Recently, I could not find my hygrometer, the handy little instrument I use to track of humidity in my study where I keep my grand piano. My first instinct was that Cal and Mena had swiped the hygrometer as an addition to one of their play forts.
During my childhood in Tucson, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, my father often used to lose track of his hairbrush, an interesting problem because he was bald on the top, with little hair on the sides. “Where’s my hairbrush?” Dad bellowed some mornings. After running into his bedroom, I would point out the hairbrush plain as day on top of the vanity. “Right, thanks,” Dad had said.
When I could not find my hygrometer, I was panicked because we were well into November, the month when house interiors become dry from heating systems. Fortunately, I had learned from my father’s mistakes on this score, so I did not scream out, “Where’s my hygrometer?”
“Have you seen my hygrometer?” I asked Cal in a calm voice. He found it for me behind some piano books, apparently where I had discarded it during the humid summer months.
Part of the package of being a student of adult piano lessons is maintaining our piano. This time around, we’re the adults in the house, so we can’t rely on parents to take care of those nettlesome issues while we focus on perfecting the D-flat scale and arpeggios. A shame, because one of the bugaboos of having a passion for classical piano music and being a student of adult piano lessons is lack of practice time. When we signed up for our first adult piano lesson, none of us had budgeted time for rinsing a humidifier with vinegar.
I’ll let the experts from the Piano Technicians Guild explain why maintaining stable humidity is important: “Seasonal and even daily changes in humidity cause wood parts to swell and shrink, affecting tuning stability and touch. Extreme swings in humidity can eventually cause wood to crack and glue joints to fail.”
Yep, that’s pretty convincing.
From November through March, if you are located in the Northern Hemisphere, tracking and often adding humidity to the room where your piano is located is essential. This guideline holds even if you live in a region where the outside winter weather is humid, because most indoor heating systems are drying. Luckily, once you get your humidification system set up, the process is bearable.
Invest in a hygrometer
Data is your friend, I used to tell my staff when I worked in marketing, and that certainly holds true for understanding the humidity level in your piano room. I purchased an inexpensive hygrometer—an analog model by Western Digital that has an antique look, appropriate since many students of adult piano lessons have an old-fashioned side to their personalities—and I keep it on my desk nearby the piano. For the first year, I checked the hygrometer often, and I discovered that humidity was really only a problem when the temperature outside dropped below 35 degrees. It’s worth the effort to understand those patterns in your home.
Purchase a humidifier
Some experts might recommend a central system, but I have enjoyed tremendous success with my warm-mist in-room humidifier. My model is a Slant Fin, although there are many other models on the market that also receive high ratings. A good warm-mist in-room humidifier will run you about $100 as of this writing.
Maintain the humidity between 40% and 60%
This is a good target, recognizing that some circumstances like travel or extra holiday shopping can sometimes crimp realization of this goal. The good news is that maintaining humidity within this band will not only protect your piano, but will also reduce the likelihood of coming down with a cold, the flu, or a sinus infection, because proper humidity keeps the respiratory system healthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this level of humidity is also best for preventing mold from growing in your home. John Weiss of Steinway and Sons in Paramus, New Jersey, advises that the humidity in your piano room should not drop below 35%.
Keep the humidifier clean
Where did I put my book of Czerny exercises again? This weekly task can be a pain, but is bearable once you get in the groove. Most humidifiers can be cleaned with vinegar and warm water, and I have also heard that some filters can be soaked overnight in vinegar, lowering your maintenance costs.
As I write this, my humidifier is bubbling along, chugging out a warm mist, and my hygrometer reads 45%, not bad considering the arctic weather we’ve had here the past two weeks in the Northeast. The only thing is, where’s my hairbrush?