How to Preserve Your Woodwind Instrument

Most accidents happen with these instruments, when they are not put into their cases in between use. A favourite accident is with children who practise in their bedrooms and leave the instrument temporarily on their beds; then subsequently sit on them during a lapse of memory. Keys are bent out of place and in the case of flutes, they take on a decidedly banana-looking shape. When not in use, keep the instrument in its case, as that is the safest place for it. Equally, the popular gig bags best avoided with younger children as damage can still be caused if accidentally dropped. A hard case will always offer the best protection.

When putting an instrument together, the aim is to position the hands so that there is minimal pressure applied to any of the keys. With the saxophones the principal danger is with the crook (Top joint). With clarinets and oboes there are keys that need to be matched up from one joint to the next and those are at high risk of damage. When in doubt, bring the instrument into a recognised repairer to be seen to. All cork joints are to be greased regularly to avoid any difficulty when fitting the joints together and therefore putting unnecessary hand pressure on the instrument, leading to damage of keys. Some teachers offer pupils Vaseline as a substitute to the Woodwind cork grease, but the ingredients are not exactly the same and it should therefore not be recommended.

It is a myth that metal joints on flutes and saxophones need greasing. If the instrument is well made (such as a Jupiter flute), there should be no need for lubrication.

Food and playing a Woodwind instrument do not mix. It makes more work with cleaning the instrument afterwards and can put your pads at increased risk of needing replacement if they get food substances or drink being absorbed into them.

When you have finished playing your instrument, it needs to be dried before replacing into its case. No matter how capable a musician the player is, there is always condensation produced on the inside of the instrument from playing. A Pull-through (cloth with weight attached to a piece of string) is the simplest and most effective method of drying the inside of the instrument. This prevents moulding pads and cracking, in the case of wooden instruments. With a flute, it is simply a case of using a special wood needle and cotton cloth. Metal needles are also out on the market, but with many years experience in instrument repairs and services, I feel metal is more likely to mark the inside of the instrument. For the exterior of the flute, a silver polish cloth works well, but be careful not to be too over zealous with it as springs can be knocked out of place in the process.

No instrument responds well to extreme changes in temperature. Watch that the instrument is not being stored next to a radiator or left in a hot car or conservatory that is prone to more extreme ranges of temperature. The integrity of pads can be affected due to melting glue that holds them in place.

It is recommended that woodwind and brass instruments are taken to a qualified repairer at least once a year for servicing to keep the instrument in good playing condition. This ensures that the instrument can continue to play at its optimum capacity.