You know that small, shiny, orange block that came in the small compartment of your violin case when you first started playing? That stuff you put on your bow every once in awhile because you've been told you're supposed to? Well, that stuff is called rosin, and today we are here to talk about how often you should be putting it on your bow hair, and if it actually makes any difference in your playing.
You may already know what rosin is, but in case you’re brand new to the violin, rosin is a substance derived from trees that is very similar to sap, and we use it to coat the bow hair with a layer of dust. If you’ve ever tried playing with a brand new bow that hasn’t been used before, or a freshly re-haired bow, you may have been surprised to find there was no sound coming from your strings! That’s because rosin is needed in order to create friction between the bow and the strings - it attaches itself to the microscopic fibers on your bow hair which otherwise lie flat, giving it a grip with which the strings are able to vibrate and produce audible sound. I like to think of these fibers as velcro, with tiny hooks that grab and pluck the string with each bow stroke.
So… does it make a difference how often you put rosin on your bow, and if so, what’s the right amount?
The answer is yes, and it depends.
Yes, it matters how often you rosin your bow. Rosin it too little, and you might have slippery patches of bow hair when you play; rosin it too much, and you’ll cake your violin with white dust and potentially have a harsh, gritty sound. (That layer of sticky dust left sitting on your violin is not only unsightly, it can actually begin to eat away at the wood and cause real damage!) So, it’s important to find a balance, and it all comes down to how often you play your violin.
To give a couple of examples, if you live in a very humid climate and are regularly playing your violin outside, you may find yourself needing to apply rosin more often than someone who lives in a dryer climate. Similarly, if you only pick up your violin once a week or less, you can probably get away with rosining less frequently. In any case, I'd advise against applying rosin daily, because even if you are playing for several hours a day, it's very unlikely the rosin is all coming off with each practice session, and you might be doing more harm than good to your tone and instrument itself.
In my case, less is more, and I tend to only rosin my bow once every 2-3 weeks, or if I find some rosin has accidentally been rubbed off. Even when I have stints of performing for several hours a day, I still keep the rosin to a minimum, as I find a very light layer to be all I need to achieve the tone I’m after.
So, hopefully that gives you a better idea of how often to apply rosin to your bow hair. I'd encourage all of you, no matter how often you rosin your bow, to ask yourself the next time you go to apply it: does my bow NEED rosin right now? Or am I just adding it out of habit? That’ll give you the answer you’re looking for.
For more on this topic, check out the video below!