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Rosin is a substance which all violinists need to play the violin. It makes the otherwise smooth, silky bow hairs sticky and ready to vibrate your violin’s strings. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to make a sound at all!
There are a few key tidbits of information that will help any beginner use rosin to their advantage. Let’s explore what goes into making rosin, what type of rosin is best, and all about how to apply rosin effectively to make the best sound possible!
How is rosin made?
When introducing rosin for the first time to my students, I always ask them if they have ever touched tree sap. If they have, they know that it is very sticky (often annoyingly so!). I then explain that rosin is actually made of tree sap, so it is also sticky. Specifically, rosin is made by taking the liquid resin from pine trees and pouring it into molds of various shapes and sizes. The resin is allowed to cool, at which point it solidifies and becomes the rosin that we can apply to our bows!
What type of rosin is best?
There are many different brands and types of rosin out there. The biggest choice you’ll find yourself making is between light and dark rosin. I personally find that light rosin is a better choice for violin, and I always recommend it to my students. It tends to feel smoother and lighter on the bow, which works well on the violin because of its thinner strings (when compared to a cello, for example).
My personal favorite brand of rosin is Bernardel. I always buy mine off of Amazon at this link. I find it to be very reasonably priced for a higher-tier rosin (some professional rosins can cost over $30!). It is very light and smooth, which is my preference for rosin.
However, if you are a beginner, whatever rosin you can get your hands on should be fine. Rarely, my students have bought super cheap violins off of Amazon and they come with what is essentially unusable rosin. Excluding that situation, your everyday rosin at the local music store should do just fine.
My local music store carries D’Addario light rosin, and I’ve found it to work beautifully for my students. You can also find this on Amazon here.
How often should I rosin my bow?
A common problem I see with my students is the tendency to over rosin their bows. Sometimes, their school orchestra teachers even tell them to rosin every time they play. The truth is that we really don’t need that much rosin! While too little rosin is clearly a bad thing, too much rosin is a problem, too!
If you have a bow that is either brand new or just got a re-hair, this is the one time you will need to rosin it up like crazy – probably for a few minutes straight. It just takes a lot of time to get enough rosin on brand new bow hairs. However, if your bow has been sufficiently rosined before, it won’t need rosin that often. How often really depends on how much you play. I only apply rosin to my bow every few weeks, and even then, it’s not a lot of rosin. Maybe ten swipes or so and I’m good.
Signs you need to rosin your bow
While I find that I rosin my bow every few weeks, I definitely don’t do it on a specific routine. Instead, it is better to wait for your bow to tell you it needs rosin. Although it won’t literally shout this out to you, your bow will definitely give you signs when it needs rosin.
If you already play violin, you will know that having enough rosin on your bow helps it to grip the strings and not slip around. Of course, sloppy technique (such as a crooked bow) can cause the slipping problem, too. However, as long as your technique is solid, your bow should grip the strings pretty well most of the time. When your bow starts to slip more than usual, you will know that you need to apply some rosin. With just a few swipes, your bow will get back to the right level of stickiness. Again, don’t rosin too much. If you find you need a bit more after rosining, you can always add some!
Another sign your bow needs rosin is if the hair looks yellow. Sufficiently rosined bow hair looks fairly white. This is because rosin becomes a sort of white powder when it is applied to the bow. In contrast, without much rosin, the horse hair is a dull yellow color. So, if your hair looks very yellow, it can definitely be an indicator that it needs to be rosined.
How to know if you used too much rosin
We talked about what a bow feels like when it needs rosin. But what does a bow sound like when it has too much rosin? Simply put, your bow will feel overly sticky and, more importantly, it will sound extremely scratchy. It sounds a bit like you are playing too close to the bridge all the time, even though you are not. It is a very abrasive sound. You might even see some white powder (the excess rosin) flying off your bow as it is drawn across the strings.
So, what do you do if your bow has too much rosin? Honestly, the best approach is usually to just “play it off” your bow. Essentially, just practice until the rosin wears off a bit. You will need to wipe off your violin strings frequently, too. This will help prevent excess rosin from building up on them (this can also cause a scratchy tone). Another faster option to take off the excess rosin is to wipe a very clean cloth along the length of the bow hairs a few times. This will take off most of the excess pretty quickly. However, I don’t usually recommend this, as it’s best not to touch the bow hairs at all if you can help it.
How to rosin your bow
Now, you might be wondering: how do I rosin my bow? Is there a wrong way to do it? Fortunately, the process is quite simple. Ideally, you want to press your bow firmly against the rosin cake and draw it along from the frog to the tip. You should cover the entire length of the bow hair. Then, go the reverse direction, from the tip to the frog. You want to apply the rosin evenly to the entire bow, so avoid rosining back and forth on small segments of the hair.
One other important fact is that rosin does not need to be scratched. Unless your rosin is of extremely low quality, it will apply to your bow just fine without scratching. With a new cake of rosin, just make sure you press your bow firmly against it as you swipe. You should see the glossy finish of the new rosin start to turn foggy in certain spots. This is how you can tell that it’s working.
How can I keep my rosin from breaking?
So, one thing I haven’t mentioned about rosin is… it’s extremely fragile. Worse than glass. I can’t tell you how many times I have witnessed broken rosin. Luckily, it is relatively inexpensive to replace. However, it’s a terrible feeling when you go to rosin your bow, only to drop your rosin and see it shatter into a million pieces.
I have kept individual rosin cakes for as long as five years. They get to the point that they’re so thin, they finally split in half and I need a new one (see below). So how do I keep it in one piece for so long? My biggest rule is that I don’t let anyone else touch my rosin. If anyone asks me to borrow it, I simply rosin their bow for them. I learned this lesson in high school, when a friend of mine handed her rosin to another classmate, and he immediately dropped it. Of course, the rosin shattered. The floor was even carpeted! Rosin is just so fragile, so I prefer to handle it myself.
You’ll also want to keep your rosin in a secure spot in your case, where it won’t be jostled around too much when you are carrying it. Wrapping it in a cloth or putting it in a little cardboard box can help to protect it more. Most rosin will come with this sort of thing, depending on the brand.
That should be all you need to know about rosin! While it is a simple part of playing the violin, it is definitely also a very necessary part. Applying just the right amount of rosin to your bow will make a huge difference to your playing!
Please let me know if I missed any important tips in the comments below! Thanks, and happy violining!