Whether you’re auditioning for a professional orchestra or for your All-County band, you’ll probably find yourself performing trombone excerpts at some point in your career.
Mastering the most popular orchestral excerpts does more than give you a head start on audition material, though. Many of them are good sources for technique and lyrical practice.
How to Practice Trombone Excerpts
Before even playing a note, you should always listen to the piece. Please do not just fast-forward to the spot and listen to the trombone part. Listen to the entire piece—several times!
You want to understand the structure of the piece for the context of the excerpt. Listen for recurring motifs and themes in the main piece and see if they get echoed in the excerpt.
I’d even play along with the recording when you first learn it to make sure you have the tempo and style ingrained. If the excerpt is exciting, you can conjure up that excitement when performing it by hearing the full orchestra in your head.
I’ve provided excerpt recordings below, but they are not what you should listen to in this step. Find the whole piece. Trust me on this one.
You should also turn excerpts into exercises. Isolate particularly challenging pieces of technique and play them in different keys. Play them backward. The possibilities are endless here.
And now what you really came here for.
These are some of my favorite orchestral trombone excerpts along with commentary.
1. Ravel’s Bolero
This one has it all. You’ll want to make sure you have the glissando and the grace note figured out.
It is rhythmically awkward at times, too. Make sure the triplet figure is even with no hint of two sixteenth followed by an eighth.
Pay attention to the articulation. The groupings are strange and counter-intuitive.
Good luck starting on the right note and not having your chops die out by the end.
Intonation is rough in that register, too. Experiment with what slide positions you use…especially on the high E-flat. Make sure you really hear where to place it before blowing the note.
Lastly, it has to sound fun and easy to get the right bravado it deserves.
This is one of those excerpts you’ll wish you had looked at before sitting down to play it in a rehearsal for the first time.
2. Strauss’s Ein Heldenleiben
Here I’m picking the second trombone
I highly recommend learning to sing these to know where the notes should go, or at the very least, play it at a piano several times to get it in your head.
It’s pretty loud the whole time, but pay close attention to where the accents are. Keep all the dotted eight/sixteenth rhythms precise.
If you play this without the rest of the orchestra, you’ll definitely want a metronome on to keep track of the downbeat. It’s easy to try to “feel” this one only to get confused about how long you’ve held a note over the bar line.
You’ll need to develop strong flexibility to make this sound good.
Here’s one of the variants I like to do. Play those opening notes slowly near the end of your warm-up to make sure all registers feel comfortable. After a few days of this, it will really lock in comfortably.
3. Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries
I know it’s a bit of a cliche piece at this point, but this prepares you for all the other Wagner trombone excerpts the best.
It has those quintessential Wagnerian ascending arpeggios. But what I’d focus on most is the tone, attitude, and precision.
The excerpt is fairly easy as far as notes go.
The main thing to pay attention to is keeping up the energy and excitement over the course of the whole thing.
Also, don’t get lazy with the rhythm. All too often people lose precision and momentum as it goes on.
You’ll also want to have a predetermined starting tempo. Do not let it drag and slow down by the end. Pick a manageable tempo and nail it.
Note values can be tricky, too. Each measure has the same pattern: the first note is accented, the next two staccato, and the last two have no markings.
But the second big beat is the highest note, so it’s easy to accidentally make that the accented one. It’s also easy to accidentally make the last two notes of the measure too short because of the staccato.
Pay attention to that.
4. Berlioz’s Hungarian March
This one has a lot of the same characteristics as the earlier choices. There’s some technique in there together with keeping precise with the rhythms.
I’d also add in that you should be careful of the silence and the articulation on this one. If you’ve never played this one before, definitely use a metronome.
The positioning of the downbeat can throw you off the first few times through.
For other technical practice, you can definitely throw this into music notation software and have it transposed to other keys. This makes a fun variant on scale practice.
5. Brahms Symphony No. 2 Movement 4
This one is deceptively simple, but it could be the hardest of them all. You must work hard to get the changes in dynamics and tone color required of this excerpt.
Keep the beat steady, play in tune, and still hit those one beat
Even worse: you must crescendo to a piano. This will take some work, but it will pay off in tons of other pieces that have similar situations.
Do not skimp on playing along with a good recording on this one. This excerpt is all context, and it will be obvious during a performance if you haven’t internalized this context.
Other Trombone Excerpts
These trombone excerpts are in the public domain, but if you want to easily find more the two main sites are:
The trombone page of BrassExcerpts.com.