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Contrast a straight tenor trombone versus a larger-bore tenor trombone with F attachment. It appears that the larger-bore with F attachment activated will go down to C2 without having to hit any pedal tones.

  • I find a Bb1 pedal tone hard to play reliably on straight tenor. Will the nearby note C2 on larger bore tenor with F attachment activated (non-pedal tone) be nearly as hard to play? After all it's nearly the same note.

  • Are pedal tones easier to play on a larger bore tenor trombone with F trigger not activated? If so, do people find that moving from straight tenor to larger bore tenor represents a massive expansion of lower range by gaining luscious pedal tones down to E1 at their disposal? Or do you really need a bass trombone for that?

  • Are pedal tones with F trigger activated considered hard to play on a tenor trombone? Or do you really need a bass trombone to reasonably inherit those spine-tingling pedal tones down to C1 that the F trigger promises?

  • Would getting a larger bore trombone and maybe larger mouthpiece to gain lower notes mean that I have to sacrifice on the high end of the range, that is, I lose high notes just as fast as I'm gaining low notes? I'll sadly miss the occasional Ab4 on my straight tenor trombone.

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The last point should probably be a separate question. Overall, it's a very good question, though. +1 and welcome to Music SE! – American Luke Nov 6 '12 at 14:47
up vote 5 down vote accepted

TL;DR version:

  1. Will low C be as hard as Bb to play even though it is not a pedal tone?

    Nope, harder

  2. Are pedal tones easier to play on large bore?

    Kind of, but not to an important degree

  3. Can you get luscious pedal tones down to E1 (no trigger) with a large bore tenor, or do you need a bass?

    Depends on your definition of luscious, but listen to Joe Alessi play them on tenor

  4. Pedal tones from trigger F down to C, compare large bore tenor to bass

    Same as above, but mostly absent from tenor trombone literature

  5. Range considerations

    Practice both ends of the range, play the instrument you want to play, don't choose the instrument based on notes you want to play.

Long Version:

I'm sure you already understand that the bass, small-, and large-bore tenor trombones all play in the same key because the tubing is the same length. Where they differ is in bore size and extra "features" like attachment triggers.

For starters, any time you compare two instruments with the same length of tubing, the lower notes are going to be easier to play on the one with the larger bore. That's just physics at work. However, the pedal tones as they are known are the fundamental notes of the harmonic series that the trombone plays in. For this reason, the pedal Bb is one of the easiest low notes to play on trombone, regardless of bore size!!! A middle schooler with a small-bore instrument can play a pedal Bb if they approach it with the right technique. If you are still having trouble with pedal Bb on the small-bore, buying a larger instrument is not going to help you at all, and will probably make things a lot harder.

That said, if you are still using the stupid tiny 11C/7C mouthpiece that comes with most small-bore trombones, I highly recommend switching to something that will give you a little more breathing room. The only professionals that use mouthpieces of that size are jazz players that need to spend all of their time in the stratosphere. For all-around playing on the small bore, I recommend a Bach 6 1/2 AL small shank.

The low trigger range of F2 to C2 is actually an extension of the non-trigger range from Bb2 to E2. C2 is actually MUCH more difficult to play than Bb1, because even though the notes are only a whole tone away, Bb1 is a pedal tone played with the shortest possible tubing length, and C2 is a 2nd harmonic played with the longest possible tubing length, with the trigger activated and the slide out beyond 7th position (remember the positions get farther apart the lower you go).

The low trigger range is definitely in the large-bore tenor player's toolbox, and he or she has to spend considerable time working on it. The sub-basement below the G1 pedal tone is generally left to bass trombone players, though tenor players can and should practice them since working on both extremes of the playing range improves the facility with the less extreme ranges.

If you want to hear some truly luscious low range on the tenor trombone, listen to Joe Alessi (one example that is coming to mind is his performance of John Mackey's "Harvest" concerto, right near the 6 minute mark... a truly scintillating C2). Alessi is known for playing on very large mouthpieces, and it's been my experience that these can really open up the low trigger range for a tenor trombonist. However, any equipment size change is going to have a tradeoff with endurance or facility in the opposite end of the range.

