Teaching Students Proper Instrument Care

One of the most important things we teach our students in the first week of school is proper instrument care. Here are some tips to be sure you cover. Remind students of these things throughout the year.

Opening the case

Many instruments have been damaged because the case was opened upside-down or in a rushed haphazard manner. Have students place the instrument on the ground in a safe space to open it. For clarinets, this might be on the floor right in front of their feet. For bassoons, they may need a separate space (or even a practice room if available dedicated to instrument assembly and disassembly.

Carrying the instrument in the case

Often students assume that the case will protect their instrument from everything including being knocked on a wall or dropped. Teach them to take care of the case as well as the instrument. If the hinges or latches are broken, it’s not a question of if it will open at an unfortunate moment and the instrument will fall out, but when. (Side note – many teachers send instruments in for repair but never want to spend money on the case. If you don’t keep the case in good condition, you may well play a higher price for instrument repairs down the line.)

Everything in its place

Be sure students are keeping things in the correct place in the case. Mouthpieces should be placed in the specified area and not be rolling around in the case. Method books and music folders should not be shoved in the case with the instrument. Watch them diligently at the end of class to ensure that they are putting things away correctly. The case is made to hold the instrument in one way and one way only.

Organizing the room

Try to keep the band hall organized in a way that larger instruments have plenty of space when assembling/disassembling their instruments and getting in and out of their chairs. For example, keep the tuba chairs spaced out enough. Give the bassoons/bass clarinets their own area for assembly (as mentioned above). Explain why you are doing that and that you expect them to appreciate that courtesy by caring for their instruments correctly.

In your hand or in the case

Train students not to put instruments precariously on chairs or set them down hard on the floor. Preferably they would never set them on the floor or chair at all, but always hold them or lay them in a case.

Carrying the instrument out of the case

Be careful how they carry instruments around the band hall. Don’t allow them to hold it with one hand and swing it while walking. The piece of the instrument they are holding can that can detach from the instrument. If they carry the clarinet by the barrel or the flute by the headjoint, they are asking for trouble.

Teach instrument maintenance well in beginning band and review it each year.

Take students through the steps of greasing slides, oiling valves, swabbing etc. Show your trombones this video – great step-by-step instruction on slide care and the process of oiling slides. (You might have to scroll down to find the specific video) You could even send parents the link so they know what’s expected. Here’s a PDF version of the directions for your young trombonists. You could make up a handout like this for each instrument if you want.

No eating

Talk to them about not eating/drinking/chewing gum while playing. Explain to them the importance of not eating gum, candy, and/or sweet drinks before band class. It’s a great idea to rinse your mouth before playing your instrument – at school and at home.

Careful assembly

Be sure they are assembling instruments carefully. On woodwind instruments especially they need to be gentle and not get keys out of adjustment. Each instrument has it’s own ‘danger zones’ when it comes to assembly – be sure they know what to be careful of.

No parent mechanics!

Tell them if there is ever an issue with the instrument not to let their parents try to fix it.

There is no telling what damage might be done. It’s much more likely that a parent would cause a bigger problem that costs much more to fix than any chance they might save a few bucks.

“It’s just a little ding” is NOT ok.

Talk to them about how dings on the instrument are not ok. Especially if instruments already have some damage, kids can think it’s ‘just one more.’  Explain to them that these instruments must last many years and will allow many students to become musicians. They must treat them with care. If they ding it – even accidentally – they should feel a great sense of responsibility.

Talk with them about the prices of instruments and the cost of repairs

Educate students and parents about the financial investment the school district makes in the band program and how much work is involved in overhauling and repairing instruments. Some students have no concept of how much those kinds of things cost, how much instruments are worth and how long they have to last. Educating students and parents about the importance of proper instrument care should not only help the students be more careful, it should also instill a sense of pride in their instruments and in how much they are trusted to have such an expensive horn.

If you have not yet sent in your instruments for overhauls, NOW IS THE TIME!  Because they are finished with the summer rush, the N-Tune Music & Sound overhaul facilities can get your instrument repair completed more quickly at this time of year. Keep N-Tune in mind when marching season ends as well – they do an outstanding job overhauling marching instruments as well.

Special thanks to N-Tune Music & Sound, a nationally recognized instrument repair facility with 3 locations in Texas, for providing this article. N-Tune Music & Sound is a business partner for BandDirectorsTalkShop.com and supports music education and band directors in many ways. Their dedication to student musicians and music educators is unmatched, as is their instrument repair quality and customer service.

At N-Tune Music and Sound we have over 200 years of hands-on experience with a crew of young technicians learning from the master technicians every day. N-Tune Music and Sound stands behind every instrument we overhaul. Ultimately, we aren’t finished with an instrument until the school or individual having the instrument overhauled or serviced is satisfied. Talk with anyone who has had instruments overhauled at our facility about the amount of budget money saved on overhauls versus the cost of new instruments. (We are happy to provide references upon request.) Our reputation has been forged over years of doing overhauls the right way and standing behind each instrument. N-Tune Music and Sound has been a NAMM Top 100 Dealer for five consecutive years.

N-Tune Music and Sound has a published retail overhaul price list. Directors interested in overhaul service should contact N-Tune Music and Sound at repair@ntunemusic.com. We also have a booth each year at the Texas Music Educators Association convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Related Reading:
Keeping School-owned Instruments in Top Condition
Proactive Classroom Management: the Beginning of the Year
Teaching Clarinets to “Roll to A” Isn’t Enough

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