Violin bow rosin

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.


How to hold a violin bow

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:

Violin Strings and Tuning

The violin has four strings representing the four musical notes G, D, A and E.

Learning the basics on how to tune a violin will train your musical ear and help you be more in-tune with your own instrument!

Advice for violin tuning

  • I would recommend an electronic tuner for a beginner violinist. An electronic tuner will give an accurate reference for the pitch(es) you are trying to achieve. By giving an accurate reference of what musical notes sound like, you will develop a musical ear to determine pitch variances on your own.
  • First, make sure that the bridge is not leaning forward and is properly placed between the two small notches in the F-Holes on either side of the fingerboard.
  • Reference the wooden pegs at the top of the instrument to begin tuning for a general pitch.
  • After tuning the wooden pegs, reference the fine tuners located on the tailpiece next to the bridge. The fine tuners adjust the general pitch achieved from the wooden pegs to a finer, more accurate pitch. (Note: Some violins only have one fine tuner on the “E” string. This neither impairs nor benefits a violin in regards to tuning.  A violin can be accurately tuned just by the wooden pegs. However, fine tuners are helpful to beginners to achieve the right pitch.)
  • It does not matter which string you begin tuning first, although most violinists start with the “G” string, following with D, A and E.
  • Turn the fine tuner clockwise to go up in pitch and counterclockwise to go down in pitch. Follow this procedure with each string. If the fine tuner will not go up or down any further, relocate the fine tuner to the center position and tune again with the wooden peg.

This is a video of Fred Carpenter from The Violin Shop putting the above points into visual format:

Keeping a new violin in tune:
Here are a few common issues with keeping a new violin in tune. Over time, the violin will adjust itself.

  • Slippage of the wooden pegs: Sometimes after tuning and achieving that perfect pitch the pegs will slip out of tune.
  • New strings: New strings adjusting to being stretched out across the fingerboard can sometimes make vary the pitch at different times.
  • String windings around the pegs need to be settled in and adjusted.

Violin and Bow Placement

When learning how to hold the violin and bow properly, beginners should be able to identity the different parts of the violin by name.

This diagram provided by Soaap Music identifies the different parts of the violin and bow.

Violin Placement
With the correct placement, the violin will be easy and comfortable to hold.

  • The violin is held horizontally (parallel to the floor) and is angled to the left.
  • Place the violin on your left collar bone, and rest the left side of your jaw on the chinrest.
  • Many violinists find shoulder rests helpful to hold up the violin, though it is not necessary. Usually, beginner violinists use round make-up sponges that are attached with rubber bands to the chinrest for added comfort.

Bow Placement
The correct placement of your bow is vital for creating the best tonal quality.

  • The wood of the bow should be tilted slightly toward the fingerboard.
  • The bow should be placed on the string between the bridge and fingerboard.
  • For louder sounds, apply heavier bow pressure and draw the bow closer to the bridge.
  • For softer sounds, use a lighter pressure with the bow and draw it closer to the fingerboard.
  • Your arm and the bow should always be kept level when playing on different strings. This is by far the hardest thing to master with bow placement, but with practice you will master it!

This video clip of Fred Carpenter from The Violin Shop provides an excellent example of the tips above. Also, note how Carpenter holds the violin itself.

Whether you are standing or sitting, good posture is necessary.

  • When standing, stand up straight with feet shoulder width apart and knees relaxed.
  • When sitting, sit up straight toward the front of the chair or whatever object you are sitting on. Sitting on a hard surface, like a chair, will keep you balanced as opposed to a soft surface, such as a sofa.

Violin Types and Sizes

Before learning how to play the violin, it is useful to know about the different sizes and types of violins.

The type of violin can be classified by the country of origin, brand or style of music.

  1. Acoustic (Non-Electric) Violin – This is the traditional violin that is more suitable for beginners.  It is the standard violin within the classical music repertoire.
  2. Electric Violin – This type of violin is usually utilized by more advanced players experimenting with different types of music, especially improv.  Electric violins convert regular vibrations generated from the strings to an electric signal for a more amplified sound.

Violin sizing is fractional, meaning that a full, adult size violin is 4/4, or a whole.

The smaller sizes were developed to fit the Suzuki Method of teaching violin, where children as young as three would acquaint themselves with the instrument.

The right size depends on your arm length and hand size. With your arm fully extended horizontally, perpendicular to your body, measure the length between your neck and the middle of your left palm. Another measuring approach is from the neck to wrist. Both methods of measurement are valid indicators for fitting a violin.

The different sizes of violins with approximate  arm and age measurements:

  • 1/16 – Three to 5 years old with an arm length of 14 to 15 inches.
  • 1/10 – Three to 5 years old with an arm length of 15 to 17 inches.
  • 1/8 – Three to 5 years old with an arm length of 17 to 17.5 inches.
  • 1/4 – Four to 7 years old with arm length of 17.6 to 20 inches.
  • 1/2 – Six to 10 years old with an arm length of 20 to 22 inches.
  • 3/4 – Nine to 11 years old with an arm length of 22 to 23.5 inches.
  • 4/4 or Full Size – For violinists age 9 and above with an arm length of 23.5 inches and up.  This size is the adult size.

Here is a reputable video from the respected SHAR Violins on how to find the correct violin size:

Although you can fit yourself, it is suggested that violinists go to a local music or violin specialty shop to be measured correctly.

Some reputable music shops in and near my city Tempe, AZ include:

For the next post, I plan to demonstrate how to properly hold the violin and the bow.