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When was the last time your students had their instruments in the shop? How much of an impact do you think an instrument in poor condition has on a student’s ability to practice, prepare and perform? How often do you play check students’ instruments? What do you do to ensure that students get high quality instruments from the start?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of adjudicating for a junior high Illinois MEA District band audition. The majority of the students I heard perform were playing on the flutes they started with, though maybe 15% of them had step-up instruments. There were a number of kids I heard whose flutes were in such bad shape that it was impossible to evaluate their performance because they could barely make a sound on them. There were even a couple kids who I was amazed could make any sound at all because their flutes were in such bad shape. On questioning these kids, I learned that their flutes had never been in the shop since they began playing 3-4 years prior. Fortunately there was a repair person on site from one of our local dealers that I could send them to, but it was too late in terms of their audition.

In my own studio I regularly find that the students and their parents have no idea that a flute needs regular maintenance. Frequently, my recommendation that the instrument get serviced regularly is something that never occurred to students or parents. When they get repairs, the students are amazed at how good they sound.

Here are some pointers on maintaining instruments in good playing condition:

  • Make sure the flute is a quality brand to begin with. The reputable dealer in your area is the place to go for quality name brand instruments. Steer families away from inexpensive online “deals”. You truly get what you pay for.
  • Communicate to parents that instruments need to go in the shop every 12-18 months to stay in good shape regardless of whether or not there is an emergency repair. It’s like maintaining an automobile. You wouldn’t drive around and never change the oil. The engine will eventually seize up.
  • Many dealers have service contract agreements that are very reasonable for regular and emergency maintenance. Encourage parents to pop the few bucks for the convenience and peace of mind.
  • Quick Fixes for Common Mechanical Problems are no substitute for regular maintenance. If you need to use a quick fix, the flute needs to go to the shop as soon as possible afterwards.
  • If instruments are well maintained, a quick fix may never even be necessary.
  • Play check instruments for leaks and check the headjoint cork to make sure it is tight and in the correct position. A loose cork will make the flute sound bad. An out of place cork will negatively affect the intonation of the flute.

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