Thursday, March 17, 2011

Musical Instruments and your health: Should you be worried?

above: The March/April 2011 issue of General Dentistry
NOTE: I am not a doctor or a medical professional. Below are my opinions as a repair tech. 

Before I start into my analysis of this, please read the article and watch this short video:

So let us review the article first. The impetus of this article is that musical instruments that have been played can be breeding grounds for bacteria and mold, to which I say "well... yeah." This shouldn't come as a surprise to those of us with the most basic science education. When a musical instrument is being played it is a chamber full of warm, damp air. This is the perfect breeding ground for such things. Should you have fear or chronically OVER clean your horn. I don't think so. Believe it or not, we are surrounded by bacteria and mold every day. This article appears in the Academy of General Dentistry Journal and as any dentist will tell you your mouth is TEEMING with bacteria. 

This is incredibly interesting, but I don't think that there is anything to worry about. If bacteria and mold in instruments were a real problem I would imagine we would see more band kids in particular getting sick. I have seen TRULY DANGEROUS mold in instrument cases, but never any that was currently in use, only in horns stored improperly for years and years. This might be different for an older repair man than I. I would like to see more data surrounding sickness and band instruments.

Now for the video. A professional Trombonist who has developed some form of lung disease from the gunk in his horn. There are some distinct differences that need to be remembered when comparing the two sets of data. First, the study from the Academy of General Dentistry focused on high school band instruments. The fellow from the video is a professional player. This means that he is (or at least should be) practicing for many hours every day, thus exposing him more to the potential yuck in his horn. 

If this is true and the stuff in our horns is dangerous and needs to be cleaned out daily, why aren't there more seriously ill professional players? Again we run up against the same problem where we don't have enough data to know the any real answers. One sick Trombone player isn't enough for me to cause panic. However, I would like to see some serious studies. If there is a correlation between the stuff in our horns and health problems, I want to know. 

As brass players we have the benefit of a silver plated mouthpiece (most of the time). Silver is a naturally anti septic surface. This is good. On the other hand, when we draw in a breath while playing, it is usually (at least for me) through the horn. This is why I want more data. 

I know many band teachers and many repair techs. I haven't heard of widespread sickness from musical instruments. I honestly think that there is nothing to worry about, but I still want to see a few serious studies around this topic. 

Stay tuned for tips on how to thoroughly clean your horn... 


  1. Good article ! Really I like your blog ..... thanks for sharing ...

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  2. Your approach to this topic is unique and informative. I am writing an article for our school paper and this post has helped me. Thanks.

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