Flute Cleaning and Preventing Flute Damage

An earlier post I wrote discussed storing flutes year round – like all woodwinds flutes are quiet sensitive to temperature changes. Once the flutes are out of your hands and into the students you have little control of whether or not these instruments get stored in sweltering/freezing vehicles or garages. The best you can do is inform the students that is part of the reason I like loaner instrument contracts because at the very least the student’s can’t feign ignorance for fairly common issues that can do some serious damage.


The Basics

In my template cleaning contract I cover some of the more common ways flutes can get damaged. There are two common fatalities that can make a flute unplayable (1) denting or tubing damage and (2) dilapidated pads.

  • Running with the instrument
  • Leaving it unattended (no matter how long)
  • Unstable surfaces
  • Treating the instrument like a toy, baton, play equipment
  • Sharing it (especially now with a pandemic)
  • Playing after eating without brushing teeth/washing out their mouth
  • Not cleaning after playing – allowing moisture to sit inside the flute

Most of these are common sense, let’s approach each situation hypothetically…

Pre-pandemic times, you may have a group lesson of fifth grade flute players. Someone forgot to come to lessons, and is running to get there fashionably late. As they are running down the hall their flute case unlatches and the contents spill out into the hall. What happens next?

Stop and assess the damage. Sometimes students have dumb luck resulting in no major damage, and other times it is a blood bath. This is a great opportunity to review why no one should be running with their instrument (even when the flute is in it’s case – especially the student latch cases) and that absolute fear that they may have damaged school property may be enough to cement that lesson and prevent it from happening again in subsequent weeks.

Music stands, they hold music so well who’s not to say they can’t hold flutes just as well? Until… someone needs to squeeze by in a hurry and the stand flips over causing the flute to fall down. What happens next?

Music stands do not equal flute stands. Band directors are just as guilty as flute students for this DO NOT MODEL THIS BEHAVIOR. Again, you’ll need to access the damage, and if possible avoid those double tray music stands which only encourage budding flute players to rest not only their flutes, but their piccolos on the spare tray.

You have a fantastic freshman flutist, they are always in the band room – practicing after lunch, in all sorts of ensembles during school, and in after school rehearsals. One day a bunch of notes on their flute stop working or it takes a lot of effort to get the sound out, why?

There are two things that need to be address here. Is the student cleaning out their flute after every use? Is the student playing with a clean mouth? One or the combination of both of these will cause leaks and subsequent tears in the pads that make the sound muffled, delayed or inaudible. Students who play a lot need to stay on top of this since the flute is a lot like a car the closer you get to those 3000 miles it’ll need service.


Preventative Measures

Discussions are the best way to help prevent expensive repairs. Here is a studio basics on flute care PDF.

In this document I address common questions:

  • What should be cleaned and how often?
  • What do we need [to clean the flute]?
  • Good websites or references [for cleaning tips and supplies]?
  • In-person vendors? *LOCATION SPECIFIC, ask your local flutists*
  • Repairs when (how much time between services)? How to know what type of repair to ask for?

This is much better suited for more serious flute players, middle school and high school students who are taking on more personal responsibilities than beginning flute players at the elementary level. Patience is they key with the younger students; and keeping an open line of communication with the parents to make sure they know what the expectations are rather than relying on the student to relay that knowledge to their parents.


Do you have any flute damage horror stories? What did you do? And how do you prevent damages going forward? Let me know in the comments.

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