V.com weekend vote: Do you find it difficult to play, wearing a mask?

December 5, 2021, 5:45 PM · So things are a lot better these days, for musicians. In many places, we can perform again, we can go to live concerts, we can teach in-person again, we can hold music classes in person again.

But this pandemic business ain't over, and it's still been necessary to honor certain rules designed to keep each other from contracting COVID. One of them has been the continued wearing of masks, and for us string players, that can mean playing the violin, viola or other instrument, while wearing a mask.

violinist wearing mask

In my own life, I've been able to teach in-person, but we wear masks, especially when the lesson involved a child that is not yet vaccinated.

When it comes to performing, the live performances I've done in the last few months have all required wearing a mask, and this seems to be the case for all orchestras in my region. At a recent LA Phil concert, all the string players wore masks. (Funny enough, this fact did not even cross my mind until halfway through the concert, I'm so used to it!)

So this means that for many in-person situations, string players are either required to wear masks or choose to do so. It's something we accept so we can play, but the situation has its challenges and I think it's okay to acknowledge that, and to share coping strategies.

For me, the biggest pain is that I wear reading glasses when I play in orchestra, and they get fogged up unless I perch them at a bit of a weird angle. Also, in fast passages that require a lot of exertion, I notice that I get "winded," for lack of a better word. Fortunately I have a lot of homemade all-cotton masks that fit me well, and I think the "breathability" of those masks helps.

I find it easier to wear a mask while teaching because I'm simply not playing all the time. But I've noticed that it drives some kids a little crazy, especially if their masks are a little big or ill-fitting or made of polyester.

How are you doing, when it comes to playing with masks? Any good strategies for the fogging-up-glasses situation or other things? Do you play with a certain kind of mask, and does that help? Anyone have a good source of good black masks that work well for concerts? Please participate in the vote and share your experience. Note: let's keep the conversation focused on the particulars of wearing a mask to play; no political comments, please.


December 6, 2021 at 12:05 AM · I wear glasses, and for me it really depends on what mask I'm wearing. Some of my masks have been better than others.

Generally I'm able to keep masks from fogging by putting the nosepieces of my glasses on the mask, but the logo mask that one of my orchestras handed out tends to slip downward unless I push my glasses much farther down than I'd like. For that orchestra, the solution has been to double-mask, with my glasses resting on a dark-colored mask that goes under the orchestra logo mask.

My other orchestra hasn't presented similar issues, because it doesn't require any specific mask or even any specific color. (At our last concert there were plenty of blue surgical masks and other non-black masks.) I'm able to wear a tighter-fitting mask there. I don't have any plain black masks, but for one concert I wore the black Covered California reusable mask, and for the other I wore the navy blue filter mask that the local pro soccer team gave out to season ticket holders, and the logos were small enough to be impossible to identify in concert videos even when the camera was focused on the viola section.

December 6, 2021 at 02:35 AM · When I wear a mask I always wear a KN95 mask. I buy them in bulk from Amazon. They actually give you a little protection so I think it is worth the extra effort.

I find it terribly uncomfortable and hard to see but it is doable.

December 6, 2021 at 06:18 AM · My biggest problem is having the bottom of the mask go under my chin, which makes it very difficult to hold a violin/viola so I do a weird thing where I roll up the extreme bottom of the mask so it doesn't go under my chin. For me, disposable masks are the best since they're the easiest to roll up.

December 6, 2021 at 06:36 AM · Rolling the ear straps (so that they form an X on the cheek) makes the fit a bit tighter and greatly reduces the escape of warm air onto the glasses. I always use FFP2 masks, and find them in black, dark blue and white at my pharmacy.

December 6, 2021 at 09:31 AM · I wear an N95 and for the most part it doesn't fog my glasses.

For me, the bigger issue is that I feel I'm not communicating my intentions with clarity in chamber music settings. Not sure what it is, but the inability to see the lower face of my collaborators makes it difficult for us to connect in the way we did before masks were a necessity.

Solo practice with the mask on is also a good idea, to get accustomed to the sensations and difficulties before having to deal with it for the first time in a performance setting.

December 6, 2021 at 10:13 AM · Your solo practice suggestion is a good one, Alan! I shall try it.

I agree with your point about the difficulty of communication with music partners. The mask protects us all, sure, but it eliminates the 'complicity' and whispered level of rehearsal communication: 'pencil?' or 'can I borrow your rosin?' now have to be boomed out to everybody.

December 6, 2021 at 11:58 AM · I only have to play with a mask when having lessons with my teacher, so that's once a week.

There is some glasses fogging, but generally not so bad.

Next saturday we will have a conservatory meeting, playing some tunes in public. As I will only play what I can do even in the dark, it will not be a problem.

