Basic flute maintenance

Basic flute maintenance
(from the flutist’s perspective)

Having taught flute for fourteen years now, I’ve taught a lot of folks. I’ve decided to compile a basic maintenance checklist for flute students. I’ve found that, usually, each student has a few habits that could cause damage to their instrument. Any damage is going to adversely affect your ability to play the flute and could potentially be costly to repair.

Now let me clearly define some limits to this advice: I am not a flute technician. I do not adjust screws, switch out pads, fix leaks, or replace cork. I don’t even adjust the cork in the crown of my own flute. The flute is a complex instrument, and I’m just not comfortable (or qualified!) enough to make any kind of adjustment. I’ll pop a spring back into place but that’s the extent of it. So the following advice is for normal, every day maintenance. Have a question about something that isn’t listed below? Feel free to ask!

– When you put the flute together, make sure that you’re assembling it so that the pieces are parallel. If you try to slide the pieces together at an angle, it can bend the metal of either part. Ever seen a foot joint fall off a flute during a concert? This could be the reason why.

– Cork grease has no place in your life. Ever.

– Make sure you clean your flute out after every practice session. Moisture is bad for the instrument. If you have a metal cleaning rod, make sure it doesn’t scrape against the inside of the instrument by wrapping the entire length of the cleaning rod with a soft cloth.

– When you clean the outside of your flute, I prefer for students to use a clean cloth with no polish. Specially-treated cloths that contain a polish are available, but I find that the polish usually ends up getting all over the pads. You should be careful that you don’t rub the pads when you’re cleaning the outside of your flute because it will eventually fray or tear them.

– Concerning the cork in the crown of your flute: you might have to adjust this once or twice in your middle and high school career. This is not a normal part of your tuning process. If you find that the crown of your flute spins freely, this means that the cork has dried out and needs to be replaced.

– If you have sticky pads, it usually means that they’re dirty. To prevent this in the future, make sure you rinse your mouth before playing, and never play with gum or candy in your mouth. Some people like to take a dollar bill, slide it under the offending sticky pad, press the key down, and yank the dollar bill out. Please don’t do this for a couple of reasons. First, the dollar bill is filthy. Secondly, if you pull the dollar while the key is pressed, you run the risk of dislodging the pad. Instead, use an absorbent paper to clean the pad. Some music shops sell specially-made papers, or you can use cigarette-rolling papers. Gently (!) press the key down with the paper under the key, and then release the key and take the paper out. Avoid yanking it out while the key is pressed.

– If a key (not a pad) is sticking, or slow to return to its usual position after you’ve pressed it down, it might be that your mechanism is gunky. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it just means that you probably should have the instrument cleaned. This isn’t something you can do yourself but it needs to be done every once in a while.

– Please don’t leave your flute on the music stand or in a chair. Invariably, someone will knock it over or sit on it. Every little dent can cause a difference in your sound.

– Avoid storing your cleaning cloth and other materials (like pencils) in your flute case. Your case is designed to only hold your flute. If you try to fit other things in there, they can end up damaging your flute.