Erin Spencer - flute expert

How Weather Affects Your Flute Playing

Learn how the weather can affect your flute and how to deal with it

In this video, Erin gives you some important tips for playing your flute in any weather condition, especially during wintertime.

Released on December 2, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, this is Erin Spencer, back for another video here on Virtual Sheet Music. And today we're going to talk about something that is way more important this year than I anticipated, which is how weather, temperature and humidity affect our flute playing. Obviously it's not safe this year to be playing flute with each other very often indoors, which is really sad. Of course, we miss playing in our ensembles, but I know a lot of us have been playing outdoors. Me personally, I have been teaching in-person flute lessons for much of the year, outdoors, plenty far away from each other. Therefore, my students are starting to learn more and more how the weather affects their playing.

First let's talk about temperature. Intuitively you would expect when it's cold, your instrument shrinks and you're going to go sharp, but actually the sound travels differently in the cold weather, and therefore we will be flat. I remember many marching band competitions with my head joint pushed all the way in. If you're in a really cool air conditioned concert hall, then you're going to need to push in more than usual. Whereas if you're in an outdoor hot concert in the sun, you will find yourself pulling out more than usual. And it can be very counterintuitive, but it's really important to stay as close as we can to the center of pitch of the orchestra or bands that you're performing in because different instruments react differently. Just because we are going flat in the cold, doesn't mean that every instrument is reacting the same way. This is another good reason that yes, it's nice to have an idea of where your flute goes and where you're typically in tune, but you have to be flexible around that. And just because you think you're right, doesn't mean you're always right.

Another way that I find cold affecting me as a player. If I am cold, the first place your body pulls blood from is your extremities, your fingers and your toes. And our fingers are very important as a flute player. When they are cold and they don't have as much blood flow, they feel sluggish, they don't respond as quickly. So I know quite a few string players who bring around hand warmers in their case. And if it's a cold air conditioned room before a concert, they can break out those hand warmers, keep their fingers nice and warm before they go on stage. You may also find playing in the cold that your lips are more stiff than usual. And you can cover up your lips with your hand to try and keep them warm when you're not playing or do some nice if possible, if you're not actively performing in a concert or you can find a way to do that quietly, that'll get the blood flowing back into your lips.

As far as humidity goes, the first thing that comes to mind for me is sticky pads because it drives me nuts when my pads are sticky. If it's dry, it takes my pads a lot longer to get sticky and annoying. Whereas if it's humid, they are a pain in the butt. I don't envy people living in really humid places at all, because it really is crazy. Humidity is going to affect wooden instruments to a much higher degree than it's going to affect metal instruments because the wood will absorb the humidity and expand.

I bought this Piccolo at the 2019 NFA Convention, which was in Utah, so a fairly dry place, but it hadn't been there for very long. And then after I brought it home to Colorado, that A-Flat key started binding, which means it would get stuck down because the whole instrument had shrunk together, and so the keys next to it were pushing on the A-Flat key and making it stick. So I had to send it back out to get adjusted, and now it works perfectly here in Colorado, but you really have to keep your eye out for that with Piccolo.

Some things you can do to increase the humidity in your Piccolo case, which is just a good idea. That's a good way to care for your wooden Piccolo, put a piece of orange peel in there. You will have to change it fairly frequently, but that's a really good natural humidifier for your Piccolo and keeping your Piccolo at a constant humidity will help prevent it from cracking. I have never personally had a wooden Piccolo crack on me, even living here in a really dry place, but it's definitely possible if the humidity or temperature changes too quickly.

Another great resource to keep the humidity constant for your Piccolo are these Boveda Humidity Packs. And these are two-way humidity packs. The ones I have, I actually use for my clarinet, but these are 32% humidity, which I think is a good level for a Piccolo. They also have higher humidity ones, but especially living in a drier place, this is more what I'm going for.

These will release moisture if it gets below 32% humidity and they will pull in moisture, if it is above 32% humidity. So these are really great to keep your humidity constant if your case is big enough to fit them, that's the thing with Piccolo. But they're pretty small and flat, they look like this and you just have to replace it every four, six months, and they are super duper helpful for keeping your wooden instruments safe and happy.

I hope that you are finding some safe ways to enjoy making music with other people. I know it makes me so happy to see my students in person and be able to work on duets and intonation and have way more fun doing it in person than online. Of course, I still love online teaching and love seeing my students no matter how I can, but as long as the temperature is okay for us to meet in person and we can do so safely, I absolutely love to be able to do that. I hope you have a great rest of your day. Thank you so much for watching, play some fun music today and I'll see you next time. Bye.
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