Humidity and Your Stringed Instrument

People often call Kennedy Violins and ask about how to take care of their violin.
My response is usually to tell them that there is not a lot they have to do, other than
wiping off the excess rosin after every practice session, so it doesn’t have a chance
to build up.  However, where a person lives can have a substantial impact on not
only the sound quality and playability of their instrument but also whether the parts
of the violin stay glued together or not.

Excessive humidity can cause your violin pieces to warp and come unglued but
the majority of people have to concern themselves with excessively dry air damaging
their violin more than the opposite.  The larger your instrument, the more it is affected
by changing humidity conditions, so if you are a cellist, you have to pay particular
attention to the water content in the air more than the average violist or violinist.
However, not living in a dry area will not get you off the hook.  If you live in an area
that gets cold in the winter time, you should pay attention to the air quality your
stringed instrument is subjected to.  Often people in colder climates will keep their
home furnaces on 24/7 and the result is very dry air.  This can be the death of your
instrument, especially if it’s a cello or bass.  When wood does not have enough water
in it, it shrinks and if it contracts enough, it can crack.

Cracked Cello Top

At some point in a violin’s life, its ribs will start to separate from the top and bottom plates of the instrument because of changing humidity conditions.  This is caused by the constant expansion and contraction of the violin parts.  Initially, the hair line seams that develop between the ribs and plates are not noticeable to the naked eye, but the sound quality and
responsiveness of the violin will be noticeably hindered to the trained ear.

Gluing the plates back to the ribs is a simple repair and isn’t terribly expensive.  However, if left unchecked, stringed instruments like basses and cellos can develop cracks on their tops and backs and not only are these repairs expensive but often times will render the instrument unrepairable when considering the cost to correct the problem.

The good news is, it is very easy and inexpensive to control the humidity conditions
that your stringed instrument is subjected to.  A simple device like the “Dampit” brand

This is a Dampit Humidifier for Violin

humidifier can be placed in the
F-hole of your stringed instrument
when it is not in use and it will
release a small amount of humidity
into your violin, viola, cello or bass
that will keep it from getting too dry.
You have to re-wet them every day
or every other day, depending on
humidity conditions and they will
last a long time.  These devices
even come with a handy paper
humidity gauge, to give you an idea
of what the water content of the air
is.  However, the easiest thing to do,
is to just purchase a violin case with
a built in hygrometer gauge.

Violin Case Hygrometer Gauge

Every once in a while, simply
have a look at the gauge to
check the humidity content
in the air.  The ideal humidity
is probably around 35%-50%.
As long as you keep your
instrument in this range,
you are probably fine.
Rapidly changing humidity
conditions can be quite bad
for your stringed instrument
as well, so using a product like
the Dampit can even out the
humidity swings when you have
to use your instrument in
different venues and are unable
to control the conditions to which
your stringed instrument is

Simply paying attention to the air quality around your stringed instrument and using inexpensive devices like humidifier tubes, will ensure that your instrument will sound good, stay in tune, play well and will not need repair for many years!

Listen and learn

Listening ears

I’ve been reading a lot about our brains on music, and how supremely intertwined music is in our very being, as humans. As we listen to music, it’s not our ears that actually hear music – it’s our brains. Our ears merely convey the vibrations to our brains, and our brains, through synapse, social conditioning and training, interpret those vibrations and give them meaning and context.

Research into our perception of music and its effects on our brains has made enormous progress in the last five to ten years, with the advent of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging – where the subject’s brain is examined in real time while being stimulated or while the subject is performing a prescribed task, such as playing an instrument or listening to music). Through the use of this investigative technique, our knowledge of the brain and how it perceives and processes music has been rapidly expanding to the point where we know things now that we had no inkling of just a decade ago. For example, making music stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, releasing endorphins, much the same way physical exercise, sex or drugs do. So it really is sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Studies of the cultural effect of music, from the time we are in utero, and as we mature, show our predilection for certain kinds of music endemic in our particular cultural surroundings. We in North America and Europe have a natural affinity for Western music because it’s the music we grew up hearing, for the most part, whereas societies in Asia, for example, have a natural affinity for the music built on different systems of musical organization and which for Western ears carries little or no cultural meaning.

A fascinating documentary was made a couple years ago, “The Music Instinct: Science and Song”,   whose chief consultant is Daniel J. Levitin, a prominent American cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, record producer, musician, and writer. He is currently James McGill Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada with additional appointments in Music Theory, Computer Science, and Education. This documentary takes us on a journey that shows us the relationship between humans and sound, and along the way we hear from some heavyweights in the neuroscience field, famous professional musicians, anthropologists, neuropsychologists, and music therapists who are putting music under the microscope.

It shows us that the human fetus starts to hear at between 17 and 19 weeks. Through a series of experiments, researchers were able to determine that a baby in utero can hear music and reacts to it in much the same way young children and adults do. And so we start our relationship to music very early, when our mothers listen to music or sing, or play an instrument. Naturally, the music the mother listens to is typically culturally prevalent and is the very beginning of our cultural conditioning to a certain kind of music (i.e., Western traditional music versus Indian raga, or Lebanese classical).

