Instrument Maintenance Information for Parents and Students
Congratulations on purchasing or renting an instrument for your child! You may be asking yourself: now what? It's overwhelming to be suddenly thrust into the world of the woodwinds especially if you do not have any prior experience with musical instruments.
Never fear! I have been playing woodwinds since 1983 and teaching since 1995, so I have seen and experienced it all. I have compiled this information sheet to help you navigate the woodwind waters in the easiest way possible. Remember, your child’s instrument is an investment, and taking care of it properly maintains the value.
Truthfulness from the Student
The most important thing to impress upon our budding musicians is the need to be truthful about what has happened to cause the damage. Most of the time, damage incurred is the fault of the student, and all repair people & teachers understand and expect this. It’s important we get the full and complete story from your child. The longer a child holds out on the truth, the more money you will spend on unnecessary repairs trying to figure out what has happened.
Some of the most common accidents we hear about from students include: dropping it on the hard school floor, banging the instrument on a metal music stand, picking up the case without latching the locks (dumping the instrument on to the floor), holding the instrument improperly, or leaving their instrument on a chair and someone else knocked it off.
Whatever your child tells you, you should always reassure them that they are not going to get in trouble (by you, me or the repair person) if they tell the truth. You can always tell them, if they seem shy to tell you what happened, that they can tell me directly. I’m always available for this purpose.
Here is what I say to beginner students in their first lesson which you should reinforce at home: "If your instrument breaks, it’s important for you to tell me the truth about what happened to it. You’re not going to get in trouble, no one is going to get mad at you, and no one is going take away your instrument. Everyone breaks their instrument at some point, even me, but if you don’t tell the truth about what happened, then no one can fix it.”
Carelessness by the Student
Besides the more common excuses you will hear, please keep in mind the kids often damage their instruments without even knowing they’re doing it. These kinds of things include: not putting the instrument in the case correctly, having something in the case that doesn’t belong in there, eating before they play, mashing bridge keys while assembling, forcing the instrument together without twisting, or holding the instrument wrong when they put it together. I go over proper procedures in their lessons but that doesn’t mean they always follow these instructions when they are alone or in a hurry at school. Please reinforce with your child the importance of following all the directions I give them in their lessons about putting together, taking apart and storage of their instruments.
You should hold surprise inspections of your child’s case! Be sure the only things in there are things that are supposed to be in there. The instrument has it’s place, and there are places for swabs, reeds and reed cases, but they should not be storing music, food, toys, pencils, etc. in the same compartment as their instrument. Nothing, not even a piece of paper, should be laid across the instrument's keys inside the case.
Music Stores vs Specialized Repair People
Nothing frustrates me more than the “advice” salespeople at big box music stores give to inexperienced parents and students. Please please please keep in mind that they work on commission. The advice they give and accessories they sell you often create more problems than they solve. For example: the infamous "flute swab". There is no such thing. Please don't buy one.
If you have any questions regarding the care and maintenance of your child’s instrument, the first people you should talk to are me or your child’s school band director. One of us will also recommend who and where to go for further help with the repairs if we cannot fix it ourselves. 9 times out of 10, we can fix it for you quickly and for free.
Don’t be dazzled by low repair costs at big box music stores. You are handing over your instrument to non-specialized technicians, and that’s a scary prospect in my book. If you are renting your instrument from a small, local music store (i.e. Pedersons or Baxter), you are likely to get good repairs. Remember, if you are renting your instrument from them, the price of repair, or reduced fees, may be included in your rental costs.
List of Trusted Repair People
What to Expect with Each Instrument
PADS: Do not be fooled: you do not need to replace all the pads on your instrument all at once. There is no “set time frame” to have this done, either. With all woodwinds, you should expect to replace one or two pads as recommended by your repair person. Rarely do you need to replace the entire set or get an "overhaul"! So if someone tries to sell you that expensive repair, you should get a second opinion.
SPRINGS: It is very common for springs to catch on your child’s clothing. This will cause keys to freeze open or closed, and the instrument to stop playing altogether. Just bring the instrument to me or your band teacher for quick (and free!) help. This is also something we can teach your child to fix on their own.
NEVER TURN ANY SCREWS ON YOUR INSTRUMENT!! I can’t stress this enough. All the screws are set to very fine tolerances that only qualified musicians, teachers and repair people should adjust.
CLEANING: No woodwind instrument “need a bath” or a “cleaning”. Do not expose your instrument to soap or water -- ever. Doing so will damage the instrument, usually beyond repair. Swabbing your instrument after each use is enough.
All Intermediate, Conservatory and Professional instruments should have routine maintenance once a year. Regardless of what instrument your child plays, your yearly check-up will include: testing, replacement and re-seating of pads, sealing leaks, oiling and adjusting of key mechanisms, testing and replacement of cork tenons, quieting key clicks, polishing of metal instruments, and oiling and filling of any cracks in wooden instruments. There are countless other adjustments and repairs that may be recommended by your repair person, so this is by no means a complete list! Just enough to give you an idea what to expect.
PRICE: Realistically, you should budget $100-$800 each year on these check-ups depending on the work that needs to be done and the quality of the instrument you’re bringing in. With regular maintenance, the price should stay lower.
