Toward a Semiotic Approach to Analyzing the Trombonist's Repertoire



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study seeks to develop a theory of musical gesture that incorporates idiomatic aspects of playing the trombone. Researchers of musical gesture have interrogated idiomatic physical aspects of performing music for voice, piano, and strings, but have mostly overlooked those qualities in brass instruments. Musicologists Trevor Herbert and David Guion have studied historical qualities of the trombone, usually discussing the trombone as a signifier of sacred topics. This view of the trombone is important but far too limited in scope. It seems appropriate that idiomatic aspects of playing the trombone should also be investigated and probed for gestural qualities that might project musical meaning. Drawing on studies in musical gesture (Hatten 2004, Lidov 2004) and brass pedagogy (Fredericksen 1996, Steenstrup 2007), this study connects theories of vocal gesture with trombone performance, illuminating mental similarities in approach to performance as well as physical similarities in sound production between brass instrumentalists and vocalists to apply current research in vocal gesture (Frith 1996, Burns 2001, Heidemann 2016) to the trombone. This theory extends into the realm of embodiment analysis (Larson 2012), and I explore new ways to discuss embodiment as it relates to brass instrumentalists. These findings are applied and refined through analysis of four pillars of the trombonist’s repertoire: Daniel Schnyder’s bass trombone sonata, Arthur Pryor’s Blue Bells of Scotland, Ferdinand David’s Concertino for trombone, and Saskia Apon’s trombone quartet.



Trombone, Music theory, Music, Semiotics, Low Brass, Gestures, Pryor, Apon, David, Schnyder, Semiotics, Analysis, 20th century, Twentieth century, Methodology