Tag Archives: stringed instrument

Forget the Map at Home!

A Guide to Improvisation, by Katie Lubiens

You don't need sheet music on this journey.
You don’t need sheet music on this journey.

Improvising? That sounds scary! Making up the music as you go? But where’s the sheet music? Who even improvises anyway?

As a classical violinist, these were all questions I asked myself when confronted with the thought of improvising.  I never was taught to improvise.  As classical musicians, we always have our sheet music to guide us, to show us the direction we should go.  Going forward into the musical realm without sheet music seems like going on a roadtrip without a map.  Where do I go?

Surprisingly, I’ve discovered, improving is all around us as musicians.  Even classical musicians improvise, too!  There are so many musical genres to experiment with which do teach you to improvise and foster those creative juices that make new music happen.  From blues jams to Irish sessiuns, from jazz club improvs to bluegrass jam outs, there are endless outlets for practicing improvisation.  Without sheet music, how do we know what to play?   Especially when improvising with other musicians.

Katie Lubiens performing with The Seseseisiunists.
Katie Lubiens performing with The Seseseisiunists.

Here are a few pointers when learning to improvise: 

  1. The most important thing to know is what key you are playing in.  It can sound great when everyone is playing something completely different, but they must be playing their own unique parts in the same key for it to work.
  2. Think of the scale, then play itterations of the scale.  I like to play the scale aloud before trying any kind of improvising so I really get the notes in my ear and fingers.  Then try playing the scale up and down, jumping around with different arpeggios, and always keeping the tonic, dominant and 7th in mind.
  3. Take turns.  Most improv music works best when everyone takes turns being the melody.  When it’s not your turn at the melody be sure to keep the energy up.  Long notes mixed with off beat rhythms are easy on the tonic or dominant.
  4. Practice some cool licks at home.  Most improv artists aren’t actually making it up as they go.  Usually, they have practiced some licks which they made up at home and can transcribe them into any key to play while performing in an improvising scenario.
  5. Perfection is not the point.  Improvising teaches you to be adaptable.  Adapting to your current musical situation makes you a stronger player and shows you that the imperfections are what make improvising so thrilling.
  6. Don’t be afraid!  Although you can feel put on the spot while improvising, recognize that everyone else recognizes that you are improvising.  It is not meant to be perfect.  Once you get used to improvising, you will begin to feel the powerful energy in making up music with your peers as you go.

Like anything, improvising gets better the more you do it.  I promise you, if you try you, will find that creating your own music with others in the moment is one of the best adventures you can embark upon. The moment when you close your eyes and listen to yourself creating music together, making it up as you go, and you hear that it sounds beautiful and harmonious, you will find pride in yourself like never before.  So, go ahead, make up the directions to your next adventure and forget the map at home!

**Check back soon for more in depth imrpovising tools and tips!

A Violin is Brought Back to Life (Part 1)

A Violin in Pieces

I recently began a new project: putting together an old violin that had fallen completely apart. The instrument is an older German violin, probably made around 1930 – 1950.

Violins are similar to puzzles, in that they have many small parts that fit intricately together. They are also similar to puzzles in that they are actually designed to be taken apart if necessary.
Figuring Out What Goes Where

The type of glue used in making violins, called hide glue, is purposefully used because of its unique, not-too-strong properties. During times of extreme humidity or

Clamping Linings

temperature change, as the wood shifts slightly in size and shape, the glued seams will give way before the wood cracks. This saves the violin from becoming seriously damaged. Hide

Making New Corner Blocks

glue also ensures that the violin can safely be taken apart and put back together again when necessary. Heat and water will soften the glue, and seams can be safely opened and closed.

This violin had fallen apart probably because it was exposed to lots of differing temperatures and humidities over the years, and because hide glue naturally breaks down after a certain amount of time. As you can see, there is also a big crack on the top plate that will need to be repaired.
Stay tuned for future posts, and watch as this violin is brought back to life!

Online Music Lessons: Helpful or Hurtful?

We live in an interesting age, musically speaking.  Through the avenue of the internet, so much is available to us in the way of recordings, videos, articles, pictures, etc, etc.  From this sea of information, any aspiring musician with a computer can find tools and resources for online music lessons and often times for free.

Learning music online is vastly different than what teachers and players have been used to in generations before the world wide web making some wonder if online lessons are truly beneficial for budding musicians or if they just cause confusion and poor technique.  Before investing any serious time in front of a computer screen, there are a few things to consider when it comes to music lessons.

