If you think of how the orchestra sounds at its grandest and most powerful moments, that sound is probably underpinned and given its power by the trombones. This capability has been repeatedly exploited by composers over the years and, in common with many instruments of the orchestra, this has created a stereotype of what people think the trombone is all about. It can also be a very soft melodic instrument. In fact during the Renaissance the trombone had a golden era and a tremendous amount of subtle and delicate music was written for groups of trombones which would be played during church services. It wasn´t until the beginning of the 19th century that the trombone ceased to be thought of as a church instrument and became a regular member of the orchestra.
Today the trombone is also known for one of its most distinctive capabilities: the ability to slide between notes or glissando. Using the slide of the instrument to create swooping sounds often sounds unavoidably comic and as a result this effect has long been a staple of cartoon soundtracks.
Trombones come in three main sizes: alto, tenor and bass. The tenor is the standard instrument and features in most brass sections. Bass is also often added when low notes are required. The alto is relatively rare and is pitched a fourth higher than the tenor. All three instruments have a cylindrical bore and a slide for selecting pitches.