Yet another rosin question

September 6, 2009 at 08:17 PM ·

I have a hard time keeping scratchy sound down, and since it seems to be remedied very briefly between rosining/string cleaning, it might have something to do with the rosin. On the other hand, it could be something that I'm doing wrong.

There seems to be a really, really tight balance between enough rosin and not enough rosin on my bow. I don't use much rosin to begin with; my friends tend to tell me that I'm not applying enough. But if I apply any more, it becomes extremely scratchy until I play it off for a couple hours and clean my strings quite meticulously.

Usually I'll play for a couple hours, clean my strings, apply one stroke of rosin, play a little, clean my strings again, and then for a little while after that it sounds fine. For a couple hours. Then I need to repeat the process.

I've tried Pirastro and Dominant rosin; the Dominant was notably better at first but I eventually started to suffer the same scratchy problem that I had with the Pirastro.

I've also tried cleaning the bow of all its rosin, and the strings on the violin are relatively new Dominants.

So I'm beginning to suspect that it might have something to do with the way I play. Maybe I need to apply a lot more rosin and a lot less pressure. Then again, my luthier has always suggested using very little rosin -- only one or two strokes worth.

I used to suspect the weather could be a factor, but I have two hygrometers and they both report between 48% to 55% -- which from what I remember should be about right.

Sorry for the long post; I figured I should supply as much information so that maybe someone can piece together the problem.

 

Replies (39)

September 6, 2009 at 09:46 PM ·

How have you concluded that you sound "scratchy"?

Your friends suggested that you don't use enough rosin. Is that based on listening to your playing?

See the "Sound under ear vs sound heard by audience" thread.

September 6, 2009 at 10:17 PM ·

As a criterion to tell me when I need to apply more rosin, I play PP sospirando (breathy) and I do a diminuendo al niente (diminuendo gradually until silence is reached).  If either of these is impaired, or harder than usual to achieve, more rosin is needed.  If not, not.

September 6, 2009 at 11:10 PM ·

First off, get some Kaplan Rosin. You can find it online. It comes in a little black box that says Kaplan on it! It is awesome, and is a very smooth rosin, so it always sounds great!

Now, after you get the kaplan, apply 5 strokes to the bow. then play, for a maximum of 30 minutes, and then after 30 minutes, apply more, and gradually get to where you have enough rosin for a few days.

Good luck!

XD

September 7, 2009 at 04:44 AM ·

David: Wow, I never thought of it that way.

Nah, one of my most capable friends at an amateur orchestra borrowed my violin for half an hour and noted that I don't use enough rosin and that I'm overpowering. On the other hand, when I toned down a little, the solo oboist complained that I was too quiet.

My friend is also notorious for being overpowering himself, both in personality and performance, so my other friends suggest that he just feels like I'm stealing his thunder. But since his assessment of my sound agreed more or less with what I heard myself, I thought maybe he had a point. Maybe I'll just have to have to ask a more reliable friend what they hear.

Oliver, Blake: I'll have to try that. I never really had a systematic way of determining when to add more rosin, or of knowing how much I need to apply. I'm not quite sure how gradually increasing rosin might be effective, but intuitively it sort of makes sense -- if only in an uncannily bodily/medical way.

Thanks!

September 7, 2009 at 12:24 PM ·

Hi Rei,

Although I hesitate to bring yet another variable into the equation: how old is the hair on your bow? Might it need rehairing?

My luthier told me that bow hair sometimes gets saturated with rosin, so that it gets slick and loses its 'bite'. The middle between woozy and scratchy then disappears.

Hope this helps (and does not confuse),

Bart

September 7, 2009 at 06:46 PM ·

Bart: I have two bows, one recently rehaired and another not. They're both about the same in scratchiness, though the rehaired one is and always has been a bit quieter.

The quieter bow is the cheaper bow, though it has sentimental value to me as it used to belong to a friend that I won't have a chance to meet again.

September 8, 2009 at 07:08 PM ·

A control bow! That's a good idea. No need for rehairing, then.