When it comes to learning anything, I think the most important thing to consider is how you or your student learns.  For instance, I am a kinesthetic learner.  I learn best by doing or using my hands.  Sitting around watching videos online, does help me as much a having a teacher guide me during a lesson and then practicing it on my own for several hours.  Yet, I have a student who is a very visual learner and online videos are a great reference for the days in-between lessons.  Likewise, I have a family member that can read a car manual and just build an engine in a weekend.  I’m sure that if he wanted to, he could play the violin after a day of reading “How-To” blogs online.

If you decide that using online music lessons are something that would be helpful for you, the next thing you need to consider is where the information is coming from.  The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of videos, articles, and blogs to choose from.  The bad news is that pretty much anyone with a computer and 5 minutes of free time can post something.  When searching for music lessons, it’s best to use media produced by a professional or teacher with years of experience.  Generally, they will have tried and true methods to share that won’t lead you or your student astray.  If you are unsure about the validity of something you found online, it’s best to double check with your teacher.  Send them a link and have them check it out.  If you are teaching yourself how to play, you can always check with other members in the music community.  Contacting a local music store to see if they have come across something useful is a great place to find sound advice.  You can also check with other players through online forums like Violinist.com or Fiddle Hangout.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking online, a great place to start is our blog.  We are all professionals and teachers here, and we work hard to provide our readers with quality and useful educational articles that anyone can access.  We also have a Video Library on our website.  You can check it out here.

Rent or Buy? That is the question!

1950's Music Store

Around this time every year, as the musical season gears up again, we see a lot of new string players preparing to start a new adventure.  There are inevitably A LOT of questions, and we are happy to address them.  In the past, on the blog, we have covered many topics about Beginner Basics.  One that we haven’t gone over in too much detail, though, is the question of renting vs. buying and in these tough economic times, how you spend your money is important and worth considering.

Renting is usually more affordable in terms of the monthly payment.  Our rental payments range from $14.97 a month to $92.50.  The amount you pay is determined by the instrument you need and the quality of that instrument.  Also, all stringed instrument stores have a rental agreement.  As part of the rental agreement, you may be required to commit to a minimum number of months, which is important to keep in mind.  For instance, the store may require a minimum of 6 months of payments and that amount could be close to or equal the cost of just purchasing the instrument.  Another thing to consider is what happens to the money you pay each month.  Does it go towards the eventual purchase of the instrument?  If so, how much of the monthly payments go towards the purchase?  At Kennedy Violins, we don’t have a minimum rental requirement and we set aside 55% of all rental fees as store credit that customers can use towards the purchase of any instrument.

Buying an instrument certainly requires the most  money up front, but it can be the most affordable in many cases.  If you are part of a family with several children, purchasing would give you the ability to keep the instrument after the oldest child grows out of it or looses interest and pass it on to younger children.  Or, if you were like my family and you required at least one year commitment to whatever new thing you are trying out, purchasing could be less expensive in the long run.  For instance, if you purchased Kennedy Violins’ Bunnel G2 Violin outfit, based on our current rental price, it would pay for itself in about a year.  Plus, purchasing usually means that you have “trade-in” power later when it’s time for a new size or an upgrade.

Either way, the most important factor in the decision making comes down to what the customer is comfortable with.  At Kennedy Violins, we are happy to provide both options for people ready to start the adventure of learning to play an instrument.

Violins in several sizes

Taking the First Steps

At Kennedy Violins, we have always been proud of the fact that all of our employees, no matter their role, are active musicians and teachers and all of us have been where you are.  Whether you are just starting out learning the basics or finding your own voice or personality musically.  Today, I’d like to talk about those very first steps.  The steps you take before the first note is even played.

I’ll start with kids.  As a teacher, I often get asked by parents at what age they should start teaching their kids music.  Well, now!  Today!  Yesterday! In the womb!  It is never too early to start learning the fundamentals and it is very easy to incorporate musical learning into everyday activities.  Does your toddler like to empty the cabinets and bang on pots and pans?  Teach her a rhythm to play while you reach for the aspirin.  Does your kindergarten repeat the same nursery rhyme over and over again?  Turn it into a game where he sings a different note each time he repeats it or have a him create new melody for the same music.

Outside the home, learning in a classroom setting is always beneficial, but I believe it should also be fun and low pressure when children are just starting out.  I have always been a fan of Kindermusik classes.  Kindermusik serves children ages 0-7 and their families all across the US.  They use folk melodies from around the world and classic stories to teach music fundamentals.

