Instrument maintenance

GER

Active Member
I'm sure most of you play in bands where some players don't clean or maintain their instrument to a very high standard (I'm putting it politely). How does your band deal with it? Do you have an 'instrument officer' responsible for the upkeep of the instruments or something else?. What happens to instruments when handed in by departing players?. How do you think the conductor should react when he asks someone to adjust their slide for tuning and it won't budge? (or if a conductor how do you react?)
I imagine it's more of a problem in lower section bands, but would like to hear of any experiences, or solutions to the problem
 

MissBraz

Active Member
I am certainly not one to talk as not so long ago I gave my horn a good clean for the first time since moving onto it.
However in terms of slides not moving when asked I've never had a problem everything has always worked despite not having regular maintenance.

We have no instrument officer, but I would say that the conductor finds it incredibly frustrating, especially when it is those that don't practise that the slides generally don't move... I don't think it is just down to not cleaning or maintaining.
But that is just my opinion not that it is worth anything...
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Our MD has recently devoted a large chunk of a juniors' rehearsal to teaching learners how to maintain their instruments - and pointing out the likelihood of expensive repairs being needed if they don't.
I think it's unfair to expect a complete novice to appreciate the importance of this - but once it has been explained to them (or their parents, if very young) then they really have no cause for grumbling if the conductor tells them off when they turn up for a rehearsal (or even worse a concert) with sluggish or stuck valves and slides.
Especially if it's an instrument that the band has loaned them free of charge, I think the MD has every right to insist on them taking basic care of it - and so do the other band members.
Shape up or ship out.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
I'm sure most of you play in bands where some players don't clean or maintain their instrument to a very high standard (I'm putting it politely). How does your band deal with it?

Do you have an 'instrument officer' responsible for the upkeep of the instruments or something else?.
What happens to instruments when handed in by departing players?.

How do you think the conductor should react when he asks someone to adjust their slide for tuning and it won't budge? (or if a conductor how do you react?)

I imagine it's more of a problem in lower section bands, but would like to hear of any experiences, or solutions to the problem
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a Band where more than the occasional player didn’t take enough care of their instrument. Mostly people were very pleased to have the loan of an instrument and these days a lot of players have their own instruments instead of using Band supplied ones. Euphonium, Bass Trombone and Basses are all rather expensive, so tend more to be the Bands, but other instruments are generally relatively affordable. Folk normally take care of what they have purchased.

We don’t have an instrument officer as such (it’s more an unstructured collective effort lead by our MD and Chair) but some bands do focus better on their material assets - what we do works for us but I couldn’t describe it as best practice.
We don’t have much of a player turnover and we’re actually growing, where a departing player has a band instrument to return it typically goes to either the MD or Chair first and then to store.

Occasionally someone will have a sticky valve or slide. Almost invariably it’s because the player has little to no mechanical aptitude and the rest of us rally around our colleague to resolve their problem as best we can. A committee member will get an instrument repaired without too many questions being asked. Stuff happens and then it gets sorted.

Edit. As above with Jack’s comment education helps. We don’t assume that someone can play music without help so why would we assume that they can care for their instrument without education? [It would be a foolish mistake to make but what we as players think is obvious and common knowledge is, typically, mostly unknown to other folk.] In delivering any education we know that it needs to take account of what people do and do not already known, or at least accept that their will be differences within a group.

I’m in a non-contesting Band so my view could be slanted. To me people are people and their morals and care don’t necessarily change dependant on (contesting) Section. Solutions? It’s all about attitude, respect, responsibility and commitment; you pick which Band you join and the Band might attract or pick players with more than just musical skills in mind.
 
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John Brooks

Well-Known Member
Our MD has recently devoted a large chunk of a juniors' rehearsal to teaching learners how to maintain their instruments - and pointing out the likelihood of expensive repairs being needed if they don't.
I think it's unfair to expect a complete novice to appreciate the importance of this - but once it has been explained to them (or their parents, if very young) then they really have no cause.......
Great point and you've reminded me of the time I first learned to play, over 60 years ago now. There was no mention of cleaning or basic maintenance and now I look back on some of the things I did out of shear ignorance that I thought were fine at the time. Brillo on the valves for example.....as a young teen I thought shiny valves were a good thing!! Also on the slides before coating them with a little Vaseline. It's such a simple thing to explain; even a printed sheet with directions would be better than nothing.
 

