Some of you in the northern hemisphere will be experiencing some pretty shocking weather this year. So here are a few winter tips to help prevent any damage to your piano. Sorry if this is a bit of a “… teaching grandma to suck eggs” for some.
When it’s cold outside, we turn up the heating inside. This sucks moisture from the air and also from your piano. Excessive changes in humidity will most certainly damage your precious instrument.
These changes cause wood to swell and shrink. A piano’s soundboard has a moisture content of around 10%. If it “dries-out”, the crown contracts, reducing tension on the strings, and the piano goes out of tune. Much of a piano is made of wood, and a change in humidity impacts most parts. The action (mostly wood) will be affected, and the touch may stiffen. In extreme cases wood will crack, and also glued joints will fail, tuning pins will loosen, strings will rust (high humidity), in fact virtually all elements will be negatively affected.
What to do? Well if you are heating your piano room, you really need some form of humidifier. If you aren’t and your room is getting damper during the winter months you need a dehumidifier. But perhaps the best answer is to install a humidity control system. These can be fitted within the piano. Your local dealer, or piano technician, will advise you on a suitable product.
If you aren’t sure what to do, purchase a hygrometer. This is a low cost device that measures humidity. You can then see if you have a problem. Ideally the humidity should be around 45%. If your humidity is too low you can raise it simply by putting metal bowls of water on windowsills (in sunlight), or above radiators. Alternatively you could also put your clothes drying rack in the same room. But be careful not to induce extreme swings in humidity – that’s why a hygrometer is useful.
Try and keep your piano at a constant temperature. So move it away from any fire or radiator. Keep it away from windows and also doors, which when opened may introduce an icy blast. An ideal temperature is around 65-70ºF (18-21ºC). Like humidity, keeping as constant a temperature as possible is the key.
I don’t think Ludovico Einaudi read this article!
One last things to mention is cold hands. Cold hands in winter make playing much harder. Your hands don’t work too well when they are cold, and this is caused by a lack of blood flow to the extremities.
Obviously keeping warm is important, but just as important is keeping active. A fitter person generally suffers less from cold hands, and even a brisk burst of exercise (or even housework) before sitting down for an hour’s practice will improve your circulation and keep those hads warm.
If you live in the southern hemisphere, then perhaps this piece will provide food for thought for later in the year – and if you live in the tropics, well you’ve a host of other problems!