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Relative humidity vs loudness


vlnclo

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Good afternoon, or whatever it is where you are:

I was wondering what, if any, the relationship is between relative humidity and loudness. I've tried to test it but, short of using s sound level meter, I can't determine the level from one time to another. .Maybe a better way of saying it is, how does relative humidity affect response.? I will appreciate whatever insight you can offer.

 

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Humidity affects response in that it swells the plates and that loosens the post. The tightness of the post changes the response. What happens depends on where you started with your post, tight, right, or loose.

But response is not loudness. Which are you really asking about?

And for that matter, what's your definition of response?

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What are you hearing across the frequencies?

One of my DG patterns looses a significant amount of higher frequencies under humid ( summer ) conditions. What makes the bias of losing the sheen/ sparkle of the higher notes worse, is that the lower frequencies become more full- bodied. The rolling off the higher frequencies becomes steeper, so it seems. Most of my instruments feel the effects of humidity but there are a few, that sound warm in a cold dry room, that feel muted and lack clarity ( as one might define it ) in an ensemble. Very few sound muddy or muddied up, but each instrument behaves a bit differently.

There is much to learn from this, however frustrating. It is difficult to articulate without the higher frequency information, especially in quieter passages, so one must adapt their playing a bit ( bowing a lot ) reducing vibrato amplitude, possibly playing closer to the bridge on the upper, if not all, strings. 

In a pinch, a thicker e- string might be a short cut. But one must, again, adjust their playing.

Out here on the westcoast, driving inland a few hours can have an opposite effect from relatively high moisture to low teen or single digit humidity. These rapid change in conditions create other difficulties or dangers.

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18 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

Humidity affects response in that it swells the plates and that loosens the post. The tightness of the post changes the response. What happens depends on where you started with your post, tight, right, or loose.

But response is not loudness. Which are you really asking about?

And for that matter, what's your definition of response?

Humidity does a lot more to the violin than tightness of the sound post.

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Humidity increases the moisture content of the wood, which does at least 2 things:

-Increased damping:  absorbs energy, primarily high frequencies, making the violin quieter and duller.

-Lowers mode frequenciers: deeper and slightly tubbier 

The increased humidity will also make the wood expand crossgrain, doing stuff to arching and post tightness with tonal effects I can't rightly speculate about.

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15 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

You are right, but the tightness of the soundpost is a huge factor in playability and sound and the one thing you can very easily fix when it goes wrong.

Agree, but I have also seen fiddlers "frantically" moving the sound post around (destroying the top) in late summer, when the problem is the fiddle, that usually sounds fine, except in summer when they usually play.

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There is another factor you guys may want to think about regarding humidity apart from the humidity within the instrument itself.

When the air around you becomes humid, it means there are more water molecules and the air becomes more dense.  

Sound travels differently through humidity.  

Perhaps the humidity in the air around you is also affecting the way you are hearing the instrument.  This could certainly play a factor in "responsiveness" as well.

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I don't know the technical reasons why, although this thread has helped me learn about it! But I can say without a doubt that my viola (and the previous one) sound better and are easier to play when the humidity is a on the higher side. Here in NM it can get extremely dry - sometimes down into the single digits during the winter. It is more reasonable in the summer but still dry compared with most places. So what I notice is that when the relative humidity drops to the low 20s, and if I'm playing outside, the instrument is less responsive and feels/sounds "pinched". It takes more work to get a good sound and to project well. Humidity comes up past 25% or so and especially when approaching 30%, voila! <grin> it plays like a dream. The comments about the sound post length make a lot of sense, but I don't plan to do as some players do with a "winter" and a "summer" sound post. This seems to be more common with cellists since the instrument is so much larger and therefore the dimensional changes are bigger. 

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17 minutes ago, violinnewb said:

Again, not to sound like a broken record player, but how do you guys know that its the humidity's effect on the instrument itself and not the sound traveling through the humidity?

You are absolutely correct. It is/ can be both. Larger the hall, greater the roll off of the higher frequencies, most of the time. In some studios, air conditioning is often required, but due to the added air flow introducing noise, it is might be slowed and baffled to be nearly passive. But it is noticeable ( sonically? ) on playback when players are fresh, compared to being in a sauna. 

I have been in Boston at one of the most famous shoe box halls where it sounded dead and memorably strange. During a hot summer. The trumpets sounded like socks were stuffed into their bells - well not that bad or stinky.

The trauma on the player's end is that the instrument sounds and feels different. Or another player's. In chamber performance, if the 1st violin is suffering, the adjustments come quick. Warmer, quieter, smoother.

Don't need to explain that some players are ungrateful for these adaptations. 

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@violinnewb   Presumably the sound moving three inches of air to the player's ear will not be too much affected by humidity in that air, nor will the physical feel of playing the instrument (bow vs string) be affected by the surrounding wet air. Which is not to say that humidity in the air doesn't play an effect the farther the ears (i.e., in the audience) from the instrument. But there are definite effects beyond the ability of air to transmit and dampen sound.

