I know that today’s post may seem a bit silly to some, but I wanted to touch on this subject because of questions some of my music students’ parents had about swapping instruments.

First, to answer a specific question:

“Is it normal that my child’s music teacher played their instrument?”

Yes, it is, but they should have taken a few precautions before doing so. Usually a teacher play tests a student’s instrument if there is some concern about whether it is properly functioning or not. When they do this, they will most likely use their own mouthpiece and setup. If they choose to use your child’s mouthpiece, they should, at the very least use their own reed and sanitize the mouthpiece both before and after using it.

Another question was:

“Should I worry about my child trying out their friends’ instruments at school?”

And it’s this question that I’d like to spend a bit more time on today.

When we’re young we often feel as though bad things happen to “other” people, they don’t happen to us. The reality, however, is that things can happen to anyone. It’s important to be careful. Especially when it comes to your health.

I remember back when I was in junior high, I swapped instruments with my friends. I tried out the tuba just because, or maybe the trombone or clarinet. I even tried my hand at vibraphone. Looking back, I’m thankful how lucky I was I didn’t pick up more illnesses than I did doing just that.

Even though swapping instruments with friends may seem tempting, it’s best not to do so without taking precautions to ensure the instrument is clean.

Germs can survive on music instruments for several days – particularly in wind instruments where moisture is collected. Those who play wind instruments have often complained of having recurrent sore throats or inflammation and there have even been cases of pneumonia.

Here are just a few things you can pick up from handling someone else’s horn or instrument:

Cold/Flu – colds and the flu affect people differently so while it may seem like your friend only has the sniffles, sharing an instrument with them could lead to you ending up with a full-blown cold or flu if your immune system doesn’t fight the infection the same way. If you notice that you are not feeling well and may need to see a doctor, you will need to contact yours right away, however, if you have just moved or relocated, you’ll need to make sure you are registered with your local doctors, e.g. a family doctor in Fort Collins, asap, especially if you are of an age where you are legally classed as an adult, or speak to your parents about getting registered.

Warts – warts are extremely contagious and if the person with them doesn’t take care to cover them up, they can spread easily. When you handle the same instrument as someone with warts, you risk giving the virus a chance to infect your body as well. For example, borrowing the drumsticks of a friend with warts could lead to you getting them too.

Fever Blisters – sharing mouthpieces with someone who has a fever blister can result in you picking up the virus (whether you’ve had fever blisters before or not). And playing any wind instrument with a fever blister can be painful.

Lung Infections/Bronchitis – if the inside of an instrument isn’t kept clean, you can put yourself at the risk of developing a lung infection or bronchitis.

Strep Throat – yup, another infection that can be passed by sharing mouthpieces with another player.

A good way to prevent the above is to regularly clean your instrument, avoid playing the instruments of your peers, and politely decline when they request to play your instrument. It isn’t enough to clean the outside of your saxophone, flute, clarinet, etc. You also need to make sure you clean the inside as well.

There’s no reason to be completely paranoid, but it’s always better to be on the safe side. Try not to swap instruments with your friends. It may sound like fun and it may be tempting, but it’s always best to play it on the safe side.

In conclusion, clean your instrument and don’t share it with others! If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to share an instrument, however, make certain that you have your own mouthpiece and reeds at the very least.

Here are a few cleaning tools we suggest to help get you started:

Further reading:

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.