Play the chromatic and you no doubt experience the frustrations of the many before you. When that button sticks during a 16th note run, you ask yourself why in the name of Larry Adler did you ever begin playing the chrom.
However, keeping the slide functioning and smooth isn’t as difficult as you might think and the science behind it is pretty basic.
Your Seydel chromatic mouthpiece assembly is made up of several precisely machined pieces of metal that are compressed against the comb and reed plates. This compression is necessary so that air from your breath goes entirely towards speaking the reeds and doesn’t escape out the top and bottom of the mouthpiece. A clear and crisp tone results from an air tight fit in the mouthpiece assembly.
This would not be complex to achieve except that somewhere in there, we have a slide that has to move freely in two directions while pressed up against two pieces of metal.
As air from your breath passes through the mouthpiece, moisture and solid micro particles from your breath cling to the mouthpiece and slide surfaces. These remain on the exterior of the parts making them rough. This creates friction which causes the slide to become hard to press and sticky. It is not uncommon for there to be so much accumulation of saliva debris on the slide and mouthpiece parts that it will actually be locked or frozen open and seemingly impossible to move.
Many players will habitually force their sticking slide. It is common to see chromatics where the player actually put bends in the slide near the button and in some cases even break the slide. Even the slightest bend or crease in a slide will cause it to permanently stick. Since the slide is a narrow and somewhat flexible piece of metal, it has to move freely and under minimal tension or it will bend.
To insure a free moving slide, saliva and dirt particles have to be rinsed off. Just like a muddy car will clean when the mud is fresh, the saliva particles on your slide will clean off easiest after playing. The simplest technique is to momentarily soak the slide in a sauce pan of water as shown in the video below. However, many top players will actually take the additional step and completely disassemble the slide mechanism for regular cleaning. Whichever cleaning option you choose, it is important to understand the importance of frequent and regular slide cleaning as a way to insure free movement of the slide.