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The Right and Wrong Ways to Use Bow Rosin

    When most people think about playing the violin, cello, double bass, viola, or any other string instrument they tend to picture the bow and the instrument.

    After all, that’s all you need, right?

    Wrong! There is a crucial third component in that partnership that can make or break your playing.

    Rosin is solid pine resin. It’s applied to the bow hair to help them grip the strings and create a rich, warm sound.

    Applying rosin can be a bit of a goldilocks endeavor as too little or too much can badly affect your sound.

    In this guide, we’re going to teach you how to apply rosin correctly and show you what mistakes to avoid.

    How do you apply rosin to a bow for the first time?

    The first thing you need to do is check whether your bow was pre-rosined. If it was, you won’t need to apply rosin for a few plays.  You can ask the manufacturer or seller when you buy the instrument.

    If you’re applying rosin to a new bow, the practice is the same in essentials as applying to an older bow. The difference is how many times you’ll need to pass your bow over the rosin.

    If you’re using a new rosin cake you’ll need to rough up the surface before you apply it to the bow. You can do this by gently running a fork or serrated plastic knife over the surface.

    You’re not aiming to gouge the rosin, just roughing up the surface slightly. In essence, you want to remove the shine.

    Now, we’re ready to rosin our bows.

    1.     Tighten up your bow hair – Applying rosin to loose bow hair can cause damage or even break them.
    2.     Move your bow from bottom to top across the rosin – start with the rosin at the very base of your bow and slowly but evenly move the bow across the rosin. You want to finish right at the tip of the bow.
    3.     Repeat 40-50 times for a new bow – You should do about 20 strokes and then try the bow. If the sound is still quite weak and the bow doesn’t seem to be grabbing the strings then you need more.
    4.     Wipe your instrument – After applying rosin you’ll notice that some of it flakes off onto the strings and body of the instrument. This is normal. Just wipe it away with a soft cloth.

    When it comes to refreshing your rosin, you’ll only need a fraction of the number of passes on the rosin.

    Can you put too much rosin on a bow?

    Yes, you can.

    While we can give you guidelines for the number of passes you should make, they are not firm rules.

    Eventually, you will get to know how your bow and instrument should sound and feel to play. When things are off, you’ll know it’s time to reapply.

    Here is a basic guideline of how your bow should feel according to the amount of rosin.

    Ø  No rosin – the bow will feel very slippery. You’ll need to press quite hard to get a sound. When you do elicit a sound, it will be pale and hollow.

    Ø  Too little rosin – You will probably be able to get a sound out of your instrument, but it will be weak and inconsistent. Your bow will still feel quite slippery and you might have trouble moving it smoothly across the strings.

    Ø  Just the right amount of rosin – The bow moves easily and smoothly across the strings. It has enough grip, so you don’t need to push down too hard to get a sound. The sound will be warm and rich.

    Ø  Too much rosin – Your bow will feel sticky as it moves across the strings. You’ll find it difficult to get a smooth, consistent movement and you’ll need to put more effort into moving the bow. The sound you produce will be scratchy and harsh.

    How often should you rosin your bow?

    The general guideline is to refresh the rosin on your bow every 4-6 playing hours.

    If you’re a student taking weekly lessons and doing a few hours of practice, you’ll end up rosining your bow about once or twice a week.

    For more frequent players, you’re looking at every 2 or 3 days.

    Professional players will find themselves applying rosin about 2 or 3 times a day.

    Eventually, you will learn to recognize when your bow needs rosin from the sound and the feel.

    Is rosin toxic to humans?

    A small number of people have an allergic reaction to rosin dust. This usually presents like hay fever and can generally be controlled with antihistamines. 

    Does bow rosin go bad?

    Yes, it does.

    As bow rosin ages it becomes sticky. However, this process is fairly slow. Your rosin should last between 2 – 5 years. Some last even longer.

    In most cases, people need to replace their rosin cake because they’ve dropped it and it’s shattered or they’ve misplaced it.

    Should I clean the rosin off my strings?

    Yes, you should.

    Rosin build-ups on your strings can deaden the vibrations and thus the sounds produced by your strings.

    The best way to prevent rosin build-up is to wipe your strings, fretboard, and body down with a soft cloth. This should be done after each session.

    Removing rosin from the body of your violin is also important as dried rosin can dull the finish of your guitar.

    Is light or dark rosin better?

    It depends on the instrument you play and your climate.

    Dark rosin tends to be stickier and softer. It is sometimes called winter rosin because it is more suitable for cool, dry climates.

    Dark rosin is also better for bass and cello players. It suits the lower tones much more than higher tones.

    Light rosin is harder and less sticky. It is sometimes called summer rosin because it can cope with hot and humid climates.

    Light rosin is better at bringing out higher tones and is usually used for violin and viola bows.

    Final Thoughts

    Rosining a bow isn’t a difficult process. The hardest part is knowing when to stop!

    With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to tell by the sound and feel of your playing whether you’ve got enough rosin on your bow.

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