Taking Care of Your Horn

EJ Swider, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

EJ Swider

By EJ Swider, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

As brass players our instruments are very resilient to temperature and humidity. But it is far too often that we forget entirely to pay attention to their cleanliness. How many times have you ignored that sticky valve or seen something funky come out of your water key?

Oiling and cleaning our horns should be a regular part of our routine and in the long run will not only save you money but will make you sounds better!

First things first, valves and slides should be oiled as needed.

Basically, whenever they feel sluggish. This depends on what kind of oil you use and how often you play. I usually oil my slide every other day, but some people need to only once a week. You should ask your private teacher which oil is best for you.

It is a good idea to give your horn monthly baths and a major cleaning. For the bath remove all valves (don’t put the valves in the water! but slides are ok) and all of the tuning slides and clean them separately  (see next paragraph). Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water, make sure it isn’t hot. Add a few tablespoons of dish soap. Make sure there is enough water to completely cover your horn and let it soak for about 10 minutes. Take a snake (a long metal wire with brushes at each end that can be bought for a few dollars at any music store) and run it through each part of your horn to get any gunk out. Then rinse in the soapy water. After cleaning out each part of your horn empty the water out of the tub and refill it with cool, not soapy water. Now rinse each part of your horn to make sure all of the gunk is out and the soap is rinsed off. At this point lay out a towel and lay out the horn which is still disassembled and let it air dry for about an hour.

Now you can reassemble your super clean horn!

Applying grease to tuning slides is often overlooked and forgotten about. I clean and grease my tuning slides during my monthly major cleaning. I first take them all out. Rub them with a cheese cloth to remove any grease and then very lightly apply tuning slide grease. I say grease instead of oil because what you apply to tuning slides is very thick, the consistency of vaseline. It is thicker because you don’t want your tuning slides moving around when you don’t want them to!

Cleaning mouthpieces is also often overlooked. A mouthpiece brush can be purchased for only a few dollars and can make a big difference.

After a few weeks of playing a thin film of gunk (that’s the technical term) can form in the shank of your mouthpiece. At first this won’t make much of a difference in your playing, but over time it can grow.

Even a small bit of gunk can make a big difference in the flow of your air which directly effects how you sound. So every week I run my mouthpiece under warm water and clean it out with the mouthpiece brush. It only takes a minute and makes a big difference.

So remember to be diligent with cleaning your horn. Oiling the valves or slide whenever it needs it, greasing the tuning slides, cleaning the mouthpiece, and giving it a monthly bath! A clean horn is a good horn.

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