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Care & Feeding of the Trumpet

The trumpet has two basic pieces:

  • The mouthpiece;
  • The instrument.

The instrument is composed of the valves, the slides, and the body of the horn.


  • The basic assembly of the trumpet is quite easy and consists simply of placing the mouthpiece into the mouthpiece receiver on the instrument. Take care not to twist the mouthpiece as you insert it into the receiver; you also don't want to push it in too hard, tap or bang on it or the mouthpiece might get stuck.

The Valves

  • There are three valves, or pistons, on a trumpet; the first, second and third. The first valve is closest to the player holding the horn and the third valve is closest to the bell. The second valve is in-between the first and third.
  • At the top of each valve is the finger button, which is screwed onto the valve stem. Next is the top valve cap, which keeps the valve in place in its correct part of the valve casing on the body. Underneath the top valve cap is the spring barrel which holds the spring that allows the valve to spring back up when it has been pushed down. Underneath the bottom of the spring and sticking out of two slots in the side of the spring barrel is the valve guide, which is usually made out of white plastic. This important part of the valve keeps the valve in the correct position when it's in the valve casing. The spring barrel is attached to the actual valve itself. Each valve has three holes or passageways going through it, with one port at each end of each hole. With the help of the valve guides these holes line up with the different tubes attached to the valve casing on the body so that the air or sound can pass through the trumpet correctly. At the bottom of each section of the valve casing is a bottom valve cap that protects the bottom of the valve and prevents oil from dripping out.
  • While it looks like it would be fun to take all the valves apart and put them back together, it's best not to do so. If you have taken a valve out of the trumpet, be careful not to drop or bang it because it can be bent quite easily. Also, if you set one down, be careful to put it in a place where it cannot roll or be accidentally bumped. Most valves have a number on the spring barrel so you can tell whether they're number one, two or three.

Oiling the Valves

  • It is best to choose a time to oil the valves when there is not a lot of activity around you. For example, it might be better to oil them at home before band instead of right before band when there are a lot of other students running around who could bump into you. If you happen to drop a valve it will probably get bent and not work, so you need to be careful when you do this.
  • You only need to oil one valve at a time. First remove the cap from your bottle of valve oil and place it nearby where you can reach it. Holding the trumpet in your left hand with your fingers wrapped around the valve casing, unscrew the top valve cap counter-clockwise and pull the valve out far enough so that you can see the actual valve itself. Holding the trumpet so that the valve stays pulled out but won't fall out, place a couple drops of oil on the valve, then push the valve back into the valve casing. Without pressing down the finger button, twirl the valve clockwise or counter-clockwise until you feel the valve stop and the valve guide click into its slot inside the valve casing. Carefully thread the top valve cap clockwise, push the valve up and down a few times to distribute the oil, and you're all done and ready to do the next one.
  • The valves don't need to be oiled every time you play, but you should oil them two or three times a week or whenever they feel sluggish.

The Slides

  • There are four slides on a trumpet. Each valve has a corresponding slide, so there is a first slide, a second slide and a third slide. The first slide is connected to the first valve casing and points toward the player. The second slide is connected to the second valve casing on the right-hand side of the horn as the player holds it. The third slide is connected to the third valve casing and points in the same direction as the bell. The fourth or final slide is the tuning slide. It is larger than the other three and is connected to the mouthpipe and the third valve casing. The mouthpipe, or leadpipe as it is sometimes called, is the long, straight tube the runs along the upper right side of the trumpet as the player holds it. The part of the mouthpipe closest to the player ends in the mouthpiece receiver where the mouthpiece goes. The other end of the mouthpipe ends in the tube that accepts the upper part of the tuning slide. Near this end of the mouthpipe, on top, is the finger hook for the right little finger.
  • On the tuning slide and usually on the third slide as well there is a water key near the bottom of the curved part, commonly called a spit valve. Playing the trumpet stimulates the salivary glands and some saliva inevitably builds up inside the instrument and starts to make a gurgling sound. When this happens we need to release the saliva by opening the water keys and blowing on the mouthpiece. We don't need to buzz like we do when we play the trumpet; we just need to blow. If there is an accumulation of water in the third slide, we need to hold the third valve down when we blow and have the third slide water key open, otherwise the air doesn't go through the third slide.
  • There's often some valve oil which can stain a rug or carpet mixed in with the saliva so it's important to keep in mind whose floor we're emptying our water keys on. On the linoleum in the band room is probably okay, but you might want to think twice before emptying the water keys on your mom's new carpet. Some players will have an old towel or tee shirt to place on the floor just for this purpose.

