Should I Play Trumpet Or Trombone? Help Me Choose

The fanfare of brass instruments often draws people to the sound of the trumpet or trombone. If you’re looking to begin on a brass, you may be torn between these two. Which of trumpet or trombone is better for you? 

Of the two, the trumpet is more beginner-friendly. It is also more flexible in terms of musical roles, but it’s hardest to master. The slide of the trombone causes difficulty for beginners, but the trombone is easier to play at more advanced levels.

There are various pros and cons to examine with either instrument. Determining how those weigh against your personal preferences will aid in your decision. 

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Which is harder to get started on?

At beginning through intermediate levels, the trombone is more difficult to play for a few reasons. The slide offers the most significant challenge because of its ambiguity. 

With no definitive visual marker of slide positions, trombone players must use their ears to place slide positions accurately. All musicians should develop good ears, but it is essential that trombone players begin ear training early. 

Trumpet uses valves to change pitches, which is a more concrete mechanism. Fingerings are more simplistic to learn, remember, and implement than slide positions.

Both instruments use the buzzing of the lips to change partials, which are a series of notes. On brass instruments, the frequency of your buzz is used to play certain notes without changing the valves or slide position.

The ranges of each instrument contrast, with the trombone sounding around an octave lower than the trumpet. So while the trumpet’s upper range is brilliant and intense, the trombone’s character is robust and powerful. 

One last consideration to make in regards to difficulty is that the trumpet is a transposing instrument, while the trombone isn’t – it’s a concert-pitched instrument. 

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This means that the notes that a trumpet player is reading are one step higher than when the instrument is sounding. When reading a C on the third space of the treble clef, the trumpet is actually sounding a B flat. 

Being a concert-pitched instrument means that the trombone reads and sounds the same pitch.

Trumpet players will have to learn about transposition in regards to their instrument, whereas trombone players don’t need to go through this challenge. 

Which is more physically & technically demanding?

Which is more physically & technically demanding?

Trumpet

The valves of the trumpet allow for ease in quick finger movement, but the trumpet possesses its own technical challenges. Because of its higher range, the buzz required for the trumpet is more demanding

For trumpet, the muscles of the embouchure must be firmer and more focused, and there is little room for error.

Beginners might find it easier to get a sound out on a trombone because of its larger mouthpiece. 

The mouthpiece of the trumpet is smaller, which causes a higher resistance than on the trombone. This resistance demands great breath support in order to play with a nice tone, especially in the high range of the trumpet. 

If you ever wish to play lead trumpet, the trumpet gets even more technically demanding. Lead trumpeters will play high notes frequently, so they will need to build a solid, predictable high register

The higher the notes are on a brass instrument, the closer together the partials become. In simpler terms, this means the trumpet player’s buzz and ear must be incredibly precise.

On trumpet, there are notes of the same fingering as close as a half step apart, which is as close as notes get. 

Trombone

The trombone is more physically demanding due to the size of the instrument and the length of the slide. It’s not extremely heavy, but it is much longer than the trumpet and at times requires the use of your whole right arm. 

Playing the trombone requires more air from the player due to its bigger size. More air and less resistance help the trombone feel like it breathes more naturally though. 

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During fast passages of music, trombone players have to move the slide rapidly, which is particularly difficult in the mid to low range. Transitions from the first position to the sixth position require extending your entire arm, which can impede accuracy. 

Articulation on the trombone is a unique challenge caused by the slide as well. All notes must be tongued on trombone, even those marked legato or slurred, which is not a concern for trumpet players. 

Trumpet vs trombone cost

The cost of the two instruments is comparable. Listed below are approximate costs of used and new trumpets and trombones at the beginner and intermediate levels. 

UsedNew
Trumpet – Beginner$200-$400$400-$1200
Trombone – Beginner$200-$400$400-$1500
Trumpet – Intermediate$500-$650$1200-$2300
Trombone – Intermediate$500-$700$1400-$2800
Cost of a trumpet vs trombone

Which offers more playing opportunities?

Players of both instruments enjoy active roles in jazz, orchestral, and symphonic music. Trombone and trumpet are prominent instruments of small and large ensembles. 

The trumpet is classified as a high brass instrument and is most often used for melodic lines. It is also very versatile.

Along with jazz and classical music, the trumpet is also heard in rock, soul, pop, salsa, Dixieland, and just about any style out there. 

As a low brass instrument, the trombone often plays a supporting melody or harmony in ensembles. In many pieces of music, the trombone gets to play countermelodies, which are unique, fun lines popular in marches. 

Due to its mainstream popularity, more people choose to play the trumpet, which increases competition. As a trombone player, there are more opportunities to play because the instrument is more in demand. 

Can a trombone player play trumpet?

Brass instruments share the technique of buzzing the lips into a cup-shaped mouthpiece to create sound. Once a buzz is established, the skill is transferable between instruments with some adjustments

Embouchure and air resistance are two physical adjustments to make when switching from one instrument to the other. 

Going from trombone to trumpet involves a significant adjustment of the embouchure due to the size of the mouthpiece. A trumpet buzz is tighter than on a trombone because the mouthpiece is smaller. 

Trombonists will also experience changing from a more free-blowing instrument to the high resistance of the trumpet. This in combination with the tighter buzz may make higher notes difficult to play initially. 

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It should also be noted that music parts for these instruments are written in different clefs. Trombone music is written in bass clef, with the occasional use of tenor clef in later playing, while trumpet music is written in treble clef. 

Instrumentalists double between instruments frequently, and with a bit of effort, a player of either instrument can learn to play the other. 

Which is more convenient?

Which is more convenient?

Carrying and traveling

For general maintenance and assembly, the trumpet might be slightly more convenient. The trumpet is definitely easier to travel with and is small and compact enough that it can fit as a carry-on for flying. 

Because the slide is one long piece and so is the bell, there is no way to shorten the length of the trombone. Disassembled and in its case, the trombone is still around 2.5 feet long

Assembling and maintenance

The only part to assemble before playing the trumpet is to fit the mouthpiece onto the instrument.

Additional parts such as the slides at the bottom of the valve casings remain on the instrument and only need to be removed when performing maintenance on the trumpet. 

Trumpet valve slides need to be greased on occasion, and the valves themselves need to be lubricated regularly. The parts are more than manageable and simple to maintain. 

Assembly of the trombone requires more steps compared to the trumpet. The trombone slide is separate from the bell when in the case, so it must be assembled first. Then the mouthpiece is added. 

A trombone slide will need to be greased regularly with the proper slide oil to maintain smooth movement. Be aware that the inside of the slide is incredibly delicate, and a dented slide is detrimental to a trombone. 

Ease of practicing

As brass instruments, the general level of volume between trumpet and trombone is comparable. At their peaks, the trumpet is at 110 decibels and the trombone is at 115 decibels. 

Luckily, the cylindrical shape of both instruments allows for the use of practice mutes. A practice mute is an accessory that is inserted into the bell to soften the sound so that the player can practice indoors without causing disturbance to those nearby. 

Final words

While weighing the pros and cons of each instrument may assist in your decision, it is a good idea to schedule a fitting with a professional who can guide you and offer advice for each.

Ultimately, you should choose the instrument that you feel the most passionate about, as this will help you practice more and overcome the challenges of learning it.