How to Survive Marching Band - For Your Equipment At Least...

It's that season again.  Kids all over America are putting their hard-earned instruments in LIT-RALLY the worst conditions possible.  Every week, one of my students comes in with a huge maintenance problem on their horn generated by some sort of crazy mishap on the marching band field.  Students have had their instruments stepped on, kicked, thrown, rained on, etc. and to my dismay, most of this can be avoided by spending a little bit of money in smart ways.  Here are the things you should be using to avoid hundreds of dollars of damage to your horn (if not more) - and all you really need to spend is about $50 on 3 items: a stand, a mouthpiece cap, and key clamps.

  • A Saxophone Stand: I know some marching routines involve setting the instrument down on the field and even if your band isn't doing this, laying your instrument down on the bleachers is probably not helping either - especially if people are setting it down on the wrong side.... which usually they are*.  Look for an in-bell stand.  This is an instrument stand that goes from propping up your instrument to in a few short moves folds up in your bell.  You're welcome :-).
    • K&M Jazz Stands - my personal stands, but pricey
    • K&M Midge - not as streamlined, but affordable and durable
    • Hercules Travlite - Hercules is not my favorite brand.  I use their Travlite flute stand, but have retired most other stands I've used of theirs for different reasons.  That being said, this one does technically exist.

*You are suppose to lay your horn down on the side with key guards.  This means, in fact, it should be laid down on the side that has the majority of the keys.  People balk at this all the time.  The problem with laying it down on the side that doesn't contain many keys is this: those are some of the most delicate keys (especially pinky keys) and there ARE NO KEY GUARDS.  I don't know why people fight this as much as they do, but they do.  "I'm changing minds; I'm changing minds all over." - Emily Mortimer

  • A Mouthpiece Cap: This is the easiest and most protective $1 you will ever spend.  People always go "Well, nothing's happened to my instrum..." and then that sentence is cut off by the sound of their saxophone flying down three stories across metal bleachers.  Most of the metal can be bent back into shape or replaced, but your mouthpiece is either plastic or hard rubber.  A mouthpiece cap keeps your hundred dollar mouthpiece from shattering when it impacts someone's foot or with any other hard surface that continues to baffle me that an instrument would ever come in contact.  Some ligatures require a special mouthpiece cap, some use a standard size available at most music stores.
  • Pad Clamps:  Ok, this one is a little more complicated and if you google you'll see the debate 'rage' in the saxophone world, because ya know,  the internet.  You can decide for yourself if you want to use these all the time or not as long as you set them up properly.  This use is really more related to instances of rain.  If you get rained on, meaning you AND your horn, your pads are at risk (never mind pivot screws, rods, and rollers that can rust).  Any time moisture goes into the pads, they swell.  This happens during normal playing as well, but there's not nearly as much moisture compared to your instrument getting rained on.  When they dry out, they need to dry out evenly in order to not cause leaks.  This is where your pad clamps come in.  If you get rained on 1) question the importance of and enjoyment that you're getting out of this activity 2) Revisit question #1 3) Get to a dry place, swab your instrument, put on the key clamps, and leave it out on your instrument stand to dry overnight.  The clamps ensure that your pads dry evenly and without creating any raised portions that don't fit the tone hole.  I've used/use all of these - and yes, I use pad clamps everyday.  I set them up properly and notice no added wear or indentation on my pads

The stand will run you $20-$70.  The mouthpiece cap should've come provided with your mouthpiece or horn.  If not, it's $5-$15.  Clamps will run $30-$80.  SO, for a minimum of $55, your horn will be much more protected than it was before and this will hopefully save you from things like: a complete repad, a new mouthpiece, or trips to the repair shop.  And, what's more, you should have almost all of these things ANYWAY! 

I hope this helps.