Trombones are a critical voice in any band or symphonic ensemble, and compared to most other wind instruments, they are actually pretty simple machines. However, if you haven't spent much time playing trombones, they may seem like a bit of a mystery.
If you're a band director with a robust and rambunctious trombone section, it's important to understand how to keep trombone slides moving lightning fast. Here are some tips on the best options for lubricating trombone slides.
Trombone Slide Cream
In the past, trombones didn't have the option of special lubricants created with high-tech ingredients, so players improvised with whatever they had available. One of the most popular choices at that time was old-fashioned facial cold cream – the kind that came in a jar and had a creamy consistency similar to yogurt or toothpaste. This may seem like an odd choice, but believe it or not when applied properly, this greasy cream did make a pretty good lubricant for trombone slides! You probably won't find many players still using facial cream these days, but official cream-style lubricants remain a popular choice today.
Here's the way I was taught to apply slide cream when I first learned to play trombone:
Depending on how much you play, slide cream may need to be reapplied after a few days or weeks. However, be careful – it's easy to over-apply cream or use too much. When that happens, the slide can get gummy and slow even with water. Remember, if you can actually see the cream, there's too much, so clean the slide thoroughly and start over with a fresh thin layer.
Liquid Trombone Slide Lubricants
In more recent years, a variety of lubricants have been specifically created for trombone slides that are thicker than oil but still much thinner than creams. Some of these come as a two-part mixture, while others (like this Yamaha Trombone Slide Lubricant) come in a single bottle. Liquid lubricants are preferred by many professional players and are an excellent option for students and beginners because they are easy to use. And best of all, they make your slide incredibly fast!
That's all there is to it! You may need to re-apply liquid slide lubricants a bit more frequently than the cream, but the process is much simpler and quicker, and your slide will still move just as fast and maybe even faster.
I don't generally recommend using oil for trombone slides, but it is an option if you're caught without anything else. Use a good quality valve oil, preferably something on the heavier/thicker side and apply several drops to the top of the inner slides just like you would with a liquid lubricant. However, do not use a water spray because that will wash away the oil, and you'll need to reapply frequently.
No matter which type of lubricant you choose, it's important to remember that a trombone slide must be clean, straight and free from any dents or physical problems to work properly. If you know there's a dent or if the slide moves slowly or gets stuck even with proper lubrication, be sure to have the instrument looked at by a repair technician as soon as possible.