Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rosin Explained!

Rosin Explained


“What the heck is rosin anyway?” 

This is a question that many new musicians and their parents may have. If you rented your instrument from a local music store, chances are that you received an “outfit” that includes the instrument, a case, and if you look inside the little pocket inside the case: a small square thingy, either yellow or brown, and often in a wood holder. What is this anyway, and why do I need it?

Simply put, rosin is tree sap or resin. It usually comes from pine trees and other conifers. It is heated and then cooled until it becomes solid and develops a rich, colored, glassy look.

Rosin is sticky when warmed. This rosin, once applied to the hair of a bow, is what allows the bow to “grip” the strings of an instrument and set them in motion as the hair is drawn across. This sets the string vibrating and produces the sounds that we are all familiar with.

In fact, if a student opens up their brand new violin and bow, and proceeds to play the instrument without applying rosin to the bow, the bow will simply slide across the strings with no friction at all, and no sound will be produced. It can be very frustrating for a beginner to experience this, as all the excitement of getting a new instrument evaporates when they cannot produce even a squeak!

The solution is simple: apply rosin to the bow hair. To start, the shiny surface of the rosin cake must be roughed up to expose the raw rosin. This can be done with a small piece of sandpaper or a coin scratched across the surface. In a pinch, I have even used a car key!

Then, with tension applied to the bow hair, the musician should simply rub the bow back and forth across the rosin until some of the rosin transfers to the bow hair. This is most easily accomplished by working in thirds: from the frog about 1/3 up the bow, the middle third, and finally from the tip down about a third of the way. A new bow will need a good amount of rosin before it will play as expected.

As the musician plays, rosin wears off the bow, and the dust flies everywhere! The dust should be wiped off the instrument and strings each time the student finishes playing, otherwise it will build up and deaden the sound of the instrument. Fresh rosin will need to be applied to the bow each time it is played, but not in the amount used initially.

Rosin comes in different sizes and colors: dark and light, hard and soft. In all cases the purpose is the same: to provide friction so as to create sound. It is highly recommended that you follow the advice of your instructor in the selection of rosin. (Basses for example typically use a much softer compound than a violin or viola.)

And that’s about it! Take care not to over-rosin the hair, don’t touch the bow hair, and clean the instrument each time it is played.

Now, go practice!




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