Tools of the Trade, Part 2

This post is the second part of a series on some important tools and equipment for the horn teacher. You can read the first part here. In the first part we looked at horns, mouthpieces, tuners, and metronomes, and in this installment we’ll talk about mutes, breathing devices, and valve oil.


As with mouthpieces, I’m still putting my mute collection together, but I feel like I have the basics covered as well as a few extra options.  You can see the majority of my mutes in the picture below.

On the far left is a mute by Ion Balu.  This is his “small bell” model, and is the newest mute I own.  It’s a great mute for almost every situation, and is also tunable.  My only complaint about the mute is that it is a bit heavy.  To the right of the Balu mute is my trusty Trumcor #45, which I’ve had since my freshman year in college.  The Trumcor is also a great mute, and a bit lighter than the Balu.  However it is not tunable.  This particular specimen could probably use some new corks as well. Third from the left is one of the better Stonelined mutes. This one actually gets a pretty nice sound throughout the range, and is tunable (although the tuning mechanism won’t really stay in place).  If you want a decent mute but want to stay out of the $100 and above range, this is a good way to go.  Moving further to the right are two types of transposing brass stop mutes.  The first is by Alexander, and is usually very expensive.  I was lucky and found one in excellent condition on for a greatly reduced price.  Alexander stop mutes have a much larger bell than the traditional stop mute, and are also tunable.  It comes with two different bell sizes as well for even more options. Another good stop mute is the Tom Crown, seen to the right of the Alexander.  They are reasonably priced, and will generally get the job done.  On the far right is my favorite practice mute, by Best Brass. It is light, quiet, and very easy to bring along when traveling.  The resistance is minimal when compared to other practice mutes.  These mutes usually live in my teaching studio, and I also have a few other mutes at home; another Trumcor #44 and a Balu practice mute. At some point it would be nice to pick up a horn cup mute, as well as a metal straight mute, possibly a Denis Wick. Other mutes I’d like to try include the Balu stop mute and a Moosic mute.

Breathing Devices

These make great teaching tools, and are relatively inexpensive when compared to most other horn playing equipment.

On the left is a Voldyne type device normally used for respiratory therapy, but for my teaching I basically use it to measure lung capacity and to show students just how little air they actually inhale vs. what the tension in their body makes them think they’re inhaling. On the right is a Breath Builder, which is a bit more fun to use than the Voldyne. It is a great tool for working on inhalation as well as exhalation.  Both of these devices can usually be purchased for about $15-30 each.

Valve Oil, etc.

Most teachers have personal preferences when it comes to valve oil, but I think the most important requirement is that it works!  If you aren’t happy with your current oil, try something different; it’s definitely worth the time and small amount of money. I switched to Hetman oils a few years ago, and I’ve been extremely pleased with their products.  I generally use the #12 rotor oil down the slide tubes and the slightly heavier #14 bearing/linkage oil on the bearings, springs, and mechanical linkages.  To the left of the oils is a big bottle of M-T-Mist mouthpiece sanitizer.  I started using this a couple of years ago to clean my mouthpiece at the end of the day.  Good horn maintenance starts with keeping your mouthpiece clean, and no matter what you use to clean it you should do so on at least a semi-regular basis.  Keeping the mouthpiece clean will not only help keep your horn clean but can also reduce the  frequency of lip irritations you experience, like pimples, ingrown hairs, cold sores, etc.

One other tool that I highly recommend for any musician is some sort of recording device.  My current recorder is an Edirol R-09HR.  It’s a great little device, easy to use but with plenty of features. You can read a more extensive review of the Edirol here.

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One of the best practice mutes, in my opinion, is an empty 20-ounce water bottle (like Dasani or Aquafina). Seriously, try it — find an empty bottle, remove the cap and stick the open end in your bell. You have to hold it in place because it doesn’t ‘stick’ like a real mute, but other than that it works nearly as well as any practice mute I’ve tried–and costs MUCH less. A great option if you find yourself unexpectedly wanting to warmup or practice in a quiet place.


That’s a great idea Daren! I will definitely try that. You could even “customize” the mute with some two-sided tape or something to help it stay in the bell. I’ve also heard that a styrofoam coffee cup with a small hole in the bottom makes a decent stopping mute.


re: tools of the trade – what about slide grease? I’m interested because I find myself in this cycle where oiling the valves breaks down the slide grease (3rd valve, F & Bb); however re-greasing the slides over time slows up the valve, requiring more valve oil… I use Hettman for both. Maybe this goes away over time as the horn is only 2 years old.


Great question Michael. I use Schilke slide grease, but I’m careful to only use a small amount at a time so that the excess doesn’t 1) collect on the edges of the slide tubes and get rubbed on clothing and 2)get carried down into the rotors by oil.

I also don’t really use slide grease that often, perhaps only once every couple of months, whereas I use oil once every couple of days.

If you find that your rotors are starting to slow because of slide grease and other gunk, I’d recommend giving the horn a good bath in warm, soapy water, rinsing and drying it thoroughly, and then re-oiling and re-greasing.


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