Rain – dealing with the flood!

Rain is a mess.  First, you get wet from the actual rain.  Then, if you’ve covered up in something waterproof, you get wet from sweat. So water on the outside of your waterproof layer, then later, you get wet also on the inside of that layer. And in marching band, your flag/instrument/uniform gets wet. Oh my.



There’s all types/styles/fabrics of rain gear available, but most of them don’t take into account that you’ll be wearing a uniform, marching, and having a drum strapped on, or carrying an instrument or guard equipment.

Really, about the only thing possible is one of those snap-on ponchos, which might have a hood. If you’re wearing a shako or Aussie hat, or other large headgear, then the hood very likely won’t cover it and the hood ends up being worthless. Here’s a link to single-use poncho, which also sells in packs of 100 and 200.

The only real use for the ponchos is that they might protect the expensive uniform from immediate damage from the rain, but if the performance must go on, then other damage is going to occur anyway.  Think lower pant legs, cuffs, kick pleats, not to mention shoes and socks.

In a parade or stand-still type of performance, where there’s also a little bit of time before you’re on, band management might consider performing in band shirts and whatever else, or in cooler weather, maybe a band jacket.

Plumes, feathers, citation cords, and other brightly-colored accessories are very likely to have their colors run, with possible expensive damage to uniforms, so be aware as you’re suiting up.

Once you’ve gotten your performance gear wet, remember not to put it away while wet, especially if it’s normally stored in a vinyl or other airtight bag.  If it goes into a plastic bag wet and stays there any length of time, it will come out a few days later completely covered in green mold.

The voice of experience.

The same logic applies to your instrument. While most drums and all brass instruments are impervious to rain, their furry cases are not. Never put a wet horn into a furry case, close it up, and then forget about it for a few days, or you’ll have a  horn and case that match your fuzzy green uniform!

Always dry off the instrument, or allow it to air dry for at least 24 hours, before putting it back in the case. Again, the voice of experience!

After drying off, brass instruments and drums should be wiped down with a very weak solution of chlorine and water, to avoid any later formation of mold.

This would also be a good time, pit, to put a drop of motor oil on all the axles of anything you use outside that has wheels.

Woodwinds are a special case, in that woodwind pads can be terminally damaged by rain (or sleet, or snow). Many of my band directors would say “March between the raindrops!”  I suppose that’s a choice, when they’re not paying the repair bills!

The best option for woodwinds is that you leave the instrument indoors, and pick up a flag – most modern marching band shows have at least one change of guard equipment, and for a parade, you could still participate as a group of flags-without-flag-work.

Water left on the pads can be a serious issue, affecting the playability of the instrument, and in some cases requiring a complete repad – this is a multi-hundred-dollar undertaking for most woodwinds. Water in the instrument occurs naturally while playing, and can be easily remedied by swabbing out the inside of the bore, but a serious soaking from a rainstorm is rarely fixable by swabbing.

Sax pads (and some bass clarinet and bassoon pads) are made of a layer of cardboard, on top of that is a layer of felt, and on top of that, a layer of leather.  Clearly, none of these materials are waterproof.

When this assembly gets wet enough that water gets through the leather, then the pad materials start to swell (unevenly), and the pad stops doing its job, which is to seal against the tone hole. No amount of reheating, treating the leather surface, or magic incantations can bring it back, it must be replaced in order for the instrument to operate correctly.

Clarinet and flute pads are similarly made – cardboard on the bottom, felt in between, only these are sealed on top not with leather, but with ‘fishskin’ – in ancient times, it really was fishskin, but for the last 100 years or so, it’s been a very sanitized variety of pig bladder.

These pads, too, are not protected from a good soaking. Keep them as dry as you can. Clarinets might be playable under a poncho, but certainly not flutes. Piccolos, you’re on your own – you could play outside the poncho, but should you?


For all woodwinds, there’s a remote possibility that you could rescue your pads by a procedure known as clamping, or wedging, your pads down over the tone holes.  Some saxophonists have a device known as a ‘key clamp’, which is a collection of what looks like vinyl-covered wires attached to rubber lab stoppers. The rubber parts are lightly wedged between the key cup and the key guard to press the pad down on the tone hole, preserving the seat, and encouraging the wet pad to dry flat over time, thus saving it from replacement.

Key clamps are made for all common voices of the saxophone, and are highly recommended.  Some repair shops even refuse to guarantee their repads unless the player uses a key clamp!

Other woodwinds don’t have those devices available yet, although someone is surely working on it.

The non-saxophone woodwind keys can be wedged in place by folding over  facial tissue several times, holding the key gently closed, and inserting the folded tissue between the key foot cork and the body of the instrument.  This must be done very carefully, or else the key cork can be broken off, resulting in loss of adjustment, and unwanted noise as the now-bare metal key foot makes contact with the body of the instrument.

Be sure to (carefully) remove your home-grown wedges before attempting to play the instrument.

When rain strikes, be prepared!







– all images on this page, except those provided by Amazon, were found on pixabay.

– “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”











6 Replies to “Rain – dealing with the flood!”

  1. Bobby, I played in the school orchestra, both in concerts and marches. Fortunately I played a trumpet so a good dry down was all it needed. On the other hand I always needed a hot shower and warmed towel!

    What used to get we brass players was when it was frozen outside. One thing we did each year was play on Remembrance day. And it was usually sub zero. So what happened. All the valves would freeze in one position.

    So we planned ahead. As the morning wore on each of us would hold our valves in a different position. When the time came to play, we could cover all notes!

    Great article for marching bands as it is very full of good, drying information!


    1. Hi, Helen, and thanks for stopping by! Your stories are great reminders about why this post exists! As with all things musical, advance planning is critical – hats off to you and your trumpet section for thinking through and planning for the situation. Best wishes for your (warm and dry) success! 

  2. Bobby, Blue Man Group made a fortune off of playing their drums in water and paint! Good advice for a bank of band information on how to get through the rigors of playing on a rainy Rose Parade route. I imagine the hardest part in the rain is keeping your instrument in your hands. Are there any special gloves for this purpose?

    Brad Boschma

    1. Hi, Bradley, and thanks for your interest! Blue Man Group, and Stomp, both had water/rain segments, and they were great entertainment! Your ‘gloves for rain’ question does actually have an answer.  There are a number of white or black gloves with rubberized dots on them for grip, available at Amazon, this link. I appreciate your comments!

  3. I’ve never played in a marching band before but I can tell you all about being wet, sweaty and hot. That’s because I live in Florida. It can rain just as quickly as the sun comes out here, so you can imagine the need for ponchos. The funny thing is that in Florida it rains so much that most people don’t even bring an umbrella out with them. As much as it rains here, I rarely see people walking around with umbrellas; so I know ponchos are a no-go. But if you go to Disney World or Universal, you will see lots of tourist families with ponchos on as its likely to rain at least once during the day.

    1. Hi, Wendi, and thanks for stopping by!  It’s always interesting to me how people in various climates adjust to weather conditions. I’ve been to Florida many times, and of course with the ocean on at least 2 sides, there will be regular rain. Thanks for your comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *