Do Brass Instruments Go Flat In The Cold (And Sharp When Hot)?

Playing in extreme temperatures can be difficult. Your pitch may sound incredibly sharp or flat, even if your tuning slide is in its normal place.

It’s best to keep your instrument in a temperature-controlled environment. Constantly playing outside may cause damage later on.

Players who participate in marching band will need to adjust their pitch to account for temperature changes.

Let’s talk about how temperature affects the pitch of brass instruments:

Here’s How Temperature Affects the Pitch of Brass Instruments:

Brass instruments will face intonation problems in extreme temperatures. Their pitches will sound sharp in the heat and flat in the cold. Players can compensate for this by firming or relaxing their embouchure. They can also move their tuning slide to prepare for the effects of temperature changes.

Why Does Temperature Affect the Pitch of Brass Instruments?

All instruments are commonly out of tune when playing in extreme temperatures.

Usually, brass instruments will be sharp in the heat and flat in the cold. Every player experiences this issue, so there’s no need to be concerned when it happens to you.

These intonation changes are due t0 how fast sound is moving through the air. Different air temperatures affect the way we hear sounds.

As temperature rises, the speed of sound in the air increases. This is why brass players will be sharper in the heat.

Similarly, the speed of sound in the air decreases as temperature decreases. In low temperatures, a brass instrument will sound flatter.

Additionally, cold and hot weather could cause your instrument to contract or expand. This usually affects woodwind instruments the most but could have some effect on brass instruments.

With extreme temperature and moisture, brass instruments can expand or shrink. This will affect its quality of sound and intonation.

Brass instruments won’t warp or crack with temperature changes, but temperatures will alter their pitch.

How Much Can Temperature Affect the Pitch?

For every one degree increase in temperature, the speed of sound will also increase.

This speed is increasing by .06 meters per second for every one degree. Because of this, the pitch of an instrument changes.

As temperature increases by one degree, the pitch changes by 3 cents. This isn’t enough to make a player move their tuning slide, but it will affect intonation.

The same process happens with decreasing temperature. You should expect your brass instrument to decrease in pitch by 3 cents for every one-degree decrease.

When facing extreme temperatures, this could cause many issues in intonation, especially when playing in an ensemble. Marching bands frequently struggle to maintain a common pitch in hot or cold weather.

To avoid long-term issues with your instruments, make sure to store them at room temperature. In warm environments, brass instruments may grow bacteria or start to corrode.

After playing in extreme environments, store your instrument in a temperature-controlled space. Although brass instruments aren’t as affected by temperature and humidity, long-term exposure could cause serious damage.

Does This Cause Problems in Warm and Cold Weather?

Intonation matters the most when playing in a group.

If you are participating in a marching band, cold and hot weather could cause serious issues. It is very difficult to have a cohesive intonation with many players in extreme weather.

If you are playing a solo, this might not be a serious issue. When playing by yourself, you don’t have to worry as much about intonation.

Differences in pitch become a problem when two or more players attempt to play the same pitch.

How Do Players Overcome This Issue?

For brass players, intonation is controlled and changed using the embouchure.

Brass players have to manipulate their embouchure to fix issues with pitch.

If your pitch is flat, you could try firming up your embouchure or making the oral cavity smaller. This will increase your pitch, hopefully making your instrument back in tune.

It would be best if you did the opposite when your pitch is sharp. You can relax your embouchure and make the oral cavity bigger. This will effectively decrease your pitch, bringing it back to the center.

Although these changes can fix intonation, they could harm your tone. When you firm your embouchure, your pitch could become bright. Loosening the embouchure could cause an under-supported tone.

Players can also change the vowel shape of their embouchure. When your pitch is too sharp, change the mouth shape from “ah” to “oh.” The pitch will decrease.

To move pitch higher, change your mouth shape from “ah” to “ee.” This will make your pitch sharper, centering your intonation.

With any of these vowel changes, make sure to keep your air fast and consistent. This is needed when maintaining a good tone quality.

You could also move your tuning slide. If you know that you’re playing in a cold environment, move your tuning slide out further than normal. This can prevent any tuning issues. You can do the same when in a hot environment.

Having your tuning slide in a normal position may not be the right choice. Although you can alter your intonation with embouchure changes, this should only be for small adjustments. To fix intonation about 10 cents or more, move your tuning slide.

Brass players should also practice Remington exercises to center their pitch. A player goes through descending and ascending pitches during these, looking at a tuner to stay in tune.

You should notice the pitch tendencies of each note.

Can Cold Weather Damage Brass Instruments?

Unlike woodwind instruments, brass instruments aren’t likely to be damaged from cold weather.

They could face slight mechanical issues but rarely have long-term damage.

For woodwinds, cold weather could cause cracks. The process is similar to pouring hot water into a frozen glass, as the temperature differences damage the glass.

If woodwind players don’t blow warm air into their instrument before taking it into cold weather, the body could face serious warping or cracking.

Fortunately, brass players don’t need to worry about this issue as much. Brass instruments are tougher than most and won’t have much lingering damage from cold weather or rain.

There could be some minor damage, though. Extremely cold weather could freeze the moisture in the valves or slides. Different parts of the instrument could swell or shrink.

Any moveable part of the instrument is more likely to stick in cold weather.

These minor damages usually aren’t very serious. To warm a brass instrument, brass players can sit in a warm room and blow some warm air into their instrument.

This will usually cause all of the parts to move normally again.

Final Thoughts

Playing in hot or cold weather can be a frustrating experience.

Brass players frequently become too sharp in the heat and too flat in the cold. For players who perform outside, like in marching bands, it’s important to know how to fix these issues.

Brass players can fix small intonation issues by firming or relaxing their embouchure. They can also move their tuning slides to prepare for pitch problems.

As a brass player, you probably won’t face too much damage due to extreme temperatures. You won’t have to worry about the cracking or warping that temperature causes in woodwind instruments.

After playing in extreme temperatures, remember to store your instrument in a temperature-controlled environment.

Your brass instrument might not face problems when played in the heat, but make sure not to leave it in your car! Extended exposure could create long-term issues.

Sources

Is My Band Instrument Sensitive to Temperature?

The Effect of Temperature Changes on a Brass Instrument

How the Cold Affects Your Instrument & How to Protect It

Pitch and Intonation