...Or how to protect your instrument!!
As is common for this time of year in Pittsburgh, it seems like we are in an eternal winter. This past week, temperatures have been single digits or below. And while it's no fun to be a person in this weather, it's even less fun to be a stringed instrument.
Yes, this is the obligatory lecture from your teacher about maintaining your instrument in the winter months.
What's the big deal? My violin/viola/cello's in its case so it's fine, right? WRONG! (and I'm not going to just Let It Go). The case, alone, is not enough. The cold temperature and the dryness in the air are the villains here. You instrument is made of wood, which expands and contracts in reaction to both of these. So in the summer, or during a Little April Shower, your instrument is happy. You'll notice your pegs turn with relative ease (though, if it gets too hot and humid, they will stick!), and your strings will hold tune. This time of year, however, you may have noticed that your pegs slip. Your strings are either out of tune, continue to go out of tune, are slack, or they have completely unwound from the peg. Your bow hair is dry and falling out, or breaks easily! In a worst-case scenario, you may develop cracks in your instrument or bow! So what do we do? How can we keep our instruments and bows happy? Other than waiting like Olaf for Summer...
Remember that stringed instruments are Princesses. They are high maintenance and need continuous attention. Treat them like the royalty that they are. The solution? Get a humidification system. This is a device, placed either in the instrument itself or in your case, that will release water vapor while your instrument is securely stored in its case. This will keep the humidity levels within the case regulated, which means that your instrument will remain happy and in tune.
Some humidifiers that I have tried and liked (not an endorsement, not being paid- just have used and had good experiences with):
- Dampit. This is the original humidifier. When you're finished playing and going to put your instrument away, use the Dampit. Soak the green tubey-thing (technical name) for 30 seconds in cold filtered water, withdraw and remove excess water, and place in the f-holes of your instrument. You can play with the Dampit in; it won't change your instrument's sound. Water vapor will release when the case is closed.
- Oasis. This humidifier works on the same principle as the Dampit, but instead of going inside of your instrument, it clips with a magnet to the inside of your case.
- Boveda. This is a new humidification system. The paper pouch goes inside of the felt envelope, which goes in your case... and you do NOTHING. The compound react to the humidity in the air, and will either release vapor to protect your instrument, or absorb moisture to keep your instrument happy in the summer. This is my favorite system, because 1) it does work!! and 2) you don't have to remember to refill anything.
- Humiditrack. This nifty device from D'Addario connects via bluetooth to your phone (download the app) so that you can monitor internal case temperatures and humidity on the go! The biggest problem though, is that it only works when your instrument is with you. A note: you won't need this if you have a thermometer and hygrometer built into your case already.
You should be putting your instrument away in its case after each practice for storage. Even if you have not yet experienced loose pegs and bow hair, it is extremely important that you are proactive in caring for your instrument. One rule to follow: if it isn't good for your skin, it isn't good for your violin (or viola or cello)! In short, if you find yourself constantly in need of chapstick or hand lotion, you need to make sure your instrument is taken care of, as well.
Some other things you can do to keep your instrument happy:
- Don't store your instrument against an outer wall. Even within its case, the cold temperature of the wall against the case can cause internal case conditions to change and negatively affect your instrument. This is also true if you store your instrument in a room that tends to run colder than others in your house. Change your instrument storage location temporarily.
- Practice. Tune your instrument each time. Tuning and playing your instrument help it to acclimate to the air conditions.
- Keep an eye on your instrument. Check for cracks along the top and back plates, as well as the seams. Also check your bow and remember to properly tighten/loosen as you play. Remember to not over-extend your strings when tuning. If a string snaps, or if you notice anything unusual with your instrument or bow, your teacher can help you!
The winter months here are unavoidable. With a proper humidification system in your case, your instrument will continue to sound lovely all year round.
The cold never bothered me anyway.
Lisa C. Brunner
Violinist, strings teacher, and product-junkie! This is the place for Lisa's thoughts about music, performance, teaching, helpful study tips, and favorite accessories!