The Post-Covid-19 Band Room

Mike Lawson • Commentary • July 31, 2020

Share This:

Once the shock of school closings and canceled performances subside, many band directors may begin wondering if there would be a new normal in the fall. Many of our former practices could potentially seem unimaginable after the pandemic calms.

Before COVID-19, band directors would handle students’ instruments, possibly working close to a myriad of germs. Students may not have cleaned their hands before entering the room, and surfaces were possibly more unsanitary than they should have been. It is only natural that there would be a heightened awareness about potentially harmful pathogens that might affect the health of both students and their teachers.

Handwashing in Schools

The best advice on keeping the music classroom sanitary comes from medical journals and practitioner magazines. The music education community may need to catch up in order to prepare for the upcoming school year. More guidance is needed as school districts and music directors scramble to lay out a plan for how we will protect teachers and students in the fall.

Before the pandemic, academic publications about sanitizing schools were usually concerned with third world countries. Many specialists reported the treatment of water and the availability of consistent sanitization practices, mostly rural schools. Several sources may provide some clear, positive guidance for us after we begin classes following this unprecedented pandemic. Experts frequently agree that handwashing in schools is a vital practice for the promotion of health in children. Researchers have found that only about 19 percent of the world washes their hands with soap after contact with bodily waste. This statistic is especially disturbing when considering how many students and school staff may need to adopt new hygiene habits to protect classrooms. Just having access alone can reduce the risk of disease by up to 47 percent in school children. This access includes washing hands when entering a new room, after eating, and after using the restroom.

Students who make a habit out of handwashing at school report less illness and have a lower rate of absenteeism. A student’s attitude about cleanliness is just as critical as having access to soap and water, and are also associated with a higher risk of contracting pathogens that lead to sickness. The more positively a student feels about the importance of good hygiene, the less likely it is that they will contract potentially harmful pathogens. We should be continually mindful of the fact that we need to educate children on the importance of staying clean.

Hand Sanitizer

Medical experts, the Center for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization explicitly recommend handwashing with soap as an effective practice for combating bacteria, harmful molds, and human coronaviruses. However, it may not be the most pragmatic solution for a band classroom. Many band directors manage large classrooms. It is common to have more than 60 children in a class that may be as short as 45 minutes. Many band rooms also do not have sinks in them where students can rinse with soap and water. Having that many students wash their hands before entering the room may also be logistically very challenging, especially when considering time restraints. In 2007, medical researchers compared the efficacy of anti-microbial gel hand sanitizers in school children in Montana.

They measured the results by comparing the absenteeism in the children. They found no significant difference between the children who washed hands with soap and water, and those who used the only hand sanitizers. This study indicated that hand sanitizers are a viable substitute for soap and water. Follow-up interviews found that teachers and school nurses believe that hand sanitizers are a more pragmatic solution to hygiene than handwashing for school children.

Pathogens Found in Band Instruments

In order to create clear guidelines about how to keep a band room sanitary, we must understand the potentially harmful pathogens that lurk in the instruments of students. Perhaps the most comprehensive examinations come from dentistry and respiratory health journals. In 2011, scientists swabbed and cultured 117 sites found on 13 used musical wind instruments.

The sites included mouthpieces, reeds, internal chambers, joints, valves, bells, and cases. They found 295 different bacteria, molds, and yeasts. Many of these species were harmful pathogens. Reeds and mouthpieces were consistently more contaminated than the bell ends of the instruments, with the reeds being the most contaminated sites of all instruments. Woodwind instruments were more contaminated than brass instruments and clarinets were the most contaminated of all wind instruments. Both the instruments and the cases had several living cultures in them. The experts found that the instrument cases were about as contaminated as the bell ends of the instruments.

Medical professionals have also linked Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (HP) with microbial flora found in unsanitary musical instruments. HP is a respiratory infectious disease commonly caused by breathing in antigens. The patients in these studies were a trombone player and a saxophone player. Their caretakers concluded that they were possibly breathing in air through their instruments. Some band educators have students perform a breathing exercise where the students inhale through their instruments. According to medical professionals, this is an activity that is potentially harmful to the health of musicians. Musicians should refrain from breathing in through their instruments.

