In the April 18, 2011 issue of the ADA News there is an
interesting article on contamination in band instruments. Band members beware: the same instrument
creating those melodic tones harbors a darker note. Bacteria and fungi that can put a musicians health
The study examined the microbial flora in woodwind and brass
instruments and their potential to transmit disease. Researcher worked with a small high school band and
examined 13 previously played instruments. Six had been played within the past week, the other seven had not
been played for over a month. 117 different sites were looked at on the instruments, including the
mouthpieces, internal chambers and even their cases. Each site was cultured using a moist sterile
Almost 300 different bacteria were identified along with 19
yeast types and 58 molds considered opportunistic and/or allergenic. Many of these microbes were highly
resistant to antimicrobials (antibiotics), including methicillin.
Researchers noted that all the instruments exhibited a similar
bacteria load, indication the length of time since an instrument was played did not lessen the amount of
Woodwinds had higher contamination than brass instruments, with clarinets the most
Medical histories of the musicians were not gathered, but band
teachers related that at any given time more than 50% of the students had some respiratory distress such as asthma
or bronchitis that required therapy.
Researchers recommend routine sterilizing of band instruments,
especially before passing it to a new user.
I Talked with Keith Weathers of Weather Music in Salem about
this. He agreed this could be a problem, and had some suggestions on how to handle it. First off, he
recommends taking a large drink of water before playing your instrument to clear as much debris from the mouth as
possible. I would add that thorough brushing and good oral hygiene daily will help. Keith also
recommends washing your hands each time.
The mouthpiece is the easiest part to keep clean. Use of
a mouthpiece brush on a regular basis is recommended. Any regular soap will work with the brush, and be sure
to rinse all the soap off the mouthpiece.
If you are using a school instrument, check with your band
teacher to see if it has been cleaned since the previous musician played it. Weather does have a service
where they will clean and service the instruments. Keith indicated a few schools do
by Dr. Greg Dilger - April 28, 2011
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