What is the purpose of applying rosin to your violin bow?

What is violin rosin?

colophony rosin gum

Rosin – or colophony – is a solid form of resin obtained from the distillation of different elements, among which turpentine and oleoresin (or gum). Oleoresin is a liquid solution collected from resinous trees – such as pines – following a process of extraction called pine-tapping. In France, the Landes region has long been the largest rosin producer in Europe, as per the huge coniferous forests it boasts. However, and due to foreign competition – mainly from Spain and Portugal – pine-tapping has slowly been disappearing from the Landes region.

Although rosin production has reached worldwide levels – each country can produce its own rosin – the quality can vary a lot from one country to another.

What is the purpose of applying rosin to a violin bow?

Rosin is essential to any musician who plays a fretted string instrument such as violin and cello. It is also compulsory for any electric violin or viola. Without rosin, the hair of the bow will slide across the strings and won’t provide enough friction to produce any sound. It is necessary that the violinist rub the rosin on the full length of the bow; this will allow the bow hairs to generate grip on the violin strings, hence produce a sound.

Rosin is absolutely necessary to play violin, viola or any fretted string instrument!

Discover our article on what are the differences between an electric and an acoustic violin?

How to apply violin rosin on your bow?

Before any rehearsal or concert, you would need to apply rosin on the bow. This simple gesture must become automatic for any musician who plays a fretted string instrument.

  • Tighten the bow hairs as usual
  • Hold the rosin in your left hand and the bow in your right hand. Then, start applying the rosin, with no pressure, on the hairs. Actually, you just have to gently rub the bow hairs up and down on the rosin
  • Be careful not to apply too much rosin, it would be useless. Limit yourself to one or two back and forth motion across the bow. If your bow is new, apply a bit more of rosin. If the rosin is new, it might be more difficult to apply it onto the bow; if so, rub the rosin on the bow a few longer. If you are not sur about the exact quantity of rosin to apply, just test your bow on the violin strings

According to the manufacturer’s instructions, the life span of a block of rosin is usually of one year. On our hand, we use it a bit more – sometimes up to 5 years. There is no need to replace it as long as you keep experiencing the same playing sensations.

How should you clean your violin in case of accumulation of rosin dust particles?

When you play, old rosin residues build up on your violin body, forming a layer of rosin dust particles. It is better to clean up your violin from time to time so it does not damage its body. Actually, the rosin could scratch or damage the violin varnish. To do so, you just have to wipe rosin off with a soft, clean and dry piece of cloth.

What is the difference between light and dark rosins?

Usually, light rosin is harder and produce a “softer” sound. Violinists and violists would rather use it. On the other hand, dark rosin is « softer and stickier ». Cellists and double bass players would prefer it to the light rosin. With this stickier residue, the dark rosin applies better on cello and double bass bows, as they have more hairs.

violin rosin

Even if the difference in terms of sound is almost not perceptible, the consistency of rosin will impact the sound produced by the instrument.

The color of rosin depends on the temperature used during the distillation process. Each brand has its own fabrication process and will create different types of rosins. Please note that additives can be included during the fabrication and therefore alter the final color.

Do you know differences between a violin and a viola?

Which rosin should I use?

No mystery here, test different rosin on your violin bow and strings to find the one product you need!

There are some special cases though:

  • If you are a beginner, entry-level types of rosins will be way sufficient. And as you progress, feel free to try new experiences with rosins of different types.
  • The dust produced with the rubbing motion can accentuate or trigger allergy symptoms. If you are allergic to rosin, know that hypoallergenic rosins exist. You can find them on the Internet, in just a few clicks!
  • Rosin does not melt but can get softer in hot environments. The darker it is, the more resistant it is to heat. This is an important factor if you live in a warm country.
  • Some electric violinists playing extended range electric violins prefer the dark rosin.

Sources and images : Wikipedia & Giphy, Catalin Balta

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