Suggestions for Best Practices from the Literature and Health Experts

Resources are starting to become available that we can turn into best practice solutions on how to stay safe in our classroom after the pandemic. Both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), outline several strategies on how to protect against Covid 19. The National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians (NAPBIRT) also has some recommendations for cleaning instruments on their website.

General suggestions for the band program:

• Anti-microbial gel hand sanitizer should be available in the room

• Students should not share instruments

• Students should not be encouraged to breathe in through the instruments

• Cases and instruments should be cleaned and sterilized frequently

• Discard reeds frequently

• Pay special attention to mouthpieces and woodwind instruments

• Clean surfaces daily


Suggestions for cleaning solutions for disinfecting surfaces in the band room:

• Diluted bleach and water

• Soap and water

• Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol (60% for hand sanitizer)

• EPA-registered disinfectants. These products are on the EPA website. While this list is not complete, they are registered agents. Some examples of effective cleaners include:

• Hydrogen peroxide

• Windex

• Comet

• Products that contain bleach

• Clorox disinfecting wipes

• Lysol spray

• Purell


Suggestions for cleaning instruments:

• Soap and water work very well

• Isopropyl alcohol (with at least 70% alcohol) is an efficient sterilization agent

• Snaking an alcohol wipe through an instrument can be a good idea. Be very mindful of protecting woodwind pads and letting them dry out

• Use 1% bleach in water solutions for instruments in terrible, unsanitary conditions

• When using cleaners like bleach and isopropyl alcohol, be mindful of potentially corroding plastic instruments

Implications for the Future

Many band directors, who teach beginners, are concerned with the instrument fitting and selection process. A common practice in instrument fitting is to have the students line up in stations and test out the instruments. The educator and the student would then determine which instrument would be the best fit. These sessions would have band directors hurrying between students in order to accommodate many children in a short time frame. A sizeable middle school band program may be required to fit over one hundred students on instruments in a single day.

Once the child and the band director make a selection, the band director would regularly wipe down the instrument with a cleaning solution in order to accommodate the next student waiting in line. Going forward, this type of selection procedure may not be a practical solution given recent health fears. Once COVID-19 runs its course, this practice may seem archaic and representative of a different time.

There have been successful band directors that have had success without having a single student testing an instrument before being assigned it. The way that they have achieved this is by having a deep understanding of jaw shapes, lip shapes, and teeth structures, and what instruments would be the best fit. A band director with knowledge on what instrument constitutes the best fit for a child based on physical characteristics does not even have to let the children sample the instrument. They can make their best recommendations to the student without having to be incredibly mindful of sanitizing the instruments between tryout sessions. Based on the current advice of experts, this might be the most practical solution for having a sanitary instrument selection session for beginners.

Band directors may have to be willing to change and be mindful of a new normal. There may need to be an increased awareness of cleaning instruments and surfaces. They may need to come up with creative solutions to prevent students from sharing instruments. They may need to also plan on how they will adjust their instrument fitting process. Band programs could become threatened by outside forces unless directors have a plan. Many in positions of power, outside the band professional community, may look at band programs as being potentially unclean and hazardous to children. Band directors need to be able to articulate how they are keeping their classroom and their students safe. With a clean, post-COVID-19 band room, the band activity needs to lead the way to keep students safe and our positions secure.

Robert Grogan is the director of bands at Barber Middle School in Cobb County, Georgia. He also is pursuing a Ph.D. in Music Education at Auburn University. While at Barber, the band program has grown to over 400 students. Mr. Grogan maintains an active schedule as a clinician and adjudicator. He is a two-time recipient of the NBA Citation of Excellence and a 2016 National Quarterfinalist for the Grammy Music Educator of the Year. He is published in the April 2017 edition of The Journal of Research in Music Education.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!