Basics


Basics about: piccolos, flutes, oboes, bassoons, clarinets, saxophones.
As their name implies, woodwind instruments were originally made of woods. Today, however, these instruments are also made out of many other materials that provide the sound quality musicians desire. For example, flutes designed for beginners are made of nickel silver, which is very durable. Clarinets for new musicians are manufactured of a synthetic material that is less likely than wood to be affected by humidity and temperature changes.

Woodwind instruments have many "keys," which are the levers that control the mechanisms that create the notes. Beginner instruments are designed with various adaptations to help make playing easier for young beginners.

Piccolos, English horns and bassoons are not typically played by beginners. Please check with your band or orchestra instructor for any questions you may have about these instruments.

How are different notes and sounds produced?
  • Flutes play the highest notes in a band or orchestra. Air is blown across the mouthpiece (specifically, over the lip plate). As the player depresses keys and changes his or her mouth and lip shapes (called embouchure), notes and sound quality will change.
  • Clarinets and saxophones can play a wide range of notes in a band or orchestra. In these instruments, musical notes are made by blowing on a "reed" that is mounted on the mouthpiece. (The oboe especially has a very distinctive sound - it has a double reed in place of a mouthpiece.) As the reed vibrates, air vibrates in the instrument. A combination of pressing the "keys" and changing the shape of the mouth or lips will change notes.

Accessories


Your music instructor may recommend some accessories. The following are just a few of the accessories available at Portmans Music. We can help you learn what you may need and how to use them.

For clarinets: ligatures, mouthpiece brushes, mouthpiece caps, reeds, reed holders, swabs, and cork grease

For flutes: cleaning rods, and polishing cloths.

For oboes: swabs and cork grease.

For saxophones: lacquer polishing cloths, ligatures, mouthpiece brushes, mouthpiece caps, neck straps, reeds, reed holders, and swabs.

Flute cleaning rods: Cleaning rods are used with a non-lint cloth, to remove the moisture that collects inside the flute after playing. Cleaning the inside of a flute helps to preserve the pads, and keeps the flute in good playing condition.

Flute polishing cloths: The cloth is used to remove fingerprints and keep the flute looking its best.

Flip folders: Flip folders secure your music on your lyre in marching or pep band, allowing you to flip the pages of your music.

Lyre: Used by players who are in pep band or marching band, lyres attach to the instrument. The lyre serves as a temporary music stand for players who are moving or who are in tight quarters.

Mouthpiece brushes: Mouthpiece brushes are used to clean the mouthpiece in routine cleaning of your instrument.

Mouthpiece caps and ligatures: The mouthpiece cap protects the tip of the mouthpiece in storage. The ligature holds the reed in place on the mouthpiece. A good ligature should hold the reed firmly and allow the reed to vibrate.

Oboe swabs: These items are used to control moisture in the oboe after each playing.

Oboe reeds: Oboe reeds come in different strengths: soft, medium soft, and hard. See your instructor for guidance.

Reed holders: After playing, the reed should be removed from the mouthpiece and allowed to dry flat. The reed holder allows the air to move around the reed to dry it out.

Reeds: Reeds come in a variety of strengths or thicknesses. The numbering systems are not standard from one manufacturer to another. Beginning students should usually start with a #2 or #2 1/2.

Saxophone polishing cloths: Most saxophones are made of brass and coated with a lacquer finish, so you can use a damp cloth or a lacquer polishing cloth to remove fingerprints and to polish your instrument.

Saxophone neck straps: There are a variety of neck straps available for the player to make playing more comfortable.

Swabs: These are drop-through swabs made of chamois, synthetic chamois or cotton cloth, and they are used to remove moisture from inside the clarinet after playing. It should be used each time the instrument is put away.

Cleaning


Below you will find info on cleaning your Flute, Oboe, Clarinet and Saxophone.

CLEANING YOUR FLUTE:

Your flute care kit comes with a flute swab and a silver polish cloth. Using these on a regular basis will keep your flute working well.

Every time you play:
  • When you assemble the instrument, rotate the joints to slide them together; wiggling the joint will loosen it.
  • After playing, clean the inside of your flute with the swab. Make sure to clean the body, foot joint and head joint.
  • After playing, wipe the outside of your flute down with a soft cloth or the silver polish cloth. A quick wipe of the body, head, and foot will keep the instrument clean and free of tarnish. Do not polish the key work or rub the cloth up to the edges of the pads.
Every few weeks:
  • Examine your flute for screws coming loose or keys that do not open or close correctly. If you find any, take the instrument to Portmans Music for adjustment.
Every six month:
  • If the flute's key work is noisy or sticky, bring it to Portman's Music for a quick check and oiling.
Every year:
  • Bring your flute in to Portman's Music for a yearly checkup and headjoint service.
General tips:
  • Always make sure your flute is warm before you start to play.
  • Store the polish cloth outside of the case (in a backpack or binder) to prevent damage to the flute mechanisms.
  • If the whole instrument or certain notes suddenly become much more difficult to play, it is likely that a pad or key is leaking; bring the instrument in for an assessment.
CLEANING YOUR OBOE:

