Woodwind instruments require just as much care and maintenance as any other type of instrument. In this guide we will focus on flute, clarinet, and saxophone but these tips apply to other woodwinds as well. Removing moisture from your instrument by swabbing it out when you are finished playing can extend the life of that instrument by years and will help keep you from paying for costly repairs down the road.
Nevertheless, first-time players may not know the best techniques when it comes to caring for their instrument. That’s why we’ve compiled the following guide to answer any questions you may have about how best to care for your woodwind instrument.
Cleaning your instrument
Regularly cleaning a woodwind instrument is more important than you think. As you play, moisture will collect inside the instrument, and if this moisture isn’t removed, it can damage the pads inside. Take these steps, then, to properly swab out your instrument:
Step 1: First, pull the cloth through the eye of the rod and then wrap it around the top to prevent scratching
Step 2: Disassemble the instrument and then hold the first piece at the bottom (avoiding squeezing the keys) and pull the rod through
Step 3: Repeat with the other two pieces
Step 1: Take the weighted end of your swab and drop it in through the top of the instrument
Step 2: Flip the saxophone over and pull the swab through
Step 3: Swab the neck of the saxophone separately, using a special neck swab that’s small enough to be pulled through the piece
Step 1: Take the clarinet apart
Step 2: Grab the weighted end of the swab and run it through each piece
Note: If you have little time, you can run the swab through while the clarinet is still in one piece. However, you will clean it more effectively by taking it apart and swabbing each piece individually.
Securing your instrument
Your instrument will be traveling alongside you quite a bit. As such, you’ll need to secure it in a proper case to ensure that it’s never damaged. Fasten the instrument with any latches or hinges that are inside, and if you have accessories or other miscellaneous items, keep them in a separate bag or compartment. If you simply toss these items inside the case, they can move around and potentially damage your instrument.
Assembling and disassembling
You must be very careful when assembling and disassembling your woodwind instrument. Avoid twisting or pressing on the keys, as this can cause your keys to bend or even break. If you’re having trouble assembling your instrument, you can use a small amount of cork grease on a clarinet’s cork tendons or a saxophone’s neck corks to help the two pieces slide together. However, you should never force your instrument together or apart. If your instrument cannot be easily assembled or disassembled, then take it to a repair shop to get the tenons checked.
When winter approaches, the cold, dry weather can potentially cause your instrument to crack. While there is no sure-fire way to prevent this from happening, there are a few ways to make it less likely:
- Play the instrument gradually by playing for 5-10 minutes and then swabbing out any excess moisture
- Allow the instrument to warm up to room temperature before playing
- Place a humidifier in the case to protect against dry conditions
- Swab the instrument out more frequently the longer you play