Prevent and Address Brass Instrument Emergencies


If your first concert of the year is quickly approaching, now is a great time to review instrument care and repair. I work with beginners, second year, and third year band students in a middle school. Some students have brand new instruments; some have more experienced instruments. My first concerts frequently come with instrument repair headaches! I try to reduce these headaches with prevention. When they come up anyway, I’m ready with some triage and an occasional quick fix. For this post, I’ll focus on some tips for the brass instruments.


A quick, periodic check of instruments is always a good idea. Schedule this accordingly to fit the turn-around time your technician typically needs. Check to see if slides and valves move like they should. A little care ahead of time will prevent concert emergencies.

Take the time to show students how to oil the valves and return them to the correct position. A valve that is in the wrong tube, or in the right tube backwards will not play. Students should be told not to oil more than one valve at a time to prevent problems with this. To align the valves correctly, turn them clockwise. It is surprising how often students put oiling valves (for the first time) on their to-do list right before the concert (and how often they don’t get it quite right). Thank goodness for engraved numbers on valves! Keep in mind that these numbers should typically face the player. When in doubt, gently blow some air into the horn; you’ll know immediately if you’ve got something in backwards.

There are a number of other common sense things students should know about protecting instruments. Bumping a mouthpiece against a music stand or hitting it with your hand to make a popping sound is asking for a stuck mouthpiece. An inexperienced student should not be using a screwdriver to make adjustments right before the concert. Everyone should keep their instrument in a case in a secure location when they are not using it. These are all things from your methods classes in college. Take the time to tell your students about them.

I think one of the most important things you can do to prepare your beginning bands for a concert is to talk about what one should and should not do after arriving. Putting the instrument together should happen shortly before the warm-up. Putting instruments together too early is an invitation to disaster/ If you have a beginning band, you know what I mean. Kids get curious and try out someone else’s instrument and then it gets dropped. Walking up to another student to just to say hello and catching the instrument on clothing or a music stand are things that can and do happen. Make sure your students understand that no one is to touch their instrument before the concert and they should only set it up when they are seated in a safe spot/ Then warm-up carefully.

Triage and repairs

There are some things that you can do before a concert to fix instruments. How deep you want to get into these is up to you. Right before a concert, my philosophy is if it can wait to be fixed, it probably should.

For instance, a stuck brass mouthpiece really isn’t a problem until it is time to pack up for the evening. It really can wait. Be sure the student knows that he should leave it alone and stop pulling on it. The person with the stuck mouthpiece should also be reminded that his friends should not be trying to “fix” it as well. (Yes, I have had the two-piece trumpet developed right before the concert by a pair of students.) I do keep a mouth piece puller in my portable repair kit to be used after the concert:

Mouthpiece Puller

If you have no shop close to you and have some time and skills, you may consider doing some more major repairs. The Valentino Repair Kits are something a well-prepared director should consider having on hand.

If you have tools and are wondering if you have time, I would take a look at the United States Army Field Band videos on YouTube. Master Sergeant Dale Barton works through some common repairs there. These videos will give you a good idea what is involved in making the repair.

There are other solutions to a broken instrument besides on-the-spot repairs. Is there a back-up instrument available? Maybe a recent graduate has one at home you could borrow for the concert. Do you have an instrument that you use for teaching that can become a loaner? Is there a group that isn’t playing on this concert you might borrow an instrument from? Sometimes, the best repair plan is to leave the repair to the full-time professionals and a little creative shuffling can make that happen.

Hopefully, you won’t have any brass instrument emergencies this concert season. If you do, I hope the solutions I have offered have helped you out. Have a great concert.

Roger WhaleyRoger Whaley graduated with Bachelors in Music Education from North Dakota State University in 1982 and completed his Masters at the American Band College in Ashland, Oregon in 1993. While at ABC, he saw an early version of SmartMusic and has been fascinated by the use of technology in education ever since. Currently, he is teaching at Grandview Middle School for the Westonka Public Schools in Mound, Minnesota. He has been at Grandview for 22 years.

Roger writes a blog mostly about his experiences with SmartMusic at

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