I am often asked by new students why they should use rosin on their bows. In fact, what is rosin, what does it do and how should it be applied? Learning to hold the bow and drawing it across the strings to produce the sound is quite a feat, and often can be frustrating for a beginner. However, learning how to rosin a violin bow is well within your reach, and is an important skill to learn.
So, What Exactly is Rosin and How Does it Differ From Resin?
Resin is a sap that is extracted from trees such as pine or other conifers. There is a process by which this resin is heated then poured into molds and cooled. Once it has hardened, it is removed from the molds and we now have rosin ready for your violin bow.
Please be aware though, that the rosin is very brittle and can easily break if dropped on the floor! I have often heard the cries of anguish in symphony orchestra rehearsals when someone has shattered their newly acquired, and expensive, rosin.
Having said that, rosin does not necessarily have to be expensive, and the price can vary enormously. I have seen some brands sell for as little as $1.29, but I would question the quality of rosin at this price. Some brands can cost over $50. For most of us though, somewhere under $20 would suffice.
A New Bow is Unlikely to Have Rosin On It
If you are buying or renting a violin and bow, often in a kit, ask the store if the bow has been rosined already and, is rosin included in the kit? If the bow has no rosin, then you will unlikely to be able to produce much sound, and the bow can easily skate across the strings.The hair actually comes from horses’ tails, and when first attached to a bow, it is quite shiny and smooth. The rosin is a little sticky to touch, and this creates some friction and helps the hair grip the strings.
Knowing exactly how much rosin to use is really a matter for each individual violinist. In general terms, using a lot of rosin will tend to produce a very quick response with the strings, but could produce a slightly scratchy sound. Less rosin will be less responsive, but may produce a slightly warmer sound. In time, a violinist will be able to get a feel for how much rosin they prefer.
There are Many Different Types of Rosin
Violinists tend to use light colored rosins which are lighter in stickiness. The darker colored rosins are preferred by cellists and bass players. Interestingly, there is also a “Magic Rosin”. This is a high quality rosin made with ingredients that cause it to be almost clear. The manufacturer has placed designs or photos under the rosin giving it a certain fun element.
How Do You Actually Apply Rosin?
First of all, tighten the bow hairs by turning the screw at the end. If you try to rosin the bow before tightening them, this can cause damage and even break the hairs. Start at the frog and slowly pass the full length of the bow all the way to the tip and back again to the frog. Repeat this process as often as necessary.
The number of repetitions will be determined by how much rosin is already on the bow. And also by your own particular preference as to the responsiveness and sound quality required. Some cakes of rosin are circular. It is important to regularly rotate the rosin so you wear down the surface equally, and you don’t produce a groove. This can cause the rosin to break in half and is now, prematurely, unusable.
After you have been playing for several minutes, you will see rosin dust accumulate on the strings and fall on to the belly of the violin. At the end of every practice session, rehearsal, or concert, be sure to wipe down the violin and strings with a soft cloth. This will help preserve the strings and prevent erosion to the varnish. Don’t forget to also wipe the stick of the bow.
How Often Should I Rosin My Violin Bow?
I am often asked how frequently I should rosin my bow? This is really determined by a number of factors. As previously mentioned, personal preference comes into play. Do you want that quick response or are you going for a warm sound with less rosin? How many hours a day are you playing? Professional orchestral violinists can easily be playing for 6 hours or more every day. In which case you are likely to need to rosin your bow every day you play, often more than once a day. If you are a student practicing for perhaps 30 minutes a day then you may not need to do it so frequently. In due course, with experience, you will be able to feel when the time is right.
Of course, after a while, the hair will outlive its usefulness, and will need to be replaced. This is the time for a trip to your local luthier for a rehair, and no amount of rosin will help you now. Holding the bow and producing a beautiful sound may have its frustrations, but rosining the bow will soon become effortless and second nature. Good luck and keep up the good work!