A brass instrument, that is used in both classical and jazz ensembles, the trumpet can produce the highest register in the brass family and has been historically used to signal in battle or whilst hunting.
Today, however, it is a common orchestral instrument and for those wanting an instrument that produces a loud, bold sound, a trumpet can provide just that. However, as great as they are, there is one common problem that sticks out over all others, and that is sticky valves.
Luckily, we have written this article to cover some of these common problems and how to fix them, as well as give you an easy fix to sticky keys. You want your trumpet to work properly, and so knowing the quick fixes to these problems will allow all your components to work together consistently.
The moveable parts of the instrument such as the slides and valves need to always be in working order as they are the parts that often cause problems.
If these problems aren’t fixed, it can not only affect your play but also the functioning of certain components so keep reading to prepare yourself should you ever encounter one and keep this article handy should you ever need to revisit it.
So what exactly are sticky keys? Sticky keys are a common problem that trumpet players all over the world often face. The keys, known as the valves, may sometimes feel sticky and when this happens they might get stuck at certain points.
The valves should move up and down freely and smoothly to allow ease of play and produce a high-quality sound. However, if the valve key gets stuck midway through as you press down or are about to press down on it, it could be a sign of sticky keys.
Sticky keys make it difficult for you to play your instrument and can completely ruin your sound.
Fortunately, like with most other problems, there is an easy fix and this fix involves oil. If you oil your valves regularly, you can avoid sticky keys altogether. Ensure you have a high-quality oil and this should lubricate the valves well.
How much you oil the valves will depend on how much you play. If you play as often as once a day, you should oil them at least once a week and if you play for long periods during these days, you should oil your valves even more often than that.
How to Oil your Trumpet
Oiling your trumpet is a simple process and by following our step-by-step guide, you’ll be on your way in no time. If you are a younger player, however, you might need some assistance from a parent or guardian or your music teacher before you start to oil your valves. If it is your own child or student that needs to oil their valves, you should be able to assist them, as well as carry out basic valve repair techniques yourself.
- You will first need to lie the trumpet down on a flat surface.
- You will then unscrew the first valve, before sliding it and pulling it out slightly. Don’t pull it out all the way as this can cause it to fall and get damaged. Furthermore, as you pull out the valve, you could end up putting it back wrong. Ensure you only pull one slide out at a time to avoid any chance of you mixing them up.
- Squeeze a couple of drops of oil onto the shaft of the valve and avoid placing the oil in the holes.
- Next, you need to carefully slide in back the valve until you hear a sound that sounds like a click.
- Now, tighten the valve cap up.
Potential Problems after Oiling your Trumpet
Although oiling can be an easy fix to sticky keys, it can open a door to its own set of problems. For example, the oil can even be the cause of a set of sticky keys.
The valves may get sticky if the oil has loosened slightly and dripped in the valve case. A simple fix to this would be the pull out the valve and wipe it down with a clean cloth. You will then need to oil the valve once more before re-inserting it again. You might need to remove the bottom valve cap entirely to clean and wipe the valve casing.
You might even find that after oiling your trumpet, you struggle to blow on the trumpet. If you come across this problem, the chances are that you have placed the valves backward.
This might be the simplest solution, however, as all you will need to do is pull the valve out again and ensure the number engraving is pointing towards the mouthpiece.
Other Common Problems
Though sticky keys are often the problem faced most by trumpet players, there is a range of other problems that during your music career, you might come across. We are about to go through these and provide some simple solutions to get you playing again in no time at all.
When your trumpet is still new, you should not encounter any problems with air leakage. This is because air leakage is always a result of frequent wear and tear of an instrument used very frequently.
After continuous playing, the valves might loosen and air might begin to leak between them and the casing. This air leakage will affect the trumpet’s response and consequently its sound.
If a valve is particularly loose, it might bind within the casing. One way of reducing air leakage is by purchasing and using heavier valve oil. However, it is always best to have valve work done or get a professional to replace the valves entirely.
If your sound appears to be stuffy or sound airy, this could be an indication that you have a problem with the valves. To locate this problem and solve it simply, there are several things you could do.
- You could investigate the valve and look for worn down or missing felts, corks or spacers.
- You should also check the water key. Ensure this key is not leaking or broken and if the cork for the water key is leaking or has worn down, the seal won’t be as secure as it should be and this could be what is causing the stuffy or airy sound. Moreover, check out the missing or broken water key spring and ensure the key is not bent.
- The airy or stuffy sound can even be caused by accidentally mixing up the valves when you are cleaning the trumpet. To find out if this is the problem, have a look to see if the valves are in their correct position. Check each number, 1, 2, and 3, and ensure you know where they are supposed to be placed. Valve 1 should go in the casing that is closest to the mouthpiece, valve 2 need to be positioned in the center and valve 3 should be on the outside, nearest to the bell.
- If rust or broken welds have caused small holes in your trumpet, this can cause air leakage and also be the cause of an airy or stuffy sound so be sure to check this out too.
- Finally, check to see if anything has gotten stuck in the trumpet itself. Pull out the valves and pull the slides out and pull through a cleaning snake inside the tubing. You can buy a cleaning snake specifically for this purpose and instrument.
Another common problem that trumpet players face is that the mouthpiece can become stuck. The best way to fix this problem is to buy a mouthpiece puller. These are designed to help you remove stuck mouthpieces, without actually damaging your instrument.
They are usually a one-time investment and are a handy piece of equipment to have on you as a trumpet player. If you don’t own a mouthpiece puller, however, you can use the ‘twist and pull’ method or a rubber hammer to gently tap below the mouthpiece against the receiver to loosen it enough to pop it out.
If this doesn’t work, apply heat to the area or stick the trumpet in the freezer for 30 minutes. Either the heat will widen the pipe or the cold will shrink the mouthpiece and you should be able to easily slip it out.
This is usually only a problem if you end up buying a second-hand trumpet for a lower price or a vintage trumpet model. Some of these instruments could arrive with the valve buttons completely missing.
You can get replacement valve buttons either at your local trumpet repair shop or online. However, make sure you know how to replace them properly otherwise we would recommend you get the trumpet valves replaced by a professional.
We hope by reading this article you are now aware of how to fix sticky valves and are knowledgeable of other problems you might encounter whilst playing the trumpet.
If you know how to fix these problems, however, you’ll be back to playing in no time at all, and remember, if you oil your valves regularly, you can avoid the problem of sticky keys completely.