Do you ever notice how, no matter how often you tune your cello, it always seems to go out of tune?
This is because the cello is made from organic wood from real trees and it expands and contracts due to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The change can be so dramatic between the dry winter season and the wet summer season that you need to have a second, shorter bridge for the summer.
Good intonation is a crucial part of being a good cellist and overall musician and you need to start with a cello that’s in tune!
What happens when it’s hot or cold?
A cello is made of wood. When there is high humidity, it absorbs water and expands; when it is dry, it shrinks.
Hot air carries more humidity so when it’s hot, it is usually humid and the instrument will swell, causing the tuning pegs to be harder to move. This makes cello tuning from the tuning pegs much more difficult.
When it is hot, your cello pitch will go flat. This is particularly noticeable in orchestra, since wind instruments usually get sharper as they heat up. Tune your cello a little sharp at the beginning of the concerto so that you don’t sound flat by the end of the piece!
Cold air doesn’t hold as much water and when it’s cold and dry, the wood will shrink and the tuning pegs may slip completely. You may open your case to find four loose cello strings! It is a pain for any cellist to have to tune the instrument again from scratch!
When it’s cold or you blast the AC, the cello strings will go sharp. Be careful when you are playing with a pianist that you are not getting too sharp!
A good cello tuning temperature range is between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make sure, when practicing in either hot or cold temperatures, you have your cello tuner out so you can find the correct pitch as quickly as possible.
The ideal humidity for a cello
Cellos are very fragile and they prefer stable humidity, ideally 40-60%.
Changes in humidity can greatly change the tuning of the instrument–you may open your case to see all of your tuning pegs loose in the event of a major swing! It is also dangerous for the instrument to experience wild changes in humidity and these can lead to cracks in the wood.
You should keep a humidity meter in your case to make sure it’s safe and keep your eye on your local weather in case there are any major swings in humidity.
It is particularly dangerous for the cello if it becomes too dry and in the event that humidity is under 30%, always use a dampit in your cello.
A cello dampit is easy to use: just soak it in water from the tap, wring it out, dry the surface and then place in your F hole. This will improve the relative humidity of the air around the instrument which will keep the instrument safer and less likely to go completely out of tune.
What if I have to play outdoors?
Playing outdoors is not good for cellos but if you must, make sure to stay out of the sun!
The direct sunlight will damage the varnish and will cause the wood to change shape. The seams may open and the instrument could even crack.
You will notice that your instrument pitch is getting very flat, but that is just the beginning of your troubles. Avoid the direct sun!
Keep your cello tuner out so you can adjust to the correct pitch when necessary.
Can I leave the cello in my car?
Never leave your cello in your car!
Besides being a theft risk, the temperatures can get dangerously low in the winter and hot in the summer.
If you leave it in the car, you can expect the cello strings to be loose when you open the case and you will have to tune your cello from scratch.
The ideal cello tuning temperature range is between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit to keep it as in tune as possible.
If it warms up, your pitch will go flat; if it gets cold your pitch will go sharp.
Never leave it in the car and do your best to avoid playing outdoors. If you must play outdoors, stay out of the direct sun!
If this post helped you in any way, be sure to let us know.
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