Using tenor trombone positions on alto

I get a lot of requests for advice on playing the alto trombone, so I created a video that demonstrates a method for practicing the alto that I used when I first started out and still use today: playing tenor trombone music a fourth up so that you are playing the same partials on the alto, which ends up sounding a fourth higher.

This exercise assumes that you are primarily a tenor trombone player, and that you are learning the alto trombone.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you memorize music up a fourth. That would defeat the purpose of this exercise. This is an ear training exercise, not a memorization one. 

Start by playing a F major scale using the positions and overtones of a tenor. The result on the alto will be a Bb major scale starting in first position. Can you feel the tenor positions of the F major scale? Do the same for other scales in order to orient your ear to that fourth up interval.

Another advantage of this is to give you a break from struggling with the alto positions if you are not yet fluent in them. Playing Rochut #1 starting on concert C in the alto’s fourth position should be easier than playing the etude in the written key. When I was starting out on alto, I enjoyed the freedom of using the tenor positions which I knew instinctively. It gave me a break from the difficulty of the alto trombone positions.

Let me also add that I think this practice has a side benefit of improving your ear on the alto. Yes, seeing one note and hearing another could be problematic, so view this exercise as more of an ear training one. I think that separating the sight from sound forces one to rely more on the ear, which I think is a good thing, especially if you are an improvisor.

Below is a video I made several years ago demonstrating what it means to play the tenor positions.

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Michael Lake

Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, marketer, & tech guy

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