Michael Lake
Alto Trombone Savvy:
Alto trombone

Cave Creek, Arizona, United States
Publisher: Altobone Publishing
Date of Publication: 2017
Language: English

73 pages. Available in alto or bass clef.

Primary Genre: Study Material - method
Secondary Genre: Study Material - etude

Alto Trombone Savvy is a comprehensive resource detailing how to master the alto trombone. Written by alto trombonist Michael Lake, Alto Trombone Savvy is divided into eleven sections, each addressing different elements relating to the alto trombone. These sections include discussion of slide technique, equipment, the unique physics and musicality of the alto, intonation, and vibrato, as well as etudes and exercises ranging from Bach chorales to jazz standards. Throughout the book many exercises are accompanied by examples and play-alongs that are accessible through a downloadable SoundCloud playlist. Alto Trombone Savvy also covers and provides discussion and exercises on rhythm, improvisation, and “the inner game of alto trombone.”


In the Preface Lake shares his unique history and experiences as an alto trombonist which include his college years, freelancing in New York, and producing and freelancing in Phoenix. In the Introduction Lake prepares the reader for the different ways one can use his book for study: “This book was born from dozens and dozens of questions about the alto trombone throughout the years from people like you who were intrigued by the possibilities of this little brother of the tenor...I take seriously the responsibility of providing you the guidance you seek and helping you reach your musical goals.” Accessing and Utilizing the Audio Files details how to access the downloadable SoundCloud playlist and how to incorporate the tracks into one’s practice.


Alto Trombone Equipment Savvy includes a comparison of 11 alto trombone models with descriptions of their sound, intonation, articulation, as well as other characteristics and tendencies. Additionally, this section includes a discussion on various mouthpieces, concluding with a survey of alto trombones and mouthpieces used by 20 professional trombonists. Alto Trombone Performance Savvy discusses the harmonic signature of the alto with graphs illustrating the differences between the frequency spectrums of an alto, small bore tenor, and large bore tenor trombones. The remainder of this section focuses on mastering the alto positions with numerous exercises that progress in difficulty.


Intonation Savvy is devoted to helping connect the trombonist’s ear with their instrument. Through Bach chorales, Bordogni duets, and four-part arrangements of jazz standards, the reader is able to utilize the play-along tracks to play the different parts while focusing on good intonation. Vibrato Savvy discusses the different options of both slide and jaw vibrato and is accompanied with audio examples of each. Rhythm Savvy focuses on how to play with good rhythm and addresses the bad habits and tendencies specific to trombonists. This section includes seven etudes in varying styles with play-along track accompaniment.


Improvisation Savvy helps develop the qualities important to improvisation including ear training, playing in 12 keys, playing over chord changes, and transcriptions. Lake also includes play-along tracks for a blues progression where the reader has the opportunity to trade choruses with Lake. Also included are transcriptions of Lake’s solos which can be studied and played. For more on improvisation, check out Lake’s book titled Trombone Improvisation Savvy. The final section, The Inner Game of Alto Trombone, addresses other aspects of playing an instrument aside from the technique specific to the alto trombone. Topics discussed include conquering your frustration, discovering your unique musical voice, diet, exercise, and improving your mental state. Also included are personal stories and further recommended reading.


This is a concise and comprehensive resource with everything a player needs to improve their skills on the alto trombone. Furthermore, it also includes valuable insights from Lake’s unique perspective as an alto trombonist. This is an extremely valuable resource for any student serious about learning and mastering their alto trombone skills.

Reviewer: Russell Ballenger
Review Published June 13, 2023