Cleaning Up Your Technique...Literally

by Chris O'Hara



In order for anyone to perform at their best, they have to make sure that their equipment is in proper working order. No matter how much we have prepared technically and musically, if every aspect of our instrument is not in optimum working order our performance will suffer.  Unfortunately, this is one of the most overlooked facets of most people’s preparation.  Of course, you must have a quality instrument and Denis Wick mouthpiece that fits your playing, but once you have the correct equipment, you have to make sure that it is maintained properly. Cleaning your mouthpiece weekly is a must, however I recommend that trumpet players give their instruments a thorough cleaning at least every 3 months.   It is also recommended to have your instrument professionally cleaned once every year or two.  In order to clean our equipment correctly, you will need some supplies:

  • Mouthpiece Brush
  • Cleaning Snake
  • Valve Casing Brush
  • Valve Oil
  • Slide Grease
  • Cleaning Cloth
  • Q-tips (or similar) 


The Cleaning Process

Once you have assembled your supplies, start filling up a sink or bathtub (depending on the quantity and/or size of instruments/sink) with room temperature water.  You want to make sure that the water is deep enough to submerge your instrument.  Some people like to use some dish detergent in the water, and if you would like to go this route, I recommend Dawn (if it is safe enough to help clean wildlife after oil spills, it is safe enough for your brass instrument!). 

While the sink is filling, use this time to take your instrument apart.  Every slide, along with the valves and bottom valve caps, should be removed. Take note of how your valves set in the casings.  Very often the guides will have two distinct sizes – the larger one will typically face the bell. Make sure to check if your third valve slide separates at the crook – if it does, take that out as well.  Once you have removed all of the pieces, take your valves apart.  You will want to take the finger buttons off, and then remove the upper valve cap and the felt below that.  Set the finger buttons, upper valve caps, and felts aside (putting these in water can ruin them).  Now that everything is disassembled, place all of the pieces, including your mouthpiece, in the water and let it soak for about an hour.  This will help to loosen up any gunk that has collected inside the instrument.

After the instrument has soaked, drain the water.  Run the Cleaning Snake through all of the slides.  Make sure to clean the head of the snake after each slide to avoid just moving gunk from one part of the instrument to the other.  I also recommend rinsing the tubes once they have been cleaned.  Once the slides have been cleaned, use the Valve Casing Brush to clean out the valve casing cylinders.  You can use the Cleaning Snake and Q-tips to clean the ports in the valves, again rinsing afterward. And finally, use the Mouthpiece Brush to scrub the interior of your mouthpiece clean.  Once the instrument is cleaned, you can either let it air-dry or pat it dry. 

Now it is time to reassemble the instrument.  Use a small amount of Slide Grease on the main tuning slide and second valve slide, making sure to work it into the instrument, and then wipe away excess grease.  Use Valve oil on the male slides of the first and third valve slides (using grease on these will make them move, but valve oil will help them move faster).  Then reassemble the valves and oil them.  Also put some valve oil around the bottom of the valve casings and let the oil drip down the casings (this will create a layer of oil on the casings which, combined with a layer of oil on the valves, will give you an even better result) and put the valves back into the valve casings (making sure to put them in the correct direction and order.  Valves, and usually casings, are marked 1, 2, 3).  Once the instrument is cleaned, oiled, greased, and reassembled I like to put a little Valve Oil down the lead pipe and blow it through the instrument to make sure that everything is well oiled – make sure that you do not use too much oil in any part of the process as too much oil can be as bad as not enough. Once the process is completed, use your Cleaning Cloth to wipe away excess oil.  



Have any great tips on cleaning your instrument? We'd love to hear them in the comments box below. 

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