A tip for mastering the alto trombone

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.

Playing the positions/partials you are used to as a tenor player makes learning the alto easier and more satisfying. I demonstrate this using Rochut, Bach and jazz.

Let me also add that I think this practice has a side benefit of improving your ear on the alto. As one reader pointed out, seeing one note and hearing another could be problematic. Again, 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.



  1. Morrie Kauffman on August 18, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Dear Mike,I’m not a pro;trying to follow your hint about reading bass clef music using tenor partials on the alto bone.Not having success with this.With no knowledge of music theory, maybe I don’t really what playing a fourth up really means. If I read a middle C and try to play it in 3rd position as on the tenor,I have to move the slide out to 3and a half or 4th on the alto for the note to sound like C.I’m obviously missing something! Any suggestion for me to be able to work with your Tip? Many thanks,Morrie

    • Michael Lake on August 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Morrie, I think the first thing to know is that middle C (C3) is indeed in fourth position like your G2 is on the tenor. If I have said otherwise, I am sorry and I should fix that.

      Regarding how you can gain greater facility with the tenor positions on the alto, I would suggest playing very simple major scales. Start with the C scale which would be like a G scale on a tenor. Low C in fourth, D in second, E in seventh, F in sixth, G in fourth, A in second, B in fifth and middle C in fourth. Feel familiar? Now try an F scale with the positions for Bb on a tenor starting in sixth position.

      In the end, if this makes things harder, don’t do it. I’ve used this from the beginning and to this day so it has become second nature and allows me to play things that have a low end below the alto range. But give it a try. I get feedback from people that it frees them up from having to work so hard on remembering the positions. I always tell them, however, that this isn’t a substitute for learning the alto positions. It is a compliment to your practicing on the alto.

      I hope that helps.

  2. Morrie Kauffman on September 12, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you,Mike. I’ll give your suggestion a try. I’ve been away/out of country,not able to access mail therefore the late response. Many thanks again, Morrie

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