Basics


Basics about: cornets, trumpets, French horns, trombones, baritones and tubas. A brass instrument is played as a musician blows air into a metal mouthpiece. (This is sometimes called "buzzing" into the mouthpiece.) Brass instruments are typically constructed of yellow brass - which is about 75 percent copper - and finished with epoxy lacquer for a durable, clear finish.

How are different notes and sounds produced?

  • Trumpets and cornets usually play the higher notes in the brass family. These instruments have three valves (or pistons). Playing different combinations of these valves controls the air flow. Along with the player's lip and mouth position (called embouchure), valve combinations determine the pitch of the sounds.
  • French horns play the middle range notes for this family. Like trumpets and cornets, the sounds made by the French horn are controlled by three rotary valves and the shape of the player's lips and mouth.
  • Trombones, along with baritones, usually play the lower notes in the brass family. Trombones use a long movable "slide section" to change pitch, while the baritone uses a three-valve system, much like a trumpet. As with other members of the brass family, the shape of the player's mouth and lips is critical for creating good tone and producing changes in pitch.
  • Tubas play the very lowest notes in the band or orchestra. Like trumpets and baritones, tubas use a three-valve system. This valve system along with changes in a player's mouth and lip shapes create different tones and pitches.

Accessories


Your music instructor may recommend some accessories. The following are just a few of the accessories available at Portman's Music. We can help you learn what you may need and how to use them. We have pre-assembled educator approved care kits.

For trumpets, cornets, French horns, baritones and tubas: cleaning brushes, lacquer polishing cloths, mutes, tuning slide grease, valve casing rod, and valve oil.

For trombones: cleaning brushes, lacquer polishing cloths, slide cleaning rod, slide cream and slide oil. Cleaning Brushes: Available in various sizes to clean internal tubing, valve casings and mouthpieces.

Mouthpiece pouches: Will keep the mouthpiece from getting nicked or scratched. If the rim of the mouthpiece is rough it can irritate the player. If the tapered end becomes dented, the mouthpiece will not fit into the horn tightly.

Mutes: Used to create different sound effects. They fit into the bell of the instrument. Most players start with a straight mute. Because mutes can also be used to quiet the horn, they are sometimes called practice mutes.

Polishing cloths: Used to clean and polish the finish on brass instruments.

Trombone slide cream: Slide cream is like cold cream in texture, which players like because it is not as messy as slide oil. The cream can also be refreshed with a spray of water.

Trombone slide oil: Trombone slide oil is used to lubricate the trombone slide. A slide that does not move freely is very difficult to play.

Tuning slide grease: Tuning slide grease is a thick substance that allows the slide to move freely without falling out of the horn.

Valve oil: Valve oil is used to lubricate valved instruments.

Cleaning


Below you will find info on cleaning your Trumpet, Cornet, French Horn, Trombone, or Baritone.

CLEANING YOUR TRUMPET OR CORNET:

Every time you play:
  • Oil the valves by putting a small amount of valve oil on the piston while it is half out of the casing. Make sure to rotate the valve in the casing until the guides click into place before screwing the top valve caps back on.
  • After playing, wipe the instrument down with the lacquer polish cloth to remove dirt and fingerprints.
Every Month:
  • Take the instrument apart to bathe it, removing the three pistons, the bottom valve caps, and all the slides. Wash the slides and instrument in lukewarm water with mild dish soap, using the bore cleaner to scrub the lead pipe and the valve casing brush to scrub the casings. Use the mouthpiece brush to clean the bore of the mouthpiece. Wash the pistons under the tap using dish soap, being careful not to allow the felts under the finger buttons to get wet. Allow all parts to dry thoroughly, then grease the slides with tuning slide grease and reapply oil to the valves. Make sure to put the correct piston into the correct casing; generally, both parts are numbered.
  • Inspect the instrument for dents. Any dent that is deeper than 10% of the thickness of the tube at that point should be brought in to Portman's Music to be rolled out.
Every Year:
  • Bring the instrument to Portman's Music for an annual service.
General tips:
  • Never store music or accessories over top of the instrument in the case; the second valve slide is very vulnerable to dents.
  • If the mouthpiece is tapped while on the instrument, or the bore on the mouthpiece is not round, it can become stuck. Never try to remove a stuck mouthpiece with pliers; Portman's Music will remove it for you free of charge.
CLEANING YOUR FRENCH HORN:

