Written by Jason Alaksa
Well, it’s finally June. Congratulations everyone, you’ve almost made it! We here at Music-Tech meanwhile? Well, we’re just getting started. We’ve been into our summer checks (assessments) for a few weeks now, but they really began in earnest in the past few days. We’ll be running to and fro, hither and yon across the city right into, well, July to be honest; But we’re looking forward to it! It was while doing one of those checks that I thought putting up a post on tips for summer prep might be a good idea. The assessment process is designed to identify items that are in need of standard repair and maintenance work. We put those aside and bring them in to fix them up for you. That doesn’t mean, however, that the items we leave behind are perfect or should just be left on the shelf and abandoned for the summer. There are a few things you can do to make sure they’re as ready as possible for you for the start-up in September. Now, before I get too involved, let me be clear. I fully realize that a teacher’s life is busy, and time is valuable. You may not have time for all of these things, but as many as you can accomplish in the next few weeks will really help. Also, we always like to suggest using the students. Everyone has a few of those keener kids who can’t help but spend time in the music room. A lot of these ideas (not all, but a lot) can be done by them spread over a couple of weeks.
A General Rule:
Empty the cases of any extra paraphernalia. Old dead reeds, crumpled up sheet music, pens, pencils, loose change. It just doesn’t need to be in there, and who knows how it bounces around when the case is closed and moved around. If you have time, and means, perhaps even running a vacuum quickly through them isn’t a bad idea. I’d even recommend pulling out any cork grease tubes and bottles of oil. If for no other reason than to take stock of any consumables you might be running out of.
Also in regards to cases, before you leave for the summer, go through all of them to make sure that the instruments and parts are all in their correct slots, and seated properly. A case closed on a clarinet body joint sitting upside down can bend quite a few keys over 2 months. I did a check recently and had to bring in all 5 of the schools saxophones. The common thread to them all? The straps were left attached to the instruments and put back in the case. Some of them wrapped around the horn.
There isn’t too much you can do in the way of woodwinds past the cases, with a few exceptions. Perhaps a very thin coat of grease on the tenon (joint) corks of clarinets, and neck corks of saxes if they seem to need it. Don’t be liberal, it’s just a top up, you’ll likely have to do it again in September anyway. Humidity in the summer should mean that things won’t dry out.
Where possible, make sure all of your Saxophones have end caps. They protect the octave system on most of the models of saxophone that are used in schools. A quick swab is perhaps not a bad idea either. There likely won’t be much to get out, but it’ll just give the inside a quick wipedown before you put it to bed for a couple of months.
A quick word about Padsavers:
The Padsaver is certainly a convenient tool for school music programs. We all know how hard it is to get kids to run those swabs through properly every day. The 'stuff it and forget it’ concept has certainly helped save many a pad over the years. That said, they aren’t forever and are intended to be replaced. If you have a Padsaver that’s years old, and is showing it (think ‘crusty’ - I know! sorry!), I don’t think putting it back in the instrument over the summer is a great idea. Perhaps leaving them out on a counter though July and August would be wise. An old and dirty Padsaver is just holding all the crud meant to be removed from the instrument, inside the instrument. If nothing else it’ll let some fresh air go through the instrument for a few months as well. I think I could do a whole article on swabbing vs. Padsavers. We’ll do that another time, but that’s a quick word on an idea of what to do with them over the summer.
Really that’s about it for woodwinds. That, and all of the case tips should be a good step towards keeping your woodwinds in the best shape possible for September.
A fairly simple bath is a wonderful idea, but it is time consuming. It requires some space, and some time, and a basic working knowledge of how to properly disassemble the instrument. But nothing more than that. Use warm, mildly soapy water (Watch out for felts on the valves), run through some valve brushes and bore cleaners (long metal ‘snakes’ with wiry bristles on the end for the slides) and rinse in clean cool water. I always pat valves dry, and slide a towel gently through the valve chambers. blow gently through slides to remove excess water from within (into a towel at the other end) and let items stand to air dry before re-oiling/re-greasing and re-assembly. I’m going to stop there. If you have the knowledge necessary to do this, you got enough from what I just said - In fact, you probably already know how to do it. If any of it was confusing, please don’t attempt this yet. I will promise you this. There will be a full article on this early in the new school year. It’s the kind of thing that can be done at any point really, and if planned right, can be spread over several months. We may even manage to do a video showing the process step by step.
At the very least: In the last few days before you leave, re oil your valves. Make sure they’re moving as fluidly as possible. When returning them to their casings, tighten the valve caps, and then back them off a bit, making them slightly less than finger tight. Metal can do strange things with temperature and while it’s rare, it’s not unheard for something that moved just fine in June, to be stuck tight in September. Giving yourself some insurance space can’t hurt. Even more important with slides.
As with the valves, make sure all of your slides are greased, and moving easily. When you return them to their appropriate spots push them fully in and then back them out. ¾ of an inch to and inch should suffice. This is simply so that, if something does get stuck over the summer you have room to push back and forth to break the seal and try to free it, rather than just yanking or pulling on it. Even with this, if you can’t free a sticking slide fairly easily (only a couple of attempts) you should stop and let a professional handle it before anything else bends or breaks.
It’s wise to shelve your snare drums somewhere (in cases if you’ve got them) rather than leave them on stands. Schools are quiet to be sure over the summer, but there can still be activity and people in your rooms. Accidents happen and things on stands can get knocked over. Fold up the stands and tuck them on a shelf beside the snares if it’s at all possible. A quick tuning of heads if you are able may not be a bad idea, but as the summer is warmer, it’s not likely that anything will tighten. This is more about tension being as even as possible to keep the drum balanced over the summer. Not vital, but if you have the means and the time, why not right?
If you take nothing else from this section, I beg you to take this. Please, make sure you drop the tymps to their lowest pitch. This takes the tension off the head while it’s not being used, and in fact is unattended for 2 months. This should be done everytime the drums aren’t being used, but it’s of particular import before long breaks. You’ll save your tymps in the long run. While we’re at it, make sure nothing is sitting on the drums themselves. Well meaning helpers might see the large, flat surface and put a few things on top to get them out of the way or keep them off the floor, but they’ll be doing more harm in the long run. There shouldn’t be anything on tymps (or mallet instruments for that matter) other than any coverings they may have.
Make sure all of your auxilliary percussion (Tambourines, triangles, shakers and the like), sticks and mallets are tucked away somewhere and you should be good. This may be a good time to get rid of those broken/breaking/half pairs of things. Like I said, not a lot, but every little bit helps right?
Doing these fairly easy tasks will go a long way to making sure things are in good shape in September, and repeated care like this can really extend the life of the instruments. It can also show the students that you’re doing your part to care for the horns, and if that helps convince even 2 or 3 of them that they should/could be doing the same, that’s a win too. Come to think of it, it’s a great teachable moment. Getting some of those more involved students to help out can give them a better understanding of how the instruments work, and what kind of care they need. They may even start watching out for them, and telling their friends how to help too. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. And please feel free to comment or ask questions on Facebook (Music-Tech Services) and Twitter (@MusicTechYYZ). We hope everyone’s June is going well, and that the wrap up to the year is going as smoothly as possible. It’ll be a busy couple of weeks, but just think of all the heat and sunshine that lies ahead.