Research finds that the brain actually becomes wired to hear that certain kind of music. And so, we have the very beginnings, the foundation of our musical perception. Our brains are sponges, really, throughout our lives. We’ve all heard the old saying that as we get older we can’t learn new things, but research into this field has disproved that notion. In fact, it is through music that we can affect healing by rewiring parts of the brains of stroke victims, and those suffering from neuro disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and the like. By use of music and rhythm, barriers to movement and communication can be overcome in these patients who otherwise have no other way to move or express themselves verbally. So our brains are constantly learning and adapting.

In the end, music isn’t just an academic pursuit or another activity to get your kid into. It really is part of who we are as humans. This post is just the tiny tip of a huge iceberg on the subject. Take a look at the video below, and maybe check out the whole program and find out what’s really going on in your kid’s head when she practices the cello, or learns a new scale. It’s really quite amazing.

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Violin Nerd or Athlete?

Article by the World Renowned Violinist Clayton Haslop.

A few years ago I read a little article having to do
with repetitive movement injuries and instrumental
playing. In the course of it the writer made the
following observation.

Musicians are the athletes of small muscles.

Certainly true.

Yet, if the whole truth be told, we must also master some
pretty large muscles as well. Just think of quick
changes of string between the G and E strings, for
example. These require very precise control of the large
muscles surrounding the shoulder, and in our back.

You see the real story boils down to fine motor control,
whether the muscles behind a movement are small or large.

Now in thinking about this, and having watched and
listened to a very large number of violinists over the
years, I would like to offer an observation.

Consummate fine motor control is not simply about, say,
getting the bow from point A to point B and making it
sound good. This is simply not enough.

For one interested in REAL progress there are a couple of
additional questions that must be answered. One, am I
doing this movement in the most efficient way possible?
And two, will I be able to put it comfortably and easily
within the context of other movements coming before and
after it?

This is why, in my ‘Beginners Circle’ course, I have been
so detailed in the descriptions and demonstrations of the
skills underlying violin playing.

In order for you to progress, as I know you want to, you
must become as fully informed as I am when it comes to
these things.

In short, a real violinist leaves no room for
inefficiencies and wasted movements – i.e. ‘bad habits’
when he or she prepares for performance.

Yes, getting it right requires a little more patience and
perseverance up front – anything worthwhile in this world
generally does. Yet the payoffs down the road, in
fluency, ease of playing are huge. How could we want it
any other way?

All the best,

Clayton Haslop

P.S. Here’s a link to check out, if ‘taking it from the
top, to the top’ sounds like an idea whose time has come.

Clayton Haslop made his professional solo debut at age 20
under Sir Neville Marriner and the Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra touring six major cities of the western United
States. These critically acclaimed performances not only
lead to numerous engagements with orchestras, they also
resulted in his being appointed founding violinist of the
Los Angeles Piano Quartet at Marriner’s recommendation.

Haslop is active in the motion picture industry as solo
violinist and concertmaster on such films as Avatar, Up,
The Matrix films, Titanic, Ratatouille, The Curious Case
of Benjamin Button, Star Trek, The Incredibles,
Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, and The Perfect Storm.

As a student Clayton Haslop was coached
extensively by the legendary Nathan Milstein.

Sheet music is just a click away

What I like about playing my violin is that it is really a “social” instrument. I don’t consider myself a soloist, but I do enjoy making all different kinds of music at various levels with other people. I practice not only to improve my own abilities but also to contribute to the success of a group. It’s a pretty amazing way of communicating. Performing is fun, but it is still about getting together with friends and sharing music with people you may or may not know.

At Kennedy Violins, we often receive calls from customers who just received their new instrument and are looking for sheet music or other methods of getting started. We recommend that you take a look at Sheet Music Plus offers all kinds of music from beginners’ books and DVD’s to the big classical concerto pieces to ensemble works. There are songs geared toward religious settings, holidays, ceremonies, movie soundtracks, pop and rock hits, and fiddle tunes.

With enough searching, you can even discover some websites that offer free sheet music. There is music available at all playing levels, and there are some pieces that are for small ensembles. It’s just a matter of clicking and printing. Here are a few examples:

Violin Sheet Music — This website is easy to use and has a variety of genres listed across the top. Some pieces even offer the piano accompaniment. — It is easy to pick songs to play based on playing level.

The Violin Site — Browse by composer and find other links to other sheet music sources.

And, using today’s technology, there are even YouTube videos that provide sheet music corresponding with sound.

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Before you know it, you will be able to take that new violin, viola, or cello and become part of a quartet, a bluegrass group, a folk band, or whatever your heart desires. Getting involved in music is different than picking up a book to read. It means finding someone to share it with.

Diverse Genres

There is a multitude of diverse musical genres that can be played on the violin, but some of the most popular are classical violin music and fiddle music.

With its rich history and complex form, playing classical violin music can be a challenging and rewarding experience. Playing with others in an orchestra is an excellent option once the necessary skills have been achieved. Opportunities to play as a soloist can range from recitals, alone or with a piano, or soloing with a full orchestra.

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There are many styles of fiddle music, and some of them include celtic, texas, bluegrass, and canadian. With fiddling, there are often different techniques involved depending on what style you are playing. There are numerous opportunities for playing different types of fiddle music, on your own or with others. Festivals, contests, and jams are just some such chances to play fiddle music.

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You do not have to limit yourself to one style, either. It is great fun to play a variety of different musical styles on the violin. Whatever type of music you choose to play, you will find it to be an extremely rewarding experience. Kennedy violins offers violins for any price category. Visit to view our selection of instruments, and begin your musical journey today!