September 9, 2009 at 01:42 PM ·

Is your violin considered to be "bright?" When you play other violins with your bow, does the same thing happen? When you play other violins with other bows, do you get the same sounds? Do you tend to play close to the bridge? Do you use a high-tension string? Did this problem just mysteriously start to happen, or has it been going on forever?

Perhaps by looking at these and other factors one at a time, you can get closer to the solution by a process of elimination. BTW, the quietest rosin I've ever (not) heard is the harder grades of Liebenzeller. I've heard that it is available again after a time of absence from the market.

September 9, 2009 at 02:10 PM ·

If you search, you will find multiple threads and opinions about cleaning bow hair, which might or might not help.  About a year ago I read about Baker's Rosin ( http://www.bakersrosin.com/ ), which is made in small batches by a man in Florida who taps the trees himself and sells it fresh.  I've been using it and it's a distinctly superior product.  Baker is firm in his opinion that rosin deteriorates with age; he recommends replacing with fresh rosin annually.  And apparently at least one other maker has started putting expiration dates on rosin.  Some of this might be worth looking into (Baker makes rosin only once a year, during the time he can get fresh materials from the trees, so the supply is somewhat limited).

September 10, 2009 at 02:45 AM ·

Robert: Yes, my violin is quite bright, which is a quality that I like. All of my strings are dominant; I've tried changing the E several times but they were all too tense. I've played a newer violin made by the same luthier using the older bow, and it was definitely easier to play without causing scratchiness. That violin also sounds much deeper, which I think might have been masking the scratches.

It's sort of been going on forever, though when I first cleaned my bow hairs and reapplied Dominant rosin, it was fine for a few months.

My suspicion is that it's a combination of several factors -- I probably have a slightly rough way of playing, the brightness of my violin probably exposes the scratches more, and there's probably something about the way I'm using my rosin -- or maybe the brand.

David: The Dominant rosin I'm using now was bought around March of this year, so it's only been about six months. I read in another thread here that changes in climate might be a factor in the aging of rosin, so that could be the case, but I think it's a little early for that. We complain about our weather here in Vancouver BC a lot but I'm sure there are people living in even more erratic weather.

Thanks for the suggestions everyone! No definitive solution yet, but at least now I have some ideas. I can probably begin by experimenting with some more brands of rosin.

September 10, 2009 at 01:50 PM ·

*Rei, do others who play your violin with your bow produce the same problem you've mentioned? When listening from a distance, say halfway back in a medium-size concert hall, is the problem still noticeable? It sounds to me like you're dealing with normal surface noise that is exacerbated (I love big words! :-)) by your style of playing. Surface noise is normal, up to a point. I would not rule out a soundpost adjustment. It sounds like there's a lot of stiffness in the top of your instrument.

September 11, 2009 at 11:51 AM ·

Hey, I'm using Royal Oak Kolophonium, and I like it very much. It's a german rosin, it's written on it "not agressive to bow and strings". The box is in front of me, a green rectangle, I'm actually storing something else in it. Sorry, cube.

September 11, 2009 at 12:01 PM ·

I think Kaplan is good too. I used to see it at my luthier's, whom I trust in these matters.

September 11, 2009 at 05:00 PM ·

Nothing out of the ordinary here - I use Dominant rosin and Dominant (G, D, A) strings, and a Goldbrokat E. (Sometimes I use Jarger, sometimes Westminster).  No complaints! The problem is almost certainly one of two things.

1) Too much rosin, or something that you are doing to your strings or bow is ruining them. Don't clean the bowing area of your strings anymore, and don't over-rosin your bow. That should be a start.

2) Faulty technique. You are probably applying way too much downward pressure on the strings, and not moving the bow fast enough. There are two components to smooth bowing - the speed the bow is moving at, and the downward weight applied by your hand and gravity. Try to strike a good balance between weight and speed.