GER

Active Member
There was no mention of cleaning or basic maintenance and now I look back on some of the things I did out of shear ignorance that I thought were fine at the time. Brillo on the valves for example.
I was told to make a paste out of Ajax scouring powder, put it on the valves and then 'grind them in'!
It's such a simple thing to explain; even a printed sheet with directions would be better than nothing.
What a good idea, along with a formal or informal (as per 2t) 'instrument officer' who people can turn to for advice or help.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
A brief comment which is more to encourage development of an idea or concept than anything else.

I believe that I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to care for instruments but it’s taken me years to accumulate knowledge and there’s bound to be gaps in it. I also believe that my knowledge base on instrument maintenance is better than say 75% of the rest of my Band. So a relatively high understanding that still will have holes in it.

In life there are the things that you know, the things that you know you don’t know and then the things that you don’t know you don’t know. Best / better practice in terms of instrument maintenance might fall into that large group of things that you don’t know that you don’t know.

Our Conductors’ talk much about the music but if the tools to do the job are holding us back in some way then the value of his / her words are partially lost. Perhaps instrument maintenance sessions and/or demonstrations would be good things for a Band to hold, and maybe some printed handouts too.
 
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Jack E

Well-Known Member
I do agree with the point made by John Brooks, re. printed hand-out sheet. Even if the player in question has had a run-through on care and maintenance, until they are really familiar with the process a single sheet checklist to help avoid overlooking something is simple enough to do, and easy to keep in the instrument case, so it's always to hand.
 

Hsop

Member
This reminds me of cadets in the army when they are presented with their first rifle for training. It becomes part of them and they have to be able to disassemble and maintain their rifle in all situations out in the field.

When I was I kid, around 11 or 12, I was getting ready to play a solo in a church concert. Whilst getting ready to play backstage I tried to play some long tones to warm up. Unknown to me at the time, in the afternoon before the concert a relative had decided to remove the valves in order to clean and oil them. Unfortunately they refitted the valves in the wrong order. After 10-15 minutes of panicking I realised what was wrong with the cornet and managed to replace the valves in the correct order. Fortunately the concert organiser let me play near the end of the programme.

After this event I made sure to gain knowledge and experience on basic instrument maintenance!
 
We haven't had many issues with maintenance or the lack of, apart from a couple of players who must be tone deaf and insist on tuning to A 440 no mater what the temperature we don't have many tuning issues, the only ons we have are the aforementioned tone deaf folks "Tune up" and then play confidently horribly out of tune as soon as they put a valve down. As conductor it drives me mad, as a player I have to have the instrument in tune or I get jaw ache lipping in in to tune, I don't seem able to play out of tune, bit weird really. I believe if you have a matched set of instruments only Sop and Flugel should vary in relative pitch with temperature variations. If everyone chooses what they like best irrespective of manufacturer etc then there is good chance the band will sound horrible unless you can tune up before every performance, and we simply can't.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I believe if you have a matched set of instruments only Sop and Flugel should vary in relative pitch with temperature variations. If everyone chooses what they like best irrespective of manufacturer etc then there is good chance the band will sound horrible unless you can tune up before every performance, and we simply can't.
Well, our main band has instruments from a range of different makes - Yamaha, Geneva and (I think) Besson - and they don't tune up before every performance, and their intonation is good enough for them to be in the middle of the results when they contest at first section level.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Further to my above post, I found this post from Tom King on another thread, which I think is worth a look:
I've known front row sections (in all sections, right up to quite serious championship bands) where no two cornets match for brand/model and they've blended absolutely fine - the "all brand matching" idea is, to my mind, somewhat missing the wood for the trees - if you're listening and working together as a team, it'll blend well; if you're not listening and working together as a team then no amount of equipment matching (whether it be instruments, mouthpieces, etc) will make it blend.
 

