Caring for Your Instrument and Equipment

After an exhausting day of marching, you may be tempted to simply flop down on the couch and take a nap, but don’t forget that the extremes of marching band can wreak havoc on your instrument and equipment. This article provides words of wisdom for each section of the band—woodwinds, brass, percussion and color guard.


Unfortunately, woodwind players often neglect the daily routine of swabbing and wiping, according to Scott Kurtzweil, manager of woodwind and marching arts divisions at The Woodwind & Brasswind, a South Bend, Ind.-based online retailer. Thorough swabbing deters the most potential instrument damage, and wiping removes oils and sweat left from your hands. Not only will this practice keep the instrument clean and shiny, but it will also extend the instrument’s life and maintain airflow.

In addition, woodwind musicians need to lubricate the keys. “The oils will evaporate in the outdoors,” Kurtzweil says. “You should make sure to oil the keys at least once a week to keep them from seizing up. And also make sure to oil the springs.”

Temperature can also be a problem for woodwind instruments. Heat and humidity, along with cold weather, can damage wood components and joints.

“The biggest thing is no sudden temperature changes, especially if it’s a true wood instrument,” Kurtzweil says. “It will affect the pads. Try to leave your instrument in a place where the temperature is constant. And for marching season, I usually recommend a plastic instrument.”


One thing that all brass players have in common: they don’t take care of their slides and valves, according to Edward Gobbel, wind instrument product manager at Austin, Texas-based Jupiter Band Instruments, Inc. Slides aren’t just important for trombonists, by the way—it’s always important to take care of tuning and valve slides to keep all brass instruments in good shape. “[The slides] can get really gritty,” Gobbel says. “They should be on a regular maintenance routine. Otherwise, really interesting things can begin to grow in there.”

For brass players, the valves are the easiest part of the horn to damage. Take your valves out frequently to clean the casing. Otherwise, warns Gobbel, dirt and grime will build up in the valves, and even oil—which many students use as a cure-all—won’t help the valves run smoothly. “Maintenance is more than lubrication,” Gobbel says. “Get an old toothbrush or something and scrub out the inside of the valve casing.”

Horn players should also take care to maintain the physical well-being of their instruments. For marching band especially, a dinged-up horn can drastically reduce a player’s visual impact. “Don’t put your instrument down on the bell,” Gobbel says. “If you put it on your bell, it’s going to get kicked over. It’s the one thing the crowd sees, so you don’t want it dinged and scratched up.”


While many people may consider a drum to be low maintenance, in reality it needs the same love as a well-cared-for brass instrument. Water and grime left inside a drum can cause lasting damage, so you should always keep the drum clean and dry. “Before you put it away, you should definitely wipe it down,” says Troy Wollwage, percussion marketing manager at Yamaha Corporation of America in Buena Park, Calif. “Otherwise, you’re left with a bunch of grass and dirt on the drum at the end of the day.”

While cleaning, percussion players should get to know their instruments. Too often, percussionists take the guts of a drum for granted. If you know how your drum is put together, you’ll know what needs cleaning. “The thing that’s most important is the ins and outs of the instrument—how things are put together,” Wollwage says.

Drums should also be physically protected just like any other instrument. Cover them any time you’re not playing to keep out the sun and other elements, which can cause damage over time. Extra care should be taken particularly when you’re on the road. “You should always have a case when you’re traveling,” Wollwage says. “You put a trumpet in a case, so why not a drum?”

Finally, clean out and detune a drum at the end of the marching season in order to keep it in good condition for years to come. “We always recommend when marching band’s over, the first thing you should do is clean [the drum] off, take the heads off, clean the heads, and grease the tension rods,” Wollwage says. “Make sure everything’s in working order, so you take care of it then and don’t have the hassle at the start of the season when you want to play again.”

Color Guard

Color guard members: always keep an eye on your equipment. In order for flags, rifles, and sabers to remain in good shape, they must stay out of harm’s way—and out of the mud. This vigilance also prevents guard equipment from being left behind accidentally. “It is best not to leave your flags lying on the ground, even during breaks,” says Catina Anderson, founder/editor of “Roll them and either take them with you or make sure they are propped up in a safe place.”

Anderson, who is also the color guard director at Broad Run High School in Ashburn, Va., learned this lesson the hard way. “Many years ago, I had a group of students that were rehearsing in a grassy area near the school during the summer band camp season,” she relates. “The captain released them for a water break, and 10 minutes later, when they went back outside, they found that the school custodian had come by with the riding lawnmower.”

Errant lawnmowers and potential thieves aside, cleaning is the most important factor in keeping equipment looking new and in working condition. For sabers and rifles, always wipe them down after practice. For flags, throw them in the washing machine and look out for tears, which can quickly expand. “I would say it’s a good idea to wipe down your equipment any time you notice it is dirty, certainly after a wet, muddy rehearsal,” Anderson says. “It is not uncommon for pieces of equipment to get dropped frequently. If you use a wet cloth to wipe down the equipment, make sure you dry it as well. Don’t put the equipment back in your bag or closet wet.”

About author

Eddie Carden

Eddie Carden is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. He is a recent graduate from the University of Southern California (USC), with a major in public relations and neuroscience. He has been playing the trumpet since the fifth grade and served last year as the drum major for the USC “Spirit of Troy” Trojan Marching Band.

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