Band Instrument Try-outs and Hygiene

Friday, 12 June 2020

Hygiene has always been a big part of band instrument maintenance, and needs to be adhered to strictly for the safety of all participants.

Enter the nightmare: band instrument try-outs. An audible fete of bacteria via the medium of saliva, spat down a resonant tube. Sounds particularly gross, but it need not be. Here are three tips for educators and parents to ensure the safety of students during band try-out season, ensuring they are given the opportunity for a rich and fulfilling music education.

1. Familiarise the new musician with the sound of the instruments on offer

Generally, school concert bands offer the following instruments:

  • Flute
  • Clarinet
  • Saxophone
  • French Horn
  • Trumpet
  • Trombone
  • Low brass, such as euphonium, baritone, or tuba
  • Percussion

Having a good idea of what these instruments sound like might offer an insight into what instrument may be appealing to each individual. I would suggest typing these instruments into YouTube and finding some good solo excerpts of people playing and explaining these instruments so that each person has a chance to listen to and identify with them. This may limit or even eliminate the number of instruments a student tries.

2. Mouthpiece trial

Wind instruments are hard to disinfect, particularly woodwind instruments with their porous components (like pads and corks). However, mouthpieces are quite easy to sterilise, using a number of different methods.

  • Lukewarm (not hot) soapy water and Dettol or another anti-bacterial cleaner makes a good disinfectant. Be sure to use the relevant mouthpiece brush to clean the insides of the mouthpiece and dry using a clean microfiber cloth or rag.
  • Some manufacturers have made mouthpiece sterilising sprays which have been proven effective for removing germs and bacteria. The best practice for use of these products usually involves spraying the mouthpiece, leaving it for a minute or so, and wiping clean with a clean cloth or rag.
  • Brass mouthpieces can go in the dishwasher, so long as they are made of some sort of plated metal. Woodwind mouthpieces are often made of plastic or hard rubber and therefore need to be washed by hand with warm water.
  • Flute head joints have a compressed cork in the top of the head to keep the pitch centred. While it isn’t a big deal if this gets wet, I would avoid soaking the head joint in water for too long as it will diminish the integrity of the cork. Use caution when cleaning head joints and be sure to use a clean polishing gauze on a cleaning rod to remove moisture from the inside of the head joint.
  • Synthetic reeds can be disinfected using the same methods a mouthpiece can. If using cane reeds, I would suggest that once a student has used that reed, they can either keep it or discard it.

Mouthpiece trials can sometimes help to capitalise on the natural abilities, or aptitude to develop abilities, regarding embouchure. Mouthpieces are easy and quick to clean, and using any of these methods you can be guaranteed to limit the spread of bacteria and germs.

3. A note about trying instruments…

Brass Instruments: Brass instruments are relatively easy to clean well. The lack of porous, organic materials (with the except of one or two waterkey corks) makes them relatively easy to sanitise between uses. Following the cleaning instructions on the inside of the user manual will do a good job of guiding you through the correct way to clean an instrument with minimal need for additional equipment as from a cleaning snake, some polishing gauze, and maybe a leadpipe and tuning slide pull-through. This does take some time, but it’s worth it.

I would add that any student currently playing a brass instrument should invest in their own leadpipe swab – it will ensure most of the bacteria and saliva in your instrument is removed after use.

Woodwind Instruments: Woodwind instruments are a lot more difficult to sanitise. The nature of woodwind instruments, particularly pads, means that the most ideal method of cleaning includes a thorough swab after use, as well as a quarantine period.

Percussion: Percussion is quite simple, but as with all handling of shared items, I would suggest using hand sanitiser prior to handling mallets and hand percussion.

Health and safety has become a very prevalent concern among our communities, but using the following advice will ensure that everyone has an opportunity for an enriching music education.

I hope this guide will help you and those who you care for stay safe during band instrument trials. For more information for students and educators, please visit our resources page.