Getting your child started with a new instrument can feel overwhelming. Buying or renting an instrument is just the beginning. We then have to schedule lessons with a new teacher, order books and materials, work with them on new assignments and coordinate after school practices and concerts. With all these sudden changes it isn’t surprising how the practice of regular instrument maintenance can slip entirely off of the radar.
Chances are that you recognize the importance of regular oil changes, tire rotation and other routine maintenance on your vehicle because you have repeatedly been warned that terrible things will happen if you fail to. Well musical instruments are no different.. They are delicate machines with lots of moving parts and tight tolerances that require regular attention if they are expected to perform as well as they were designed to.
Unfortunately this fact has eluded many parents and students alike, but don’t blame yourself! Education on the subject is scarce, often times buried in the fine print of a manufacturer’s welcome pamphlet or rental contract.
As a repair tech here at David French Music who’s primary focus it is to repair and restore rental stock and other student level instruments, I see it all; routine dings, missing parts, crushed bells, sat-on trumpets, bubble gum in the valves, flutes that had been functioning as ‘bat’ in a game of band-room softball. I’ve even come across instruments with smaller instruments stuck inside of them.
If you can imagine it we have seen it, but the overwhelming majority of what comes into the shop is maintenance related. For example, about 90 percent of the trumpets that come in with “valve issues” are just lacking oil and dirty. We run them through the ultrasonic tank, snake them out with dish soap, clean the slides, lube them up and put them back together.
Like a car, the instrument will start to function less smoothly after lubricant wears away and becomes dirty. In brass instruments, the valves or rotors will get rough, and slides may start slow down and eventually freeze in place. In woodwinds keys could get sluggish or sticky. This often leads to makeshift repairs which can result in further damage. Before you even realize there is a problem the moving parts of an instrument can become frozen and unusable and the student, discouraged and unwilling to practice. Would you be motivated to get in your car if your doors no longer opened? Since there is little education on the subject, parents and students just chalk it up to music not being their thing and eventually drop it all together. Of course this is the worst case scenario, but it happens more than you would think!
Thankfully there are hundreds of blogs, articles, video tutorials, even pinterest pages, on how to clean musical instruments, so getting that information should be a breeze. Here are a few online resources to get you going:
- We recommend buying a cleaning kit for your instrument here. If you can’t find the right one, a quick google or Amazon search for “instrument cleaning kit” should provide plenty of options. Be sure to buy one specific for your instrument or instrument family.
- Here is a basic overview of a bathtub trumpet cleaning by DFM’s own Cheryl Hamel. How to give your trumpet a bath.
- This is a great instrument cleaning series from the folks at Conn-Selmer: Band instrument cleaning tutorials
A monthly tub cleaning and re-lube should be enough to keep your instrument out of the shop and in your child’s hands. We also recommend a routine shop cleaning once or twice per year depending on your level of use. This will remove mineral deposits and everything else that builds up in the harder to reach parts of the instrument. It will also give us the chance to inspect the instrument thoroughly and make certain that every part of it is working as intended by the manufacturer.
In some ways having a properly functioning instrument is even more important for beginning students than it is for more advanced players. Experienced musicians have the ability to discern when something is amiss, but beginners can become discouraged with their progress, never realizing that the cause of their frustration is mechanical.
The process of learning an instrument for the first time can feel daunting, even when everything is working properly. Let’s work together to give our children and students the opportunity to progress without the burden of unnecessary obstacles.
– Article by Rich Graiko, David French Music Co. repair technician, trumpet player, and music lover