Trombone Grips, Supports, Braces, etc.
They go by many names… but, whatever you call them, there are a bunch of products out there to help trombonists hold the instrument more easily. After all, the trombone isn’t exactly the most ergonomic instrument. As a result, a lot of trombonists, from beginners to professionals, can benefit from the use of some sort of hand support, either temporarily or as a permanent addition to their trombone.
The role of the left hand
I think it’s helpful to consider what the left hand actually does before we add more gear into the equation… When we play, the left hand: 1) supports the weight of the horn, 2) stabilizes the 360-degree motion of the horn, and, if applicable, 3) activates valves. With this in mind, and before I recommend things, here are some general thoughts:
- I like braces that let me keep a pretty traditional grip and help to support the weight but don’t interfere with stabilization or the f-attachment.
- It’s nice to not have to completely change grip style from one horn to the next (if you ever play more than one trombone).
- Grips that aren’t easily adjustable can be amazing for certain horns/hands and terrible for others.
- Unless you’re confident that you want to use something permanently, I don’t usually recommend something that requires soldering.
- Instrument Innovations’ Ax Handle: This is my favorite option for a few reasons. First of all, it comes in many different sizes and includes several handle & padding options so you can dial in the perfect fit. Secondly, it comes with a ball-end screwdriver that makes it so much easier to tighten up properly than the allen wrenches that come with other similar products (even amidst a cluttered bass trombone valve wrap). As icing on the cake, Instrument Innovation’s service is fantastic – you can/should contact them for help figuring out the perfect fit for your horn, and they’ll help you exchange parts if something doesn’t fit your horn. While I’m not using any aid full-time on my tenor, I do have one of these on my bass trombone.
- The Edwards bullet brace is the same idea. I’ve owned 2 over the years and liked them at the time, but I would choose the Ax Handle nowadays for flexibility and pricing.
- Yamaha Hand Strap (YAC1535P): This is handy (and the cheapest), albeit a little cumbersome. It’s extremely easy to throw on for single session. I like it because you can use a traditional grip and strap puts the weight on the back of your hand. The one downside is that it takes a few extra seconds to get your hand in position before lifting the horn (or just always keep your hand in playing position). I found it a little annoying when I had to be putting the horn down often, writing in music, etc. It’s so small and cheap that I feel it’s worth checking out to see if some aid is right for you!
- While it’s a totally different design, the Rath hand brace clamps onto the bell brace like the Ax Handle/Bullet Brace, but puts the weight against the back of the hand like the Yamaha strap… I haven’t gotten to try one out, but I’ve heard good things and imagine it would would well!
- Sheridan Get-a-Grip: These are pretty handy… They can be a little tricky to mold perfectly, and it will more than likely slightly change your grip, but I like how easy it is to quickly clip in onto your horn. I realize this is tricky but, if you’re considering one of these, the best way to pick one up is at a trade show where Newell Sheridan is a vendor (e.g. US Army Band’s American Trombone Workshop, etc.). You can try several (they can have slight variations) and Newell can help you get it adjusted comfortably.
- ERGObone: This one has a special use case… If you have a physical disability or injury that prevents you from supporting the horn, this is a fantastic option. It’s basically a spring mechanism that attaches to the horn and can rest on a chair (sitting), floor (standing), or a chest strap (either), and makes the horn nearly weightless. The downside, and the reason I don’t recommend it to the average trombonist, is that, in addition to being a little cumbersome, it fixes the trombone to a new position unrelated to anything experienced up to that point, causing some difficulties with the subtle changes of the embouchure/horn (“pivot”). On the flip side, it’s sort of like how tubists have to navigate their instrument anyways, so I’m sure it’s possible, but probably not a change most folks want to adapt to unless they have to.
- Neotech Trombone Grip: This is another interesting one that I’ll recommend in special cases, but not usually to everybody. It does a great job of supporting the weight of the horn, but I found the neoprene strap’s flexibility and the fact that the plastic pieces pushed my hand further out from the slide really messed with my stabilization of the horn.
- Greenhoe Rest Bar: Some folks love this, but it’s not for me. It’s intended to be soldered in place (although some people just attach with a hose clamp), and is not adjustable.
- Shires Rest Bar: This is, in my opinion, an improvement on the Greenhoe bar. This is also intended to be soldered in place, but has the perk of having an adjustable screw to reposition the bar. Still, it’s not as adjustable as the Ax Handle/Bullet Brace.
