Oops! It’s Broken

by Greg Warren, Woodwind Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Greg Warren, Woodwind Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Greg Warren

As a player of woodwind instruments I have learned many lessons about how easily they can bend and break.  The saxophone, flute, and clarinet are fragile instruments.  When you have played as long as I have you learn that the tiniest of bumps to the delicate buttons, levers and, rods can severely impact the instruments playability or sound.  It is never fun to struggle on an instrument especially during a performance. Your mind needs to be free of concern for the instrument so you can play without any inhibitions.  With the first round of school concerts and recitals having just passed or coming up you want your instrument to be in peak working condition.

The reason I am addressing this particular problem is because I have been seeing lots of bumps and bends happening to quite a few instruments in the last month or so.  I believe this is a result of students becoming more comfortable with their instruments.  This causes you to lose focus and concentration concerning the expensive instrument in your hands.  One time it happened to me right before a gig I was playing in Vail.  I was back stage talking to some friends when my sax fell off of my lap hitting the floor pretty hard.  The damage was severe, it could not be fixed.  We were going on stage in 15 minutes and at this point in my career I did not have a back up horn.  I ended up having to play the flute on a bunch of songs I didn’t know on the flute.  I love the flute but that was hard.  It was not the best gig I have ever played but at least I had a flute.

Here are some tips for all the woodwind families to help avoid damaging your instrument.  These care tips are common to all of the woodwind instruments.

  • Make sure that all corks are thoroughly greased.  The cork can easily dry up in this dry Colorado climate of ours.  It is not a major repair but can be avoided easily.
  • When concerning metal to metal connections on the flutes and saxophones, they only need to be wiped with a dry rag to prevent sticking.  Never put any kind of grease on these joints; they become very slippery.
  • When assembling woodwind instruments take care to be firm but gentle.  Holding these instruments while assembling can cause a lot of damage; if you are not holding the instrument in the correct places you risk bending the long rods that make the keys move up and down.
  • Always clean your instrument after playing.  Saliva and condensation will collect on the walls of all woodwind instruments while being played.  If it is not dried out regularly things can start to grow, I know from experience.  Sometimes a smell will develop and a professional has to help get rid of the gunk on the inside of the instrument.  This is more common on the saxophone with all its curves.
  • Most importantly, just be aware of your surroundings.  Over time the instrument will become part of you and bumping into things or accidentally dropping it will stop, or become less frequent anyways.

As I said before, it will happen to every single one of us sometime in our musical career.  All we can do is be vigilant about how we treat our instruments and hope for the best.  Most musicians I know have a back up instrument or a really good friend to borrow a replacement from when things go bad.  When you become a professional, having a back up is a must.  Now go practice, but be careful not to drop or bump into anything with your instrument.

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