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Frequent Music Instrument Repairs

Instrument Repair

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Frequent and everyday music instrument repairs often horrify many young music directors. Consequently, this is because many educators have inadequate skills to address instrument repair. Every day a child doesn’t have an instrument in hand weakens the music program the educator is trying to develop. For this reason, this article suggests several quick fixes, for minor repairs, that every band director can manage instead of using music instrument stores.

Music Instrument Repair

By having a mouthpiece for each instrument, you can determine if an instrument needs repair. For example, students that play saxophones may be having issues creating desirable sounds. After examining the instrument you will find that there is no problem with the instrument. The issue is a result of student error.

Start by asking the most obvious potential problems. As a music educator, it is effortless to waste time inspecting pads, corks, and rods when the real problem could have been a result of a broken reed. The following recommended problem and solution options may provide you an added skill in the music educator toolkit.

Brass Instruments

Brass instruments are relatively easy to learn. The overtone series provides these instruments the ability to use the same fingering for multiple pitches. Often brass instrument repairs are needed due to damaged tubing. Brass instruments use valves, rotors, and slides to extend the length of tubing a musician alters to create different sounds. As a result, if this tubing is damaged, the tubing cannot be modified to create the desired result.

Brass Issue #1


  • Fuzzy, airy sound.

Possible Causes:

  • Tubing has a leak
  • Missing water keypad

Possible Solutions:

  • Inspect the length of the instrument. Use electrical tape to seal the leak until the leak can be resoldered.
  • Replace the missing cork with a new one or rubber pad. If these items are not available us a little bit of rolled-up paper and masking or electrical tape to create a seal. Bring the instrument to repair technician as soon as possible.

Brass Issue #2


  • The instrument is making a buzzing or rattling sound.

Possible Causes:

  • A valve cap is loose
  • A foreign object is in the instrument
  • A soldered joint has loosened

Possible Solutions:

  • Tighten the valve cap clockwise
  • Remove the valves and slides. Check for any foreign object in the instrument. Remove with a cleaning snake or similar object.

Brass Issue #3


  • The French horn pitches are incorrect when the 1st or 3rd rotors are used.

Possible Causes:

  • The first and third slides have been switched.

Possible Solutions:

  • Examine to see if the longest slide is connected to the third rotor. Simply reinsert the slides in the correct position.

Brass Issue #4


  • Trombone slide will not move without force.

Possible Causes:

  • Is dirty.
  • Needs lubrication.
  • May have a dent in the inner or outer slide.

Possible Solutions:

  • Take off the outer slide, clean and wipe the inner slide with a clean rag.
  • Lubricate the slide. Keep in mind the lubrication should be a thin layer primarily on the “cocking.” This is the thicker portion of the slide that the outer slide should be in contact with.
  • If the slide still doesn’t move have a professional repair tech take care of it.

Saxophones, Flutes, and Clarinets

In general, woodwinds have all the same working parts. However, these part are more complex and sensitive to pressure than the brass instruments. As a result, rods, levers, springs, and keys have to work in harmony for the woodwind instrument to work correctly. Since woodwinds have more working parts than brass instruments, they have the potential for a need for more repair.

Woodwind Issue #1

Problem: Saxophones won’t play in low registers

Possible Causes:

  • Octave keys on saxophones often get bent. This would prevent the sax from creating a seal since air is able to escape.
  • Bell is slightly bent out of alignment and place all of the lower keyed pads out of alignment.

Possible Solution

  • Gently bend the octave “key cup” closed, so it creates a seal.
  • Gently nudge the bell back in the opposite direction. Be sure to tighten the screw associated with the right-hand, 3rd finger slightly.

Woodwind Issue #2


  • The G and G# sound the same on saxophones.

Possible Causes:

  • The G# is more than likely sticking.

Possible Solution:

  • Carefully lift the G# key with your fingers. Most saxophones G# key shouldn’t stick after that.

Woodwind Issue #3


  • The Flute G# key remains open when released.

Possible Causes:

  • The G# lever key is bent and rubbing on one of the surrounding keys.

Possible Solutions:

  • Carefully bend the G# key lever back to the appropriate position. The cause this could be the student storing pencils in the case or another foreign object.

Woodwind Issue #4


  • The right-hand notes in the Clarinet do not sound correct.

Possible Causes:

  • Bent rod, key and bridge alignment

Possible Solutions:

  • First, check to see if the bridge mechanisms are correctly aligned. These mechanisms can easily get bent if proper attention is not given to one’s instrument set-up. If the lower joint rings do not move, it is more than likely that the upper bridged got caught under the lower bridge mechanism. Gently untwist the Clarinet and search for the bent bridge. Consequently, this will more than likely need professionals attention to realign the instrument.

Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments may quite easily require the most regular maintenance. Elementary band programs may consist of simple instruments such as the snare drum, bass drum, bells, and cymbals. In contrast, middle school through college ensembles can easily possess a large assortment of percussion equipment. Below are a few of the most common issues encountered by music directors. It would be wise to invest some research and time to understand how to maintain percussion equipment. As a result, this could save your program thousands of dollars in music instrument repairs.

Percussion Issue #1


  • Snare Drum head needs to be replaced

Possible Cause:

  • Worn or damaged head.

Possible Solution:

  • For younger bands use plastic heads. More advanced groups may want to try synthetic or calfskin heads.
  • In most cases:
    • Loosen tension rods
    • Remove drum rim
    • Replace with new head
    • Tune the head tension by tightening one rod a bit, then tighten the next rod across from it to the same approximate tension. Continue doing this in a “star” like motion. Your goal to create a tight sounding “pop” without over tensing the head. Remember balance is the key.

Percussion Issue #2

Problem: Tone of drum sounds dull

Possible Causes:

  • The muffler is too tight
  • Snares misadjusted or damaged
  • Head tension

Possible Solution:

  • Adjust the muffler by turning the large screw on the side of the drum
  • Check to see if the snare lies flat on the bottom drum head. If not adjust them accordingly.

Percussion Issue #3

Problem: Bass Drum Head Needs to be replaced.

Possible Causes:

  • Head is worn or torn
  • The tone of the drum head is unacceptable as a result of improper tuning

Possible Solutions:

  • Follow the directions for replacing snare drum heads
  • Similar to the snare batter head. The bass drum striking head should be slightly tighter than the other one.

Percussion Issue #4


  • Cymbal is cracked

Possible Causes:

  • Cymbal was misused or dropped.

Possible Solution:

  • Have cymbal professionally repaired
  • Replace pair of cymbals

Music Instrument Stores

Music instrument stores are great resources for music educators. Not only is there often a repair technician on-site but replacement parts are occasionally available to purchase at a discount. Be sure to develop a positive relationship with the music instrument store managers and owners to capitalize on the best deals possible.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, directors engage in music instrument repairs daily and should deal with these issues if possible. One day you could be making adjustments on saxophones or fixing frozen valves on brass instruments. Regardless, if you have to have a professional repair tech fix it be sure to take your equipment to the instrument music stores. Most importantly, if you gain quick fix skills, you will be saving time and money. These benefits will enable your students to get more relevant in-class instruction.


Bachelder, D. F., & Hunt, N. J. (2002). Guide to teaching brass. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Byo, J. L. (2007). The woodwinds: Performing, understanding, teaching. Baton Rouge, LA: James Byo Music.

Fraedrich, E. (2003). The art of elementary band directing. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publ.

Timm, E. L. (1971). The woodwinds: Performance and instructional techniques.

Westphal, F. W. (1990). Guide to teaching woodwinds. Dubuque, IA: W.C. Brown.

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