V.com weekend vote: How hot is too hot to play outdoors?

August 20, 2022, 7:20 PM · At what temperatures are you willing to play outsdoors during the summer months?

violin desert

One of my good violinist friends recently wrote to me with the question: At what kind of temperatures are you willing or not willing to play outside? When it's 75 degrees out, then there isn't much question - that's almost like playing indoors!

But when the temperatures starts creeping up past 80°F, past 85°, past 90° - then things start to get worrisome. Is this temperature safe for the violin? Will the pegs slip? Will extra sweat get on the wood, varnish, strings, fingerboard? Will the heat affect the glue and cause some seams to open?

The concerns get even stronger if you are situated in an area with direct sunlight, or reflections that magnify the heat, on a surface that gets particularly hot, or if the humidity is also quite high.

Whether you are playing in an orchestra, for family members in the backyard, at the park, busking, etc., what is the temperature threshold over which you are no longer comfortable playing your violin outdoors? If you regularly play outdoors, what is the usual temperature when you play? Do you have special conditions for playing outdoors? Does the heat affect your instrument? Are you more concerned about humidity than heat? Please participate in the vote and share your thoughts about playing outdoors, in the summer.

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Replies

August 21, 2022 at 05:25 AM · My upper limit for playing outdoors is 100°F with full shade, around 80-85° with cloud cover but not full shade, and I do not play in direct sunlight at any temperature. I've actually played outdoor orchestra concerts at temperatures up to 98°F.

Living in California, there aren't big changes in humidity between indoors and outdoors at any time of year.

My limits are more for my instrument's sake than mine -- I've always lived in hot climates, and am perfectly fine exercising outdoors at temperatures as high as 110°F but need a sweater or a coat when it's under 70°F.

August 21, 2022 at 05:37 AM · It isn't the temperature so much as the direct sunlight and dry air that can damage the violin. My main job, as I mention too often, is as a Mariachi violin and singer. During the past two years, partly because of the virus, the majority of our work has been outside on weekend afternoons. Daytime temps in the Sacramento valley easily go to 100. Add the three- piece suits and it can get miserable. The first thing we do is find the spot with the best shade. I have a special violin and synthetic bow for this.

August 21, 2022 at 12:01 PM · I don't play outdoors. The nearest I get to this is playing in the garage, which has no air conditioning. It's warm enough about 8 months each year to play out there, and I take advantage of this every day I can get. Garage temperature is often 85-95 F. in summer.

And summers here in the American Southeast are not only long and hot. They're humid. But my instruments have held up well year after year. One thing that helps is a small table fan on low speed to keep the air moving. It also prevents excessive perspiration buildup on the fingers.

When I was in school, I did some small chamber playing in Michigan one week in late May during a strong heat wave - outdoor afternoon temps about 95 F. And it was humid. We played in an old school gym that had no air conditioning. But we were fine, and so were our instruments. One thing that helped: We ditched the jackets and ties. Not only did this make the heat survivable. It also allowed more freedom of movement. After that, no more jacket and tie for this player.

August 21, 2022 at 02:55 PM · It's much easier to play the piano in hot weather. With the violin, when my hands sweat, I just can't deal with that.

August 21, 2022 at 02:55 PM · I have performed outdoors at 100°F - but it was in the California high desert, in the shade - extremely low humidity. Still not ideal

August 21, 2022 at 06:49 PM · I found a serviceable student violin in good condition in a second-hand shop, for about €20, if memory serves me correctly. It has been up mountains in 38ºC, survived mist and the beginnings of a thunderstorm, and spent nights outside, albeit in the case. Pilar (for such is this dependable instrument's name) has suffered no negative consequences, though a light wash of the neck and fingerboard are necessary afterwards to deal with sweat and sunscreen.

August 21, 2022 at 08:54 PM · I couldn't vote. Living in the UK, the issue has been more: How cold is too cold to play outdoors? I'm not sure that I have enough experience to answer that, but I don't think I was ever forced by the cold to leave other carol singers to sing without my instrumental accompaniment.

August 21, 2022 at 10:23 PM · For me, 60ºF is too cold to play outdoors.

August 22, 2022 at 12:23 AM · I used to worry for my violin but I realized that the biggest danger of playing in heat is probably sunstroke. My violin takes it fine in the sun.

If there's no shade, a really big hat is a must.

August 22, 2022 at 03:13 AM · At the cold end of the scale; while on tour with a band my hotel roommate's previous job was playing tuba in the clown band at the ice capades.

August 22, 2022 at 03:34 AM · I voted 90° because realistically, refusing to play between 85 and 90° in San Antonio wipes out a lot of wedding gigs.

That being said, I think that the follow up question is, do you have a special instrument for outdoor gigs? I would never take my good violin outside in the heat but I have a picnic violin (a decent-sounding Chinese student instrument worth under $2000) which I use for outdoor weddings and other events.

August 22, 2022 at 02:02 PM · I once had a violin lesson in over 40C in cape town. The only lesson that I have had sitting down.

August 23, 2022 at 08:06 PM · A propos Mary Ellen, would anyone consider buying a carbon fibre violin for this kind of thing?

August 24, 2022 at 09:04 PM · My oldest brother was a brilliant materials engineer and his firm was commissioned years ago - I recall it was for a wealthy private customer - to build a set of carbon fibre instruments. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to look at them! Are carbon fibre violins now a thing?

August 25, 2022 at 06:10 AM · John, if I didn’t already have a picnic fiddle and if carbon fiber violins weren’t so expensive, sure.

August 26, 2022 at 03:54 PM · Richard, I think Mary Ellen has already answered your question.

One well known brand of carbon fibre violin is identified by its very name as being suitable for the kind of pioneer conditions that you would encounter on an expedition. Additionally, elsewhere on this website Stuart Rochon reports on his work on CF violin making.

Maybe the world has yet to hear a carbon fibre violin in which the difference in pitch between the plates is between a semitone and a tone (which seems to be a property of the best traditional violins)?

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