Instrumental Up-Keep in Winter - What Should I Consider?

by Cathrin Rahn (21.12.2022)
translation by Edd Lee (05.01.2023)

Concerts in cold churches or even outside are part of the Christmas, Lent and Easter seasons for many musicians, and unfortunately, not all instruments tolerate the wintery temperatures equally well. While brass instruments react less sensitively, instruments made of wood, such as string or woodwind instruments, are very sensitive to the cold. When it comes to the queen of instruments, the organ, there are also a number of important things to consider in winter.

String Instruments

“Wood is a natural material and always works – no matter how old it is. Strong fluctuations in temperature or humidity are therefore problematic for instruments made of wood. If the dry air from our heating causes the humidity in the room to fall below 40%, you need to take action”, explains Markus Lützel, master violin maker from Würzburg. Especially in the cold season, it often happens that the glue connecting individual instrument parts comes undone because the wood contracts too much. Musicians regularly come to his workshop in winter with this exact problem; fortunately these instruments can be re-glued. To prevent damage, he advises always keeping an eye on the humidity and taking countermeasures if necessary, like hanging up wet laundry for example. You should not, of course, store your string instrument right next to the heater, for it would get too warm and dry.

Another weak point can be the pegs, which can become out of shape and slip if the air is too dry. It is therefore advisable to have these checked every time you change the strings, since the pegs have to be removed anyway, or at least once at the beginning and end of winter.

Wind Instruments

With woodwind instruments, there is another problem in cold rooms: The warm air blown into the instrument whilst playing can cause tension, occasionally so great that the instrument cracks. This can be repaired, but with a crack, the notes respond less well, and sometimes not at all. To prevent this from happening, Marc Schaeferdiek, oboist and author of the repair and care guide Der Oboen-Doktor , advises warming up the instrument with your hands or body before playing. The oboe, like the clarinet and bassoon, is less suitable for use outdoors. Another frustrating problem in winter is that you can get water in the tone or key holes. This is an annoying phenomenon where condensation collects in the tone or key holes and clogs them, caused by a big difference between the temperature of the breath and the instrument. The resulting sound is normally bubbling. "Then you simply open or lift the corresponding key or pad, blow into the hole or suck up the moisture with a piece of cigarette paper and you can usually continue playing. If the problem persists, you can try laying a water track.”

Unlike wooden instruments, brass instruments handle the cold weather better. If you play outdoors in sub-zero temperatures, it is only the valves that might freeze - but that happens very rarely.


Even if we usually only see the impressive, large silver pipes of the organ, it consists of many natural materials such as wood and leather. In winter, to save money, churches are often only heated at the weekends, or sometimes not at all, therefore the organ is often exposed to large temperature fluctuations. As with string and woodwind instruments, there can be partially irreversible damage to the wood.

In order to prevent possible damage, you are well advised to take a little more care of your instrument during the cold season. If you are unsure or have any questions, it is always worth calling the instrument maker.

Verband deutscher MusikschulenBundesverband der Freien MusikschulenJeunesses Musicales DeutschlandFrankfurter Tonkünstler-BundBundes­verb­and deutscher Lieb­haber-OrchesterStützpunkt­händ­ler der Wiener Urtext Edition

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