A guide to looking after your marching band instruments

a marching band plays marching band instruments

Marching band instruments

We can divide marching band instruments into three musical families. These are percussion, woodwind and brass instruments. Although the instrumentation varies between each marching band, most bands feature many of the same members of these families.

Marching band instruments in the brass family include trumpets, mellophones, tenor trombones, bass trombones, euphoniums and sousaphones. Bands will often add other instruments, such as cornets or French horns, to supplement or replace the more common ones.

Common woodwind instruments in a marching band include Bb clarinets, alto saxophones, tenor saxophones, flutes and piccolos. Eb clarinets, baritone saxophones, oboes and bassoons can also feature occasionally in marching bands.

Percussion instruments are also vital to a marching band, as they allow the members to march in time with each other. Snare drums, tenor drums, bass drums and cymbals are fundamental marching band instruments.

What happens to marching band instruments which are not properly maintained?

The effects of not taking care of your instrument can vary with each product. For example, important parts of brass instruments such as valves, slides and mouthpieces can go dry if neglected. This can easily result in a damaged or jammed instrument, which may lead to expensive repairs.

Even if your marching band instrument seems to be working well, it is vital to keep up regular maintenance to ensure the performance and sound quality of the instrument remains at the highest level possible.

Key tips for brass instruments

Brass marching band instruments require a great deal of attention. You should regularly clean a brass mouthpiece with warm water and soap to keep it well maintained and preserve its sound quality. A mouthpiece can also become dry over time. To prevent it from getting stuck to the instrument, apply a few drops of valve oil to the bore.

Valves themselves must be frequently looked after to keep them from jamming. Apply a few drops of valve oil to each valve and spread the oil evenly, to ensure they remain fully lubricated. For trombones, place the hand slide into third position and apply slide oil to each slide. This should be done approximately once a week.

Key tips for woodwind instruments

Woodwind instruments in a marching band require equal care and attention. Moisture inside an instrument is a major issue and can cause long term damage. To prevent this, pull a clean, dry swab through your instrument each time before you put it away. Furthermore, cork joints can get dry and cause two instrument parts to stick together. Apply a small amount of cork grease whenever you see the cork start to dry.

Reeds are an important feature of several woodwind instruments. They are fragile and are damaged easily if not properly looked after. Never store reeds on the mouthpiece when you put away your instrument. Keep them in a specific reed storage case because the humidity must always be controlled. Do not always play with the same reed – alternating your reeds will give them a longer lifespan.

Finally, always remember to clean your mouthpiece out after use, and place a protective cap on when storing it.

Key tips for percussion instruments

Percussion instruments require less maintenance. To clean a drum head, gently rub the surface with a damp cloth, making sure you do not apply water directly to the head. Use wood or furniture polish on a clean cloth when cleaning a drum shell.


Presentation is key when it comes to marching band instruments. Depending on the material of your instrument, use a specific cloth to polish and maintain the shine of the instrument. For example, you can use a Westminster Lacquer Cloth to polish a lacquered saxophone.

Alternatively, you can apply products such as brass shine polish and silver polish on a dry, clean cloth and rub onto the instrument. Blitz Brass Shine Polish is great for brass instruments, and Silvo works for silver plated instruments.

How BBICO can supply the ideal care and maintenance supplies for marching band instruments

BBICO’s Westminster brand of supplies for marching band instruments includes several important accessories for instrument care and maintenance. BBICO also supply maintenance accessories from a range of other brands. From valve oil to lacquer cleaning cloths, BBICO can supply all the necessary accessories for instrument care, as well as the instruments themselves.

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