Cleaning the Trumpet

  • Like it or not, sooner or later there will be some debris that builds up inside your trumpet that needs to be cleaned out. Unlike the flute, clarinet or saxophone, you can't pull a swab through the trumpet once you're through playing and clean everything all out. With regular playing you should give your trumpet a bath about once a month. Once you get used to doing it the whole process will only take about fifteen to twenty minutes.
  • In order to clean the trumpet thoroughly you have to give it a bath. This can be done in the bath tub, the kitchen sink or another wash basin. It's important to have a flat surface nearby where you can lay a towel out flat. You'll use this towel to set the different parts of the trumpet on when you take it apart to clean it.
  • Here's what you'll need to have to clean the trumpet:
    Mouthpiece brush
    Flexible bore brush (snake)
    Valve casing swab rod
    Valve oil
    Slide grease
    Paper towels
    Hand towels (2)
    Cotton cloth (no synthetic) tight weave, like an old dish towel
    Mild soap like Ivory&#reg; dish soap
  • The first step is to disassemble the horn. Set the mouthpiece to one side on the towel you've laid out flat. Unscrew the top valves caps one at a time, take the valves out and place them in order 1-2-3 on the towel. Then unscrew the bottom valve caps and place them in order underneath the valves. Finally, remove the first, second, third and tuning slides and place them in order to the side of the valves.
  • Next take a sheet of paper towel and carefully wipe any oil off the valves. Then pick up each slide and wipe any slide grease off the tubes. If the body of the trumpet has any inner slide tubes wipe any grease of these also.
  • Now take a corner of the cotton towel and feed it through the eye of the valve casing swab rod and pull a small amount of cloth through. Holding the rod in your right hand with the end pointing up, hold the cloth out to the left like a flag. Twirl the rod one half turn counter-clockwise so the cloth starts to wrap around the rod. Then pull the cloth up and over the top of the rod and pull it down the other side. This should leave the end of the rod covered in cloth and the cloth should have a slight bulge to it at the tip of the rod. Pull the fabric down the side of the rod and with the round bottom of the rod planted firmly in the palm of your right hand, grasp the rod with your thumb and fingers so that the cloth is taut. Pick up the trumpet with your left hand by the valve casing and use the rod to swab out the inside of each of the valve casings. The cloth on the rod should fit snugly into the valve casing; snug enough so you have to push a little to fit it in, but not so tight you have to fight it or so loose it doesn't grab the inside of the casing. If the swab is too loose, lift the cloth back over the top and twirl the rod around a little more than half a turn and that will make the head of the swab bigger. If it's too tight then lift the cloth up and un-twirl it just a bit and that should make it fit easier.
  • After all the old lubricant has been removed, we can wash the trumpet. Fill the sink or tub up with lukewarm water (not hot), deep enough so that the body of the trumpet can be submerged under water. Mix in some soap, just like you were going to do the dishes. First, take the mouthpiece brush and clean out the mouthpiece in the water, running the brush up the bottom, or shank end, of the mouthpiece. Rinse and set aside to dry.
  • Next, immerse the body of the trumpet in the water and run the flexible bore brush through all the slide tubing and the mouthpipe. You can push the brush down the bell but be looking down the first valve casing and stop when the brush gets that far.
  • Now that the body has been cleaned it needs to be rinsed. Run lukewarm water all the way through all the tuning until the water comes out clear and then find a place where you can set the trumpet down on its bell so it can drain but it's in no danger of falling over.
  • Clean the slides next in the soapy water. Run the brush all the way through the tuning slide but only down to the end and back of both sides of the three valve slides. Rinse all four and stand them upside down in a place they can safely drain.
  • Finally, take each valve one at a time and just hold the actual valve, the gray part with the three holes and six ports under the water and very carefully use the mouthpiece brush to clean out any debris in the ports. Rinse the valves off and stand them straight up in a safe place where they can't fall over. If the bottom valve caps are dirty this is the time to wash them out as well.
  • Take your second towel and wipe all the parts dry and then lay them out in the same order as when you took the trumpet apart. Then pick the body of the trumpet up and swab out the valve casing once more, using a clean part of the cotton cloth.
  • Now it's time to reassemble the horn, and we'll start with the slides. Rub a thin coat of slide grease on the inner slide tubes of the first slide and then push the slide onto the body of the horn, then do the same with the second, third and tuning slides. Wipe off the little bit of excess grease that you'll find after you've pushed each slide in.
  • Next, pick up the first valve and place it part way into the first valve casing and place a few drops of valve oil on the valve itself and then push it the rest of the way in and tighten the top valve cap. Then do the dame for the second and third valves. At this point pick up the trumpet and work all the valves up and down for a short time and see how they feel. If they feel good then it's fine; if they feel a little slow then you'll have to take them out again and swab the valve casings out once more.
  • Once you're happy with the way the valves feel, you can put the bottom valve caps back on. It's a good idea to put a small amount of slide grease on the threads of the bottom valve caps. Without the grease the caps could be hard to get off the next time you take the trumpet apart.

