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Suggested Reading

1. Rehearsal Rooms

Struggling to improve the acoustics in your band room? Check out how the Medan Band did it.

2. Concerned about playing swing music properly?

Check out my guidelines

3. Ear training exercises for bands

Unlike piano players, ear training is essential for wind band performers. But how many band directors bother to give their bands suitable exercises?

4. Intonation problems

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance. 

5. “Blowing” a wind instrument

A common misconception among wind players is to believe that the air moves through the instrument in order to produce the sound. This is simply not true. 

6. Conducting – suggestions for home practice

The best way for a conductor to improve is in front of a live ensemble. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this is not always possible. Aspiring conductors therefore have little choice but to find other ways of honing their skills.

 

Care and Maintenance

General Principles
Reeds
Flutes
Oboes
Oiling
Clarinets
Saxophones
Bassoons


General Principles

The principles involved in the care and maintenance of woodwind instruments differ from brass instruments in several important respects.  The most crucial, however, is that (with the exception of certain components referred to later in the discussion) they should never be immersed in water.  Such washing can seriously damage both the wood and the pads.  Instead, woodwind instruments should be swabbed and dried regularly.  Perspiration can cause rust on hinge rods, springs and screws. 

Check the seal on the pads.
It is important to avoid using force when assembling woodwind instruments.  Bent keys can cause air leaks, which in turn can produce faulty intonation, squeaks and sluggish response. In fact, the intonation and response of almost all woodwind instruments can also be affected quite markedly by how well the pads seal on the tone holes.  The pads can be checked for air leakage by pulling a piece of lens paper gently through each key.

The rules regarding the way the clarinets, oboes and flutes are held when at rest are very similar.  Never lay these instruments down on the keys.  This will encourage water to soak into the pads.  It also risks dented keys and bent rods.
 
Unlike the flute and the saxophone, which do not have corked tenons, oboes, clarinets and bassoons must have cork grease applied to the tenons which connect the individual parts.
 
 

Reeds

After playing, reeds need to be wiped and put in a safe place to dry.  Do not store wet reeds in airtight containers.  They may develop mildew.
 
 
Flutes
 
The flute should be swabbed and dried with a linen or cotton swab cloth.  While swabbing it is important to ensure that the swab stick does not scratch the inside of the instrument.  The head joint of a metal flute can also be washed up to two or three times a year using warm soapy water, followed by a through rising and drying.
 
Do not use silver polish
Silver polish should not be used on the instrument because the polish may remove a layer of finish as well as grime. The pivot screws should also be oiled once every few months.  Sticky pads are usually damp.  They can be dried by closing them lightly over a piece of lens or tissue paper. Prevention, however, is better than cure.  Ask your students to hold the instrument with the pads up when not playing.  This will prevent moisture accumulating around the tone holes.
 
 

Oboes

The lower joint and bell of the oboe may be swabbed after use with a soft cloth attached to a small weight.  Many authorities do not recommend this for the upper joint, however, and suggest the use of a turkey feather instead.  A soft cloth can also be used to wipe the keys and the main body.  Keys and pads should also be wiped with a soft cloth.  Avoid silver cleaning agents.  These tend to clog up the mechanism and destroy the silver plating. 
 
A good rest position for the oboe is to stand it upright on your knee.
When an oboe player is checking his fingering, it is important to turn the instrument at a slight angle away from the body so that the reed is not damaged through contact with the body.  Similarly, a good rest position for the oboe during performance or rehearsal is with the oboe standing upright on one’s knee.  A poor rest position, on the other hand, would involve placing the oboe across the knees with the keys facing down.  In this position, moisture collected in the bore tends to flow into the tone holes.  Resting the oboe with the keys facing upwards is better, but it still leaves open the possibility of the reed being inadvertently damaged by coming into contact with objects on the player’s right or left. 
 
Because the oboe has small tone holes, dirt can be more harmful to this instrument than most other woodwinds.  As in the case of a clarinet, the tone holes should be cleaned out regularly with a pin or cotton ear swab.  Abrasive cleaning materials should be avoided.
 
 

Oiling

The extent to which clarinets and oboes should be oiled is a matter of some controversy.  An instrument that has been properly cured during the manufacturing process may never crack.  Even so, moisture from the player’s breath will eventually penetrate the wood and affect its resonating quality.  Some authorities suggest that new instruments should be oiled with a small amount of olive oil or bore oil every few months.  This is probably more important in temperate climates than in the tropics, however

Too much oil can add to the accumulation of dirt.
In any case, oiling too often risks getting oil in the pads, causing them to rot or harden.  Too much oil in the bore can also add to the accumulation of dirt.  In humid climates it is probably more important to add a small amount of oil to the steel springs in order to prevent rusting.


Clarinets

After each playing session, the inside of the clarinet should be swabbed with a soft, clean cloth attached to a line with a weight on one end. The mouthpiece may also be wiped with a soft cloth in order to remove moisture and dirt particles.  Avoid the use of swab sticks.  They may scratch the interior of the mouthpiece and affect the tone quality. On occasion, both clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces can be cleaned by running lukewarm water through them.  However, hot water should never be used to clear hard rubber mouthpieces. As in the case of other woodwinds, under no circumstances should the instrument itself be soaked in water.   Mouthpieces should not be left lying in the sun or they will warp. Nor should reeds be permitted to dry on mouthpieces.

 

SaxophonesA saxophone may be swabbed with a soft, lint-free cloth. The neckpiece of a saxophone tends to collect dirt faster than the lower section.  In particular, the end that fits into the body should be kept clean by wiping with a moist cloth.  This helps to make the fit easier.  The various posts and pivots on a saxophone should also be oiled every few months.


Bassoons

Swabbing an entire bassoon is not usually necessary, although it can help to reduce the unpleasant smell sometimes associated with unswabbed bassoons.  Bassoons should never be oiled. Oiling would rot the rubber in the tenor and boot joints. It is necessary, however, to clean the tone holes.  Tiny layers of sediment tend to collect around the interior of these holes, decreasing their size and making the instrument play sharper.  Bassoon bocals also need to be cleaned frequently and carefully. 

Use warm, soapy water.
Warm soapy water can be run through them occasionally, followed by a thorough rising.  The bottom cap and tube of the boot joint can be removed from the boot joint and washed with soap and water on occasion as well.  As in the case of other woodwinds, a small amount of cork grease is recommended for cork tenons.  Vaseline can be used for wrapped string. 

Young students should not be permitted to adjust screws or bend keys. They should also be reminded never to leave a bassoon on the floor or standing upright against a chair. Bassoons are also carried in two hands, with one hand under the boot joint.
 
A more detailed discussion identifying common problems specific to each instrument can be found in The Band Director's Handbook. See the home page for ordering details.
 

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