Another question that parents ask is, ” How do I know if my child is ready to play the (insert specific instrument here)?”  Well, I find that parents know their children far better than I do and that they usually have answered that question for themselves by the time they ask me.  If you feel that your child is ready to learn an instrument, then she probably is.  Usually, it’s nice for the future student to have shown some interest in learning music, but I have found that it never hurts to try something new just for the sake of trying something new.  You never know!

The best tool for starting out young kids (5 and under) on a musical instrument is private instruction by a qualified teacher.  One on one lessons with the parents present are best because the little ones tend to focus better and it’s not as frustrating when they have the direct support of family.  Group lessons are fun but progress can be slow.  Older kids can be more successful in group lessons and many schools and community programs have great classes that would be little or no cost to parents.  To find qualified teachers or programs try calling your child’s school or a local music store for recommendations.

Now, let’s talk about grown-ups (from a strictly educational stand point, I place anyone beginning after age 12 in this category of learning…one day I’ll explain in further detail).  We have written several posts about how it’s never too late to discover (or rediscover) a love of music.  The tips I have aren’t much different.  I would stress, though, that even in today’s advanced age of technology with online videos/lessons on You Tube and Vimeo, having private lessons with an experienced instructor is HIGHLY valuable!  Personally, I feel the videos should serve as a supplement to strengthen what you learn in private lessons.

However, more than videos and lessons, to have a successful start I feel that the thing adult learners need most is guts.  It takes a courageous and humble individual to stand up and say, “Hey, I don’t know anything about this, but I want to learn.”  I have great respect for the adult beginners that dive in with their whole heart.  For the adventurous ones, there are many community orchestras that welcome players of all levels and ages and music camps to give them the experience every musician should have.  You just have to go for it!

The Fine Art of Tuning

A cello section tuning.

In high school at the beginning of each concert, like all orchestras, we would take some time to tune.  Once the squeaking and squawking settled into a common A natural, our conductor would say, “Thank you very much.  Our first song was ‘The Fine Art of Tuning.'”  The audience, slightly confused, would laugh and we would move on to the actual concert.  His comment, while quite dry, actual holds a lot of truth.  The concept of may seem like simply matching pitches but there is “fine art” to it that I see even advanced musicians missing out on.  In my experience there are two main things that will help you master the fine art of tuning: a strong pitch reference and good tuning habits.

A Strong Pitch Reference: Unless you were born with “perfect pitch,” you will need a reference to the correct pitch.

-A tuning fork is the classic tool for tuning.  It is a piece of metal cast into a specific u-shape so that when struck, it emits a particular pitch. *NOTE:  Never strike a tuning fork on your instrument.* I’ve seen this happen which is why I have to say it…

-For beginners, an electronic tuner is useful because they can either emit the desired pitch or show you digitally what pitch you are playing.  There are even some that clip directly on the instrument.  I suggest investing in a tuner that doubles as a metronome.  It’s less to carry around!

Pitch pipes are lightweight and easy to use as well.  All you have to do is blow.  The down side is that if they get dropped or beat up, the notes on the pitch pipe will get out of tune themselves.

Pianos are best used in a band setting.  They aren’t exactly portable like the other options but they are the best choice if you are going to be playing with a piano (I’ll explain that later).

-If you want to be super tech savvy, there are several apps for mobile devices that turn your phone into a tuner.  Just be careful which one you get, the free ones aren’t always accurate.

Clockwise from top left: a chromatic pitch pipe, a tuning fork, a violin pitch pipe, and a mobile app.

Good Playing Habits: some of this may seem like common sense, but it’s good to be reminded.

-The best habit to have while tuning would be listening. It’s not enough to simply look at the tuner see that you are in tune (or worse, just play a note and turn the pegs until you are tired of it or the rest of the group stops tuning).  Listen to what it sounds like to be in tune and out of tune.  On a stringed instrument, you will need to listen to the intervals between the strings.  Traditionally, violin, viola, and cello strings are tuned in fifths (sounds like the beginning of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”).  If you are playing in a group, listen to the other players and “agree” with their tuning.  At times, the people you are playing with may have instruments that aren’t perfectly in tune and can’t be tuned without great difficultly.  I’m not talking about stubborn viola pegs or sticky clarinet keys, but a 250 year old pipe organ or a tinny house piano at a bar.  Your instrument may be perfectly in tune on its own, but if it doesn’t match the instruments you are playing with you will sound out of tune.

-Having strong fundamentals is another habit that will make the tuning process easier and more effective.  In the violin family, a good bow hold is key to quality sound production.  If you don’t have a strong bow hold, you won’t be able to produce a good sound to tune from .  Also, applying too much or too little pressure with the bow can cause the note you are trying to tune to go in and out of tune.  Long and steady bow strokes at medium volume are best for tuning.  Likewise, having the correct shape and placement in the left hand directly impacts the intonation of the notes you are trying to play.  I hate to say it, but it’s best to practice scales over and over again to strengthen tuning in the left hand.

