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The secrets of switching between tenor and bass trombones

"The most important thing here is to have a thorough and rigorous daily routine that covers a wide range."
3 tips from Jim Nova on how to be a great wechsel (utility) trombonist.

Regularly witching between alto, tenor and bass trombones could be tricky. However, it has been a thing for a long time in opera and symphony orchestras. Playing the alto trombone is required in almost every orchestra for the principal players. But what about the switch between tenor, bass and contra bass trombones? Nowadays, we can see many auditions where orchestras are looking for versatile players that could play both tenor and bass trombones on the highest level. What are the secrets of becoming a great utility trombonist? I believe that the most authentic answer could only come from someone that mastered playing on the soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and contra bass trombones as well. The Jedi of utility trombone:

Jim Nova, second / utility trombone of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Area Coordinator of Brass; Adjunct Professor of Trombone at the
Mary Pappert School of Music at Douquesne University.

Jim Nova trombone
Jim Nova second / utility trombone of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
What would you suggest to people that have to switch frequently between alto, tenor, bass or even contra bass trombones?

The most important thing here is to have a thorough and rigorous daily routine that covers a wide range. I almost always do my daily routine on tenor but many times a year, especially weeks I’m playing bass in the orchestra, I’ll play my routine on bass. This important foundation to my technique makes it easier to switch between horns.

What makes a good wechsel player sound consistent on every instrument? How important is the right equipment?

I think it’s really important to make sure the equipment choices you make balance sound and ease of switching. Of course

“sound is King”

but you want to make sure the horns are relatively easy to play and switch between. I use the same rim on all my mouthpieces with vastly different cup and backbore specs. The only mouthpiece I play that has a slightly wider rim is my new contra mouthpiece. I simply need more room to move that much air.

Jim Nova Trombone
Jim Nova with his soprano, alto, tenor, bass and contra bass trombones.
How to prepare for these switches in a busy concert season? 

I will look at the schedule and plan my practice sessions according to the rep demands for a given week. I’ll supplement my practice with some Etudes on the various instruments so all the “engines are hot” so to speak.

Find out more about Jim Nova:

Visit Jim’s website: and listen to his recordings:

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