Recently, the area I live in the United States has been terribly dry.
Beginning of February this year, I was surprised to see the scary number of 20% humidity on the hygrometer in my teaching area !
I use a humidifier almost every day, but the humidity does not rise easily.
It’s getting a little better today and it’s still 34%.
My eyes feel dry and hurt a little, and my cheeks feel dry too. In such a condition, one can get a sore throat and it is easy to get sick. It is not good for the body.
And, of course, it is too dry for the violin, too.
People in Japan may be more likely to suffer from humid conditions, but I heard that winters are quite dry there, too.
In such an environment where dryness is a problem, we want to keep the humidity at least around 40%.
In a humid environment, one should aim to keep about 50-60%.
Why is dry air not good for the violin?
Violins are made of wood, a natural material. Wood, of course, contains some moisture, but if the environment gets too dry, they lose their water through evaporation. The instruments are more in danger of developing cracks, and their sound would become harsh as well.
A few years ago, while I was teaching, I dropped my bow by accident. Perhaps it would have been prevented if it had fallen on the carpet, but unfortunately it fell on the tiles. It was terribly shocking to see the tip of my bow cracked into two pieces. I was terrified inside…😭
Fortunately, it was fixed very nicely by the professional, but once a bow breaks, and is then repaired, its value will drop dramatically. You can’t sell it for what it was once worth, so you can only use it yourself. When I was getting this advice by talking to my violin specialist, he said the sound should return to the same, but to my ears it didn’t feel the same. Now I forgot what the original sound was like, so I can use it without thinking about that any more.
Also, my student dropped a full-sized violin on the floor at home, recently, and the surface of the violin got a crack more than 20 centimeters long. I saw the crack and and it was really shocking and painful… Of course, it was repaired, but it was a very painful accident.
Such accidents are more likely to happen in a dry environment, so we have to protect our instruments from dryness.
How to increase humidity
When I feel the weather is getting dry, I tell my students (especially those who are using a full size violin), and encourage them to do something.
My suggestions are:
1. Use a humidifier in the room
2. Use a dampit (or its substitute)
Humidifiers are very helpful, not only to protect the violins, but also to help us stay healthy and comfortable.
A dampit is a very handy accessory that helps our violin to keep hydrated. It is a long rubber tube with holes in it and a long sponge inside the tube to hold the moisture. You can soak it in water for a while, wipe off the excess, and put it in your violin case or put it inside your violin’s F-hole to give moisture to the inside of the instrument.
If you do not have a dampit, substitute with your DIY dampit:
- Soak a sponge or small hand towel in the water and squeeze out the excess water.
- Put it in a ziplock bag, and punch many holes in the bag with a needle.
Sometimes, I like to humidify the peg area a little more. If that is the case, I put a wetted paper towel that’s then squeezed out and put it under the pegs area in the violin case. Carefully place it so that it does not touch the violin, and keep it there overnight. The next day, you may find the paper towel to be dry after the moisture evaporated in the case.!
(I tried putting it under the back of the instrument, but at that time, it seemed to have touched the instrument, or the moisture was a little too intense for the instrument and it turned whitish and I was very alarmed !! But in several hours, it came back to normal look and I felt very relieved. So, in any case, we have to be careful not too much moisture in the towel, or wet the instrument.)
Also, as I remember that my teacher told me that I could put my violin in the case, with he lid open, in the bathroom after taking a shower. It can be quite humid, so I used a fan to let out some the humidity.
For people who live in an area where the air is dry, we have to protect our instruments !