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During lessons, music teachers (including myself) tend to focus mostly on proper technique and the correct way of doing things. However, it can be very useful to know what NOT to do with your violin, too! Violins are especially fragile instruments. There is a lot that can go wrong if you don’t know how to handle them properly. Let’s take a closer look.
What not to do #1: Drop your violin
You’d think this one would be obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times my students drop their violins or bows in lessons. Honestly, it’s a great idea to have a carpet on the floor of a lesson room for this reason. I still remember my orchestra teacher in elementary school telling me to hold my violin as if it were a baby. That really is a great way to think about it! Similar to a baby, violins are very fragile. If you drop it, it is certainly possible to do irreparable harm.
When resting, the best way to hold your violin is by the neck (this is of course where the baby comparison stops!). If your hand does happen to slip, the scroll and pegs will catch in the grip of your hand. This will prevent the violin from actually falling. If you have a wood bow, you should also take great care not to drop it. However, bows which are made of carbon fiber or fiberglass are much more durable. Despite this, I still would not recommend dropping them if you can help it!
What not to do #2: Touch your bow hairs
This one definitely is not common sense outside of the violin world, so it’s important to know! If you have ever used a bow with brand new hair that has never touched rosin, you will know that it will hardly make a sound when drawn across your violin strings. Rosin is that magical substance which causes the strings to vibrate when the bow moves against them. Since rosin is made from tree sap, it is very sticky. This causes the bow to stick to the strings when it touches them.
Now let’s think of a substance that isn’t sticky – oil! We almost always have some oils present on the surface of our skin, even our fingers. If oil gets transferred to the bow hair, it will counteract the effect of the rosin and your bow won’t grip the strings as well. If enough oil gets on there, you will need to either clean the hair with rubbing alcohol (not ideal) or get a re-hair. So always remember: hands off your bow hair!
What not to do #3: Expose your violin to big temperature/humidity changes
Violins are wooden. It is this fact alone that makes them so sensitive to changes in the weather! Wood expands in hotter temperatures and contracts (gets smaller) in colder temperatures. In addition, if the humidity gets too low and the air is very dry, wood can crack. The face (or front) of the violin is a soft wood, spruce, and is especially susceptible to cracking. High humidity can also cause small issues such as open seams.
In the winter, when the air tends to get very dry, introducing some humidity into your case can be a great way to protect your violin from cracks. Check out this product on Amazon, the Dampit, if you want to do just this!
When you aren’t playing your violin, it is best to leave it in the case. The case is a much more controlled environment for the instrument. It will shield your violin from quick changes in temperature and humidity much more than if it were left out on something like a wall hanger.
However, even while in the case, you never want to leave your violin in the car if it is very hot or cold. In the summer, cars can get extremely hot (as we all know), and this can cause serious damage to the violin. Extremely cold temperatures can also lead to cracking. If you ever do accidentally leave your violin in the car, simply bring it inside, leave it in the case, and allow it to slowly return to its normal temperature. A gradual change in temperature is much less dangerous than an abrupt one, so this will help prevent damage as much as possible.
What not to do #4: Keep your bow hair tight all the time
Admittedly, most teachers will make this very clear to you when you start lessons. But, just in case you don’t know, it is worth mentioning! Since bows are wooden, and wood warps over time under pressure, bows have a limited lifespan. Therefore, keep your bow loosened whenever you aren’t playing. This will extend its life and give it a rest from the pressure.
If you have a fiberglass or carbon fiber bow, this is not as important, since they don’t warp. However, the bow hair will still benefit from the rest you give it by loosening. In addition, it is helpful to get in this habit so that when you do have a nice wooden bow one day, you won’t forget to loosen it. (It’s a terrible feeling to own a beautiful, expensive wooden bow and then open your case to see that the bow hair is still tightened from your last practice!)
If you aren’t sure what type of bow you have, check out my article on the different types of bows to find out!
What not to do #5: Put your violin facedown
The setup of the bridge on the face of the violin is a bit precarious. The bridge, though it looks to be sitting there very solidly, is not glued down. The tension of the violin strings is what keeps it in place. In fact, a strong enough impact to the bridge can be enough to knock it right off the violin. When this happens, the sound post, which sits inside the body of the violin, can also fall down. While most violin teachers can probably put your bridge back on, you will need a luthier to reset the soundpost.
Another important factor with the bridge is that it sits on the soft, spruce front of the violin. If enough force hits the bridge (by dropping it facedown, pushing it onto something facedown, etc.), it can actually crack the face of the violin.
To prevent these unfortunate situations, make sure to always place your violin facing up when you put it down for any reason. Never let the bridge come into contact with any other objects!
I would definitely say that these are the top five things you do NOT want to do with your violin. With a bit of care and awareness of these common mistakes, you will keep your violin and bow in good shape for years to come!
Any tips I missed? Let me know in the comments below!