There’s an interesting discussion on one of my LinkedIn music groups about instrument hygiene. Who’s job is it to teach this to student musicians?
Like many children, I took piano lessons from the time I was 6 through high school. I did not major in music and did not play a horn, so when my son picked up his second instrument in 5th grade (alto sax), I had no insight into how to advise him to clean the instrument. I assumed this would be communicated ad nauseum by his private teacher, band teacher, and later, the various teachers of extracurricular programs. I was wrong. While his private teacher did instruct him to swab out his instrument, it wasn’t until college, when he had a succession of upper respiratory and sinus infections, that a doctor broached the subject with him. Was he cleaning his mouthpieces, reeds, as well as the internal organs of his various saxophones and flutes? How — and how often?
All music educators should assume that their students do NOT know how to properly clean their instruments. None should assume that music students are getting the information elsewhere. In fact, this is an area where hearing from several trusted sources about the importance of cleaning mouthpieces, reeds, and horns in general is likely to make the concept “stick.” There are some scary stories out there about horn players who developed serious infections from mold and other creepy growing things inside their instruments. While these are probably rare instances, they do tell us that anything you’re putting in your mouth day in and day out needs to be properly cleaned.
There are plenty of internet and YouTube tips on cleaning your instrument, suggesting everything from a mild bleach solution to malt vinegar to Listerine to…cola (really!). What really works seems to be pretty subjective. But surely music educators who are also performing regularly should be a first stop in the process of figuring this out. As a parent and as a music student, asking for the information is essential — until all music educators learn to incorporate it into their teaching.