First of all, remember that taking care of your violin is very important. You cannot skip wiping off the strings or be loosening the bow very much at all. Your violin is fairly delicate and does not tolerate much abuse. There are a few simple routines to follow that will keep your instrument in excellent health!
Violin Bow Maintenance – Tighten your Bow Properly
Most bows only require two or three full turns of the screw, which is the metal (usually) octagonal piece on the non-pointy end of the bow. Turning the screw makes the bow hair more or less taut.
To make sure the hair on the bow is at about the correct tautness, look at the space between the hair and the stick in the middle of the bow. The width of that space should be about the width of a standard pencil. The hair should not be much further from the stick than that. If it is, the bow is over tightened and this stresses where the hair is fastened on the bow, causing hair to fall out eventually.
If you accidentally loosen the hair so that it is flopping around the stick, you need to tighten it again. Violin hair that is too loose tends to catch on things and, in the worst case scenario, will fall out or be pulled out.
Check For Loose Bow Hair
Like people, bows lose hair. This is natural, as long as it isn’t more than a few strands every few practice sessions. New bows may shed a bit more than that, as might really old bows in need of repair. Generally, the hair will detach on one end but not the other. Gently pull the hair out from amongst the other bow hairs that are still attached and, as close to the end of the hair as possible, pull it out. If it’s only one piece, you shouldn’t need scissors or nail clippers. When you clip, clip as close as you can to the part of the bow that is holding the loose hair and don’t accidentally clip more hair!
Rosin your Bow – How-To
Rosin is a specially made substance that is specifically for your bow. Don’t substitute any other substance for violin rosin and don’t use cello or bass rosin (some more experienced players will, but get used to the regular stuff first). If you have a new cake of rosin, you may need to get a coin and scratch the surface of the rosin a few times. This will make it easier for the rosin to transfer from the rosin to the bow. Be careful not to leave rosin in direct sunlight. It melts!
Generally, you will only need to put rosin on just before you play. After you gain more experience and play for longer, you may notice that you need more rosin. Add about 5-10 swipes each time (so, 5 in each direction), making sure to go all the way to the frog and all the way to the tip. Most violinists put the rosin in their left palm and “play” the rosin with the bow in their right hand. If you have a brand new bow, it will take a lot more than 5 to 10 swipes!
You can rosin too much. You can check to see if you rosined too much by gently “bouncing” the bow (hair down, of course) off the string and seeing if a bunch of rosin dust starts flying around. Also, the sound of the violin may seem more harsh than usual. Especially when you learn to play the violin at home, this needs some extra attention as there is no physical teacher to guide you.
If you accidentally put on too much rosin, you will need to wipe off the strings more often to keep rosin dust from building up and causing the strings’ sound to change. Do not use the same cloth to wipe off rosin from the strings as you use to wipe the wood of the instrument, as you do not want to leave any rosin from the strings on the wood. Rosin can damage the finish on a violin.
Maintenance for Your Violin
You always want to take at least one peek at your strings before you play. Be on the lookout for a few different things:
- Frayed strings – Make sure you check where each of the four strings goes over the bridge.
- Rosin buildup – Wipe this off gently, as much as possible with a clean cloth. T-shirt material is great, but again, the same cloth should not be used to wipe the wood of the instrument. T-shirt material is good because it is soft and generally doesn’t produce a lot of lint.
- Strings slipping off of pegs – Every once in a while, strings will unwrap themselves from around the pegs. In this case, the string should be reinstalled.
- Anything loose or hanging off of the strings. This can be anything from the strings themselves unwrapping (the larger strings have a core substance with a flat metal wound around it) to lint to whatever might have been floating nearby!
Tune your Instrument
You should always listen when you play and tune your violin if you suspect it has gone out of tune. It will go out of tune. That’s what string instruments do. Please keep in mind that violas and violins are tuned differently.
Put on your Violin Shoulder Rest
You should not play your violin without a shoulder rest. It’s not good for your posture and, if you have any buttons or jewelry on, you could accidentally scratch the finish of your instrument. You will have to struggle to maintain the proper playing position. This can also happen if you do not have a properly fitting (or cheap) shoulder pad. Sponges are often given to beginners as shoulder rests but they are generally awful. Spend a few more dollars to get a decent shoulder rest. Your back and shoulder will thank you. This is what you should already have been taught in the early stages.
After Using Violin Bow, Wipe off Rosin Dust
Rosin dust has a few properties that make it useful. It’s sticky so that it generates friction between the violin string and the bow hair. Due to that stickiness, though, you really don’t want to leave it all over your instrument. Use a lintless cloth or T-shirt material to wipe off the following parts of the violin:
- The part of the fingerboard closest to the bridge
- The violin body, especially right under the strings
- The strings themselves, especially if there is a build-up of rosin (it will look like a white coating on the strings where you’ve been bowing)
NOTE: Do NOT use alcohol or furniture cleaner on the violin, because it can damage or dry out the wood!
Loosen the Bow
When you’re done playing, you should loosen the bow’s hair about three turns using the screw on one end of the stick. Turn it counter-clockwise to loosen the hair. The hair should not be so loose that it swings around. Why are you doing this? To keep the tension on the hair from making the bow stick warp.
Remove the Violin Shoulder Rest/Pad
You should remove the shoulder rest/pads soon as you have finished your playing session, so you don’t accidentally close your violin case on your violin with it on. That could cause damage to the bridge or your violin itself. Usually, the shoulder rest should be stored in a pouch attached to the outside of your violin case. For whatever reason, violin cases do not usually have a place specifically for shoulder rests (especially student violin cases). Resist the urge to cram the rest into the case or you may damage your instrument!
Clean the Chinrest
Simply wiping off the chinrest after you play can save you a lovely crop of pimples later when you play at home! Most of the time, a simple wipe with a tissue or a soft cloth will work fine. If you need to use a damp cloth, make sure that the cloth is barely damp and is soft. You don’t want to drip water onto the instrument’s wood or scratch anything. This works the same whether the chinrest is plastic or wood.
Check Tightness of Fine Tuner Screw & Chinrest Screws –
Every Time You Play
Make sure that the bottom screw of the fine tuners is not loose. Don’t use a wrench or any kind of tool, simply check them with your fingers. Turn it in the same direction (clockwise) as you would closing a jar lid.
Wipe off Dust and Debris
Don’t allow dust to build up, especially on the strings. It’s unsightly, gets all over music, and can be difficult to clean off after it mixes with rosin dust, sweat, and everything else that tends to collect on the instrument (yuck!).
How to Handle Older Violins
Some older instruments have delicate or unusual varnish. If you think this may be the case, be careful with the instrument and don’t use any of the standard violin polishes. Take it to a professional violin maker or luthier and have them examine it. They should be able to give you information about how to best care for the treasure you have!