That  I can adjust out many close-up effects, and correct the varying tensions of the post under the influence of different humidities (something which can be felt through the post setter) does confirm that the instrument itself is changing, and this needs to be addressed, and can be. And there are also characteristics that aren't directly humidity-in-the-air based, but which are purely post tension issues which necessarily change when the instrument/post relationship changes under different influences of the weather, and these can be adjusted completely, as needed.

If what's required is to make you sound like you're slogging through mud, I can do that in the middle of the driest winter. . .  if that's what you want. No humidity required. There are many different things going on here beyond water in the air. But yes, water in the air also has an effect.

I'm still waiting for someone to define their personal use of the word "response". I know a couple of different ones, myself, and am always looking for more. 

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Would it be possible to start with ( and help me out players ) the idea that this can be broken down to at least two ( not including bowing ) parts .

One is from the player's feel in the hands/ hearing/ feel ( body, ) and that of the audience?

There is the attack, of the produced sound. This is deceptive from a player standpoint, as we also feel residual effects of the sudden muscular stresses. If there is sonic reverberation, there can be also bodily "reverberations."

Then the sustained tone that can be shaped or the instrument that resist the shaping/ shading tonally.

Without getting into the basics of the defining early analog synthesizer shaping, the ADSR, how well the instrument can sustain a note through the bow change or the wonderful ( musical? ) end to a phrase/ note, where the sound is not clipped.

This process is difficult as the discussion rarely gets past the immediacy of a coaching session or lesson.

Is it possible to start here? The instrument side... the bow side is another aspect/ consideration. Would the bow be the action ( input ) side while the instrument ( function, ) thought of as, the response side? Then expand?

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What violinnewb and mbrancalion said. To answer OP: why not use a phone app? I routinely use a NIOSH loudness app, which can be calibrated.   Of course microphones vary, but if you are consistently measuring differences only, exact calibration doesn't matter much.   I also use a spectrum analyzer app, which is probably crude, in terms of accuracy, but repeatable and very fun to play with.  Does show interesting differences (mostly used for various sources and different speakers) and proving to people that what they think is deep bass is actually mid bass or higher.  

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The MC influences the dimensions of wood different in the three principal directions. So an increase will lead to a "wider" plate, if it can widen. On a rib it may lead to a rising arch. The density goes up, the E-modules and G-module goes down, and the damping increases. I think there are larger changes from about 60% RH and up than below. Some irreversible creep may happen, and more so above about 60% RH.

Changing the E-moduli, (the stiffness of the wood), density, loss factor (damping) and the shape of the arch, will all have an influence on the instrument sound spectrum. Most important for the high frequencies are probably the influence on the bridge, I guess. 

Increased damping give somewhat weaker response. I think the effects may be audible. A more moist violin will act as if it was a little larger, more bass, but probably a little less loud in the mid- and higher range. Some instruments are better when exposed to more moist and vice versa. At least the difference may be interesting tonally to some. 

The fingerboard may "drop" from MC increase so it may affect the "playability" of he fiddle. Pegs can get stuck. Usually a stable climate is preferable for all factors. But hard to avoid.

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Yes! Humidity also affects bow hairs and grip.  I know this from personal experience.  Its interesting that this topic came up when it did.  

The other day, I was teaching a student at their house.  I kept hearing a ringing sound from the violin and couldn't figure out where it came from.  Then, I plyed on my violin and the same ringing sound.  Turns out, the ceiling fan, even on low, was pushing enough air in the direction of our instruments that the sound was really wonky.  

I agree if humidity in the air might be a component, that you could move to a drier area to see if removing that variable makes a difference. But this is not always an easy task.  I was in Japan recently and trying out violins.  The main show room was humid as heck.  I asked for a smaller room and that room had direct AC and much drier.  The same violins sounded different.  Not by much, but enough to notice.

As to "response."  I too am curious about what that means.  Response of sound production under the fingers? Response as in any appreciable lag when sound travels through humidity?  Response as in bow and fingers feel sluggish?

My last thought is this: Perhaps another reason that humidity may affect a violin's sound is simply because humidity is gross and I feel crappy playing on humid days.  For me, heat and humidity play a definite psychological role in my playing lol.

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I live in a place very dry in winter and very humid in summer.

A thing that i've experimented often is that when it's humid the violin is more "firm" in sound emission. Sound comes out with more "trouble", as if there was a brake.
But playing more and more, especially in an intense and romantic way, after some time it starts to play more fluently.

So, it's a so called "matter of squashing out more and more notes" from the instrument... :)

 

 

Regarding hair: recently i saw that in summer (=humid) i started to like more and more the dark version of Millant-Deroux rosin. And i am a rosin collector, i have many of them.
But for some strange reasons, that dark rosin works well for me (and a friend) in summer.

 

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