Mello

Active Member
We haven't had many issues with maintenance or the lack of, apart from a couple of players who must be tone deaf and insist on tuning to A 440 no mater what the temperature we don't have many tuning issues, the only ons we have are the aforementioned tone deaf folks "Tune up" and then play confidently horribly out of tune as soon as they put a valve down. As conductor it drives me mad, as a player I have to have the instrument in tune or I get jaw ache lipping in in to tune, I don't seem able to play out of tune, bit weird really. I believe if you have a matched set of instruments only Sop and Flugel should vary in relative pitch with temperature variations. If everyone chooses what they like best irrespective of manufacturer etc then there is good chance the band will sound horrible unless you can tune up before every performance, and we simply can't.
 

Mello

Active Member
Just a small point which is not a criticism. .When tuning ..it may be a good idea to look at the tuned percussion first . Example it have to be either a special or very old Xylophone to be in A 440 as these days the general pitch is A 442. ...Just worth a mention as with vibes intro into 'Summertime' it doesnt help the soloist if they are tuned to a different pitch.
 

PeterBale

Moderator
Staff member
Just a small point which is not a criticism. .When tuning ..it may be a good idea to look at the tuned percussion first . Example it have to be either a special or very old Xylophone to be in A 440 as these days the general pitch is A 442. ...Just worth a mention as with vibes intro into 'Summertime' it doesnt help the soloist if they are tuned to a different pitch.
Excellent advice. A personal bugbear is when a band features a piano soloist: far better to tune to the piano from the start, rather than have an aural jar to the system as the band has to adjust when the piano in introduced.
 

pbirch

Active Member
Well, our main band has instruments from a range of different makes - Yamaha, Geneva and (I think) Besson - and they don't tune up before every performance, and their intonation is good enough for them to be in the middle of the results when they contest at first section level.
blending, balance and intonation goes on within and between the ears of the players and it really doesn't matter about the brand of the instrument or mouthpiece the player is using.

But back to the question of maintenance, my experience shows a few things, players take more care of their own instruments than they do of band owned instruments, this is particularly true of the low brass and tubas. Every instrument was new and perfect once upon a time, but players (and the band for that matter) take them to gigs without cases and they get bashed and the next player takes less care and so on until a £7k instrument is a complete wreck.
A band that has a replacement policy might replace the cornets and euphoniums every 5 years, but the tubas every 20.
I think maintenance should be a shared responsibility, and maybe even a contract between the band and there player, the player doing routine stuff like oiling the valves and greasing the slides and keeping the instrument clean, and the band ensuring servicing on a regular basis (2-5 years maybe), repairs can be covered by insurance, or if due to neglect or carelessness the player contributes to the cost- and that would give a player that sense of investment in the instrument that would promote care
 
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2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
But back to the question of maintenance, my experience shows a few things, players take more care of their own instruments than they do of band owned instruments, this is particularly true of the low brass and tubas. Every instrument was new and perfect once upon a time, but players (and the band for that matter) take them to gigs without cases and they get bashed and the next player takes less care and so on until a £7k instrument is a complete wreck.

A band that has a replacement policy might replace the cornets and euphoniums every 5 years, but the tubas every 20.
I think maintenance should be a shared responsibility, and maybe even a contract between the band and there player, the player doing routine stuff like oiling the valves and greasing the slides and keeping the instrument clean, and the band ensuring servicing on a regular basis (2-5 years maybe), repairs can be covered by insurance, or if due to neglect or carelessness the player contributes to the cost- and that would give a player that sense of investment in the instrument that would promote care
Tubas, gosh this is a difficult one. It’s hard to get folk to play EEb’s and seemingly impossible to get them to play BBb’s. I love playing the Bass (it’s nearly as much fun as playing a Trombone :) ) but they are heavy, difficult to move and dent easily. Put them in a hard case (my preference) and the weight goes up a lot, and then they’re even more difficult to get into your car. It’s right to encourage correct care of an instrument but marks on a Tuba are not necessarily down to deliberate abuse and could easily be picked up in normal transport. If a band starts to ask players to contribute to repair costs then matters could get out of hand quite quickly and a Band could end up with no Bass players. To my mind it’s much more about attitudes, education and helping your players with the difficulties that they find rather than chasing genuine errors, misadventure and mistakes. But perhaps I misunderstand something here.
 

