To clean or not to clean. That is the question I likely get asked the most when giving clinics. The answer is of course . . . Clean. No matter how well you rinse your mouth prior to playing, there will still be a build-up of proteins and minerals inside the mouthpiece when your session is completed. Over time this build-up can not only be create an unattractive white crust (or worse), but can also change the interior geometry of your mouthpiece. These changes can affect response and pitch more than you might imagine.
I once had a young student who could not play up to pitch to save her life. After working on air focus, tongue placement and embouchure, I finally looked through the bore of her mouthpiece and discovered a clogged mess that would frighten even the most experienced plumber. After several vinegar treatments and some serious excavation, she could finally find her way to 440. (I may also suggest that her overall health improved after removing the proverbial petri dish from her piece).
The moral of the story? Simple daily cleanings will help you avoid becoming “that girl”. Below is a list of Dos and Don’ts that I’ve collected over the years. These will not only help you keep your piece in excellent performance shape but help prevent premature problems.
DO: Rinse mouthpiece at least once a week with lukewarm water and maybe a bit of soap to cut through the proteins.
DON’T: No matter how tempted you are to get that mess clean, do not use hot water. The temperature can cause the hard rubber from which your piece was made to shift or warp.
DO: Use a very soft cloth (micro fiber ) to provide a bit more scrubbing power if needed. Sometimes a SOFT bristled toothbrush works as well. Just be careful to keep the head from striking the walls or baffle.
DON’T: Use any product called mouthpiece brush sold in care kits. These have bristles that are far to hard and the unprotected, wire stem is just a major scratch waiting to happen.
DO: Allow your mouthpiece to air dry after cleaning or playing.
DON’T: Run a swab through the mouthpiece to remove any excess moisture. Continual swabbing can erode the interior of the mouthpiece causing a change on response, color and intonation.