Concerning the application of rosin - you really don't need much. Rosin should be applied very gently. Maybe 3 swipes up and down the hair lightly once per day. Some days, you might even forget to put it on (and you won't even notice). A cake of rosin can easily last 10 years. I lose them 100% of the time.

You mentioned that you cleaned the bow hair. This should not be done too often. When you do so, always use a brand new, clean cloth (some people I know use Kleenex) - and denatured (nearly 100%) alcohol. Bow hair can last a long, long time if taken care of.

I think you mentioned cleaning the strings. In my opinion, that is unnecessary. In fact, it makes keeping your bow hair firmly positioned on the string harder. By the time rosin has caked on to the strings enough to mess with vibration, you ought to be changing those strings anyway. If you really must clean the strings (some people prefer to use a set for a year or more), then clean them once a week at most. Any more than that and you are screwing up your parallel bow motion.

Your friends are silly. Scratchy sound comes from too much friction between the bow and strings. More rosin would only make matters worse

September 12, 2009 at 02:45 AM ·

Robert: I think the problem is a lot less from a distance, though it's still noticeable. And you're right, I think it's probably a minor problem that I'm making worse with my "style" *cough* of playing.

Luke: I've been trying what Blake suggested, which is to gradually increase the amount of rosin on the bow. Of course that won't solve the scratchiness, but I'm hoping that it should let me get away with rosining less. We'll see how it goes. Maybe having a consistent layer of rosin on the bow will help me improve my technique?

Also, I've been doing some of the Casorti exercises for warm-up. That completely remedied one of my other older problems, which was with a lot of bow bouncing. I've been playing (casually) for about 18 years now, so I think it's probably more of a strange habit than an utter lack of control. Would be best if I had a teacher to check my bowing; unfortunately, I can't afford one at the moment :(

Speaking of which, I probably should look into replacing my strings soon. I think the last time I changed any of them was April...

September 12, 2009 at 10:55 AM ·

Luke, Raphael Klayman would hit your head for that.. :)

 

It's not pressure and speed, however nice may sound the two component-theory...

 

It's arm weight.

September 13, 2009 at 01:44 PM ·

That's what'll free up your left hand.

September 14, 2009 at 11:33 PM ·

So I figured out what my problem was: my strings were way too old.

Their lack of responsiveness caused me to press down more firmly, which in turn caused the scratchiness and probably also the need to re-rosin my bow really often.

Funny how sometimes one thing leads to another and you have a problem with a seemingly unrelated cause.

By the way, I'll mention this in the other thread too since it's more pertinent there, but I found that putting an earplug in my left ear offers a different perspective on what my violin sounds like from a distance. It's not a perfect representation for various reasons (vibration through the jaw etc), but it does give me some hints.

September 15, 2009 at 04:55 PM ·

Glad to hear that you are on the right track!

September 15, 2009 at 05:17 PM ·

Hi Rei!

I've been experiencing the same thing too! Talk a little about today, I just brought out my bow from the case and start playing without rosining since I sort of over-rosin it last night. At first it sounded pretty "just right", but eventually when the rosin build up it gives this funny sloppy attacks which sound like scratchy noise, and eventually the bow lost the traction on the strings.

Current dominants on my violin is already 5 months old, changed since april. I've been playing pretty often since I started to teach. It seems that either the rosin build up and melted on the strings which can be seen with naked eyes, I'll try to clean up the strings with solvents first. If it still sounded the same after few playing sessions I guess the strings started to become old (which is probably about right for the lifespan of Dominants which is about 6 months).

September 17, 2009 at 12:36 AM ·

I've tried cleaning my strings with alcohol (well aware of the risk to the varnish). It seems to relieve the problem temporarily but not for very long. I think what happens is that the string itself gradually becomes more abrasive, causing it to get more gunk lodged into the seams. Or something.

Speaking of which, I like the sound of new Dominants for some reason. I'm probably a bit odd.