-Lastly, take the time you need to make sure you are in tune.  I remember when I first started tuning my own instrument, the time it took to get it right was frustrating and felt like everyone else I was playing with was getting in tune faster.  Yet, I know that my stand partner and my teacher always liked it when I took an extra 30 seconds to make sure that I was in tune.

Other Helpful Articles: How to Install Strings and Keep Pegs from Slipping, Strung Out on Strings, Beginner Basics, Stringed Instrument Care and Maintence Part One, and Part Two.

Playing While Pregnant

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life.  I wasn’t sure exactly what all of those would be since  I had never been a mom before.  Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me.  I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

Pre-Pregnancy Playing

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician?  I knew I wasn’t the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time.  I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant.  All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just “go for it.”  I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way.  Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1.  Know where the bathrooms are.  There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else.  Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water.  This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3.  Invest in the appropriate brace.  Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand.  I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn’t playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

My husband and I after a trio recital at 6 months pregnant

4.  Stretch and take breaks.  For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes.  I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief.  The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions.  It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn’t have a break for 30 minutes or more.  If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key.  Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5.  It’s okay to say no.  This is one I struggle with.  I used to play music with every one that would let me,  but it is very important that you don’t try to do it all.  The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can’t do everything like you used to.  Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6.  Know that every pregnancy is different.  You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play.  Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7.  Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.  All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered.  For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths.  Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently.  For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived.  Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.

Shopping list — Rulers, pencils, and… violin strings!

Back to School. As a mom, it means I “get” to take my kids shopping for new clothes and school supplies. But, for music students, it also means getting ready for a new season/year of rehearsals and performances. Now is the best time to make sure your instrument is ready for hours of play. You can always take your instrument to your local music store to have it completely inspected and set up for the year, but that usually comes with a premium price tag. However, there are so many things that every string player should take the time to learn about their instrument.

For younger students, it is always good to make sure that they are starting the year with the correct size instrument. The tried and true method of sizing a student to a violin is putting the violin into position under the chin with a fully extended (straightened) left arm under the instrument. If your child can wrap their fingers all around the scroll practically reaching into the peg box, he/she is ready for a larger violin.

If the violin is the right size, it is probably time for a new set of strings. Strings can stay intact for years, but they can lose their playability and projection, especially if they are synthetic core strings (Dominant, Zyex, etc.). When changing a set of violin strings, always start with the E string, then proceed to change the G, D, and A strings. A few months ago, Joel wrote a blog on slipping violin pegs. He demonstrated how to change strings properly onto the peg. It is important to wind the strings onto the peg correctly to avoid slipping pegs. And, while you are changing your strings, it is always a good idea to take the time to clean the rosin build up with some violin polish. Never use any other type of cleaner or polish on a stringed instrument. The oil rubbed finish of most instruments have unique properties that can be critically compromised with household cleaners or polish.

When changing strings or polishing an instrument, always be careful with the bridge. Avoid bumping the bridge when cleaning, and watch the angle of the bridge during and after changing strings. New strings will need a day or two to stretch out. During that time, the angle of the bridge can be pulled by the strings. For the most part, the bridge should be angled perpendicular to the body of the violin. If a bridge is left tilted at the wrong angle for too long, it can eventually warp and even break.

One thing that is worth taking your instrument to the luthier for is to get a bow rehaired. Like violin strings, bow hair can visually appear to be in pretty good condition. Eventually, though, rosin can build up and the surface of the bow hair can become dull and almost slick. When bows get to this point of wear, it is difficult to pull sound from the strings, no matter how much rosin you use.

While you have everything out of the case, it is a good idea to grab a vacuum with a hose attachment and clean every nook and cranny. Open each compartment and get every trace of rosin out of the case. Eliminating the build up of dust and rosin inside the case will help keep your violin and bow in great playing condition for a long time to come.


For a newly sized violin or new strings, check out our selection at Kennedy Violins. If you aren’t sure which is the right one for you, please feel free to contact any of us. We have recently added a few new musicians to our sales, customer service, and luthier staff, so we are all ready to help you gear up for the new school year.

How do you find a violin teacher for your child?

Where do I find a suitable instructor for my child?  Once parents decide that they want their offspring to learn a stringed instrument, they are immediately faced with this often challenging question.  For most parents, it’s very difficult to know where to start because most are not active participants in the world of stringed instruments and have no idea who to talk to or what kinds of questions to ask.  Instinctively, most parents realize that starting off on the right foot is very important for future development, so they do their best to find a teacher who will not only show them proper technique but also instill a joy for music that will last for the rest of their lives.

