Musical instruments can be significantly affected by the climate, from minor tuning issues to potential long-term damage – and every instrument responds in its way.
Thursday, August 18th
Temperature can affect the sound of an instrument in a variety of ways, which are different for each instrument. It also influences the abilities of a player.
Generally speaking, cold weather has the tendency to be harder on your musical instrument compared to hot weather. In times when it is raining, snowing and low humidity, it can trigger some problems for various instruments.
Cold weather might cause some damage to the instrument itself and might make your instrument to be out of tune. This is among the many reasons why you should be wary of the weather.
Whereas cold weather might make some materials of your instrument contract, hot weather normally does the opposite thing. During extreme heat, the materials of your instrument could possibly expand. This can affect its ability to endure tension. In fact, some musicians reported that when playing during hot weather, they tend to feel that the instrument’s sound is sluggish.
It doesn’t matter what type of weather condition it is when playing your musical instrument, see to it that you are giving thorough consideration so it would not affect its sound quality and performance.
How temperature affects specific musical instruments
In the case of the violin, for example, warmer weather changes the amount of friction between the bow and the strings, changing the way the bow pulls on each string. Warm weather also tends to expand instruments and thus alter their ability to withstand tension, which again changes their interaction with a musician. In a piano, increases in humidity and temperature cause the bushings (hinges in the mechanical assembly of the piano action around which one component rotates with respect to another) to swell. Such swelling increases the time between when the player hits a key and when the hammer hits the string by roughly 10 milliseconds. Musicians describe this effect as “sluggishness.”
Most temperature-related issues can be corrected by tuning either the actions (physical mechanisms that strikes the strings) or the strings themselves, adding lubrication in appropriate spots or just modifying the way the instrument is played.
Some musicians are convinced that cooling an instrument to extreme temperatures can change its tone as well. Trumpet and flute players have been known to freeze their instruments in -300 degree Fahrenheit “refrigerators” for a few days, describing the sound that comes out of the thawed instrument as “more mellow.”
This article is a re-post, with minor modifications, of “Does temperature affect the sound of a musical instrument?” published on scientificamerican.com