After every time you play:
  • Remove the reed from the instrument and put it in your reed guard.
  • Turn the instrument upside down and drop the string of the oboe swab through it from the bell end to the reed end. Slowly and gently pull the swab through the instrument. Wrap the swab up and store it in the accessories pocket of your case or tucking into the bell of the oboe.
Every few weeks:
  • If the joints are difficult to put together, apply a small amount of cork grease to the cork of each joint.
  • Check your instrument for screws coming loose and keys that are not opening or closing properly. If there are any, bring the instrument in to Portman's Music for an adjustment.
Every six months:
  • If you see buildup of cork grease and lint in and around the keywork, use the key brush to remove it.
  • If your keys are sticky or noisy, bring the oboe to Portman's Music for a check and oiling.
Every year:
  • Bring the oboe to Portman's Music for an annual check.
General tips:
  • Oboes have two bridge keys between the top and bottom joints which are very vulnerable. Be careful not to bend or twist these when assembling the instrument.
  • The reed will make a big difference to the sound of the oboe. Always soak the reed well before playing, and never play on a broken reed.
  • Be careful not to store music or supplies over the keys of the instrument in the case.
  • If the whole instrument or certain notes suddenly become more difficult to play, a key or pad is probably leaking. Bring the instrument to Portman's Music for an assessment.
CLEANING YOUR CLARINET

After every time you play:
  • Remove the reed from the mouthpiece and store it in the reed guard.
  • Remove the mouthpiece from the remainder of the instrument. Turn the instrument upside down and drop the string of the hanky swab through from the bell to the barrel. Gently and slowly pull the swab through the instrument. Wrap the swab up and store it in the accessories pocket of your case or tuck it in the bell of your instrument.
Every few weeks:
  • If the cork joints of your instrument are difficult to put together, apply a small amount of cork grease on the cork of each joint.
  • If your mouthpiece has some buildup inside the chamber, use warm water and the mouthpiece brush to clean it. A soft, old toothbrush can also be used for this cleaning. Be careful not to scratch the inside of the mouthpiece.
  • Check your clarinet for screws coming loose or keys that do not open or close correctly. If you find any, bring the instrument in to Portman's Music for adjustment.
Every six months:
  • If your clarinet's keys are noisy or sticky, bring the instrument in to Portman's Music for a check and oiling.
Every year:
  • Bring your clarinet to Portman's Music for an annual check and cleaning.
General tips:
  • Be careful not to store music or supplies over the keys of the instrument in the case.
  • Reeds make a big difference to the sound of the instrument. Never play on a cracked or chipped reed. Rotate between three or four reeds at a time so that you always have one that works, and replace your reeds every few weeks to a month.
  • Always check the bridge key between the two long joints of the instrument to be sure they align properly.
  • If the whole instrument or certain notes suddenly become much more difficult to play, it is likely that a pad or key is leaking; bring the instrument in for an assessment.
CLEANING YOUR SAXOPHONE

After every time you play:
  • Take the reed off the mouthpiece and store it in your reed guard.
  • Take the neck off the body of the saxophone and pull the neck swab slowly and gently through from the body end to the mouthpiece end.
  • Pull the saxophone body swab slowly and gently through the body of the instrument from the bell end to the neck end. Replace the endplug in the neck end of the body.
  • Wipe the body and neck with your lacquer polish cloth. Be careful not to rub the cloth against the edges of the pads.
Every few weeks:
  • If the mouthpiece is hard to put on, use a small amount of cork grease on the neck cork.
  • If your mouthpiece has buildup in the chamber, use the mouthpiece brush and warm water to clean it. You can also use an old, soft toothbrush. Be careful not to scratch the inside of the mouthpiece.
  • Check your saxophone for screws coming loose or keys that won't open or close properly. If you find any, bring it to Portman's Music for an adjustment.
Every six months:
  • If your keys are noisy or sticky, bring the instrument in for a check and oiling.
Every year:
  • Bring your saxophone to Portman's Music for an annual check and neck service.
General tips:
  • Be careful not to store supplies or music over the keys of the instrument.
  • Reeds make a big difference to the sound of the instrument. Never play on a cracked or chipped reed. Rotate between three or four reeds at a time, and always replace your reeds every month or so.
  • If the instrument or certain notes suddenly become hard to play, it is likely a pad or key is leaking. Bring the saxophone in for an assessment.
Watch How-To Video

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