A Guide To Band For Parents, Episode VII: Taking Care of an Instrument

In this guide to Band For Parents, I use my experiences as a student, teacher, and repair man. Here I’ll talk about taking care of band instruments.

So you’ve rented or bought an instrument for your child, so how should you take care of it. Depending on the instrument, the care of it can be more or less complicated.

Of course, band is usually limited to wind instruments, so that’s what I will be covering today.


Brass instruments are much easier to maintain than single reed instruments. This is because they have a less complicated key system. One of the most important things to do for a trumpet–and other brass instruments– is to keep the tuning slide and valves well lubricated. I’ve found those are the majority of repairs I do on student brass.   If the keys are “sticky”, that is, they don’t pop back up after being pressed down, the answer is usually more lubrication is needed.

Despite labels, for maintenance purposes, oil is oil. I have oiled tuning gears on a guitar with valve oil. Much like car oils, unless they are synthetic, the only difference is the viscosity of the oils. Since the gauge of the surface needed to be covered differs, slide oil is thicker and valve oil is thinner. So if you have to use slide oil on trumpet valves, simply apply it more sparingly.

Usually local music shops will sell “care kits” for all wind instruments. However, it’s been my experience that they don’t always contain everything a student should have. Other times they have things they don’t really need, like polishing gloves.

Typically with brass instruments they’ll have brushes sometimes connected to a wire called a “snake brush”. This is helpful to get inside the tubing. If you perform this basic maintenance, it will prevent build up in the instrument. You can easily deep clean brass instruments because their design is so simple. The only problem you may have is finding a vessel large enough to hold the instrument. Here’s a video on YouTube of someone cleaning a trumpet. This is what I do when I have to clean a trumpet.



Because it’s a more complicated key system, all three are a major hassle to completely clean in a tub like the trumpet. The best maintenance you can do is swabbing the inside of these instruments and using a pad saver. A pad saver takes the moisture out of the pads and will extend the life of the pads. A pad is essentially a gasket that closes or opens a tone hole in the instrument. Pads aren’t expensive to replace, but sometimes a pad just needs to be readjusted so if you take care of the pads you won’t end up having to buy new ones every time the instrument goes in for a checkup.

Deep cleaning this instruments involves removing the key structure, which is the easy part. Putting it back on isn’t so easy. This is why if you want a deep cleaning for these instruments, you should go to a repair man.

Clarinets and saxophones use swabs for daily maintenance. It’s essentially a rag on a string with a weight on it that helps the rag move through the instrument. This won’t stop oxidization, but it will slow it down.


It’s important to remember that whatever is in your mouth– especially with a sax or clarinet, is going to wind up in the horn. Therefore, minimizing eating while playing it a good idea, and same goes for drinking anything other than water. Since kids like sugary drinks, like juice and soda, if they drink those while playing (especially without a pad saver) the sugars will stick to the pads more, and it will also cause the inside to oxidize more.

Similarly, if a child has a stomach ache or has been vomiting, it’s a pretty bad idea to have them play their horn even if they really want to. Playing involves using the diaphragm, which will just upset the stomach more.

I hope this quick guide will help you and/or your young one take care of their instrument!


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