pbirch

Active Member
Tubas, gosh this is a difficult one. It’s hard to get folk to play EEb’s and seemingly impossible to get them to play BBb’s. I love playing the Bass (it’s nearly as much fun as playing a Trombone :) ) but they are heavy, difficult to move and dent easily. Put them in a hard case (my preference) and the weight goes up a lot, and then they’re even more difficult to get into your car. It’s right to encourage correct care of an instrument but marks on a Tuba are not necessarily down to deliberate abuse and could easily be picked up in normal transport. If a band starts to ask players to contribute to repair costs then matters could get out of hand quite quickly and a Band could end up with no Bass players. To my mind it’s much more about attitudes, education and helping your players with the difficulties that they find rather than chasing genuine errors, misadventure and mistakes. But perhaps I misunderstand something here.
I understand that if you want an instrument to remain dent and scratch free, you encase it in bubble wrap in storage and never use it, my point is that insurance is (or should be) there for genuine mishaps and accidents, but if a repair is down to neglect or carelessness then a contribution from the player is in order, it could be set at between 10-25% of the cost depending on circumstances, just something to acknowledge the responsibility for the problem.
I am fortunate enough to have my own tuba, it is better cared for than the bands instruments, and that is driven by my investment in the instrument, and if that sense of responsibility is shared by the users of the the bands equipment then many issues like those in the above could be avoided
 
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2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
I understand that if you want an instrument to remain dent and scratch free, you encase it in bubble wrap in storage and never use it, my point is that insurance is (or should be) there for genuine mishaps and accidents, but if a repair is down to neglect or carelessness then a contribution from the player is in order, it could be set at between 10-25% of the cost depending on circumstances, just something to acknowledge the responsibility for the problem.
I am fortunate enough to have my own tuba, it is better cared for than the bands instruments, and that is driven by my investment in the instrument, and if that sense of responsibility is shared by the users of the the bands equipment then many issues like those in the above could be avoided
Fair point(s) Peter and a reasonable contribution level too.

I have two Tuba’s one of which I own and the other belongs to the Band. My own was in very poor condition when I bought it and at some expense is has been brought to be a nice little player. The Band’s instrument is more valuable (than mine) by at least a factor of ten, I treat it with much care but feel sure that it’s not quite as pristine as when it arrived with me. I don’t think that I’d buy that particular model myself, it’s far too easy to mark/dent - I’m very careful with my own and others’ items, it’s never been misused in any way - and the massive bell makes it hard to both move and maneuver. It’s great that Bands lend out such valuable and wonderful instruments but that can also put a significant liability on a player who would choose for themselves something less expensive, tougher and less bulky.

To my mind there is a balance to be struck and an understanding of what is reasonable to be formed. Damage from clearly careless actions should cost the player something but how you define careless could be tricky and likewise identifying when the damage actually occurred could prove difficult too.

Edit. On the subjects of carelessness and neglect it would be interesting to hear of examples that are judged either acceptable or unacceptable, and why. With regard to instrument care it’s good for people to have a common understanding of what’s expected and why.

Edit. As a youth I, most unusually for me, was clowning around with another kid when an instrument got in our way and got damaged. The Band Master gave us both an appropriate ‘Rocket’, lectured the whole Band about the importance of taking care around instruments and then just got it repaired. Thinking about it he must, from time to time, have briefly lectured the Band (either individually or on mass) about how to care for instruments; I wasn’t born knowing how to oil valves or wash/brush through an instrument, or how to polish it either.

I was never asked for a penny (for the repairs) but did take on board my foolishness and made doubly certain that I supported all the Band’s fund raising events - he got my commitment and my gratitude. Perhaps I was an unusual kid, or perhaps our Band Master was both a good judge of character and knew that you can’t make a ‘Donkey’ cleverer by beating it. I shall always remember that man kindly for the help and encouragement that he gave to me and to numerous other youngsters. Whilst beating a Donkey won’t make it cleverer kind words, clear directions and a few carrots will help you to train it.
 
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