Monday, March 18, 2013

As the weather changes: Springtime Flute Care

There are two season changes that challenge flutes and their owners.  Spring and Autumn.

As the first day of spring approaches this week, let's review the most typical problems associated with the atmospheric changes, and how to keep your flute in great working order.

For most of us, at sometime in the next three months, we will turn off the heat in our homes, and shortly turn on the AC.

It is said that in the North Eastern US the typical relative humidity in our homes during winter, is down around 10%, which is rather like Death Valley.  That's why the floor boards shrink, static electricity is such a problem and house plants need much more water.  The pads, shims, and spacers that keep your flute regulated react by shrinking.  This is why a flute, which has been working perfectly fine in January, shows up needing repair in April.

To help your flute make the adjustment, take just a few precautions:

1.  Completely swab out the inside of the flute each time you play, and use pad cleaners at the end of the day.  We recommend Flute Flags for swabbing, as well as any of the high quality BG France products.  BG France's Universal Pad Cleaners work much better than the standard cigarette papers to keep pads dry and stable.

2.  Put the flute in its case every night, as soon as you have finished for the day.

3.  Let the flute come to room temperature before putting any hot air into it either by warming it up or by playing it.

4.  Store your swab in the exterior pocket of your case cover.  Not a good idea to put the moisture (ie spit) you've just taken out of the flute and put it on top of the flute, and then seal it in the case.

5.  Store your flute on a shelf or in a drawer.  There is a nasty pest called a Pad Bug,  a cousin of the carpet beetle, that will literally eat your pads.  They are tiny insects, but if you are putting a flute away for a while, and store it on the ground, you may have unwanted guests in your case and an unplayable flute when you take it out again.

6.  Never let a well-meaning (but inexperienced in flute repair) band director try to balance the pads or regulate the flute.  Countless examples of the problems this causes come through the shop door every Spring.

7.  Piccolos: here we have some real issues involving wood and its care.  Be extra careful in playing the piccolo only once it is at room temperature.  Swab it out frequently.  Keep it out of sunshine and fast moving cold air.  Make sure you put it in its case every night.  These little guys are so small it is tempting to leave them on your music stand or on a shelf. 

Here is a good rule of thumb: if you are under stress, so is your flute!  Solo and Ensemble coming up?  Senior Recital? Audition for summer programs?  The big end of year orchestral concert and you are slated to play the 1st flute part in Daphnis?  Make a repair appointment at least 3 weeks in advance of the big day.  The extra practice you put in during this time of the year stresses your flute and its adjustment.  Anticipate this and avoid the nasty last minute rush to get your flute repaired.  It WILL happen if you have the mind set of Scarlett O'Hara, "Fiddle dee dee.  I'll just worry about it tomorrow."  The problem is, tomorrow is the big concert.

Do you have ways of dealing with the approach of Spring and flute repair?  Please add your thoughts to the comments...

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