Each teacher hopes to give the gift of music into the hands of every student. We typically share lots of knowledge about note reading, theory, improvisation, practice and performance with our students, but I want us to think for a moment about the student’s instrument. Specifically taking time to remind each student and their parents to spend some time researching how to care for that large purchase and make it last a lifetime.
Students that travel to lessons and performances with portable instruments, particularly those made of wood like nylon guitars, wooden recorders and stringed orchestral instruments have to carefully consider the heat and cold that their instrument endures each day. When traveling never leave your instrument in an unattended car for hours, as extreme temperatures can cause dangerous contraction and expansion; seriously damaging, warping, cracking or otherwise destroying your instrument. If you leave the vehicle take your instrument with you. Direct sunlight in a home or a car that beams onto your instrument will magnify the heat and create damage at a much faster rate. Leaving an instrument in a room too near a window that allows super cold or hot air to directly blow across an instrument or case can affect it as well. Likewise placing an instrument in your home too near a forced air duct system can overly cool or heat the instrument, plus the constant airflow could dry out that instrument too much. Leaving your instrument near an open window where rain, wind or other weather could affect it needs to be considered as well.
Thus our second problem with wooden instruments is the real danger: HUMIDITY! Modern day heating and air-conditioner systems usually pull the humidity out of the air while they heat and cool it. This is not only bad for your skin and lungs but bad for your instrument as well. Keep your instruments in a case with a humidifier inside that keeps your instrument properly maintained and moistened. Watch the humidifier for mold and wash or replace it if you see signs of mold. Consider putting a standalone humidifier unit in your practice room if you like to keep your instrument out of its case and available to you to practice with at any moment.
• Brass instruments are in general more sturdy but extreme heat may cause their lacquer clear coat to bubble and peel, although really only affecting the instruments look and value and not its playability. As a brass teacher, I spend at least one lesson per year going over the tricks to cleaning the inside and outside of the instrument, snaking it, lubricating the valves and slides and checking the spit valve cork and springs occasionally. I would recommend wiping the instrument at the end of every practice to remove fingerprints and perspiration as they will etch and destroy the lacquer coating over time.
• Woodwind instruments are made of wood and metal. Each material can shrink and expand at different rates which over time can cause parts to fail, need repair or replacement; expenses of your money and valuable time. These instruments do not enjoy extreme heat or cold. Wooden instruments love humidity and hate being dry as they will crack and warp. Your instructor should go over care tips with you and cover ideas about cleaning, oiling keys, how to inspect corks, joints and teach you how to snake your instrument and care for/maintain your reeds.
• Classical string instruments (like nylon guitars) have glue joints that can fail if temperature and humidity are not maintained at consistent and constant levels. Parts can fail, bridges fall, tuning pegs and holes will shrink, expand or warp. Wooden tops, sides and backs may crack and need repair if you are not vigilant with your care, and repairs of course, cost money and time. After each practice and performance, it is recommended that you wipe your instrument and strings with a fine polishing cloth to clean off fingerprints, dirt, rosin and perspiration.
• Pianos need to stay away from outside walls and heating/AC vents as the change in temperatures/moisture is bad for them. They need humidification and it is best to seek the advice of your professional tuner when he comes to tune and adjust your piano in order to insure the proper amount/way of humidifying. In general tuning should be done every 6 months as this gives the instrument a checkup just in case something is going on with the instrument that needs a professional’s touch.
A well cared for instrument will be ready to perform with and practice with at any moment and provide terrific sounding music and joy for years. A poorly cared for instrument may rattle, buzz, need repair at an inopportune time or worse… replacement at any moment. Repairing an instrument requires money and the time to take it to a good repair shop. And don’t forget your instrument will be in the shop for a week or more meaning you will need a backup/rental instrument with which to practice and perform. Save the headache and save your time, please practice maintaining and caring for your instruments every day and the benefits will last a lifetime!