Help! – My Trombone is Making Me Sick

Help! – My Trombone is Making Me Sick

“I coughed. I had a horrible deep barking cough — especially when I played trombone. I had a sore throat, had a low-grade fever. It was a huge hindrance. “ – excerpted from NPR story “Think Music Heals? Trombone Player Begs To Differ”

Learning the Hard Way

How many times have you seen this? Rehearsal is over and most of the band members are scattered, gone is less than a minute. Maybe they should want to pay a bit more attention to the way they clean out their instruments when rehearsal is over. That is what this one trombone player in the NPR story learned

 This picture of what’s living in the trombone.

This picture is what was living inside the player’s trombone. And it was making him sick. So what was inside the horn? According to the article ” It was a mold called fusarium. He also grew a type of bacteria called a mycobacterium, sort of a cousin of tuberculosis.” This stuff inside the trombone was causing an allergic reaction, which led to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a severe inflammation of the lungs. Microscopic organisms were breaking off and getting into lungs each time he inhaled. Let’s say it all together: YUCK!

What Did You Think Would Happen?

All musicians, especially brass players, are “spitting” into their horns (Why do you think they call it a Spit Valve?) Mold and bacteria can grow in any wind instrument. Now to many people this stuff is more an aesthetic matter. But for a subset of people who react to these organisms, it’s no joke. They can make you sick, and for some, very sick.

Here is What You Should Do

Trombone (or any brass instrument) maintenance is a practice which should be a part of every musician’s daily playing routine. Keeping a clean instrument not only serves to maintain the value of your investment, but it also helps keep your slide and valve movements easy and smooth, allowing for more maneuverability with the instrument and better sound quality

How Should You Do It

Over on Wiki How they have an excellent article on “How to Clean and Maintain a Trombone”. Head on over there to see the entire article but I am going to give you the short and sweet of it.

  • 1. Disassemble the trombone by unscrewing the bell portion from the slide and removing the mouthpiece.
  • 2. Remove the outer slide and wipe off any excess grease, oil or moisture from the inner slides with a soft rag.
  • 3. Use a cleaning rod or a “snake” (a flexible rubber coated metal wire with a small brush on both ends), clean out any excess grease, oil or moisture from the insides of the outer and inner slides
  • 4. Remove the main tuning slide from the bell portion and clean the inside with a “snake”.
  • 5. Do the same for F attachment tuning slide if your trombone has the F attachment.
  • 6. If absolutely necessary, disassemble the rotary valve for the F attachment, rinse off each piece and wipe off excess oil or grease.
  • 7. Rinse all trombone components with warm water (NOT HOT, see warnings) in a shower or bath.
  • 8. Dry off all components with a soft rag, making sure that no large pockets of water remain in any of the tubing or in the rotary valve.
  • 9. Apply necessary grease to the tuning slides and attach them to the bell portion of the instrument.
  • 10. Reassemble the rotary valve and apply necessary oils.
  • 11. Reassemble inner slide and outer slide and attach it to the bell section of the trombone.
  • 12. Apply necessary slide grease or oils to the inner slide.
  • 13. Wipe down the entire outside of the trombone using a soft rag.

There are also videos on YouTube on how to clean a trombone.

How to Clean Your Trombone (YouTube)

Or as one trombone player, very simply, put it:

Clean Mouthpiece: daily

Lead pipe: weekly

Slide: monthly

Bell section: eh


Now that I have laid out the problem, what do you need to resolve the problem? Some of my go-to items are the quality horn maintenance solutions made by HW Products I especially like their Brass-Saver line for brasswinds. The HW Brass-Saver brushes offer a safe and effective method of cleaning corrosive saliva and mineral deposits from the inside of your horn. They can be used wet or dry, won’t get stuck, and unlike the traditional snake, they contain absolutely no metal so they won’t scratch.

Here is a link for the Brass-Saver for Trombone:

There are Brass-Saver products for other brass instruments:

Another option is to have a special brush to clean out the pipes. I have a couple of these over on my web store, Starving Students Music Supplies, for Trumpet and Trombone

The video on Wiki How on “How to Clean and Maintain a Trombone” mentions a set of products to use on your trombone. SuperSlick has all of these available in a set:

Keeping your trombone in good shape is a good investment into your instrument and into your personal health.

I would love to hear from you. Use the Comments section to let me know you maintain your brass instrument and your health.

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