Caring for a Wooden Clarinet
By Tim Brennan
As a former music educator, and a parent, I would frequently remind my students that the holidays are a perfect time to make requests for additional "cool" band gear to enhance their musical experience. My students would come back after a birthday or a holiday, excited to show me their new gear. This ranged from music stands, to mutes, and sometimes, a new instrument.
A wooden clarinet is a perfect gift for the advanced clarinet student who is looking for a new challenge. Parents take note, this step will be financially significant, and proper care is vitally important.
Step-up and professional clarinets differ from student clarinets in a number of ways, but the body material of the clarinet between beginning and advanced models is the biggest difference and requires attention. Step-up and professional model clarinets are made with a wooden body, whereas student model clarinets are made with a resin/plastic body. What do we know about wood? Wood expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity. Below we list a few guidelines to follow if you think you or your student is ready to take this step. These points are important to follow so your new wooden clarinet stays in top condition.
1. Never play your wooden clarinet when the instrument is cold. Let it warm up to room temperature before playing. Our breath is warm, if we play our wooden clarinet without letting the wood come to room temperature, the heat from our breath could potentially cause the wood to crack.
2. Never submit your clarinet to extreme temperatures. This includes marching, do not march with your wooden clarinet. (Keep the plastic bodied clarinet you started on, you'll need it for marching band).
3. There will be a break-in period with key steps to follow. Read these steps carefully:
Play your new instrument only 15 minutes a day for the first week.
During the second week, you can play the clarinet twice a day for 15 minutes each.
Gradually increase your playing time until you are at normal practice time.
The longer the break-in time, the less likely your new wooden clarinet will crack.
4. During the winter months, if you live in an area with cold weather, the chance of cracking your wooden clarinet is greater due to the drier air. Purchasing a humidifier to keep in the case will help a great deal. We carry a product called a "Dampit," which is a humidifier made for wooden instruments. The Dampit works to maintain the humidity levels in your instrument case.
5. Be sure to swab your wooden clarinet after each play session, and if you run into a marathon practice session, swab periodically.
Following these simple steps will ensure you have success and are able to enjoy your new instrument to the fullest. It only takes a small amount of care to keep your new instrument looking and sounding it's best for years to come. Your friends and family will be amazed and truly excited to hear your wonderful new sound!