Organizing Your Instrument Fleet and Supplies for Student Success

Mike Lawson • String Section • September 2, 2020

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Organizing your school instrument fleet can be a daunting task. Depending on the size of your district and program, you could deal with hundreds of instruments, and orchestral string instruments are notorious for not having serial numbers.

Add in that this year you need to keep track of exactly who is using that cello and contact tracing, and you might feel overwhelmed. Taking some time to design an organization system that works for you is well worth your time and your peace of mind.

Designing a system depends on the equipment you have, whether you have items like storage racks and cabinets (or not), and any district regulations for tracking your instruments. Once you determine your resources you can design a system that best fits your needs. Here are some things you might want to consider when designing your system.

Easy Visibility of School Versus Personal Owned Instruments

This is perhaps the most important thing to consider. All school-owned instruments need some visible marking or tag, both on the case and the instrument itself. Tags easily fall off of cases, so I prefer to mark up my cases with either silver sharpie pens or paint pens.

This method lasts for years, and it is hard to erase completely as there is always some shadow or residue. On the case, put the name that is most likely to get that instrument directly returned to you if the instrument is found somewhere, or moves with a student. Another consideration for violins and violas: put the size of the instrument on the butt of the case. This makes for easy sorting for summer storage and autumn deployment. I find abbreviations work well for this, like HVN, TVN, and FVN (VCL for cello and B for bass) for the various sizes of violins, and then the inch size of violas (13VA, 14VA etc.). For the instruments themselves, if there is no label with a unique serial number, make your own label. I like to take address return labels, put the name of the school on them, and make a serial number that shows several things: when the instrument was purchased, the size of the instrument and an individual number of that size purchased in that year. An example from the fleet I manage is 11TVN13. This is a three-quarter size violin that was purchased in 2011 and it was number 13 in that fleet. For violins and violas, I put the label inside the instrument because it is harder for it to be destroyed.

Use that sound post setter I suggested in a past article. For celli and bass, I put it on the body right at the bottom, as that is the area least likely to see wear and tear. Even if the instrument has a unique serial number, I usually assign it a unique serial number of my design for faster tracking. Once you get your fleet marked and inventoried, your attention should turn to who is using the instrument when. With the COVID-19 equipment sharing recommendations, it is probably required for contact tracing considerations this year.

This is a bigger consideration for celli and bass, as you should strive that no violin/viola students have to share, whether they have their own personal instrument or are using a school-provided instrument. Traditionally, celli and bass in most programs rent an instrument they keep at home for practice, and to bring in for concerts, while using a school-provided instrument at school. My suggestions for keeping track depend on what sort of storage system you have.

If you are fortunate enough to have the Wenger lockers for your large instruments, that makes life easy, keep track of it in your locker spreadsheet/names on the lockers. If you are on movable racks, either Wenger, or other types that are available, for about $0.40 per slot you can take that power drill you might have (recommended in my July 2020 article) buy some #10 . inch wood screws, and a pack of small binder clips and attach the binder clips to the rack permanently, with the clip part facing the top of the rack. Then, on index cards, you can assign celli and bass, based on class bell, day of the week, grade level, or however your in-person class will work this fall.

This lets the students know exactly where their instrument should be, and makes it easier for you to know exactly who is using the instrument when. If you don’t have racks at all, and you have them in cases on the floor, then I would use standard instrument tags. Some celli and bass racks do not have built-in bow holders. There is a simple solution for this. At any big-box hardware store, there are robe hooks in various finishes available for about $2 each. Use the power drill to drill some pilot holes in the rack, and fasten using the screws provided. Then bows are easily hung at the frog right next to the instrument. Procedures for student arrival/dismissal in class are easily built around this if your fleet is set up correctly.

Organize your string sets. Nothing is worse than wasting class time trying to find a string when they aren’t organized. This has become harder over the years as manufacturers reduce packaging, but most companies still package the individual strings in their sets separately. I suggest whenever possible organizing violin, viola, and cello strings by size, then by individual string. I use rubber bands to go around a set of . cello A strings, for example. Then they are put in a box with a label “incremental cello strings.” If your strings are in flimsy cellophane packaging, I suggest Ziploc bags, then into a labeled box. Spending some time on organization will save plenty of time later. I hope that this article gives you some ideas on taming the organization beast, and finding the best system that works for you.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches orchestra and secondary general music at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her bachelor of music education from West Virginia University and her master of music education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola.

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