December 6, 2021 at 12:28 PM · As Laurie also noted, in faster passages I notice I breath quickly. I didn't know that before masks! While it is a nuisance, thank goodness for masks so we can play in groups. I would like to wear a thinner mask to be more comfortable but with the numbers still high in our area, the highest quality masks are still needed.

December 6, 2021 at 02:31 PM · If you get a mask that has adjustable straps, this problem can be reduced. CVS sells adjustable masks under the brand name, "Boomer". You could try those. Also, recently I had my eyes checked. Before placing my chin on that weird viewfinder, the optometry assistant taped the mask to my face near the top of my nose and under my eyes. This worked in keeping the lenses clear while I was being tested. if foggy glasses are a problem, and you have to sit in an orchestra or chamber group or some other activity for a long time, you could try this. It might be uncomfortable, but it works.

December 6, 2021 at 03:57 PM · I'm lucky enough not to have had to play with a mask. However, I have had to teach a course this semester with a mask in a large hall. I find myself with my mouth open sucking in air...

December 6, 2021 at 04:07 PM · I performed yesterday in a mask. I needed a black mask to fit the uniform for the day, so I used a KN95. I pinched the nosepiece until it fit just so and wore my glasses just so and it worked. I usually use a mask that has a velcro band going behind my head. It fits securely and comfortably. I've ordered some black ones for future performances. They come from Etsy, in case anyone wants to try them.

December 6, 2021 at 04:50 PM · I'm a physician and have to wear masks throughout my career even before the pandemic and I wear glasses and they fog up to no end. The only way to prevent fogging is to make sure that the upper edge of the mask is sealed to the skin which some surgical masks do by making the upper edge sticky so they stick to the skin. My daughter plays violin with a mask and glasses. When she has a performance, I use double sided tape to tape the upper edge of her mask to her nose and face, and I also tape the nose pads of the glasses to her face as well so that they don't slide down on the mask.

December 6, 2021 at 05:31 PM · I have sewn the bottom of the mask up one fold to keep it from going between my chin and violin. In addition to glasses fogging, I turn my head differently if I can't feel the chinrest, so that helps somewhat.

December 6, 2021 at 08:20 PM · I have to make sure that the mask is very precisely and tightly adjusted, or the movement of my chin on the chinrest will push the mask up, resulting in a less tight seal, and my glasses fogging up.

I have unfortunately never been able to get my preferred mask in black -- it's always been sold out when I've tried.

December 7, 2021 at 10:09 AM · My cello teacher has taken to insisting on a mask for lessons, but so far my reading glasses haven't fogged up yet. I try to keep my reading glasses sitting on the top of the mask, so that my breath goes down, not up. (It was different when I needed to wear a dust mask in a factory I worked at for a while a few years ago. It was wonderful when it didn't fog. :) )

Playing trombone in the brass band I'm a member of, I haven't needed to wear a mask, but we have tended to be a bit more conscious of spacing than before. There are masks for brass instruments, but so far I haven't had to wear one, and I'm happy about that.

December 8, 2021 at 01:30 AM · Same problem as Lydia. My husband has made it work by buying an N95 with a rubber gasket seal and also using anti-fog coating on his glasses. But he plays the cello, the act of playing doesn't move his mask around in the same way.

Unfortunately my hunch is that the fogged glasses are a good "tell" that the mask isn't doing as good a job as it could. Grateful for the vaccines and wishing we as a country were doing more ubiquitous rapid testing before doing things indoors.

December 9, 2021 at 06:58 PM · In rehearsals and concerts here in Bristol (UK) we have not, so far, been required to wear masks while playing. However, just in case, I have tried practicing at home whilst wearing a mask, and found it a distracting and uncomfortable experience. If required to wear one under performance conditions I would be loathe to play under such a requirement and would consider invoking "Age Card Law".

However, this will be irrelevant until the middle of January when our rehearsals recommence. We'll have to see what 2022 brings.

December 10, 2021 at 02:42 AM · "I have not had to play with a mask:" A couple of factors here: I don't play professionally and don't do orchestra anymore. Then, too, I'm not a teacher and no longer a student.

But I practice daily to stay in shape, and I'm happy to play if someone asks. Haven't tried masking up while practicing. From others' comments here, it sounds uncomfortable or, at least, a bit inconvenient. Violin-playing is a decidedly athletic activity, and I like to be sure of plenty of oxygen and freedom of movement throughout the session.

Related to this: Besides daily walks, I work out 4 days a week. When area gyms began reopening in June 2020, the protocol for the first few months was to mask up for entry and exit but NOT while working out. In fact, fitness pros advise AGAINST wearing a mask while working out, since the mask reduces oxygen intake. That can be dangerous during heavy exertion.

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