Maintaining a slide that responds effortlessly is the lifeblood for a trombonist of any age and level of study. A well maintained slide allows for the player to expand on their technique and focus on their air management. A well maintained slide also prevents students from establishing bad habits, like the death grip. A slide that glides will only motivate the trombonist to spend more time playing.
This content will serve as a general guide for trombonists and educators that are not trombonists by trade. I will first list the mechanical prerequisites that need to be set in place before lubrication. Next, I will describe the various methods of lubricating the slide along with the pros and cons. Lastly, I will guide you through a “P and P Test” that allows you to gauge the responsiveness of your slide.
First things first. It is crucial for the slide to be free of all structural impediments before lubricating.
- Check for dents on both the inner and outer slides.
I recommend that you remove the outer slide from the inner slide. Examine one slide at a time. Ensure the slide you are not working with is on a secure, flat surface.
In addition to a visual inspection, proceed with a tactile inspection by positioning your thumb and index finger on opposite sides on the tubing. Slowly run thumb and finger along the entire length of each of the four slide tubings while rotating around the circumference.
- Look for any wearing or pitting on the chrome plating of the inner slides.
- Inspect the alignment of the inner slide to the outer slide.
This is particularly tricky. You can usually feel it as you extend the slide from first position until the outer slide comes off the inner slide. Look for a consistent hairline gap between the inner and outer slide as you extend the slide. Notice once the outer slide comes off the inner slide if the inner slide vibrates due to the release of tension between each of the slides. If this is the case, then the slide is sprung.
If any of these steps you have completed does not meet your standards upon inspection, then it is necessary you must take the instrument to a reputable brass technician.
Now that the slide passes inspection or has been serviced, it is time to consider your lubricant.
Slide oil is the most popular method of applying lubricant by beginners since it is the standard item supplied with music company instrument rentals. Although it is a fairly quick and easy application, it has some drawbacks. It has a slight but noticeable odor, traps dirt, and is harder to clean up on your hands as well as your clothes if oil happens to drip on the fabric.
Here are a few slide oils we carry at the Music Den:
Superslick Slide Maintenance Kit
This is my personal preference. The kit contains three items: one small tub of cream, a droplet vial of cream protectant, and a pocket size water sprayer. You will also need a paper towel or rag. You can purchase these items individually or as the entire kit. Most advanced students as well as professionals use this method but I would recommend to educators at the elementary level not to shy away from getting your trombone students to learn this application. The application is more complex and labor intensive however the benefits outweigh the setbacks. The cream is water based so it doesn’t have a pungent odor and is easy to wash out of your hands and clothes. The application also has a more even spread on the surface of the inner slides resulting in a smoother feel that lasts longer between applications (this is possible because the water that is sprayed on the inner slides on top of the cream base and preserver acts as the actual lubricant).
Please note – you will need to skip the ad in the beginning of the video in order to watch the demonstration. Also note that after you apply the cream, drip one drop of cream protectant on each of the inner slide stockings (this is the part that bumps out beyond seventh position)
Slide O’ Mix
The most recent lubricant added to the market is Slide o’ Mix. It is similar to the Superslick Kit since it is primarily water based. It also consists of a multi step application process, and a paper towel or rag is needed. The advantage is the application is similar to that of the slide oil and you are not consumed with spreading the cream evenly on the inner slide surface. What I did find in the time that I did use this application is it doesn’t last as long as a superslick cream. It also cost slightly more.
The P and P Test
Now that you have lubricated your slide, it is time to perform what i call the P (perpendicular) and P (parallel) test.
- With the trombone assembled, hold the horn in front of you in a vertical position. Your slide is now perpendicular to the floor. Loosely hold the slide bar between your thumb and fingers. Spread your thumb and fingers moving the slide back and forth (this covers roughly the distance between any given slide position). Continue doing this same motion while moving down past fourth position. Gauge the fluidity of the slide using this as a gauge for the next part. think and feel, “your slide should glide”.
- Now rotate the horn towards a horizontal position slowly and stop. Rotate approximately 45 degrees from a vertical position where the slide would be parallel to the floor. Perform the same sequence of motions described in step 1. The slide is properly lubricated if it responds the same as when it is in the vertical position.
- Perform this same test every time you play your trombone. If the slide is not moving with the same fluidity in step 2 as in step 1, then it is time to lubricate.
I hope these tips will help as you continue in your journey through the world of music with your trusty trombone by your slide…., I mean side.