September 17, 2009 at 04:26 AM ·

Hi Rei,

Maybe you're right. In the past I did try to clean a pretty old dominants on my violin, problem will come back again after a few playing session. But since that was ultra old strings (perhaps more than a year old!), so I might just give this set a try.

Is there "new" dominants? Or were you talking about the current fresh new set of dominants on your violin? I experience the same thing too when I replaced my very old dominant strings. You'll not notice how dead the sound the old dominants are unless you put a fresh new sets on it.

September 17, 2009 at 06:47 PM ·

By "new Dominants" do you mean a new kind of Dominants? I'm not too sure. I just strung on a set of new Dominants that I bought at the store, not too sure how old they are.

I know that Dominants "break in" after a few hours of playing. Then they start sounding rounder, which is almost a necessity if you're playing in any kind of ensemble since otherwise they just don't blend in at all. Then after they break in they slowly deteriorate over the course of a few months, until eventually the outer coils start  coming off or they just start going dull.

What surprised me though was that a string could get old to the point where it changed my technique entirely.

September 17, 2009 at 08:51 PM ·

Yeah, I know what you mean. Not only old strings, but different strings too (are changing the tehnique to a certain point). I tried out all sorts of strings (not that much though), like Eudoxa, Chromcor, Dominant, Obligato, etc, but recently found that d'Addario helicore light is my string :)

September 17, 2009 at 11:36 PM ·

I've been cleaning strings with alcohol for at least 40 years. I think the problem could be that after you get the rosin dissolved in the alcohol (which is practically instantaneous) you have to remove all the alcohol and dissolved rosin immediately with an absorbent cloth. Otherwise, the alcohol will evaporate and leave solidified rosin in the string grooves - just what you have been trying to avoid.

I've been cleaning my bow hair with alcohol for almost 10 years - and I find that works too. You have to be very thorough in removing dissolved rosin from the hair each time you have wet it - up to 8 times, I find. And then allow the hair to dry so it is no longer cool to the touch of the back of your hand before re-rosining. If you don't remove ALL that dissolved rosin the hairs will stick together - and if you re-rosin while the hair is still wet - it will stick together.

I just started to try using BAKER rosins this week (both kinds, the Original and the Vuillaume Citron). I think these are fabulous rosins if the are applied sparingly. Most recently before this, my rosins of choice have been Andrea, Tartini before that, and Liebenzeller before that - but I have tried almost everything else too. I've been at this a very long time!

Baker's rosins may finally be the gold at the end of the rainbow.

 

Find a parallel rosin thread at: http://www.maestronet.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=320518


Andy

September 18, 2009 at 05:07 AM ·

I have learned to rosin sparingly, and only when needed.  Problem solved!  I use Dominant rosin.

September 18, 2009 at 03:15 PM ·

I just bought a Dominant rosin thinking that it might go well with dominants, and the result was great! Improved respond and grip on the strings and not as much rosin dust as the Goldflex. Not sure why, maybe because it's new? I always have this new rosin syndrome thing, new rosins always give better result, but it was much better than I expected.

Anyway I bought it at a good price, below most pirastro rosins and it's pretty good. Maybe I'll just need to clean the hair and strings and see how a fresh start with Dominant rosin goes.

September 19, 2009 at 12:18 AM ·

Yeah dude, strings should be changed more often if you play that often (what was the general, general standard... like 200 hours - I forgot).

And I have to agree with an earlier post that your friends are silly, especially when they suggested that you 'steal the thunder' from a friend of yours. Well as you've said it yourself, it's an ensemble, not a group of soloists. They're hypocrites. D:

But about strings - I used to use all Dominants on my second violin, but that setup changed soon enough when I realized that they don't last all that long, at least in my humble opinion/experiences. I also encourage you to try different strings, as that may solve your surface noise problems in the long run - Infeld Blues are similar strings to Dominants, just with a longer lifespan and a couple dollars extra. You may hear the difference in focus, especially on the G string, as it did on my violin, but of course it depends on the given instrument in the end. But I ramble.