Every time you play:
  • Oil the rotors by unscrewing the valve cap and putting a drop or two of oil underneath. Replace the valve caps and work the keys up and down to distribute the oil. Put a drop of two in the underside of the valve as well, in the seam where the axle and its bearing meet.
  • After playing, make sure to remove all excess water from the instrument, and wipe the exterior down with the lacquer polish cloth to remove dirt and fingerprints.
Every month:
  • Take the instrument apart to bathe it, using lukewarm water and mild dish soap. Scrub the lead pipe with the bore cleaner. Use the mouthpiece brush to clean the bore of the mouthpiece. Allow all parts to dry thoroughly, then grease the slides with tuning slide grease and reapply oil to the rotors.
  • Inspect the instrument for dents. Any dent that is deeper than 10% of the thickness of the tube at that point should be brought in to Portman's Music to be rolled out.
Every year:
  • Bring the instrument in to Portman's Music for an annual service.
General tips:
  • Never store accessories or music on top of the instrument inside the case; keep them inside accessories compartments or in a separate bag.
  • If the mouthpiece is tapped while on the instrument, or the bore on the mouthpiece is not round, it can become stuck. Never try to remove a stuck mouthpiece with pliers; Portman's Music will remove it for you free of charge.
CLEANING YOUR TROMBONE:

Every time you play:
  • If the slide is slightly sticky, mist it with water from the spray bottle.
  • After playing, wipe down the instrument with the polish cloth to remove dirt and fingerprints.
Every week:
  • Remove the inside slide from the outside slide and apply a small amount of slide cream to the stockings at the end of the inside slide. Use the spray bottle to mist water over the stockings and slide. Reinsert the inside slide and run it up and down the outside slide to distribute the cream.
Every month:
  • Take apart the bell, tuning slide, inside slide, and outside slide to bathe the trombone. Using lukewarm water and dish soap, wash the outside and remove any slide cream that has built up on the slide. Use the bore cleaner to clean inside the bell portion and both slides. Use the mouthpiece brush to clean the bore of the mouthpiece. Allow the instrument to dry thoroughly before putting it back together. Reapply the slide cream as you would every week, and apply tuning slide grease to the tuning slide.
  • Inspect the instrument for any dents. Any large dents should be brought to Portman's Music to be rolled out.
Every year:
  • Bring the instrument to Portman's Music for an annual check.
General tips:
  • Any dent in the slide will affect how it works; be very careful when handling it, and always make sure that the slide is clamped into the case before you close it.
  • You should only apply slide cream to the stockings of the inner slide, and there should never be so much on that you can see white cream on the slide.
  • Your slide lock will help prevent the slide from falling off the instrument, so put it on whenever you are not using it. Be careful not to twist it too tight; turn it only enough to hold the slide.
CLEANING LOW BRASS:

Every time you play:
  • Apply valve oil by lifting the piston partway out of the casing and applying oil to the piston. Drop the valve back into the casing and rotate it until you hear the valve guides click into place before you screw the top valve caps back on.
  • After playing, wipe the instrument down with your lacquer polish cloth to remove dirt and fingerprints.
Every month:
  • Take the instrument apart to bathe it, removing the three pistons, the bottom valve caps, and all the slides. Wash the slides and instrument in lukewarm water with mild dish soap, using the bore cleaner to scrub the lead pipe and the valve casing brush to scrub the casings. Use the mouthpiece brush to clean the bore of the mouthpiece. Wash the pistons under the tap using dish soap, being careful not to allow the felts under the finger buttons to get wet. Allow all parts to dry thoroughly, then grease the slides with tuning slide grease and reapply oil to the valves. Make sure to put the correct piston into the correct casing; generally, both parts are numbered.
  • Inspect the instrument for dents. Any dent that is deeper than 10% of the thickness of the tube at that point should be brought to Portman's Music to be rolled out.
Every year:
  • Bring the instrument to Portman's Music for an annual service.
General tips:
  • Never store music or accessories over the instrument inside the case; the second valve slide is very vulnerable to damage.
  • If the mouthpiece is tapped while on the instrument, or the bore on the mouthpiece is not round, it can become stuck. Never try to remove a stuck mouthpiece with pliers; Portman's Music will remove it for you free of charge.
Watch How-To Video

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