thinking as an arranger and, more specifically, as a DAWist arranger. I won't get hardcore into the instrumentation of the trombone, having never played, but more the way a non-trombonist should approach including one as part of his arrangement,

    1) Place in the Band/Orquesta - The trombone is not truly a soprano instrument, which means it isn't perfectly suited to play melodies. However, because of it has a pretty wide range, it is capable of doing melodies (soprano parts), and all the alto, tenor, and even bass parts of a section. It really is your deserted island instrument: If I had to be stuck on island with 5 pieces of only one instrument, I'd choose 5 trombones.

    2) Sound - Because it has a slow attack, this isn't your go-to percussive instrument. When you want fast bops, bring out the trumpets and the tenor sax. The trombone is best used to lay down smooth pads that back up just about anything well, much in the way the French Horns are used in orchestral settings. Nothing fills in your track like two trombones playing in two part harmony.

    Yes, its that full. When I first began analyzing Salsa records, I would swear I would hear 3 or 4 trombones holding down a pad, but, no, it was really just two or sometimes even one. Two trombones provide an earful; alot of strength and slow, powerful majesty to a track.

    Of the entire brass arsenal, there is no instrument that blends so well with itself. You don't need to bust out esoteric iterations: bass trombone or what have you. Four trombones, though perhaps not practical for a real song setting, played together in a well thought out arrangement sounds really legit

    3) Place in Salsa music - To arrange Salsa is to have a romantic relationship with the trombone. The trombone's place in Salsa is difficult to overestimate; trombones play the role in Salsa that violins do in classical. It is the central melodic and harmonic instrument that can seemingly do anything in the right arranger's hands.

    But in the proto-Salsa of the early sixties, there originally were no trombones. In the Afro-Cuban genres being reproduced in New York City, the "brass" section was originally made up of violins and the wooden (french) flute. Eventually, apparently in a desire to get away from the scratchiness that two or three violins produce and wanting to create a bolder, beefier sound, Johnny Pacheco decided to replace the violins with trombones, keeping the flute. It is suspected that he did this borrowing from the African American trends in Soul music (Motown, Stax records, et al) , but, whatever his inspiration was, he succeeded in creating a punchy accompaniment sections that was the beginnings of the hybrid between Afro-Cuban and American pop that would define Salsa.

    Later, Willie Colon, a trombonist, multi-instrumentalist, and the closest thing Salsa has to a sole founder, would experiment with arrangements with trombones as the only brass instrument, experiments that would catch the attention of Hector Lavoe. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    Try to visualize trombones as the *only* brass instrument in Salsa, and try to visualize trumpets as bop instruments that exist to punctuate especially important moments in the trombone lines. Save trumpets for those big bad parts that get the listeners attention, because your real workhorses are your trombones which will be a) laying down instrumental lines b) calling and responding to vocals, and c) laying down soft pads behind other, louder happenings in the song.

    The one place you must not absolutely not fail to show creativity and flourish in your arrangement is in your trombone part writing. This is where you must shine. This is where you compose counterpoints, bops, bells (that moment where each of the trombones arpeggiates its part of the chord, and holds till the whole chord is present). In short, trombones, in combination with the occasional bops, is where songs are decorated and flavored.

    4) Place in Funk - Trombones have always had a place in the important Funk brass sections; this is a carry-over from their prominence in Jazz brass sections. Great funk brass sections which feature Trombones prominently are the JB's (James Brown's band, which featured Fred Wesley prominently on the trombone), and of course, Earth, Wind & Fire, whose horn section is almost an entity unto itself.

    Its totally possible to create a respectable horn section for Funk with no trombone whatsoever; I did it for a long time. A trumpet (or two), tenor sax, and a baritone sax will give you a great, punchy horn section reminiscent of Average White Band or Ray Charles. But a trombone will add serious flavor and, in my opinion, a bit of maturity and pathos. Because the trombone has a natural "slur" to it (its pitch will catch up to that of the new note more slowly than the rest of the horn section), you introduce some desirable microchromatism -- much needed in DAW productions. Adding a trombone to a Funk horn sections in an appropriate way quite simply conveys that you know something about arrangement. Make sure that its playing an alternate line -- perhaps the alto or the tenor line, but do not use it to double up the melody line. I'd do that in Salsa (where unisons and octaves are de rigeur), but not in funk, where one expects to hear the trombone doing something slightly contrarian.

    Thank you for reading; I hope this has been helpful. Comments are welcome

  2. #2
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    On top of this, he and the keyboard player like to sing backup and try to harmonize. They have VERY limited experience and zero training with singing. The guitar player is bad like Bob Dylan, should probably sing alone. The keyboard player is better but sings a little flat, even on the flat notes. ha. It can be distracting to hear them so out of key. So, I also wonder if these flat keys are especially difficult for them being untrained, little-skilled vocalists.
    Last edited by maithly; 01-20-2014 at 12:50 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maithly View Post
    On top of this, he and the keyboard player like to sing backup and try to harmonize. They have VERY limited experience and zero training with singing. The guitar player is bad like Bob Dylan, should probably sing alone. The keyboard player is better but sings a little flat, even on the flat notes. ha. It can be distracting to hear them so out of key. So, I also wonder if these flat keys are especially difficult for them being untrained, little-skilled vocalists.
    On another note...... we bass players are told we can use trombone sheet music for our bass lines. I've never done this, but, I see where it would work.

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