- Leather Grips: There are tons of variations of these out there… They look nice, and are comfortable, but I’m not sure how functional they are… The couple I’ve tried over the years (what high school trombonist didn’t want these back in the day!?!) seemed to slip a bit, which sort of negates any extra “grip” provided by the leather. On top of that, I’ve seen oil/grime on the brace eat away at the lacquer/metal underneath these. Maybe the trick is a better fit though
When to seek help
If you experience significant discomfort/pain, or if things just seem to be getting worse, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor/physical therapist and bring your horn along to show them the issue. I’ve actually been to a PT twice over the years for little trombone things (forearm/wrist, shoulder/back) and it was very helpful in a short amount of time. Shockingly, with insurance, it was also pretty affordable! The concepts I learned there have definitely impacted the way I play and teach.
Even if you don’t need professional medical help, I think anybody looking at gear to assist holding the instrument should consider if there is some part of their approach that is inefficient and could be improved. Between myself, my colleagues, and my students, I’ve seen some folks improve little discomforts and end up removing these aids after working on the way they hold their horn. Here are a few suggestions I often find myself giving my students:
Tips & Tricks
- Practice sitting or standing with a proper, balanced posture and slowly bring your instrument up to playing position, hold it for a few seconds, put it down, and repeat. Make sure nothing is in the way and keep your right hand out of the equation while doing this. If you find yourself having to adjust your grip, feeling uncomfortable at all, etc. you likely are using an inconsistent grip or are used to a little extra help from your right hand.
- Think about getting the lower slide brace up into the hand with the ring & pinky fingers wrapping around as much as possible – many players let the horn “fall out of their hand” and wind up squeezing against the sides of the tube rather than supporting from underneath. If you don’t play bass trombone, feel free to lump your middle finger into this as well.
- Your left index finger (and thumb if playing a straight horn) play an important role in stabilizing the horn.
- Avoid holding weight in any fingers that activate a valve. This can be particularly tricky for folks who play more than one horn. Moving objects are bad supports, and doing this, even if it’s not uncomfortable, can often lead to the horn moving around unintentionally when you use the valve.
- If you often play a straight horn and then pickup a large tenor with an f-attachment, it’s very tempting to wrap your thumb tightly around the valve lever as if it’s the brace you’re used to on the small horn… Don’t! You have to get used to the sensation of your thumb “floating”
- If you aren’t a regular bass trombone player and find yourself with two valves all of a sudden, you’re likely going to experience some discomfort while you learn to keep weight out of the middle finger. Rest often and focus on good form while you build up that endurance.
- The more neutral you can keep your wrist, the better (avoid bending sharply to either side).
- Many students tend to let the trombone pull them forward, causing extra tension. Try pulling back your shoulders, elbow, head and/or neck to reduce that “front-heavy” feeling and see if you’re more comfortable.
- Sloppy right-hand slide technique (moving “off-axis”, holding weight in the right hand, etc.) leads to more stress on your left hand/arm.
The Right Hand
Since we’re on the topic of ways to more efficiently hold the trombone, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the right hand at all! I may elaborate on this later, but my approach for the right hand is a little harder to put into text than the left hand. What I will say is that I think it’s important, and ideally from a young age, for the majority of players to keep their thumb and forefinger on the slide brace at most, if not all, times.
If you can’t reach 7th, 6th, or even 5th positions, there are a couple of options these days. Playing positions inaccurately can lead to an inconsistent sense of where positions are and accidentally manipulating the embouchure, generally causing issues with accuracy, among other things! Here are a few ways that students can be sure to play with accurate slide positions regardless of their size or physical limitations.
- Valves: No, not valve trombone… If you’re playing tenor trombone and going off of most high school range requirements, adding an F-attachment almost eliminates the need for 6th & 7th positions. Advanced players will absolutely still use those positions (lowest notes, alternate positions, glissandi, etc.), but this covers most situations K-12.
- The biggest downside here is that the addition of a valve tends to make trombones heavier and more expensive, as well as being bigger and a little more difficult on most beginners… The John Packer JP138 is an interesting answer to this dilemma for beginners – it has a “reverse” valve, putting the trombone in Bb/C instead of Bb/F… this means it has a shorter slide(!) and also eliminates the need for C & B in 6th & 7th, respectively.
- Extendabone: This is a cheap, handy device to let even the youngest students reach all positions!
- Shoulder tricks: This won’t solve all issues, but many players don’t realize they can reach further if their slide is closer to the right shoulder (allowing your arm to reach further). You can either think of keeping your head/horn in place and twisting your upper body so that your right shoulder is closer to the slide, or keep your torso still and turn your head and trombone to the right (watch out for music stands and other obstacles if you do this).
As always, don’t hesitate to contact me or comment below!