Playing dirty: This instrument has the most bacteria

Playing dirty: This instrument has the most bacteria


norman lebrecht

November 11, 2017

A survey by the Oklahoma State University for Health Sciences on hygiene in high school band instruments finds that the filthiest piece of equipment is…. the clarinet.

Dr. Thomas Glass’s crew swabbed 13 wind and brass instruments from a high school band and grew the samples in petri dishes. They found 259 different types of bacteria, some of them health threatening.

The worst concentration was found in the clarinet.

Read here.



NB: The article is not new, but still valid. Stay clean out there.


  • Ungeheuer says:

    A beautiful, wonderful sound is produced by the clarinet for sure but yuck. In any case, this is one of the most extraordinary recordings for clarinet you will ever hear: The late Harold Wright and the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets. On Philips.

  • Itsjtime says:

    My oboe teacher would say something like “you don’t have trench mouth?” before grabbing my oboe and playing it with my reed.
    Once I had told him I had a cut on my tongue from practice that day and he said “the tongue heals quickly” and promptly put my reed in his mouth.

    There is a stigma about refusing to play the reed once the teacher has played it and you feel immense pressure to accept it back with the teachers saliva all over it.

    This is COMPLETELY NORMAL in America…no idea about Europe.

    It’s a strange thing but it is understood that in order for a student to learn to make reeds that their teacher must play their reeds….

    *it is acknowledged that sanitizing the reed with alcohol shortens its life…so it’s not done… at least by the few teachers I had.

    Btw…It would be very curious to test the students from different teaching studios for oral herpes.
    We all tried each other’s reeds regularly.

    • Theodore McGuiver says:

      …We all tried each other’s reeds regularly.

      That’s another post entirely.

    • Gerhard says:

      Chlorhexidine (0.2%) is quite efficient. Soaking for half a minute is sufficient, but don’t forget to rinse the reed in clean water afterwards. If you want to do even better, use an ultrasonic cleaner regularly. Handshakes are considerably more risky.

  • Bruce says:

    Clarinet & oboe players don’t get sick any more than anybody else. — Or maybe woodwind players have to be tougher because they’re harder to replace (in other words, you do have to replace them). In my orchestra it’s always the string players who are germophobes; they are also the ones who always have to bail out with a case of the sniffles.

  • Anonymous says:

    That was the main reason why I never wanted to play wind instruments. So I choose the piano. However, sometimes the keys are full of sweat and biological stuff from the pianist who played before. So you need to clean the keys and wash your hands otherwise you feel like playing on a slippery instrument.

  • Phil McKenzie says:

    The photo included in the article is of Osmo Vanska. I read somewhere that conductors who play clarinet are germ free.

  • herrera says:

    “…from a high school band”

    Well, d’uuuuh, swab anything by a high school student and it’s most likely filled with germs!

    And the fact that the clarinets had the worst concentration just means that that particular high school’s clarinetists are the most unhygienic in the band.

    But seriously, there’s no way saxophones don’t collect more spit than clarinets, which have smaller reeds and mouthpieces.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    -My instrumental music pedagogy teacher mused that after a few years of playing kids’ instruments you’d be inoculated against everything.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    You want gross and disgusting? Take a used bassoon reed and open it up. You won’t believe the amount of crud that builds up on the blades. Of course, that’s what makes a good reed sound good. But it’s easy to understand why with school instruments the clarinet leads the way. The reed accumulates crud, and most clarinetists just leave the reed on the mouthpiece and put the thing away. Most bassoonists and oboists swab the instrument before putting it in the case, and most at least dunk the reed in water, too.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    A question to someone with a medical background: how does taking turns on a wind instrument compare to french kissing? I am not joking.

    • Bruce says:

      I think there are some kinds of bacteria that can only live for a few seconds outside of their natural environment (for example, the human mouth). Those particular bacteria would probably die in the time it takes the instrument or reed to go from one person to another. With french kissing, those bacteria never have to go out-of-doors, so to speak.

      No idea which/ how many kinds/ how dangerous are the kinds that would die, or if those few seconds are enough to make any significant difference.

    • herrera says:

      I highly recommend consensual french kissing over consensual taking turns on a wind instrument, although, the internet has taught me, that there is nothing in the world that can’t be a fetish for someone, somewhere, somehow.

  • Ross Amico says:

    Perhaps not the dirtiest instrument.