Cleaning and Polishing the Outside

  • Just use a clean dry cloth to keep the outside of the instrument clean. There are lacquer polish cloths available that are okay to use which are treated with a wax that cleans and shines and won't hurt the finish of the trumpet. If you are careful, you can also spray a polish such as Pledge&#reg; lightly on a cloth and then use the cloth to polish and remove any stubborn stains on the body of the horn.
  • If the instrument is silver-plated instead of brass-lacquered, you can use a silver polish cloth to keep the outside shiny. Before you polish a silver horn, especially if you haven't given it a bath recently, take the time to wipe the outside off with a cloth lightly dampened with rubbing alcohol. This removes the oils of the perspiration from your hands and any dirt that might be on the surface and makes the actual polishing go a lot quicker.

Helpful Hints and Reminders

  • Pliers and trumpets don't go together – ever! If your mouthpiece happens to get stuck for any reason, DO NOT use pliers to try to get it loose, and just as important, DO NOT let your dad try it either. Depending on how stuck it is, using the pliers can scratch and damage the mouthpiece at the very least. In worse cases the mouthpiece won't free up but the mouthpipe will start to break away off the body of the trumpet. In the worst cases the person trying to “unstuck” the mouthpiece can pull the entire mouthpipe off the body of the trumpet, and the mouthpiece is still stuck!
  • If and when the mouthpiece gets stuck, first ask your band director for help. Most band directors have a tool called a mouthpiece puller that can remove a stuck mouthpiece quickly and easily without damaging the mouthpiece or the trumpet. If the band director cannot help you, then take your trumpet to your local band instrument store and ask for their help.
  • When you're holding or playing the trumpet, don't put your right little finger, the “pinky” finger, in the finger hook on the mouthpipe. Instead, place your little finger on top of the hook. In order to do this you have to raise your entire hand just a little bit, and what it does is gives your first, second and third fingers a better angle to push the valves down.
  • When your little finger is in the hook your other fingers are fairly flat when they touch the valves. It's hard to push the valves straight down in this position; instead they get pushed partly sideways at the same time they are being pressed down. When the little finger rests on top of the finger hook then the other fingers have some arch to them and can push the valves down straight every time. This makes the valves work better and faster.
  • So why is the finger hook there, you ask? You need to use the finger hook at times when you have to hold the trumpet with just your right hand. This could be when you need to keep playing while you turn a page of music, or it could be when you're playing and you need to put a mute in the trumpet or take one out. With your little finger in the hook you can still work the valves while you hold the trumpet with just your right hand.
  • When you are placing the horn back in the case do not store your band method book on top of the instrument. Most trumpets and trumpet cases are designed these days so that padded inside of the lid comes right down on top of the trumpet, leaving no room for a book. Forcing a book to fit by pushing down on the lid to close it can damage the instrument.
  • Keep your trumpet safe. It should only be "on your face or in the case!" Do not leave it on your chair, the sofa, the table, the floor, or the piano. If a trumpet is dropped it can cause extensive damage and expensive repair.
  • Always carry your case with the lid or top side of the case toward your body. This way, if the case were to unexpectedly open for any reason, you would have the chance to pull the case against your body to prevent the instrument from falling out. If the lid is facing away from you and the case opens there is no way for you to keep the instrument from falling out.
  • Whether the information is on a card inside the case, a label or an ID tag, make sure your instrument has identification on it showing that it belongs to you. Almost all band instruments have their own unique serial number on the body of the instrument so you shouldn't mark the instrument itself, but do have proof of ownership somewhere inside or on the case.