Learn to play the trombone

Roger Clayden with students
Roger Clayden with students

Trombones seem to have fallen out of favour with people, however Charlotte Pearson meets a Bognor man who is hoping to ignite people’s interest again.

Picking a musical instrument to learn, most people seem to opt for the big three - piano, guitar or drums, with many of the brass band items falling by the wayside.

Roger Clayden with the plastic trombones bought with his Bognor Regis Town Council grant

Roger Clayden with the plastic trombones bought with his Bognor Regis Town Council grant

However for Roger Clayden, growing up with a musician father he always knew he would pick up an instrument, so when he was asked which one he wanted, he answered ‘trombone’.

“I would sit by the side of the stage and watch my father play and when I saw the trombone I knew that was the instrument for me,” he recalls. “I asked for it and he brought one home for me to learn.”

Roger trained in the army band and was in the Irish Guards, now he is a member of the British Imperial band which sees him play frequently for the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Music has always been his passion and this enthusiasm has transferred well into teaching others how to play the trombone.

“It is a fantastic instrument,” he smiles. “And once you have learnt how to play it there are so many opportunities.

“You can play jazz, classical, swing or as part of a dance band, there are so many areas you can move into, it is just fantastic.”

The trombone, Roger adds, is also referred to as a ‘pitch perfect’ instrument in the music industry.

“It trains your ear,” he says. “You learn by moving the piece to get the right pitch and you train your ear to look out for the right note.”

But it isn’t just your ear you train, the trombone also has an impact on other areas of your body, including your lip muscles which are built up due to the way you use the mouthpiece.

“You almost have to learn how to breathe as well,” reveals Roger. “You do a lot of work on how to use your diaphragm, and how to breathe while you play.

“There is lots to learn and you have to train your body to do things differently.”

In the 1980s Roger says that up to 90 per cent of people taking up an instrument were learning how to play the trombone but now that number has rapidly decreased to about one per cent picking it up. This has led to many brass bands lacking trombone players.

With this in mind Roger applied for a grant from Bognor Regis Town Council to help him buy plastic trombones so that people in Bognor, and the surrounding areas, can learn to play the instrument.

“It can be expensive to buy it and lessons can be quite a lot,” he explains, “so I have bought about ten trombones and I give my time for free.”

The students Roger teaches range in age from 16 to 78.

“Age doesn’t come into it, any age can do it,” he enthuses. “Anyone can learn, you just need to have the inclination to want to learn.”

Roger admits that people can sometimes be put off picking up a new instrument if they go straight to a brass band. This is because they would not only have to figure out how to play the instrument but also learn how to read music.

To combat this Roger has simplified the steps.

“I try and simplify it as much as I can and you learn that way,” he says. “We start with reading music as once you know that, hundreds of libraries are available to you.”

Teaching in groups, Roger says the students all listen to each other play and are told to be ‘critical’ if they hear something isn’t quite right - that way he says his students can train their ears and learn more about playing the instrument.

The aim for Roger is to create enough trombone players to head off into bands.

So next time you are thinking of an instrument to learn, rather than opt for a flute or recorder maybe consider the brass family and in particular the trombone.

Roger also owns jewellers Clayden and Co in the Arcade in Bognor Regis. For more information about the trombone lessons please call 01243 821871