The bridge of the violin is the wooden wedge that supports the strings. It is important to the playability, sound and structural nature of the violin. The bridge transfers sound vibrations from the strings to the soundboard down the sound post to the back of the sound box. Improper placement of the bridge will greatly impair tone. If the bridge falls or becomes loose, the sound post beneath it becomes dislodged and the violin’s body may collapse.
Bridge Placement Tips:
- The violin bridge is held in place by pressure and proper placement, not glue.
- The bridge is evenly lined up with the fingerboard, and stands straight up, perpendicular to the violin.
- The feet of the bridge should be aligned with the interior notches of the F-holes. The lower side of the bridge should be placed under the E-string, which is the string with the highest pitch.
- When adjusting or putting a bridge on the violin, it’s very important to slightly loosen the violin strings before the bridge is placed, centered, and kept perfectly straight.
- To adjust a tilting bridge, first slightly loosen the violin strings, then grasp the top of the bridge at its upper corners with the thumb and index fingers of each hand and gently pull or push the top of the bridge until a 90 degree angle is achieved.
- If your bridge has become warped, or if you simply feel uncomfortable adjusting it yourself, take your violin to your local violin shop or instrument dealer for professional assistance.
Here are some other violin accessories that you will come across during your violin career. As with all things, some accessories are more necessary than others.
Mutes: Mutes are devices placed upon the violin bridge to dampen or mute the sound of the violin. Violinists generally use two types of mutes:
- Mutes for passages of music which call for a muted sound. Composers use these muted passages for special effects or a contrast of sound.
- Practice mutes which significantly reduce the sound of the violin, so that violinists can practice and not bother others nearby.
Music stand: A music stand holds sheet music. Most music stands can be adjusted according to the height of the violinist. When the sheet music is placed on the stand, the stand should be at eye-level.
Fingerboard Tape: To assist beginning violinists, some violin teachers use thin strips of colored tape to mark where students should place their fingers on the violin fingerboard.
Violin Polish: To clean your violin, all that is generally needed is a dry, lint-free cloth to wipe rosin from your strings after each playing session. Although polish is rarely necessary, there may be times when you need to clean your violin. It is important to never use commercial furniture polish and/or water to clean your violin (doing so could damage the varnish and acoustics of the violin).
Extra violin strings: As you progress as a violinist, it is thoughtful to keep on hand some extra violin strings, particularly A- and E-strings, the ones that tend to break the most frequently. Having an extra string in your violin case will quickly solve the problem of an unforeseem string breakage. Nothing is worse than having a string pop before a performance or speical event!
Throughout your career as a violinist, you will find yourself changing the strings on your violin often. As I have mentioned before, it is useful to always keep an extra set of strings in your violin case, just to be precautionary. Here are some useful tips for changing strings on your violin:
- When replacing all of the strings, violinists generally replace one string at a time. Do not remove all of the strings on a violin at the same time, or the fingerboard could collapse.
- Although the order you replace strings isn’t critical, many violinists start with the G-string, and work their way up to the E-string.
- If the string you are installing has a fine tuner, insert the ball or loop end of the string over the tuner cartridge in the tailpiece, and pull the string toward the bridge.
- If the string does not have a fine tuner, insert the ball or knotted end of the string through the tailpiece string hole, tug firmly to make sure the knot or ball is securely in the slot and pull the string toward the bridge. You may need to hold the ball or knot in place with your finger while increasing the tension of the string as you turn the peg.
- Slightly pull out the peg the string will go in until the peg hole is just inside of the pegbox. Thread the end of the string through the peg hole (let the string slightly protrude), and evenly begin winding it.
- Push the peg in as you’re turning the string to keep the peg from slipping.
- Generally, fine tuners are used only on the E-string, but beginning violinists often find it useful to have tuners for each string.
- When replacing all of the strings, violinists often tune all of the strings to an approximate correct pitch, then do the fine tuning to get each pitch precisely in tune.
- Be aware that when you put on all new strings, it will take more adjusting than usual to tune the violin.
- If your pegs are slipping or are too tight to securely adjust the strings, you may want to purchase a peg compound.
- If you don’t have peg compound and need a temporary quick fix for slipping or tight pegs, you may want to try these options:
For sticking pegs, pull the peg partially out, and rub pencil graphite on the sticking part of the peg.
For loose pegs, pull the peg partially out, and rub candle wax on the peg to help it stick.
Using a shoulder rest is extremely important to maintain correct posture. It lends support and security, allowing the left arm to move more freely. Using a shoulder rest may also reduce shoulder tension and muscle strain.
There is another school of thought that a shoulder rest is unnecessary and players should learn to play without one, however personally, I am not a proponent of.
The general shoulder rest
The Kun Violin Shoulder Rest is regarded as the most popular and widely used shoulder rest. The Kun offers a wide range of adjustment to fit your violin size and the height of your neck. Many companies have tried to make cheap imitations of the Kun, do not be fooled. Kun also sells junior sizes and collapsible shoulder rests for a better fit in violin cases. Two of the higher-end Kun shoulder rests are the Kun Bravo, made out of hardwood and brass fittings, and the Kun Voce, created from authentic aerospace-grade carbon fiber. Both the Voce and the Bravo boast increased acoustic properties. The Classic, Super, and Collapsible models are made from composite materials with brass fittings and latex-rubber feet.
The Kun is priced between $20 and $100 depending on size and style selected.
