I originally wrote these steps for my students and their parents, so feel free to forward this post directly to your students so they can take better care of their oboes this winter!
6 steps to winterize your oboe:
1. Keep your instrument warm and dry!
When the temperatures are in the teens and below, wood instruments are more susceptible to cracking. If you can avoid being outside with your instrument for more than a few minutes, do! If you must take it outside, make sure that your oboe has been thoroughly swabbed and that your case is securely shut. Put your oboe case inside a backpack or other sturdy bag that zips, don't just carry your care in a tote or by itself in this weather. This is to prevent very cold air from coming into contact with your oboe through the seams of your case. Honestly, if I have to be outside for any extended period of time in this weather with my oboe, I carry my oboe case zipped up inside my winter coat, so it's insulated in part by my body heat.
Plastic instruments are less vulnerable to cold weather, but you should be aware that the plastic will shrink in cold weather just like wood. That can mean that tone holes don’t seal as well as they did before, or that some keys start to get stuck (bind). If that’s the case, make sure to warm your instrument up before you play for a better playing experience. You should also make sure to swab out completely before putting the oboe away - we don’t want any icicles to form in the instrument!
2. DO NOT leave your oboe inside of a car when you’re not in it EVER!
Excessively cold or warm weather (like the inside of an unoccupied car) will put your instrument out of adjustment or crack it. Yes, even plastic instruments can crack in these conditions!
3. Always keep your instrument and reeds humidified.
If you have one, use a humidifier inserted in your case as well as with your reeds. If you don't have one, you can make a humidifier by cutting the end off a brand new sponge, moistening it with water, and putting it in a ziplock bag with small holes/slits inside your case. Keep the sponge damp but not wet to keep any wood or cork on your oboe at a consistent humidity, and keep your instrument working properly through the dry winter season.
For reeds in very cold/dry climates, you'll want to keep them in a plastic bag with a humidifier or with a new sponge moistened inside a separate plastic bag to keep direct moisture off your instrument. (Get my 5-minute DIY guide to humidification here)
4. Soak your reeds longer before playing.
Reeds will get dried out more quickly, and dry reeds are much more prone to cracking. No, your spit is not enough to wet your reed, even in a pinch. If you can find even a drinking cup to use as a reed-soaking cup (even a laughably large one), that’s better than nothing.
5. DO NOT play your instrument if it is cold to the touch.
Use your hands, armpit or neck to warm it. Playing on a cold instrument is a recipe for cracks! DON’T blow into a cold instrument - warm the outside before you start to blow into the instrument.
6. When in doubt, get it checked out.
Wood oboes: If your oboe feels very resistant or sounds very thin and airy, you might have a crack. Check your whole instrument for visible cracks. If you see one, DO NOT play on your instrument at all until you can have a repair-person look at it.
Plastic-top or all-plastic oboes: If your oboe feels very hard to play or suddenly can’t play random notes, it’s possible that the cork pads on your instrument or the cork bumpers that keep keys at the correct height to work properly have shrunk with the dryness that comes at this time of year. If humidifying your oboe case doesn’t help, then you’ll also need to take your oboe to an oboe specialist repair person.
Curious about where to find an oboe specialist in your area? Stay tuned for next week's newsletter where I discuss how to find an oboe repair specialist.
Have questions about winterizing your oboe? Email me: email@example.com, and I’d be happy to answer your questions.
Until next week,
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