Looking after your instrument is important both because it is an investment and because you want it to continue to look and (most importantly) sound its best.
Apply rosin to your bow before you play
- Put a small amount of rosin on your bow each time before playing. Hold the rosin in your left hand, place the bow hairs flat on the rosin and slowly move the bow back and forth on the rosin along the full length of the hair. So that you can rosin all the way to the end of the hair at the frog, cover the metal mounting with your thumb to prevent chipping your rosin. Some players score a groove down the center of the rosin to keep the hair in place, I prefer to rest the bow stick against my left index finger as a guide and over time use the full surface of the rosin.
Loosen the hair each time you put your bow away
- Before you play, tighten your bow before playing by gently turning the tension screw. Avoid making the bow hairs too taut—the separation between the bow stick and hair should be about the width of a pencil at the closest point.
- After you finish playing, loosen the bow again just enough to take the tension off the stick. Too much and the bow hairs flop about loosely and tend to get caught. If you don’t loosen the bow you risk damaging the bow. The wrong change in humidity or temperature will cause an already tensioned bow to tighten up even further and can lead to cheap bows breaking and better bows becoming warped or damaged.
Clean your instrument when you finish playing
After playing the violin, gently wipe it clean with a soft cloth to remove rosin build-up on the belly of the instrument and on the strings.
- A build-up of rosin on the strings prevents them from vibrating freely, dulling the sound of your instrument. When strings have rosin caked on them, rubbing them with a cloth will cause them to squeak with a beautiful sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. If you clean them every time you put your instrument away, this sound will only last a few seconds, because when they are clean they will not make a sound. If you don’t clean your strings every time, they will accumulate a build-up of rosin that is painful to the ears to remove.
- A build-up of rosin on the belly of the instrument can cause damage to the varnish that might prevent your instrument from sounding the best and will certainly make it look shabby and un-cared for. Gently cleaning it with a soft cloth each time you put it away will keep it looking and sound its best. Polish is rarely needed, and when necessary, only a good commercial violin polish should be used. Cleaning the violin with furniture polish and/or water, as I have had some parents and students try to do, can very easily damage the violin.
Keep your instrument in a safe place
- Do not expose your violin to extreme hot or cold conditions . As a teenager I once left my violin in the boot of the car on a hot summer day as I made a quick trip into the local shopping center and when I opened the case a few hours later and lifted the violin out, the neck of the violin came away from the body. I went home feeling very stupid and had almost a week of enforced rest from the violin, including youth orchestra, lessons, practising, and the school musical. String instruments don’t respond well to extremes of heat or cold so either leave your instrument at home, park underground, or carry your instrument with you as you shop!
- At home, choose carefully where you keep your instrument. Don’t store your instrument near a heater or air conditioner, and unless your home is well insulated, don’t store your instrument near an outside wall.