Thursday, November 19, 2009

“To Swab or Not to Swab?” That is the question!

By Judith D. Burke

As I think back on my years of teaching instrumental lessons, private instruction and my own personal playing, encouraging students to SWAB their instruments at times seemed to be an issue of debate.  After having the “germs growing and thriving in moist dark areas” discussion, most students are eager to get things dried out and hopefully lessen that type of “growth” inside their precious instruments. 

Many times after a lesson I might ask, “Wow, did you swab already?”  Any number of answers might be, “Oh, I do that when I get home” or “I left my swab at school “or the ever famous “my swab is in my dads car and he’s on a business trip and I won’t see him for two weeks.”   Since swabs are so inexpensive, I suggest having several.  One for dad’s car, one for the band room locker, one for home near the music stand area and one in the actual instrument case should do the trick.  After all these bases were covered, excuses were limited but still creative.  Some students feel it takes too long to swab.  Taking a timing of my personal swabbing effort, I noticed that at least ten seconds or less can do the trick.

Not only are growing germs an issue for the SWAB controversy, but mold growing on pads and in the case area can cause serious problems.  It is always best to eliminate these damp problems quickly.  The extra dampness can also cause wooden clarinets to swell and crack. Taking the extra seconds to swab your instrument can help keep it in good playing condition for many years.  No swabbing can cause unpleasant odors, eventually causing students to avoid playing their instruments altogether.  This can all be avoided by using the SWAB.

Swabbing during practice sessions is necessary.  More advanced students are usually playing for longer periods of time.  Condensation and saliva tend to bubble up through the tone holes or under pads making some very interesting “gurgling, underwater” sounds.  It is best to swab before this happens.  Each person has a different amount of moisture going through the instrument, so determining how often swabbing should occur will depend on the individual.

One year I decided to make swabs for my younger students.  It was during the Strawberry Shortcake and Spiderman craze.  I made swabs for everyone that promised to use them.  Younger students love this type of gift!  Doing whatever it took to make sure instruments remained dry was my mission. 

Swabs also need a little attention once in awhile.  Washing the swab with soap and hot water from time to time will keep it fresh and clean.  A clean swab will maintain its powers to keep your instrument moisture free.

So when asked, To Swab or not to Swab?  I will always say “SWAB!"


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