This is the second blog post in our 'Instrument Care and Maintenance Tips for Junior Players' series. Today we are focusing on the brass family (trumpet, trombone, french horn, tuba) and we will be learning the best ways to care for your brass instrument (or your child's brass instrument) and keep it clean! 

Brass instruments, while more robust than other instrument families, still require careful maintenance and cleaning. If cared for properly, your brass instrument will last for many years and sound incredible for the duration of its life! The main type of care that a brass instrument requires is regular cleaning! As you are blowing air through the instrument, saliva and food particles from your mouth travel into the instrument, causing a gunky build up within the instrument's tubing and this is can affect the sound of the instrument. Before we discuss the ins and outs of how to clean a brass instrument, let's first discuss some general maintenance and care tips.


General Advice: Taking Care of your Brass Instrument


1. Keep your instrument in a sturdy case and store the case in a safe space, i.e., don't keep your case in a precarious position where it could fall from a height, or somewhere on the floor where someone could accidentally step on it.

2. When the instrument is out of its case, never ever stand it on its bell! Keep your instrument on an instrument-specific stand, in your hands, in its case, never leave it on the floor, on a chair, or on a bed. 

3. Always treat your instrument gently, try to avoid dropping it or accidentally banging it against hard surfaces as brass instruments can dent easily. The more dents that your brass instrument has, the harder it becomes to play. 

4. Empty all water from your instrument before storing it in its case. 

5. If you ever run out of valve oil or slide grease please do not be tempted to use Vaseline as a substitute! Vaseline is actually corrosive to brass instruments! Always use a good-quality valve oil and slide grease. 

6. When using valve oil on a piston valve instrument (trumpet, tuba, euphonium, cornet), remove the valve and wipe away any debris that is on it before applying valve oil to the entire valve. 

7. Trombone players, always remember to lock your slide when you are not playing!

8. Young trombone players should apply slide oil to their slides about once a week to maintain fluid slide movement. 

9. Oil and dirt from your hands can damage the finish of your instrument's lacquer - washing your hands before playing can help to prevent any damage. 

10. Wiping your instrument down with a polishing cloth after each time you play can also prevent any damage to the lacquer. 

11. All brass instruments have removable mouthpieces and one must be very careful when inserting and removing the mouthpiece from the lead pipe. Never bang or shove the mouthpiece into the lead pipe as it will likely get stuck. Instead, insert it with a gentle clockwise twist and remove it with a gentle anti-clockwise twist. If the mouthpiece does happen to get stuck in the lead pipe, inform your teacher and they will use a special device to remove it. 

12. If you happen to drop your mouthpiece and dent the small end, you should inform your teacher. Generally, this is a very simple problem to fix, but if not fixed, can really interfere with your sound. 


Cleaning your Brass Instrument:


1. Your mouthpiece is the part of your instrument which needs the most regular cleaning. Clean your mouthpiece once a week using a mouthpiece brush, some lukewarm water, and a gentle liquid soap. 

2. You should clean your whole instrument once every 2-3 months to get rid of any build up withing the pipes and maintain a good sound. This can be done easily in a deep sink or bathtub using the following methodology:

  • Fill the bath with lukewarm water and some mild soap (avoid detergent)
  • Before submerging your instrument in the water, remove the mouthpiece, tuning slides, valves, and any felts (these should not get wet)
  • Submerge the body of the instrument and all other parts in the water. These can be cleaned thoroughly using brushes (similar to mouthpiece brushes but longer)
  • After cleaning, gently dry the instrument, polish using a polishing cloth
  • Apply a good quality valve oil to the valves, and a good quality slide grease to the tuning slides
  • Reassemble the instrument