A crucial and often underappreciated part of playing your musical instrument is keeping it properly maintained. The care with which you treat your instrument is correspondent to the care with which you play the instrument, because if it is not well-maintained, each note will likewise suffer. Let’s explore six reasons why maintenance of your musical instrument is so important that it should be regarded as nearly inseparable from your playing itself.
A clean, well maintained instrument sounds better. Music is vibration; a musical instrument is precisely built to emanate sound waves. Any lessening of an instrument’s ability to vibrate is a lessening of its sound. Even a barely discernible deterioration in sound quality impacts how you, as the player of the instrument, hear and able to respond to your music within a piece. Think of a person wearing glasses that have slowly become dirty, or a house with an ocean view whose windows over time have slightly dirtied; when the glass is cleaned, suddenly everything sparkles and one wonders how you could ever have withstood that lack of clarity. So it is with sound. Degradation is often deceptively incremental, and in this way we accustom ourselves to a slight muffle or rasp or scrape in our sound. Let your instrument sing as clearly as possible, and the clarity of your playing will follow.
Every instrument functions best when clean and well-maintained. This goes beyond sound and into playability. A poorly set-up string instrument, for example, usually results in high action, making fretting more difficult, and hence playing with fluidity either much harder or outright impossible. Similarly, a worn or soiled tonehole pad can result in a slight stickiness and thus impact its playability. This can impact how you play. Human beings are nothing if not adaptable, and sometimes a player will adapt by acquiring bad habits, changing his or her playing style without even knowing it in trying to overcome an instrument’s mechanical issues.
Age can be an instrument’s friend, particularly those which use tonewoods to produce sound and acquire more ability to vibrate with time. The famed old Stradivarius violins, however, are as less about the wood than their masterful construction by Antonio Stradivari. Such mastery has only been retained through proper maintenance. This holds true for all musical instruments: the closer any instrument is to its original condition, the better, and this only happens with proactive maintenance.
Few true musicians buy an instrument with an eye towards one day selling or trading it. We acquire, foremost, to play. But the reality is we often end up later selling an instrument, whether to upgrade or because another instrument has captured our musical heart. Instruments only retain value (or in some cases increase in value) if they have been properly maintained. There’s an almost poetic beauty in all this: the unending circle of musicians past, present, and future, joined by instruments that pass through hands and time, all made possible by proper care.
A clean and well-maintained instrument sounds better and plays better. As a result, you sound and play better, so quite naturally you are inspired to play more. It’s analogous to buying a good instrument to begin with; a cheap, poorly constructed instrument makes playing music harder, and so does a poorly maintained instrument. There are enough obstacles to playing music — conquering learning curves, finding a place to play and people to play with, among many others. Maintaining your instrument is a simple way to make playing easier.
Maintenance vs. Repair
There’s kind of a universal law of maintenance vs. repair that applies equally to automobiles or musical instruments. Consider a car and a saxophone: just as the oil in your car builds up particulate and eventually becomes more an abrasive and less a lubricant, the oil inside a saxophone’s key rods eventually dirties to the point of hurting the instrument. You can’t just keep adding oil; you need to change it. If you keep playing with old oil, you’ll damage the instrument, and the repair will cost much, much more than fresh oil would have. The same goes with brake pads on a car and tonehole pads — let those brake pads go bad, and soon you’ll have a major brake cylinder repair job, just like a faulty pad can make you bend your key levers by applying too much force. Keep your instrument functioning as it was intended to, and you’ll avoid big fixes later.
So, to sum up, if you maintain your instrument, you’ll sound better, play more and better, be more inspired, and keep both more value and more of your hard-earned money (to buy more instruments!). Not only that, but let’s face it, nicer looking and sounding instruments are cooler. So just be cool: maintain your instrument.