Hope I helped a bit. Have fun! :)

September 19, 2009 at 11:26 PM ·

200 hours sounds about right guessing from how much I play.

I think there might be some stores Downtown that carry other brands of strings, but here where I live Dominant is the only one that's accessible. Shipping from the States is costly too. I bought Dominant rosin from the US last year, and that proved to be quite painful in terms of shipping & handling.

And yeah, maybe that's what I've been doing to my strings -- getting clumps of rosin lodged between the grooves of the strings with alcohol.

By the way, that idea of gradually increasing the amount of rosin on the bow seems to have been pretty effective. I still need to rosin my bow once a day or so, but there isn't as much of a gap between when it's not rosined enough and when it is. I don't feel the urge to rosin my bow in the middle of a piece like I used to.

Thanks for all the hints and advice everyone, I'm really happy with how my violin sounds right now :)

September 19, 2009 at 11:32 PM ·

Real gut strings last a Whoooooole lot longer!!!!!

September 20, 2009 at 05:25 PM ·

A Rachel Barton Pine podcast with two technicians from Thomastic/Infeld (the makers of Dominant, Vision, Infeld, etc.) said that the ideal way to rosin and clean is that when you feel you need to re-rosin (because of the sound of thee bow on the string), instead of re-rosining, taking a piece of 0000 grade steel wool and using it to remove the rosin from the strings.  Then, merely continue to play without re-rosining the bow.

September 20, 2009 at 07:09 PM ·

Stringmall.com has inexpensive strings, and free shipping for orders over $25 USD.

And no, I'm not affiliated with them.  I'm just a high school student.

September 21, 2009 at 08:58 PM ·

Oh wow, stringmall.com is great. Thanks for that. Now I can finally try gut strings.

Steel wool?!

September 27, 2009 at 11:48 AM ·

I just want to say (again, possibly) that I do not clean my strings. I just wipe them off with a cloth on the rare occasion that I get a little finger oil on the bowed sections of strings.

Clean strings do sound a hair better, but is it really worth all the trouble and possible damage to your instrument?

Now, the biggest difference between a clean and heavily rosined string seems to be on the E. E strings cost pennies, so why bother cleaning them? Just replace them every couple of weeks - no need to clean!

Just some food for thought.

September 28, 2009 at 05:23 PM ·

Seems to me that it's a lot more trouble to replace an E string than to clean it.

Done eating that one!

Food for thought, indeed!

Andy

September 30, 2009 at 10:15 AM ·

You'll be in a world of trouble if you get alcohol on your violin and it messes up your varnish and or sound. I never said it was easier to change the E string than to clean them with alcohol, but I did imply that there are fewer consequences.

Seriously, though, it takes me about 10 minutes to change the E. I am extremely, extremely careful while I change a string, and it still doesn't take very long. It's just not that hard. Wouldn't you spend at least 10 minutes or more opening alcohol bottles, finding clean cloths, turning your violin around to ungodly angles so you don't spill the alcohol... blah - I think it might actually be easier just to change the string. Admit it!

September 30, 2009 at 03:15 PM ·

Luke,

I use the alcohol pads sold in drug stores for about $2 per 100. It takes a couple of second to open the sealed pouch, another second to wipe the strings while holding the violin vertically (although I've never had a pad leak). I always have a dry cloth with my each instrument and others right beside mychar in my practice room so it takes a second to grab it and a couple more to wipe the strings dry. Then another few seconds for the strings to completely dry before playing again.

For years and years before that I carried alcohol in each case in an old eyedrops-bottle, but that brought more risk to the instrument.

No big deal at all.

Andy

September 30, 2009 at 04:45 PM ·

Anyone tried to clean strings with consumable alcohol? Like vodka? :) Beer? Absinth??

September 30, 2009 at 05:04 PM ·

ethanol will clean strings, but I recomend grain nutral spirits like vodka or everclear 100proof+  whiskeys that have been aged in casks will leave a resin residue...defeats the purpose.  Use only if there is no other cleaner arround.

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