How The Cold Affects Your Instrument & How To Protect It

As a musician, playing in cold weather can be an uncomfortable and sometimes challenging experience. Regardless of which instrument you play, it’s just not as fun having the wind whipping at you or the cold nipping at your exposed skin. Marching bands become downright miserable, your lips are already chapped, and trying to finger the right notes becomes an exercise in raw perseverance. That’s not to mention what the cold does to your instrument. While there are plenty of tricks and tips for managing the cold while you’re playing, you should remember that your instrument needs protection as well. Low temperatures can potentially degrade the sound quality and materials of your instrument itself, which is why all proper precautions should be taken.

 

How The Cold Affects Your Instrument

Any severe weather can have an impact on your instrument, but the actual effects can vary depending on which instrument you have. Some, like wood instruments, are particularly vulnerable to the cold while others may be more resilient. Regardless, playing outside in low temperatures over a long period of time will take its toll eventually. The problem is that the materials holding your instrument together change depending on temperature conditions, just as all materials do. Essentially, this means you’re putting your instrument under a kind of pressure that can have some downright damaging results.

Disrupting The Material

As you may already know, cold weather can cause some materials to expand or contract. If you’ve ever noticed a difference in the way your wooden doors fit into their frames during the winter, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how this works. Wooden instruments like guitars, violins, cellos, etc are especially vulnerable to warping because of this. The shrinking and expansion can cause the wood to crack or the glue joints to break, which may be irreparable. Keypads on woodwind instruments and drum heads are also at risk of drying out and cracking. Brass instruments may also expand or contract, causing their shape to gradually degrade, though it’s much less drastic than with other instruments.

 

Altering Sound Quality

 

colorful-sound-waves-and-frequencies

Sound waves. Frequency audio waveform.

Just as the body of an instrument can change with the weather, so to can its individual parts. This can make tuning a bit trickier because of the added tension the cold puts on strings, but it also affects the sound quality of all instruments in general. Most significantly, the cold tends to make instruments sound sluggish, as though reacting a bit slower to your playing. This is mainly due to swelling, which increases the time it takes the source of a sound to land and reverberate. Generally speaking, the larger or deeper the instrument is the more sluggish it will be. You may not notice it in your flute or piccolo, but tuba plays will definitely notice a difference.

 

Too Much Moisture

In some instruments, cold temperatures result in higher levels of moisture which can be a real problem. Moisture contributes to swelling, but it can also contribute to mold growth within the instrument. This is especially problematic for reed instruments like clarinets and saxophones, as reeds are particularly vulnerable to mold growth. For safety’s sake, you definitely don’t want a moldy reed anywhere near your mouth. Not only that but regardless of which instrument you have, too much moisture can lead to slight pitch changes and potential warping damage.

 

How To Protect Your Instrument

With all that said, you shouldn’t necessarily avoid playing in the cold at all costs. If you’re performing regularly, chances are you’ll have to play in extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures eventually. After all, plenty of people are willing to hear live music in all kinds of weather. If you’re practicing somewhere like a warehouse or garage, you’ll likely have the same issue as the seasons change. What’s important is that you prepare yourself for cold-weather performances and ensure you’re limiting your instrument’s exposure to the elements.

 

Store Your Instrument Properly

a-violin-in-its-case

Violin, string musical instrument, tidy up in its case with his bow, isolated on white background.

As long as you’re not playing it, you should have your instrument stored in a safe temperature-controlled place. That means having a decent case that keeps the elements on the outside. You may want to invest in a case humidifier, which is an inexpensive way to keep the humidity levels safe while your instrument is tucked away. If you are using an older case, lining it with acid-free paper is a good way to prevent outside humidity from getting through. Also, while your instrument is in its case you should keep it in a temperature-controlled room as much as possible. Even the best cases won’t protect your instruments completely, so storing them in drafty places like a garage or attic can be a risk. Be sure to avoid leaving them near heat sources like radiators or heaters as well, as they can be even more damaging.

 

Clean After Every Use

It’s a good idea to keep your instruments clean in general, but it’s especially worth doing to handle extra moisture. The best way to prevent mold and other kinds of humidity-related damage is to take your instrument apart and thoroughly clean it every time you finish playing. You’ll need to use some moisture to wipe away the oils, dirt, and other substances that build up, which is totally fine. Just be sure to use clean water and to dry your instrument with an unused dry washcloth or towel afterward.

 

Learn To Care For & Master Your Instrument!

Grace Music School offers some of the best education for musicians of all kinds. Whether you’re an aspiring singer, orchestra student, guitar lover, or someone who’s just always wanted to give music a try, our programs can teach you everything you need to know to develop your musical skills to their fullest. Our teachers work to understand your musical goals, tastes, and learning habits, ensuring that you have the best experience while learning how to make the kind of music you’ve always loved. Be sure to contact us here to learn more and sign up for one of our music lesson programs today!

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