Whether you’re a beginner or professional viola player, it’s important to educate yourself on the basics of viola maintenance so you can keep your instrument sounding and playings its best. Just like a car requires oil changes and regular maintenance, your viola also needs special attention and adjustments every now and then–not to mention frequent cleanings and proper storage. From managing humidity to investing in a high-quality case, here are a few general viola maintenance tips to help you get started. If you have specific questions, talk to your viola teacher or head to your local Music & Arts store today.
Changes in Temperature and Humidity
As the climate changes from warm to cold and back to warm again, you’ll be presented with several challenges when it comes to taking care of your viola. Since the viola is manufactured from wood and other organic materials, they expand when heated and contract when cooled. If you don’t keep your viola in a climate controlled environment at all times, your viola can literally start to fall apart at the seams. If you hear an unusual buzzing coming from your instrument, it could be the result of an open seam caused by chilly temperatures. Since cooler temperatures often accompany dry air conditions, you’ll also need to protect your instrument from low levels of humidity. To do so, invest in a humidifier–some are designed to fit in your case, while others rest in your viola’s F holes. In general, if the temperature is either too hot or cold for your own comfort, it’s also not good for your viola.
Keep the Bow in Good Shape
Some think of the bow as an accessory, but it’s actually a pretty important part of your viola: without it, you won’t be able to produce sound. Always loosen the hair on your bow after each and every use, even if you only play for half an hour. This helps avoid the risk of it warping and losing camber. Additionally, the bow should be rosined regularly. For students, it’s probably sufficient to rosin the bow once a week, while those who play their viola more often should rosin their bow more often. If you notice a white gunk that’s starting to build up on your bow, you’re using too much rosin. Finally, you’ll need to regularly re-hair your bow to maintain the best sound possible. In general, most viola players re-hair their bow every 3-6 months; less often if you’re not a very active player. When playing and handling your viola bow, never touch the horsehair on your bow with your hands. The oils from your skin will damage the hair, and can actually take away its ability to grab the strings over time.
Store Your Viola Properly
When your viola is not being played or is being transported from place to place, always store it in a hardshell case. Whatever you do, don’t leave your instrument in your car. Not only does this increase its chances of being stolen, but exposing your instrument to intense heat or cold can cause an instrument to come apart or crack, and will definitely cause it to fall out of tune more quickly. To avoid exposing your instrument to sudden changes in temperature and humidity, travel with your viola in the backseat of your car instead of in the trunk. When inserting your viola into its case, make sure you securely lock the bow in place and remove the shoulder rest before closing the case. If you’re careless with your instrument, you could end up with costly repair bills. Even with proper storage and maintenance, your viola will need to be adjusted by a luthier–it’s unavoidable. During an adjustment, they’ll check your viola for open seams, inspect the sound post, and evaluate the condition of the bridge.
Learn How to Clean It
You’re probably familiar with the phrase “wash your hands before you eat”. Well, the same goes for playing the viola. By washing your hands before you pick up your viola, you’ll be protecting its varnish from the residue and chemicals on your fingers and hands. Over time, this residue can wear away at the finish, affecting the sound and longevity of your instrument. Keep a lint-free cloth inside your case, and wipe off all the rosin dust and dirt from your instrument after each use. Never use furniture polish or alcohol to clean your instrument–if you want something “stronger” than a cloth, always purchase a special cleaning solution that was designed with the viola in mind. As long as you regularly clean your instrument with a dry cloth, you’ll have performed the first (and easiest!) step in proper viola maintenance. Finally, never attempt to tune your viola on your own without first being taught by your teacher. If you aren’t careful, you may damage the instrument or break the strings.