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Zlata Brouwer

11 winter tips for you and your instrument to survive these cold months

January 26, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Last winter I frequently heard very anxious customers about their instrument going out of tune so frequently in the winter...

One of them asked, "Why don't you write an article about this???"

... uh,of course!

So I wrote this article with 11 winter tips for your instrument... and yourself!

Let's start where it all begins: Wood is material in motion... when changing temperature and / or humidity  wood shrinks and expands. As your violin / viola / cello / double bass (mostly) is made of wood, this happens to your instrument.

In the winter, your instrument will go out of tune more often. In winter, the temperature difference between inside and outside is higher (especially when you have the heating on). Moreover, the humidity in the winter is very changeable. Everywhere you go, your instrument has to adapt to the climate of your home, car and the new location.

Winter tips for your instrument

1. Don't be scared if your instrument is quickly and often out of tune. This may have to do with the winter weather. Some people think that they have broken something or done something stupid, but that is most often not the case. Bring your instrument just quietly back into tune and tune regularly until your instrument is more stable during a study session or rehearsal.

2. Keep into account this tuning problem in your timing. For example, leave a little earlier to a rehearsal, lesson or performance, so you have time for your instrument to be tuned and to adapt to the temperature and humidity of the new environment.

3. Avoid changes in temperature and humidity as much as possible. Don't leave your instrument in a cold room, that you heat up quickly when you have to be there. Take care of conditions so that they can be as stable as possible.

4. Are your strings in good condition? Strings get weaker with frequent changes in tension: they snap, go waddle in tone or go out of tune a lot. Take extra good care that your strings are in good condition in winter season. Are your strings older than 1 year? Then they probably need to be replaced. An amateur who plays violin 1 hour a day should replace the strings yearly. Do you play more? Then you need to replace them more often. I replace my violin strings every two months... then they are really gone and I'm happy when I am playing on new strings again.

5. Do the pegs of your violin, viola or cello run smoothly? If your pegs are not doing a good job in the summer, it will only get worse in the winter. Very often it works to treat your pegs with peg soap: remove one string at a time from the peg, remove the peg from the peg box, treat it firmly with peg soap and place the peg and string back. Then go to the next string. It is truly a miracle potion! Didn't this help? Then it may be that your pegs are not a good fit and then you need to replace them or let a violin maker make them fit (by re-bushing the peg box).

6. Is the room of your instrument usually too dry? Drought can cause cracks in your instrument. If the environment is too dry, you might consider purchasing a humidifier. With stable humidity between 40% and 70%, you do not have to worry. Many violin cases are equipped with a so-called hygrometer.

Your main musical instrument is of course your own body...

Tips for yourself

7. Wear gloves often! If you allow your fingers to get too cold, then it takes time to warm your hands before you can play optimally again. If your hands are very cold (and therefore your muscles and joints), then you are more susceptible to injury while playing. In very cold rehearsal rooms, you might consider playing with fingerless gloves.

8. Muscles and joints love heat! If you are cold and you do all kinds of virtuoso tricks, you're likely to experience discomfort ... make sure to do a warm-up -- not only in sports, but also in music! I find stretching (yoga) in between a rehearsals very pleasant to keep the muscles in shape.

9. Rub, rub, rub! You'll probably have seen it in ladies magazines: in winter you should keep your skin hydrated. As a musician, this applies especially to your hands ... playing with a cut in your fingertip is not fine! So buy the thickest hand cream out there and rub it onto your hands! If you can keep your fingers smooth, then they will not quickly become numb. It is also important that you choose a cream that quickly withdraws: you merely want to rub it into your hands and not into your instrument.

10. Take care of your violin spot! Violinists can have more trouble with their violin spot in the winter. A violin spot is a spot / irritation / discoloration in your neck that is created by the pressure of the chin rest. Udder ointment works very well to take care for and reduce your violin stain. Conditions for this to work are of course a well-fitting chin rest and shoulder rest with a good violin: then you have no hassle of a violin spot.

11. Take a hair dryer with you! Yup, here comes Zlata again with a weird tip ... Do you really always suffer from cold hands and no gloves help? Just take a hair dryer with you to your rehearsal and blow your hands warm before you start playing. Just rub with a good hand cream and you're ready to go! Don't worry, there are violin soloists who do this!

Do you have more winter tips for string players? Do you have questions regarding this article? Would you like to comment? You are very welcome to do so below!

From Matthew Weathers
Posted on January 27, 2013 at 4:10 AM
Great tips! I've found that the Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream works very well, it keeps my hands hydrated and I feel like I can play quite soon after. Just thought I'd throw that out there!
From Paul Deck
Posted on January 28, 2013 at 3:40 AM
One thing about hand cream. Is it compatible with the varnish of your instrument? If not (and my guess is likely not) then be careful.

Half of your tips for maintaining one's violin in winter are completely obviated by gear pegs.

Since violinists often stand a lot to perform and to practice, the other thing to take care of in winter ... your feet. I find skin cream useful for my feet in winter as much as for my hands.

From Zlata Brouwer
Posted on January 28, 2013 at 2:44 PM
@Matthew Thank you for your tip!

@Paul Thanks for your comment! Did you read this blog already: I haven't tried geared pegs yet... Geared pegs would be a good solution certainly for beginner players (I have so many beginners in my shop who don't have a clue where to start with tuning). On the other end: when the wood is in motion, the violin will detune even when the pegs are stable.

What I am wondering is if there is an impact on the sound, are they heavy and do the geared pegs last long? I would like to try them out...

From Paul Deck
Posted on January 28, 2013 at 6:40 PM
Zlata, I think there are already enough threads going on gear pegs that can be searched. What I see from these threads is that players who have had them installed are uniformly glad they did, and the objections to them (small increase in weight, etc.), brought by those who do not have them, do not seem to be very compelling. That's my take on it.

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