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By Cathy Lemmon

One of the frequently arising questions, especially for younger players, is, accompanying the horn, what the best tools and other items to have on hand and readily available are. It can take years of experience to boil down what these would be. Playing recently in a pit orchestra for a musical, I started looking through the pocket on the side of my gig bag for spare batteries for my stand light. I couldn't see them straightaway, so I started unloading what was in there. The more I pulled out, the more I wondered if someone had managed to put an "Undetectable Extension Charm" on this pocket. I hadn't realized I had collected that many "things". But, you know what? These were all items I've needed at one point or another. So, looking at these, I thought, why not put together an "essentials" list—a kind of hornist's "emergency kit"? This would be something that would present at least a useful starting point to helping a hornist be ready and prepared for situations that, as a musician, will invariably happen. These "situations" can be as simple as having a sticky slide or valve during rehearsal or as drastic as having a valve string break in the middle of a concert. To have on hand what is needed when it is needed will save you a lot of trouble and headache.

So, here is a brief list of items to have on hand— as well as a short explanation, as necessary, as to why a particular item is necessary or at least desirable.
Of course, several of these items can be easily "replaced" by apps for I-Phone or Android or other smart phones. Be that as it may, I'm quite a "traditionalist" at heart, and like to have the old stand-bys on hand anyway. Having said this, I do fully recognize that some of these items as an app can save space in your utility bag or your gig bag's pocket. So, evaluate your personal needs and work accordingly.

These are listed only in alphabetical order, not in any degree of importance per se. As you collect—and use— these items, you will learn quickly that, while they're all useful, some are more important than others.

Enjoy your horn and the playing of it—and here is my hope that this list will be beneficial to you!

  • Binder clip - optional. For weight or for holding certain types of pages together.
  • Chamois - a non-slip rag to keep your bell in place if you play on the leg (can be kept with the horn itself)
  • Cleaning kit (including the "snake", etc.) - Actually, this can be optional, depending on what is in your cleaning kit. This should contain all of your valve oils and slide greases.
  • Clothes pins (4) - For holding the music to the stand when doing an outside concert - can, of course, also be two of the larger, longer clothespins
  • Cut-to-length rotor bumpers - Yes, these can and do break or fall out during rehearsal or performance. Be prepared!
  • Cut-to-length valve strings, tied on the end.
  • Ear plugs - for the massive productions of Mahler, Wagner, and the like. There are great musicians' ear plugs available that filter the sound "just right" for orchestra members.
  • Extra batteries for stand light or metronome or tuner or "else."
  • Extra money for breaks, or post-concert stress release.
  • Fishing line (20 lb) - this is for valve string. If you have some pre-cut, you won't need this- just keep some at home.
  • Hemostat (or small forceps) - not the most readily available item, but, if you can find one, this is great to hold a string or even cleaning cloth precisely in place as needed. It is also possible to use a pair of tweezers, but the hemostat has a locking mechanism that just makes things so much easier, especially if something needs to be done fast.
  • Leatherman (possibly a Leatherman Wave Tool)- Optional, but this can save space by replacing a lot of other tools.
  • Metronome - this doesn't really need an explanation.
  • Mouthpiece bag - keeps your mouthpiece(s) from damaging your horn and can also hold a tube of lip-balm.
  • Musical dictionary - Many composers write expressions, etc. in their own tongue, which may be a language not frequently used. Often musical terms appear that aren't frequently used. Having this on hand can be very helpful.
  • Oils - rotor and spindle oil (Best, of course, to have these also stored in a way that they won't leak).
  • Paper towel/s - In case tuning slide grease is needed or an oil spills and you need to wipe your fingers. Also can be used on which to place tuning slides (if needed).
  • Pencil sharpener – Be sure it's one that collects the shavings!
  • Repair kit - A good, basic repair kit will include at least a mini screwdriver set, and certain oils. Good to add to this are valve string (wrapping these cut pieces around a pencil works!), a Swiss army knife, possibly an allen wrench (for the pinky hook), etc.
  • Sandwich bags - an option in which to store paper towels, batteries, and other small items.
  • Some sort of pain killer - optional.
  • "Spit rag" – Often rehearsals and even performances for certain gigs are in a place not normally used for rehearsals (e.g. churches or certain meeting halls). This is out of respect for the owners of places like this. And it can be nice to have an extra one, again, as a kind gesture to those who don't have the foresight.
  • Stand light - It is better to be safe than sorry. Stand lights may not be provided at a production for which you are playing.
  • Tissues – You may be surprised when a sudden sniffle happens.
  • Tuner - Again, this doesn't really need an explanation.
  • Wrench (small-ish) - Used VERY carefully and with the chamois, so it doesn't mar anything, this can prove necessary if a mouthpiece ends up stuck in a horn.


Having studied music extensively, Cathy Lemmon has played with orchestras in the United States and in Germany, including playing for many operas and musicals, as well as ballet. She has taught horn as well as general music courses privately, at the public schools, and at conservatory. Also a composer and arranger, she currently freelances in the Dallas metro area.


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