Shoulder rest for long-necked violinists
- The Bon Musica shoulder rest is perfect for long-necked violinists, however it can also be used as a general shoulder rest. It has a longer metal platform that wraps over the shoulder lending greater height and stability than a normal shoulder rest. The platform can also be bent to a small degree to customize the shape.
The Bon Musica is priced at about $60.
- The Wolf shoulder rest can adjust in height up to three inches. The platform can be bent for customized fit as well. The Wolf Forte Primo and Secundo are best-selling versions within the brand.
Wolf shoulder rests are priced up to $50.
Shoulder rests for short-necked and child violinists
- The Play on Air shoulder rest is great for short-necked individuals, children or violinists who dislike the bulky hard shoulder rests. The shoulder rest is blown up manually with air and provides cushion and comfort as an end result.
Play on Air shoulder rests are priced at $20 or less.
- Another easy shoulder pad is simply a piece of sponge or foam. It’s perfect for the violinist that doesn’t like the restrictions of playing with an actual shoulder rest, but still wants a little protection and cushion.
Hand make your own for a couple of dollars using foam from your local craft store for less than $2!
Common Violin Damages
You should not worry too much if your violin suffers from one of these common violin damages:
- An unglued fingerboard
- Snapping/collpase of the bridge
- The snapping of the bow
How to care for your violin
- Avoid extreme climate temperatures – Do not store a violin in or near areas that are subjec to extreme changes in temperature, such as a basement or attic. When violins are continually exposed to extreme temperature changes, they eventually break and fall apart over time.
- Proper storage – When not playing the violin, store it in its case at all times to ensure protection.
- Too much rosin – In light of my last post on violin rosin, avoid putting too much rosin onto the violin bow. If too much is applied, the rosin will drip onto the violin and cause straining.
- Quality strings – Cheap strings, like the ones that usually come with a beginner’s violin, will bring tension on the violin and cause cracks and warping on the instrument.
If you ever feel that there is something wrong with your violin, even minorly wrong, it is important to get it checked out by a luthier, an experienced professional in repairing stringed instruments. Most little damages will eventually become bigger problems in the future.
Rosin is the substance that a violinist uses to make the hair on the violin bow sticky. Rosin is necessary for there to be sound once the hairs of the bow are in contact with the strings. Without rosin, there is no sound. The hair on a rosined bow grips the string and pulls it to the bow, creating sound. However, since the bow continues to move while one is playing, the string snaps back to its original place.
How to apply rosin to a violin bow
- You should first tighten your bow from the knob at the bottom of the bow. The space between the bow hair and the stick should only be a pencil-width a part.
- Because the violin bow is held in the right hand, hold the rosin in your left hand to apply.
- With your bow in your right hand, glide it across the rosin in smooth normal bow strokes up and down the rosin about five to 10 times.
- Be careful not to over-rosin, this can cause a dust-like residue to expel while you are playing.
Tip: Make sure that either ends of the bow, tip and frog, are rosined more heavily than the middle part of the bow.
Types of rosin
The darker the rosin, the softer and stickier it is. While darker rosins provide a great grip on the string, they also produce a grittier sound.
Lighter, softer rosins avoid this “gritty” sound, but are more apt to expel more powder when the bow hair is in contact with the strings while playing.
A good rosin, no matter how often you play, will last for years. I, personally, have the Gustave Bernardel rosin, which has lasted me for about 8 years now and more to come.
How often you should rosin your violin bow
There is no exact answer for how often you should rosin your violin bow. This depends on a variety of things; how often one plays, the type of bow hair, the type of strings, temperature/humidity, etc.
For beginners who probably will not be playing for hours on end like a professional, I would say it wouldn’t hurt to run the bow across the rosin 2-3 times per practice session.
Knowing how to properly hold a violin bow is essential to produce a beautiful sound from your violin that is in tune. When placed on and across the strings, the bow is directs the type of sound through speed and varying degrees of pressure on the strings. In order to achieve the desired sound, a relaxed bow hold is important to keep in mind.
Practice violin bow hold without the bow
This may seem strange at first, but practicing your violin bow hold without the actual bow will help mold your fingers.
- Hold your right hand sideways. Your thumb will face left.
- Curl your fingers and thumb toward each other so that the tip of your thumb meets the tips of your two middle fingers. Allow your index finger and pinkie to follow the natural curve of your hand.
- Turn your hand and wrist 90 degrees to the left without disrupting the curved position of your fingers. Keep the wrist flat.
Practice violin bow hold with the bow
- With your right hand, hold the bow horizontally with the tip pointing to the right and the bottom, or frog, pointing toward the left.
- Place your left thumb in the frog, between the hairs and the stick. The tip of your thumb should be on the stick.
- Curve your two middle fingers on the stick, close to the first joints of both fingers. Let your middle fingers curve over the stick toward the thumb, almost touching.
- Place your index finger on the stick, curved slightly. Place a curved pinkie finger on the wood of the stick so that only the tip of your pinkie touches the stick.
Violin bow: getting a feel
- Move your arm from the elbow only and “airbow” by drawing the bow across the front of your body as if you were playing an invisible violin. Keep the wrist flat and fingers curved with each bow stroke up and down. When you are completely comfortable with this movement, it should merely feel like an extension of your arm.
This is an excellent video by violinist Pete Cooper, demonstrating how to hold a violin bow: