Tuba Maintenance: Tips & Advice

Getting an excellent deal on a tuba at Music & Arts is only one aspect of owning an instrument that will perform well for years to come. Like any other musical instrument, the tuba requires regular cleaning and maintenance in order to look and sound its best. Although it’s one of the largest instruments in a marching band, cleaning a tuba isn’t all that difficult–all it takes is a basic understanding of the different parts of a tuba and some consistency. From oiling the valves to storing the instrument properly, here’s everything you need to know about tuba care and maintenance.

The Main Components of a Tuba

First things first, it helps to have a basic understanding of the different parts of your tuba. That way when we use terms like “valves” and “water keys” you know exactly what we’re referring to. Your teacher should go over the different parts when he or she shows you how to disassemble and reassemble your instrument, but in the meantime here’s an overview:

  • Mouthpiece- the place where air enters a tuba, making sound
  • Leadpipe- transfers air to the valves
  • Tuba Body- the piping that makes up the tuba (minus the valves)
  • Bell- the opening of the tuba through which sound passes into the air
  • Valves- create different pitches for the notes played on the tuba
  • Valve Piping- pipes through which air is directed when the air is pressed
  • Water Key- allows the tuba player to drain moisture from the interior of the tuba
  • Main Tuning Slide- adjusts the length of the tuba’s piping for tuning
  • Valve Slides- adjusts the length of the valve piping in order to tune the tuba

Each of the above components plays a special part in producing sound, and all require focused cleaning. Now that you’re familiar with the different parts of your tuba, it’s time to dive right into some tips.

Tip #1: Avoid Denting Your Tuba

Think of your tuba as your child: you must know where it is at all times. By keeping track of your instrument, you’re more likely to avoid accidentally bumping it into music stands, dropping it on the floor, or letting it fall out of its case and onto the floor. Although many dents can be removed by a professional, some of the more severe dents can actually affect the way your tuba sounds. If you do notice dents on your instrument, avoid trying to remove them yourself. Many well-meaning parents cause even more damage to their child’s tuba by trying to remove the dents without the help of a professional.

Tip #2: Use Swabs to Remove Moisture

In its most basic form, brass instrument maintenance involves keeping the outside and inside of your tuba clean. While the outside is easy enough to keep polished, the inside can pose some challenges. First, tubas are sensitive to moisture. If you allow saliva and other kinds of moisture to adhere to the inside of your tuba, it can corrode and cause rust. Wiping away this moisture with a swab is your first line of defense. Swabs are essentially weighted cloths with a string, and are crucial to keeping your tuba clean and maintained. Be sure to use a swab on the sections of your tuba that are most likely to collect moisture (like the sections from the mouthpieces to the slides)–just a couple minutes of “swabbing” a day can help remove the moisture and greatly improve the life of your tuba.

Tip #3: Polish Your Tuba (Every Day)

Polishing your tuba every day may seem like overdoing it, especially if you only play your tuba once or twice a week. In such cases,  the general rule of thumb should be to  wipe down your tuba after each use. Wiping your tuba down with a polishing cloth can prevent tarnish and other exterior damage caused by the exposure of your tuba to the dirt on your hands and the dust in the air. With that in mind, some tarnish is to be expected. While you’re at it, drain the moisture in your tuba by pressing the water keys and blowing a stream of air through the tuba to drain any moisture that may be present. Note: do not use lacquer polishes on plated finishes; when in doubt, use a dry cloth and a minimal amount of water.

Tip #4: Clean Your Mouthpiece (Weekly)

The mouthpiece of your tuba is a breeding ground for bacteria. After all, it acts as a barrier between your mouth and the rest of the instrument. As a part of your routine maintenance, you should be brushing out the inside with a mouthpiece brush and warm, soapy water, and you should be doing so on a weekly basis. Rinse with cold water and dry thoroughly. After each use, you should rinse the brush and remember to remove the mouthpiece and place it in a protective pouch when not in use. If you notice a weird smell whenever you let your instrument sit for a few days without playing, get into the habit of brushing your teeth before you play.

Tip #5: Oil the Valves & Grease the Slides

When oiling the valves, it’s best to do so in the comfort of your own home. If you oil your valves in a busy room, it’s more likely that someone will bump into you, causing you to drop, dent, or otherwise damage the valves. Oil the valves one at a time, applying 3-4 drops of oil to each valve. As far as frequency goes, don’t oil the valves every time you play. Instead, oil them a few times a week or whenever they start to feel particularly sluggish. To avoid the hassle (and cost!) of an acid bath at a professional repair shop, get into the habit of keeping your slides well greased. Use a specialized slide grease and always be sure to wipe off the excess.

For even more information about the tuba, check out Some of the Most Common Repairs for the Tuba and How to Choose a Case for Your Tuba.

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