How to empty water from your horn

This is a response to an email from a reader:

I am a horn player – amateur but fairly serious.  I have a problem that I don’t seem to know the solution to.  I seem to accumulate much more condensation (‘spit’ but I am told it is mostly not :-)) in my horn than most.  I talk to the other players in my section and no advice.  This has been the case over ten years on two different horns (both Hoyers if that is relevant).  Just wondered if you have heard of this and have any advice.

It’s kind of embarrassing to be playing along a nice smooth bit and hear the gurgles!

Avoiding the “gurgles” is a challenge for many of us.  To keep the instrument free of water, it’s important to have two things: a good emptying routine, and good timing.

How to empty the horn:

I play a Conn 8D, which has three tuning slides besides the valve slides.  When I empty it, I start with the main tuning slide and empty all three of these before emptying the valve slides.  Then, I turn my horn so that the bell faces up, and hold down the 3rd valve while rapidly cycling the 1st and 2nd valves for several seconds.  I then rotate the horn so that any water that has run out of the first and second valve slides will run into the third valve slides.  I wait a second or two, then pull those and empty them.  I usually don’t pull out my first and second valve slides unless I need to lubricate them.

I also have a spit valve mounted on my lead pipe, which I frequently use.  I go through the whole emptying routine described above when I first take my horn out before playing it, and during long rests.  Most of the time, I just empty through the spit valve, or by pulling the three non-valve tuning slides.

Sometimes I get water in a place where my normal emptying routine doesn’t get it out.  When this happens, I rotate my horn clockwise several times until water runs out the bell.  If that doesn’t work, I press all the valves and blow air through the instrument, then repeat the rotations.  Once I’ve gotten water out of the bell, I empty all my slides in the manner described above.

When to empty the horn:

The air you blow through your horn comes out hot and humid.  As you play, you literally heat your instrument.  When you rest, the horn cools, and water condenses from the humid air inside.  Think of the layer of condensation on the outside of a glass of ice water on a hot day.  That’s what is happening inside your horn.  Even if you empty your horn right after playing, more water will condense inside it as it cools, and when you start playing again after a long tacit passage, you’ll get the “gurgles.”

To avoid this, make sure you always check for water immediately before playing.  You don’t have to empty every slide, but at least empty your main tuning slide right before you come back in.

Other things to consider:

Consider having one or more water keys installed in  your instrument.  It’s a quick and inexpensive procedure.  I recommend at least having a water key on your lead pipe.  Some players like having them on their third valve slides.

Do you eat close to when you play?  Some players have observed that their breath seems to be more humid after they eat for some reason.  As a result, they have to empty their water more often.

Have something to add?  Tell us about it in the comments.

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