Okay, so maybe your instrument isn’t the only figure in your life who’s important to you on Valentine’s Day. But maybe it is! Either way, our instruments stick with us through thick and thin and we owe them some gratitude. Show your horn you care this February 14th with a little TLC!
1. Brush Your Mouthpiece
How often do you actually do this? No matter how careful and clean you are with your instrument, crud will gradually build up in your mouthpiece. This buildup, in addition to being gross, muddies your tone (there are better ways to get that “dark” sound you’ve always wanted!). Start this Valentine’s Day off right by soaking your mouthpiece in some warm water and then putting a mouthpiece brush through it.
2. Bathe Your Instrument
Is there anything more romantic than drawing a nice, lukewarm bath for your instrument? Of course not! Remember, though: the only thing “steamy” about this should be the spirit of the holiday. Hot water can strip off lacquer and damage your instrument. It is better to err on the side of caution with water temperature.
Start by laying a towel or bath mat in the bottom of your bathtub. Fill the tub high enough with lukewarm water that it will cover your instrument. Add in about a tablespoon or less of mild dish soap. Take out all your instrument’s slides and wipe the oil/grease off of them. If the instrument has pistons, take those out and wipe them off too. Remove top and bottom valve caps. If your valves have felts, remove them so they don’t get wet. Gently place all of the parts into the tub and let them soak for 10-15 minutes.
After it’s done soaking, clean out the instrument’s tubing with a snake. Go slowly and be careful not to dent your horn in this process. If your instrument has pistons, clean out the valve casings with a valve casing brush.
Once you’re done snaking and brushing, rinse the horn with clean, non-soapy water with a shower head, a bathtub faucet, or a big cup. Get all excess water out, and then dry it off with a clean towel. Make sure to rinse off soap to the best of your ability; any remaining dishwashing liquid will reduce the effectiveness of grease and oil!
3. Oil Your Instrument
Once you’re done cleaning your instrument, it’s time to reapply all the lubricant you just washed off. Grease your tuning slides. Oil your valves (or trombone slide)! Nothing screams “Valentine’s Day” quite like the smell of instrument grease on a Wednesday morning.
4. Don’t Eat and Play!
I know, that box of heart-shaped chocolates is tempting. But, once again, that’s not how you get a “chocolatey” tone. Think of what all of that sugary muck will do to your newly-cleaned instrument! Better to save the sweets for after you’re done playing. Alternately, a good tooth-brushing before you perform will help keep your horn nice and clean.
5. Play Your Instrument
All the above maintenence habits are great, but at their core they’re really just preparation for the most beautiful, romantic Valentine’s Day activity of all: playing music. Take your shiny (or unlacquered), newly clean instrument out into the world on Wednesday and make some music. It makes the world a better place to be.
Bones Apart Trombone Quartet gets into the Valentine’s Day spirit
Post illustration by Frannie Miller for Brass Chicks.