Rosin comes in a variety of formulas to suit different instruments, playing styles, and climates.
Some rosins are harder and less sticky, good for use in warm and humid playing environments while others are softer and stickier, working best when it's cool and dry. Violin and viola players tend to use a harder rosin, cello players a medium rosin, and the softest, stickiest rosins are used by bass players for the extra adhesion and grip on thick strings.
Some rosins contain particles of precious metals, like gold, thought to provide tonal benefits as well as increase static friction for clarity of articulation. Some have gums and essential oils added to soften the rosin to get more grip. Other rosins are made with pure formulas with no metal additives for a smooth and silkier feel. There are many "secret" formulas for making rosin that rosin producers tend to protect.
For players sensitive to the dust that rosin creates, there are hypoallergenic rosins that produce little to no rosin dust and leave little to no residue on the instrument.
What is rosin?
Rosin, which is also known as colophony, starts as resin which is tapped, much like maple syrup, from pines and any number of other conifers. Carefully heating the fresh, raw resin--sometimes mixed with other ingredients, depending on the recipe--vaporizes the volatile liquid terpene components. The cooking process and any added ingredients will change the playing qualities and color of the final product. It is poured into a mold while still a liquid. After the rosin has set, a cloth, or another application device is attached to the rosin.
Why is rosin needed at all?
Bow hair is great to use for playing string instruments, except for one thing: by itself, it cannot create the friction needed to cause a string to vibrate and produce sound! An application of a sticky substance, like rosin, is necessary to create the friction needed to cause the string to vibrate. The friction against the string actually causes rosin to melt momentarily, sticking to the string and pulling it, which activates the string's vibration.
In this video clip, you can see the string actually twist before snapping away from the hair. Sources: Thomastik-Infeld workshop with Franz Klanner, VSA journals.
I'm a beginner. What rosin should I start with?
As a beginning string player, don't worry about which rosin might be perfect for you; there is no way of determining that, yet. Ask your teacher for a recommendation and pick a popular, reliable brand. Violinists and violists tend to use a harder rosin while cellists use a medium sticky rosin, and bassists use an even stickier rosin. As time goes on and your skills improve, start experimenting and you'll begin to hear and feel the differences that a specific rosin can do for you.
How do I rosin my bow?
Tighten your bow hair to your preferred tautness, and press the bow hair against the cake of rosin using four or five slow, back-and-forth strokes along the entire length of the hair. To maximize the rosin's lifespan, rotate the rosin as you apply it to avoid creating a groove in the cake of rosin. If your bow hair is new and has never been rosined before, you may need to repeat the application until you feel enough adherence to the instrument's strings when you play.
How do I know how much rosin to put on?
Players often use more rosin than is necessary. Using the above application method and testing the sound quality and grip of the bow on the instrument will guide you. Too much rosin can cause a rough, gravelly sound!
How often should I rosin my bow?
This depends on how often you play and for how long. If you play daily for over two hours, you may need to rosin your bow before each session with three or four strokes. If you play less than an hour a day, you may not need to rosin your bow for several sessions, until you feel and hear the bow hair beginning to slip from the instrument's strings while you're playing.
I seem to have an allergic reaction to the rosin dust. What should I do?
Not long ago there was virtually nothing that a rosin-allergic person could do about it. Thankfully, those days are gone! There are now a number of hypoallergenic rosins available that produce little to no rosin dust to help eliminate this problem.
Where is the best place to find and purchase rosin?
It's right here at Johnson String Instrument. Our selection is unmatched, our prices are low, and our service is fast, friendly, and professional. Whether a beginner or professional, you'll find the rosin that's perfect for you and your violin, viola, cello, and upright string double bass.
How do I clean rosin off my strings and instrument?
Use a soft cotton rag for cleaning the rosin dust off of the strings of your instrument and bow stick after each playing session. String cleaners are also available. A special, softer cloth, such as a microfiber polishing cloth, can be used for wiping the rosin dust from the varnish of your instrument. If rosin dust and debris accumulate on the varnish of your instrument, bring or send your instrument in for a professional cleaning.
A note on cleaning and polishing...
We have seen many products used to clean instruments, including household cleaners and furniture polish that are very harmful to stringed instruments. Do not use any polish or cleaners except those developed especially for stringed instruments, or better yet, have your instrument only professionally cleaned and polished.
...from the JSI workshop.
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