Some things you will do on your own to maintain your flute: never use cork grease or valve oil on your joints. If they collect a dark residue, you can gently wipe the inside and outside of the joints with rubbing alcohol on a soft cloth. You do not need any sort of lubricant to get your flute together as long as the joints remain clean. Be sure the flute is sitting securely in it’s case before you close it.
Always use the soft silver cloth that comes with your flute to clean fingerprints, skin oils and saliva off of your flute, and clean your instrument (using a cotton cloth on the cleaning rod provided) every time you put it away. Some music stores try to sell you a “flute swab” that looks suspiciously like a clarinet swab. Truth: there’s no such thing as a “flute swab”, and the last thing you want is rough silk and the metal sinker on a swab dragging through your delicate metal flute. Some students have found the new “wand” cleaners to be easier and more effective than the traditional cloth. We will go over how to clean your flute in your lessons.
Never hold your flute by the head joint. Always hold around the middle of the body, carefully around the keys.
OBOE & CLARINET
Some things you will do on your own to maintain your oboe or clarinet: use cork grease on your tenons whenever you find it’s getting difficult to put the instrument together, always swab your instrument (swab inserted in to the bell) before you put it away, and be sure the instrument is sitting securely in the case before closing the lid. Always wipe off your keys with a soft cloth before putting it away.
Care of Wooden Oboes & Clarinets:
You must swab your instrument after each time you play it, before putting it away. I cannot stress enough the importance of this basic step.
You do not need to oil the bore of your instrument yourself.
You can buy a soft fluffy make-up blush-brush used exclusively to dust between the keys.
You may use "original lemon Pledge" (not the orange oil) sprayed on to a soft cloth (not directly on to your instrument) to freshen up the look of the external wood, and sprayed on to your swab to clean the inside. You do not need to do this more than 2-3 times per year.
Always hold your oboe or clarinet with your right thumb hooked under the thumb-rest, fingers firmly grasped around the keys.
Clarinet & Saxophone Mouthpieces
Both instruments use the same kind of mouthpiece and are notorious for collecting …things… This is the only part of your clarinet or saxophone that can touch water. I recommend at least once a month (or as needed) washing your mouthpiece under running water with gentle dish soap to remove any residue from the inside and outside of your mouthpiece. Do not submerge your mouthpiece. And avoid getting the cork wet as best you can. You can also use rubbing alcohol on a paper towel/soft cloth to clean off any build up that you notice.
The most important thing to know is that saxophone keys are padded with leather. The more expensive your saxophone, the more expensive those pads. The pads are held in place with metal or plastic rivets that also get more expensive as the instrument increases in quality. The last thing you want is a repair person who tells you that you need all new pads on your saxophone. This is the most expensive proposition of all the woodwinds. NEVER agree to this without getting a second opinion. And definitely do not have this done at a large chain music store. Use a qualified saxophone repair specialist (several listed below) or someone from a small local store only.
What you can do to maintain your saxophone: use cork grease only on the mouthpiece tenon. Like the flute, you can use rubbing alcohol on a soft cloth to clean the gunk from the metal neck joint. You do not need any lubricant on the joint if it is cleaned properly.
The most common damage done to a saxophone is bending the body. Many kids like to lift their saxophone out of the case by sticking their hand in the bell. Over time, this will twist and bend the instrument. The student won’t notice the instrument is bent until they try to put it in the case and notice it doesn’t fit right anymore. The proper way to lift your saxophone out of the case is to grab it around the middle of the body, grasp around the keys firmly, and lift straight out. Brass is a highly malleable metal, so the saxophone will sustain more body damage than the other woodwinds.
Always keep your saxophone hooked to the neck-strap, and hold the saxophone with your right thumb under the thumb-rest, fingers firmly grasped around the keys.
Just because your new string instrument doesn’t appear to have as many screws, springs, gadgets and gizmos, make no mistake that it is a delicate tool and needs to be taken care of accordingly. Remember: always wash your hands before you play your cello!
Every day, when you finish practicing, you should use a soft cloth to wipe the rosin off of the wood of your bow, strings and fingerboard. Be careful not to touch the hairs of the bow with your fingers. Always loosen the bow (I tell the kids 3 “left” turns) before you put it away. Just remember to tighten it 3 “right” turns before you play. Protect your cello from falling on to the bridge. Do not prop it up against your chair, or lay it on its back. Always lay it on it’s side. Do not use any polish, soap or solvents on your cello.
Sometimes the tuning pegs (on the scroll) will “pop” out of place. Have your mom or dad push the peg back into the wood (strong, firm pushing while turning clockwise) then retune the string. Students should only be turning the fine tuning pegs at the bottom of the instrument if they need to be tuned at all.
This is a list of repair people that I recommend for each instrument. None of these people will oversell you or convince you you need something done beyond what is actually necessary. Their pricing is fair, so remember if you invested in an Intermediate, Conservatory or Professional instrument, it is worth every penny to have a skilled and specialized repairperson do the work.
4868 Sunset Ave.
La Crescenta, CA 91214
Kara Wuchner Repair
Baxter Northrup Music Co., Studio City
14534 Ventura Blvd. at Van Nuys Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
(888) RDG-REED or (323) 463-4930
2564 Lake Avenue
Altadena, California 91001