If you want to create any sort of sound from your stringed instrument, you need to know how to Rosin your bow. The question some are tempted to ask is, “Why?” The answer to that is to try and play without it. When was it first used? There is a simple answer to that as well. No one knows.
A Long Time Ago
Rosin is first mentioned in the 7th Century BC in Greece. It was called Colophon or Colophony after the city where it was made. It was used as a sealant and for medicinal purposes. However, it was also used in a rather nasty liquid produced to be thrown at an enemy.
When it was first applied to the strings of an instrument is unsure. But it was way before there was anything like the Violin, Viola, Cello, or Bass we know today.
Today the musicians using those instruments cannot function without it. It is something that is taught to students at a very early stage in their development. Having established that it is a vital part of playing the instrument, what is Rosin?
A Solid Resin
Rosin is formed from the sticky stuff that comes from trees. Not the sap, I might point out. Whilst we use sap for making medicines and syrup, things that are made with rosin include glazes and varnish. But it is also treated and then made into Rosin for stringed instruments.
Resin is extracted from the tree and then heated while it is in liquid form, and finally goes solid. It has an orange color and smells like Pine trees. But it is also very brittle. If you were to drop a bar of Rosin onto the floor, it would be like dropping a glass object. It will shatter.
Rosin is not just for strings
It is an interesting product that is also used by banjo players who use it on the bridge of their instruments, also for ballet dancers who apply it to the soles of their ballet shoes.
But it is for stringed instruments we are interested in. Having established what it is, let’s take a very quick look at what rosin does and why you can’t do without it.
Why Do You Need It for Stringed Instruments?
You apply Rosin to the hair on the bow to create some friction between the bow hair and the strings. If you don’t use it, the bow hair will not grip the strings. This renders the sound hardly audible. Rosin creates friction and enables the bow to grip the strings. This makes them vibrate with the contact.
Different Types of Rosin
You can get light or dark rosin. Let’s take a minute to understand the difference, and what type of rosin you should use for your instrument.
This is usually used by those playing Violin and Viola. This type of Rosin will give you a much smoother sound because it gives you less grip than the darker version. If you use a darker rosin on a Violin or Viola, you sometimes get a scratchy sound.
This Rosin is usually better suited to the Cello and the Double Bass. They are much stickier in texture than lighter rosins and give much more grip. This, in turn, creates a bigger, wider sound more suited to the sonics required from the instrument.
Just to throw a spanner in the works, different Rosin’s react in different climatic conditions. If you live in a hot or humid environment, then Darker Rosin may not be suitable. It is softer, stickier, and gets even more so if exposed to heat; therefore, it is better suited to cooler climates.
Light Rosin, however, reacts better in hot climates; it is harder and less sticky. As I cannot predict where you live, it is not possible to give an exact answer to the question “So which one should I use?” If you play Cello or Double Bass, it should be a Dark Rosin, but in a hot climate, you may need to change to Lighter.
Time to Rosin your Bow
Like just about everything about playing these wonderful instruments, there is a lot of know-how involved. How to Rosin your bow is part of that. There are some important issues involved.
You will also need to gauge how often to apply Rosin and how much. This is not an exact science. It is something you will come to learn in time. What suits you, your bow, or the sound you get will not apply to every musician.
We have discussed the weather conditions and this could end up being an important aspect. But you will also need to make sure that the Rosin remains stored at a balanced temperature in your instrument case. A humidifier is the best way of monitoring that. A good example is The Original Dampit Violin Humidifier.
Choosing the Right Rosin
We have also mentioned that. Normally you would use a lighter Rosin for Violin and Viola. But this may be affected by the weather where you are. As I mentioned, a little trial and error is necessary and so local advice if you have a quality instrument shop near you.
A Further Consideration
Have you bought a new bow? If you are a player just starting, that may be the case. So, then ask whoever supplied it if the bow has already been given an initial Rosin treatment. If it has, it will last you for a short time before it needs to be done again. Conversely, if not, then it will take a bit of work to apply the rosin to fresh strings that have never had that treatment before.
You will need to ensure you get a good grip from bow hairs and that they have a slightly abrasive feel. It may need about forty strokes from the Rosin cake, up and down, to achieve that.
Preparing the Rosin for Use
A new cake takes a little preparation. It will be smooth and shiny. That means it will not adhere to the bow very well. Simply score it gently with a plastic knife. When the surface is scored and slightly dull in color, it is ready to use. Don’t forget that this is a vulnerable material, so don’t push down too hard with your knife.
Let’s Do It
- Tighten the hairs on your bow. Loose hairs on the bow can be damaged by the Rosin process, so you need them quite taught. Also, don’t touch the hair with your fingers. The natural oils from your skin do not help the Rosin.
- Start at the bottom of the bow. Pass the cake up and down, making complete sweeps over the full length.
- Make the sweeps smooth and consistent and not too fast.
- Rotate the cake slightly after a few sweeps to ensure a balanced usage.
- When you have finished and then play, some dust will come off the strings. Keep a cloth to hand to wipe the instrument clean.
No hard and fast rules again. It will depend on you and how you play. But a ballpark figure is between about four to six hours of playing time before it needs to be done again. More experienced and professional players may Rosin their bows before every performance.
Assuming this is not the first time you have applied Rosin, about five or six full-length sweeps should be enough. You will learn for yourself over time the correct amount for how you play and your bow and instrument.
Too little Rosin and the bow won’t move smoothly over the strings. Too much, and you will see clouds of rosin dust, the strings will feel too sticky, and the sound may be scratchy.
Four to six full-length strokes of Rosin will be close to what you need. That will give you nice action and a great sound. As we have said before, this is determined a little by trial and error.
Need a Great Violin or Violin Accessories?
We can help you find what you need. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Violin Rosins, the Best Violin Strings, the Best Violin Bows, the Best Cremona Violins, the Best Student Violins, the Best Electric Violins, as well as the Best Violin Cases you can buy in 2023.
You might also enjoy finding out Who Invented the Violin, Tips For Tuning Your Violin, How Many Different Types of Violins Are There, How Are Violin Strings Made, and A Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings for more useful information.
How to Rosin Your Bow – Final Thoughts
Each time you perform the process, you will get more used to it until it eventually becomes second nature. And if you need to buy some Light Rosin, a nice option is D’Addario Natural Rosin, Light, Two Pack. And if you need Dark Rosin, check out this D’Addario Kaplan Premium Rosin with Case, Dark.
Like most things, it will take some practice to get it how you want it, so persevere and make some beautiful music.
Until next time, let your music play.