Does an instrument "fall asleep" if not played for a while?

I found this discussion opener while searcing for information regarding humidity and temperature's effect on instruments.

Anyone have a comment or thought to share about this?


 Violins "go to sleep" if not played for a long time ...
 30 points by RiderOfGiraffes 538 days ago | comments

 I was chatting with a professional musician the other day, and she said something that caught my interest. Apparently a really good violin will, if not played for a few months, "go to sleep." It's difficult to say exactly what this means, but apparently its tone dies, it becomes "less bright" and, to the professional ear, "sounds sleepy." If played again regularly and frequently for a few weeks it will then gradually "wake up" and become its former self.
Theorists occasionally doubt it and skeptics demand double-blind tests. Practitioners laugh at them. Many have experienced it "first hand."

I hypothesised that the wood contracts and becomes "tighter" when it's left alone, and that the vibration of playing will open up the texture. She hypothesised that the glue will expand while playing, and when left alone will tighten up.

However, I've looked around a little and it's apparently a well-recognised phenomenon.

I would never have guessed, and found it interesting.

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It's one of those things that is frequently seen but seldom well explained.  There are two recognised circumstances.  A newly made instrument can 'open up'.  This is attributed to the wood, joints, and other components settling into their final positions.  An instrument is also said to 'wake up' after a period of idleness when it suddenly seems to change its character.  Sometimes they seem to become louder and more reponsive.  Waking up is often observed right while the instrument is being played.  It is believed to happen mostly with stringed instruments, especially violins, mandolins, and other smaller, high-voiced instruments including the BP.  The phenomonon is reported less frequently with larger instruments such as upright basses and pianos, but it does seem to occur.


There are now on the market several electronic devices intended to speed the 'opening up' process or to quickly 'wake up' and instrument that has 'fallen asleep'.  They generally work by vibrating the instrument at specific frequencies.  Their use remains somewhat controversial.

I find this fascinating, it helps you understand that wood is alive, needs attention and care.

That it needs care is a good point indeed.  We should realize that wood, as an organic material, decomposes over time.  Our task is to slow that decomposition.  With proper care an instrument can thrive for hundreds of years (such as the Stradivarius violins), and wooden objects can survive millenia (such as items discovered in Egyptian tombs).


In most discussions on humidification you'll read about keeping enough water in the wood.  But from time to time someone will point out that an instrument can be over-humidified.  Having things too wet will speed the decomposition process.

good point about the wood not being alive....yes orgainic is the correct word, I forget that our food is generally dead (: P) but still organic.

It does seem hard to understand responsiveness in something dead though. Although some of the "response" is from the manufactured part of the instrument, not just the wood itself.

I think I'm babbling, it is time for bed.....good night all you wonderful psalterists!

I also found this interesting and it makes sense.
Most of the controversy about this stems from the fact that it's not seen every time.  I have one mandolin that appears to 'wake up' nearly every time I play it.  I have other instruments that sound just the same year after year.  There are so many variables involved that I doubt anyone will ever have a definitive answer.  It's important to note that one of the first things the critics point out is that the wood of your instrument is indeed organic, but not alive.  The part of the tree used for the lumber died long ago; only the outermost 'cambrian' layer beneath the bark of a tree is living tissue. The kilning and drying processes further assure that the wood is quite dead. The effects of humidification are well understood but don't necessarily have anything to do with the opening and waking phenomenon.  A properly humidified instrument can 'go to sleep' as can one that is dried out.

I like to think the musician is all important piece of the puzzle that brings a wooden box with metal strings back to life.  This happens each time they take it in their hands and use it as a tool to express their feelings through the music they play.  That probably won't begin to happen until well into the learning process, but I think everyone is capable of experiencing that in their own way. 

I think the same goes for an artist and brush, woodcarver and chisel, author and word processor, and a chef and kitchen.  Just a tool of choice to speak whatever language they choose and are passionate about.  This passion is what can bring these inanimate objects to life. 

In reading the rest of the discussion that Donna got the beginning post from, it seemed that every time someone posted their thoughts, the next poster had a problem with it.  Even to the point of anger or hurt feelings.  It looked like it was, and will continue to be, a controversial subject that would be hard to prove either way. 

Everyone go get their psaltery out and play a few tunes, good for the psaltery and better for you :-)  

I really like your sentiments Rick, it does require the person playing the instrument to truly bring it to life anyway.

I read that thread also, people were pretty opinionated on this subject. Sometimes it's hard for folks to simply "discuss" and share their ideas, it often becomes a matter of winning or losing, which is really sad.

I think this happens with my electric guitar too, and I've noticed that at least part of the effect in that is caused by a loosening of the strings where they cross the nut (guitarists will know what I mean!) However, I've not noticed the phenomenon with my psaltery, and I'm not familiar with violins. I will ask my friend who plays violin, she is full of sound advice.
Yes they go to sleep, they are not tuned to wake up in time lol lol
Oh Barb!!!  


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