Cold weather can play havoc with the pianist’s body – and instrument. Hands suffer in the cold, becoming sore and chapped, and limbs take longer to warm up. Always take time to warm up properly before you play. All of my students coming for lessons over the recent spell of freezing weather in the UK have arrived without gloves and consequently their hands are cold and uncomfortable, absolutely not ideal for playing the piano! I have handcream by the piano and I always wear gloves if I am out when it is cold.
Pianos suffer too. If the central heating is on more frequently than usual, pianos will slip out of tune and some notes may develop an unpleasantly shrill “ring” when struck. Always try to site the piano away from a radiator or heat source, but if this is not possible consider using a protective guard. If you have underfloor heating, the piano should be placed on a heat-reflective mat.
The temperature and relative humidity of the room in which your piano lives is most important to the care and well-being of your instrument. Pianos are made from wood and metal, both materials which expand and contract in relation to moisture and heat/cold. It is worth purchasing a digital hygrometer which will calculate the relative humidity in your home or piano studio. Ideally, it should be no lower than 50% and no higher than 75%. If central heating causes the humidity to drop, you can make a basic humidifier by placing a sponge in a tray of water and inserting this in the case of a grand piano, or in the lower portion of an upright. Or buy an automatic humidifier which sends a light mist into the air and helps regulate the humidity. Keeping houseplants in the same room as the piano can help too. There are also more sophisticated and expensive ways of humidifying your piano, such as the Piano Life Saver.
Look after yourself and your piano and you will both perform better, all year round.
DontCrampYourStyle – warm up exercises factsheet from the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (PDF file)