These days, most people will go to the computer and do a Google search in their local area. Several results will inevitably pop up on their computer screen.  After perusing the bios of teachers that have their own studios or work out of a large music store, one trait becomes clear.  Everybody is an expert and they all have an abundance of awards and testimonials concerning their education, performance history and love of teaching.  So if everybody is so great, how do you know who’s good and who’s not?  How do you pick from one or the other?  Which teacher’s self documented accolade is more trust worthy?

Personally, I’ve been playing the viola for over 30 years and 16 of those as an instructor.  I have several gold lettered pieces of paper (in a closet somewhere) that list my performance pedigree and pedagogical certification, but do they really prove anything?  To believe that everybody that graduates from a certain school or has played in many differing performance venues is going to have an equal ability to engage your child in a meaningful way is of course, ludicrous.  So how do you know that I or anybody else with the same background is going to be worth all the money that you’ll be shelling out?

Most Kennedy Violins customers, know that we are comprised of string players and that the majority of us are violin instructors, so they ask us fairly often how to find a good teacher for their child who is just beginning.  Because of the amount of times I’ve fielded this question, I’ve been able to distill the filtration process, into 2 basic criteria that you can use to weed out the less desirable instructors.

1.  Does the instructor currently play professionally or is retired from playing professionally? Chances are, if nobody is willing to pay to hear a person play their instrument, you don’t want to pay them to teach your child.  The reason this is a good question to ask, is that there are many people taking money to teach the violin who are a “jack of all trades and masters of none”.  They love music and teaching and play just about every instrument that you can think of.  This may be indicative of a certain level of passion or talent, but not having the stringed instrument as their primary professional focus, creates the situation where their technical knowledge of the instrument is diluted and blase.  However, many teachers have performed with a variety of groups and they are quick to mention them on their bios but you need to do your homework.  Are the groups they’ve played in on the same professional level as your local quilting club?  Was the bulk of their performance experience in high school or college?  This is not to say, that if they haven’t played in a major symphony orchestra they are bad teachers, or that all teachers that play in highly regarded symphony orchestras are all fantastic but usually this simple question can take about 85% of the instructors out of the running.  This will not only save you a lot of wasted time and money on unhelpful lessons but also years of frustrated effort on the part of your child, who will be taught mind numbingly bad technique and flawed posture.

2.  How successful are the students of the teachers? This is probably the most important question to ask because this is really where the rubber meets the road.  Regardless of professional performance experience or certified pedigree, an excellent teacher will consistently produce well respected students.  Once you have cut your list of potential teachers down to a few, ask them about their students participation in the local youth orchestras.  Most cities of decent size have 1 or 2 youth orchestras that are pretty good.  The only way to get into the higher level youth orchestras is by auditioning.  Therefore, only the better playing students of that geographic location are going to be accepted into the orchestra.  The better students get in and the others don’t.  Consistently, the more effective teachers not only have many students participating in a good orchestra, but the same teachers are represented year after year.  You can call up a local youth orchestra and ask for a recommendation or a list of the instructors that are represented by the students.  Chances are, there will be a person working in the office that will be more than happy to assist you in narrowing down your search.

After you have found a teacher that you think may work, you will want to have a preliminary lesson, to find out if the teacher is a good fit.  Often the better teachers will not only be more expensive and have a waiting list, but will want to “audition” YOU and your child as well.  They will not accept certain students who may display an obvious disdain for learning or have parents who simply want a hour of alone time at the local mall while their child is babysat.  If your child is progressing well after 10 lessons or so, you have probably found a suitable match.  If your child is stuck on the same primary piece for several weeks or is locking themselves in their rooms to prevent themselves from going to a lesson, then it may not be a good fit.

The majority of parents do not start music lessons with the idea that they want their children to become professional players.  Most, just want to expose their children to the world of music and gain all of the cognitive benefits that learning an instrument like the violin have to offer.  Whatever your goals are for your child, one thing is for certain.  It’s not possible for you to know the future and to what extent your child may want to pursue music.  The best thing you can do, is find a teacher that will ultimately assist your child into reaching their full potential with proper technique and efficient practice habits.  If your child develops a deep love of music and the ability to express it, then you have done your part in giving a gift to your child that is truly priceless.  It’s been said that nobody regrets being a good person on their death bed.  Well, nobody regrets being a great violinist either!

 

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
subjected.

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!