Learning to play any musical instrument is about much more than simply learning how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or even working your way up the hierarchy of a symphony orchestra as a skilled classical musician; you’ll also need to learn how to take care of your instrument.
When it comes to learning the violin, there is a whole host of daily habits which you will need to adopt in order to ensure that your violin is properly maintained.
Your reward for taking good care of your violin will be a warm and bright sound are you pass the violin bow over its strings, as well as a string instrument which spends little time at the violin repair shop.
Being a responsible musician is all about respecting your instrument and the craftsmanship which has gone into it by the violin maker.
Are you a complete beginner wondering about violin repair and maintenance before you buy a violin of your own? Or are you an experienced violinist looking to brush up on your violin care expertise?
Regardless of your musical ability or your knowledge about the world of stringed instruments and their restoration, this article is here to guide you through everything you need to know about taking care of your violin.
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If you want to keep your violin in pristine condition and reduce wear-and-tear where possible, there are several things you will need to do on a daily basis (or as often as you practice).
Here are the top four steps every violinist will have to take before and after they play their violin, no matter what type of violin they play, as recommended by every violin instructor:
1. Tighten and loosen the horsehair
Before playing your violin, you will need to prepare your bow.
The first step in preparing the violin bow is tightening the bow hair.
To do this, simply turn the screw at the end of the bow to the right until the horsehair is taught. To check that the bow hair is not too tight or too loose, place your index finger between the hair and the wooden part of the bow. If the tightness is correct, it should fit comfortably.
Another way that you can check the tightness of the bow hair is by looking at the wooden part of the bow, which should be slightly curved towards the hair. If it starts to bend outwards, the hair is too tight.
In the same way, after you have finished playing your violin, you need to loosen the horsehair before you put your bow away.
To do this, simply turn the screw at the end of the bow to the left.
2. Apply rosin to the violin bow
Applying rosin to the horsehair once it has been tightened is part of preparing your bow before you play the violin.
Rosin is a solid amber residue which comes from tree sap. Its purpose is to provide a level of friction between the bow hair and the violin string – without it, the bow would simply slide over the violin strings producing no sound. Most violins are sold with rosin as part of their outfit.
To apply the rosin, simply hold the bow in your right hand and the rosin in your left hand. Next, stroke the full length of the bow over the block of rosin for 20 full strokes.
Once you have completed 20 strokes, try bowing a note on your violin. If it is quiet or scratchy, apply more rosin until the sound is clearer.
3. Wipe your violin down with a dust cloth
Once you have finished your violin lessons or practice sessions, it is recommended that you wipe your violin down with a dry cloth.
Wiping your violin will prevent any dust from building up as well as protecting the violin’s strings from a sticky build-up of rosin.
You should also wipe the wooden part of your violin bow before putting it away.
To wipe down your violin, you can use any dry cleaning cloth, but microfibre and dusting cloths are the most effective at removing unwanted dust from the instrument’s body, bow and strings.
If you want to make sure that your cleaning cloth is doing its job properly, make sure that you wash it regularly. Washing will remove most of the dirt, however, once there has been a significant build-up of rosin, you will need to replace your cloth.
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4. Put your violin away
Storing your violin safely is one of the most important parts of caring for your string instrument.
The vast majority of violins, when bought, come in cases which are made especially for their shape.
These cases are designed to house the instrument safely and protect it from external damage, providing support of the violin’s most delicate parts including the neck, the bridge, the scroll the tailpiece the tuning pegs, and of course the bow. When buying a violin, make sure it comes with a proper case - whether it's a low or high-priced violin, you need to be able to store it properly.
Violins are incredibly delicate instruments, which is why it is essential that they are stored correctly in their cases when they are not being played. This means that they shouldn’t be balanced on a chair, placed on a violin stand or left anywhere they could be knocked over or trodden on.
As the proud owner of a violin, its maintenance isn’t limited to daily tasks – there are plenty of things you need to do on a less regular basis to ensure that your instrument is in the best possible condition for playing.
Here are the main things you need to know about general violin maintenance:
· Replace the violin’s strings
It is recommended that the musician replaces their violin’s strings every 12 months, however, this may vary depending on how often you play your violin.
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Making sure that your violin’s strings are relatively new will mean that your violin maintains a bright and warm sound.
Violin strings can be bought from any good music shop. A good violin tuner will help you adjust your new strings.
· Rehair your bow
Just like the violin’s strings, the horsehair on the violin bow can also become worn and brittle over time.
The guidelines for rehairing violin bows are less clear than those for restringing an instrument, but the general advice is to have your bow hair changed once it stops feeling ‘right’ or becomes noticeably dirty.
Some professionals have their horsehair changed every few months or so, whereas many students can go over two years without having any new bowhair.
The changing of bow hair should be a job which is reserved only for those who specialize in bow making – do not try to rehair your bow by yourself.
· Temperature and humidity levels
Changes in the humidity and temperature of an environment are known to affect musical instruments carved from wood (including the guitar and woodwind insturments such as the clarinet).
As a rule of thumb, in order to keep their violin at a suitable temperature, violinists are told to treat their instrument as they would treat a human. Although this may sound extreme, keeping your violin at a temperature which is comfortable for you is the best way to prevent warping and cracks to the violin’s delicate body.
So, don’t leave your violin in a freezing-cold car overnight, nor on the backseat during a sunny day.
Humidity is also an issue which violinists need to consider.
As violins are crafted from wood, they naturally exchange moisture with the surrounding air. For this reason, maintaining regular humidity levels is important for preventing warping.
It is recommended that violins are kept in environments with 40%-60% humidity. In the case that the humidity levels should drop significantly, there are violin humidifiers available to prevent any damage to the instrument.
Humidifiers can either fit through the f-holes whilst the instrument is in the violin case or can be used to humidify the air in a whole room.
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When you play your instrument on a regular basis, it’s only natural that it will require some repairing from time to time.
If ever you notice any changes to the sound quality or playability of your violin, it may be a good idea to take it to a luthier (violin restorer) to be serviced.
Instrument repair and servicing, like car servicing, is all about checking that each of the violin parts are in the best possible working order so that the instrument can fulfil its potential.
Violin repair and restoration services are usually offered by music shops which have their own workshops which are dedicated to getting all instruments sounding their best. In the case of lutherie (the art of violin making), trained restoring specialists exercise their workmanship in polishing and varnishing instruments belonging to the violin family (including the cello and double bass), as well as replacing worn fingerboards and ensuring that the tuning pegs are not too stiff or loose.
Full servicing should be done every year or so to ensure that the instrument’s tone is at its finest - with the right servicing, a good violin with sound almost as lovely as a Stradivarius.
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