As music teachers we all know that our instruments and equipment need to be properly taken care of to function. Each instrument and piece of equipment has different functions and therefore different requirements for its proper care and maintenance. Over the next several weeks I will be bringing in many guest writers to help me with a series of posts on the “proper care and feeding” of instruments and equipment that we deal with on a regular basis. These posts will be great refreshers for those things that we don’t do every day, they will hopefully provide tips and tricks that you may not have considered before, and hopefully can be a resource when teaching students how to care for their instruments. From my experience I know that all instruments need to be regularly cleaned and maintained to stay in good working order. Unfortunately many kids aren’t taught the importance good cleaning and care habits from day one because we aren’t familiar with the individual quirks of each instrument. This ends up in broken instruments and other equipment. To start, here are a few general tips that kids should be aware of from day one.
- Instrument cases are sturdy enough to keep an instrument safe from normal bumps and jostling. NOT included in this normal usage is sitting, standing, or other ways of placing large amounts of weight on the case. Too much weight on the case, in any direction, causes the case to bend in places it shouldn’t bend and will damage the instrument inside.
- Along these same lines, instrument cases are not designed with extra room in them to store music and accessories, except in special, built-in compartments and/or pockets. This means don’t keep your music in the lid of your trumpet, violin, or saxophone case, don’t store your flute swab or polishing cloth in the lid either. Cleaning accessories should be stored in the spaces provided in many cases or kept outside the case (many smaller instrument cases have exterior pockets that are great for keeping swabs, etc. in).
- Don’t store swabs inside your instrument!!! Music stores are in the business of making money, they will often try to sell you things you do not need, including those fuzzy swab sticks that they say you can just leave inside your instrument to keep it dry. This is a lie! Any swab, when left inside an instrument does not get the proper air exposure to dry thoroughly and will damage your instrument inside by causing mold and leaving lint inside and can damage the pads by leaving moisture behind. Don’t buy the cute fuzzy sticks, stick to the traditional cloth swabs that are easy to fold and store compactly, these dry better and don’t leave behind lint.
- Wash your cleaning cloths and other care implements regularly, once a month at least. I recommend not using fabric softener or dryer sheets when you do this. Aside from the fact that many of the care instructions that come with these items specifically say not to use fabric softener, it also often prevents fabrics from being as absorbent as they should be and therefore leaves them ineffective.
- Clean your instrument every time you use it. Swab out woodwinds, empty brass spit valves, wipe down finger boards and rosin from the bow and strings, every time. This prevents build up of bacteria, oil, and other substances that can damage your instrument, make your instrument not function properly and can also make you sick.
- If it breaks don’t try to fix it and don’t let your handyman dad or neighbor try to fix it either. You and your dad are not trained on how to fix instruments, so don’t even try it. Consult your music teacher, and/or a repair person, they have special training to fix these things. The tiniest things can make any instrument malfunction and if you don’t know what you are doing you can potentially make the problem worse and more expensive to fix.
- Don’t use polishing cloths daily. These wear down the finish on metals and wood and will make your instrument less shiny over time. Do wipe off fingerprints regularly to avoid tarnish and oil wear, but do this with an untreated, soft cloth. Only polish once a month at most.
- When not in use, store your instrument in its case. This is the best place to keep your instrument away from curious children’s hands, pets, dangerous feet, and other unfortunate mishaps that can do significant damage.
- If it doesn’t go, don’t force it. This goes for tuning pegs, mouthpieces, ligatures, swabs, and cases. If a mouthpiece won’t go in, don’t force it in, if a tuning peg won’t turn, don’t muscle it to make it turn, of a swab won’t go in or come out, don’t keep pulling, if a case won’t close don’t make it close. These things happen for many reasons and forcing things to work that don’t seem to want to work will probably cause problems or break something. Get some help if something that used to work doesn’t any more or if something should work, but isn’t.
- If its not yours, don’t touch it.
- NEVER leave an instrument to rest on an elevated surface unattended. Music stands and chairs are not safe places for instruments, they can get knocked off and fall, causing dents, bent keys, broken wood, and so much more.
- Instruments and other equipment are not weapons. You can’t beat your neighbor over the head with your trombone and expect it to work.
- When opening your case be sure that it is right side up. Opening a case upside down can make you drop your instrument resulting in damage.
These are all general tips for taking basic care of all musical instruments. Students should be made aware of these, but also need to know instrument specific care. Stick with me over the next several weeks for instrument specific care instructions written by people who know what they are talking about. Also stay tuned for posts about classroom equipment care and electronic equipment care.