I was recently asked for an alto trombone position chart, and realizing that I included one within my book Alto Trombone Savvy, but not here in my blog, I thought I should get busy. In case you’re not familiar with my book on alto, I consider it to be the missing manual for the alto trombone.
In case you may not be aware, the slide positions for alto trombone are completely different from tenor trombone. The fundamental of a tenor trombone is concert Bb and the fundamental for an alto trombone is concert Eb.
That tells you that the partials on the alto are a fourth higher than tenor. The second partial on a tenor is Bb at the bottom of the bass clef staff, and the corresponding partial for the alto is the Eb in the middle of the bass clef staff.
Before showing you the position chart, let me make one point. Reading alto clef is NOT required for alto trombone. In fact, I think it is pretty silly to learn alto trombone in alto clef. Unless you plan on being a symphonic player where those ancient parts for alto were written in alto clef, learn the instrument in bass clef. Especially if you are a tenor trombone player, you’ll want to learn the alto trombone using the same notation that you are used to.
Below is a comparison of the first position overtone series between alto and tenor.
So now that you have an understanding of the differences between the overtone series, let’s look at the alto positions.
In the above chart, I have identified the alternate positions after the “/”.
Because of the physics of the alto trombone, the lowest natural note just above the “false” tones is concert A. Pedal Eb is in first position and low A is the next natural tone on the horn. I do recommend that you learn to play those false tones between E and Ab for two reasons.
The first reason is so that you can play notes you might be expected to play from a tenor trombone part. The second reason is to strengthen your ear for hearing pitch on the alto. Unlike the natural notes, the false tones are mostly dependent on your ear.
Of course, I am referring to an alto without a trigger. With a trigger, you can play all those notes directly above pedal Eb. I have never cared to have a trigger on my alto. Too much unnecessary plumbing!
I’ll leave you with a couple of videos I produced of my favorite place to play: outside! If you plan to play alto within the context of a band expecting you to sound close to a tenor, you’ll need to work on your sound. If you sound thin, you will have a hard time blending in with the other instruments. Playing into the void is a great way to strengthen your playing and your sound!