High Range:

Working on both extremes is advisable. Learning how to relax in the right way to play the lower notes will help you relax more in the middle and upper ranges. Exercising the high range is muscle-building, and should always be followed by playing some pedal tones to relax. Another great exercise in the low range is to play false tones that don't actually exist on your instrument. With well-enough developed embouchure control, you can play F2 to C2 (notes that normally require a trigger) on a small-bore instrument. They're not going to sound the same, and you won't perform them, but they are good practice. Likewise, you can attempt "double pedal tones" like Bb0 without a trigger. Like I mentioned before, larger instruments do make the high range more difficult, but Ab4 is not beyond the realm of possibility for a bass trombone player. Professional bass trombone players may practice all the way up to F5, but the highest that will reasonably be asked of them will be around Ab4 or Bb4.

Equipment:

You can already go broke buying mouthpieces, so I wouldn't advise buying different trombones just to expand your range. You should buy the trombone that you would like to play. If you're into jazz, or like playing with your local community band, or have a ska band or something, I can't see why you'd need more than a small or medium-small bore trombone. If you want to play big symphonic music, join an orchestra, play all the newest trombone solos, or study trombone at a conservatory, then you'll need the large bore tenor (and about 5 years to learn to play the damn thing). If you want to play bass trombone and hang out in tuba range all day long, buy a bass trombone!

After all that, it could just be that you need a larger mouthpiece, but that's something a private teacher would have to advise you on for a reliable diagnosis.

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I totally agree with NReilingh's excellent answer on points 2-5.

However, i find myself fundamentally disagreeing regarding Bb1 vs C2 on the F-Trigger trombone, thus I'm writing this separate answer.

First my personal experience:

I've been playing the trombone for about 1.25 years now, I've been playing the Akkordeon and singing in choires for more than 30 years before, so while not my first instrument, it's my first wind instrument. I'm mostly an autodidact via watching Youtube lessons and reading web pages with a few pointers from fellow trombonists thrown into the mix. Apart from 2 hours of band practise every week, I get to practise about once, sometimes twice a week for about an hour, mostly fundamentals.

After initial minor problems getting to the F2 (and not C3) from Bb2 by pressing the trigger, I didn't have a lot of problems extending my range to the C2 within a few weeks. I can reliably produce a resonant C2, the only problem being a sustained air stream, as my breathing is not yet at a level i'm statisfied with.

I only ever learned about Pedal tones about half a year into playing the trombone. I found two different approaches to playing them on various websites, one being a strong air stream and approaching the pedal tone from just air by carefully tightening the lips, the other by producing a slow air stream which should result in playing a Pedal-Bb naturally. The first method worked initially for me, though not reliably and not with a precise timing. The second method seems to work better, but it's still not reliable enough, though that increases about 20-30 minutes into warm-up.

General thoughts:

The C2 is a natural evolution from the F2 simply using slide technique, the F2 a natural evolution from the Bb2 by not letting your embouchure slip to the next overtone series when activating the trigger. Both steps 'only' require to adjust the air stream for the longer tubing.

The relaxation from Bb2 to Bb1 on the other hand is so severe, you could be playing the trombone for years without ever having played a Pedal Bb by chance. (In fact out of 500 scores for trombone i currently own, only one actually features 2 pedal tones as optional notes.)

So while I agree that the Bb1 is physically easier to play than the C2, due to the tubing issue, psychologically the situation is reversed and it requires a good level of experience and a good technique for that physical reality to be true.

IMO it needs to be said, that until that level of expertise is reached, the opposite is true and the C2 is easier played than the Bb1.

Regarding the initial question:

I'd like to make one addition. In my experience, it tends to be easier to find a mouthpiece with a good sound in the low range for large bore horns than for small bore horns.

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