Empower Your Students to Perform Band Instrument Maintenance

Empower Your Students to Perform Band Instrument Maintenance

Instrument repairs can be costly. Many can be avoided with regular maintenance, but available time for maintenance is as rare as extra budget dollars for repairs. The good news is that your students can perform basic instrument maintenance. With a little guidance, they can take on the responsibility of maintaining both school and personal instruments. You can follow up once a marking period for a grade, but you may be surprised how putting students in charge of their own instruments can empower them to rise to the occasion.

With just over $100 of materials, you can teach your students to keep their instruments in top working order, reducing the amount of time instruments are in the repair shop and saving your program literally thousands of dollars in repairs. Including a quarterly instrument inspection allows you to look closely at each instrument, holding the student accountable for maintaining all moving parts, and lets you find problems before they become worse and much more expensive to repair.

Below I’ve listed what supplies you’ll need to have on hand. I’ve also provided some maintenance scheduling.

Brass Instrument Supply List

  • Care Kit, including:
    • Tuning slide grease
    • Snakes
    • Mouthpiece brushes
    • Valve casing brushes
    • Polishing cloths – silver and lacquer
  • Valve oil – 2 weights (please note that rotary valves require special oil and care)
  • Trombone Hand slide lubricant
  • Trombone cleaning rod
  • Trumpet leadpipe brush
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Mouthpiece disinfectant
  • Assorted peel and stick water key “corks”

Optional: Mouthpiece puller

Woodwinds Supply List

  • Care Kit, including:
    • Polishing cloth (polishing metal keys)
    • Cork grease
    • Bore oil, separate swab (wooden instruments)
  • Pipe cleaners (cleaning around posts & keys)
  • Cotton swabs (cleaning inside holes)
  • Soft brush (removing case fuzz and dust)
  • Microfiber cloths (removing finger oils)
  • Mouthpiece brush (or old child’s toothbrush)
  • Pad & Cork cement
  • Small screwdrivers (for screws parallel to body)
  • Spring setter (when springs get bumped off)


  • Bassoon bocal snake
  • Bari Sax neck swab

Daily Maintenance


  • Empty water
  • Wipe mouthpiece


  • Swab
  • Wipe moisture from reeds and store flat


  • Store all mallets and accessory instruments carefully
  • Put music away

Weekly Maintenance


  • Clean mouthpiece with mouthpiece cleaning brush
  • Wipe old oil from valves and apply new oil
  • Pull all slides and twist all caps to keep moving parts moving


  • Clean mouthpiece with mouthpiece cleaning brush or old toothbrush
  • Apply cork grease as needed
  • Wipe instrument with soft, dry cloth to remove finger oils, etc.


  • Check all equipment for loose screws and missing parts: report to the director
  • Cover all large instruments
  • If instruments are in a sunny spot, cover when not in use

Monthly Maintenance


  • Pull all slides; wipe off old lubricant
  • Trombones – swab inner and outer hand slide and clean the leadpipe
  • Wipe off fingerprints with soft, dry (or polishing) cloth
  • Vacuum inside of the case. Occasionally let case sit open in sunlight. Use Febreeze (or similar) to remove smells, then allow to dry thoroughly


  • Check for ‘finger cheese’ in holes; remove with a cotton swab or wooden toothpick
  • Use a small, soft brush or folded pipe cleaner to remove dust and lint from around keys and springs
  • Vacuum inside of the case. Occasionally let case sit open in sunlight. Use Febreeze (or similar) to remove smells, then allow to dry thoroughly


  • Check mallets and trim fuzzies
  • Wipe timpani heads
  • Dust horizontal surfaces (snare heads, top of bass drum, chimes, cymbals, etc.)

Annual Maintenance


  • Snake out all slides and rinse


  • Have woodwinds checked annually (or biannually) by a repair technician who can adjust key tensions and replace pads as needed

Here’s a handy one-page summary of all these lists you can hang on your bulletin board.

Teaching the Students to Perform These Steps

If you’re not sure on how to instruct students to perform every maintenance tasks, consider reaching out to a local music store or instrument repair person. They might be willing to help you or students with tips on basic maintenance in exchange for promoting their services.

Another resource for brass instrument maintenance is the book I co-wrote with David Fedderly titled Brass Instruments: Purchasing, Maintaining, Troubleshooting and More. Meredith Music also publishes maintenance guides for woodwind, string, and percussion instruments, each written by different authors.

Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Music Repair

Sally S. Wagner recently retired after 40 years of public school teaching. For 34 years she served as director of bands at Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, MD. SB&O Magazine cited her as one of “50 Directors Who Make a Difference.” She has received the Maryland Music Educators Association Outstanding Music Teacher Award, the National Honor Society Outstanding Teacher Award, the Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award and many other prestigious education awards. Her retirement was noted by Senator Cardin and President Obama and she is listed in The Congressional Record of April 29, 2015 for her many accomplishments as a teacher. Sally is active as an adjudicator, clinician, author, and guest conductor. She is co-author of Brass Instruments: Purchasing, Maintaining, Troubleshooting and More and author of The Pursuit of Excellence: A Band Director’s Guide to Success.

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