Violin Care: Eleven Tips That Could Save Your Violin
Violin Care: It's Not As Hard As You Think
.Just looking at a violin, it's pretty easy to believe that violin care should be absolutely simple. A violin is essentially a wooden box, so how hard could taking care of it be? But if you think about the physics behind the way a violin, viola, or cello produces sound, you could come to believe that proper violin care and instrument maintenance requires years of study and great dexterity. Listening to people talk about the violin could cause you to believe that it's so delicate that walking heavily through the next room could cause the violin to implode, explode, or both. But thinking about Stradivarius violins surviving more than 300 years or fiddles being carried from campfire to fiddle festival time and again could make you believe that violins are a lot tougher than you've been led to believe.
You need to take good care of your violins so they look better, they sound better, and you won't be spending a lot of money and time for a luthier to FIX what you could have taken care of yourself with just a little attention! Basic violin care is really not that difficult or time-consuming. And you'll be amazed the things you can learn about your instrument just paying a little attention to it.
All that being said, let me set out . . .
Eleven Tips That Could Save Your Violin
Or At Least Help Keep it in Good Condition
These tips are great for the violin, but the the advice is equally applicable for other wooden instruments. If you follow these eleven tips (where applicable) you'll save yourself all sorts of trouble with your viola, cello, bass, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, autoharp, banjo . . . heck . . . any stringed instrument you might have in the house.
Never Leave Your Violin Someplace You Wouldn't Put a Baby!
Happy Baby ... Happy Violin
If Your Baby Would Be Happy There, Your Violin Probably Will Be Too!
That's probably a very good idea. If you follow that rule of thumb your violin will stay
1. Someplace with a moderate temperature.
2. Someplace with a moderate humidity.
3. Someplace out of direct sunlight.
4. Someplace you won't easily forget it.
5. Someplace it won't be easily kicked, dropped, knocked over, or damaged in some other way.
These are all great ideas to follow when it comes to keeping your baby healthy. And following these rules will go a long way toward keeping your violin in good condition as well.
Never Leave Your Violin Someplace You Wouldn't Put a Baby!
Get Yourself a Really Good Violin Case! It's a Good Investment in Your Instrument's Safety!
A Good Violin Case is CRITICAL!
A violin case, while obviously a way to carry your violin from one place to another, is really the first line of defense in protecting your instrument from bumps, weather, and a host of ills.
So what should you look for in a case?
1. Buy a "suspension" case. This will actually support the instrument in a way which will not allow it to bounce around in the case. If the case falls on its side, the violin is protected. If you drop the case, the violin stays in place. Will it allow you to fall down a flight of stairs with your violin or use the case as a prop in a wrestling match? No, but it will provide good protection in most instances. A hardshell case will usually provide better protection than a lighter weight case.
2. Buy a case that allows you to carry it over your shoulder or on your back. This is more than mere style or convenience. Sometimes it is a matter of safety. I shudder when I see boys riding their bicycles with handlebar in one hand and the violin in the other.
3. Before you buy a case, think about how many compartments and pockets you need. Do you carry your sheetmusic in the case or separately? Do you carry an electronic tuner? How many bows do you carry? Does the case lock and zip, or just one. If the case closes with a zipper, a double zipper with two tabs which meet in the center is a better way to go than just a traditional one tab zipper.
4. Buy a weatherproof case. A case which does not keep the rain out for the five minute trek to the subway or the fifteen minute wait for the bus is simply not worth having. The case should provide more than convenience...it should protect the instrument!
Get a Really Good Violin Case!
Violin Cases...Protection and Convenience!
How Do You Carry YOUR Fiddle?
Is there a shoulder strap on the violin case you carry most often?
Violin Cases on eBay - A good violin case is the first step in taking care of your violin,
And you can get some very good cases on eBay and other auction sites. Be careful, though, Although there are bargains, look for a name-brand case.Just to reiterate what I've already said,make sure it states that the case as a "suspension" or "full-suspension" case. Make sure the case is weatherproof. Make sure it has the number of bow holders you need, and it has the space to store all those things you carry with you from home, to lesson, to rehearsal, to gig, and back again! And I especially recommend bags which come with a shoulder strap...or that you can carry as a backpack. After all, convenience and safety are the whole reason you're getting a quality case.
Here are some of the cases available on eBay right now!
Change Your Strings Regularly! Your Violin Sounds Better With Clean, Relatively Fresh Strings.
3 Year Old Violin Strings Don't Make the Grade - Change Them
I'd Continue the Baby Analogy, but That Would Be Gross!
Strings wear out. Strings get dirty. And it is, after all, the strings that start the whole vibration that makes the instrument great!
How often should you change your violin's strings? For the most part that depends on how often you play. For someone who plays the instrument regularly (meaning several times a week) it is reasonable to change strings every six months. Some violinists go as long as a year, but the difference you'll hear in the sound is worth the expense.
Rules to remember when changing your strings--
1. Don't remove all of the strings at once. The tension of the strings, to bridge, to instrument belly is a key in keeping your violin's soundpost in place.
2. When winding the strings on the pegs, don't allow the string to cross over itself whenever possible.
3. Don't throw away your old strings. It is a good idea to have a set of used strings in your violin case just in case a string should break and you need an emergency replacement. Strings take time to stretch and "settle in," so placing a new string on your violin is an invitation to have it go out of tune for the first day or two. Once you've left the performance, and you have the time to change the string, do so when the string has a little while to settle.
4. Make sure the bridge is standing properly when you finish changing the strings. Turning those tuning pegs tends to pull the top of the bridge toward the pegs. If the bridge is not straight...straighten it!
Change Your Strings Regularly!
Always Have an Extra Set of Strings
Be especially careful with the tip of your bow. It's delicate and expensive to repair.
Bows Break -- No Duels Please!
If you've never really thought about how a bow works you've probably never realized how complicated a bow is. The structure of the bow, and the tension placed on it means that it really is delicate.
To the dismay of young boys, bows should never be used to re-enact scenes from pirate or gladiator movies. Be careful putting your violin away, if it is loose in the case and presses against the strings or the fingerboard it can damage or be damaged. A bow is not a cane, and cannot support you if you lean on it. It is not a substitute for your hands if you should choose to applaud a performance. Don't tap it on a metal stand. Be especially aware of the tip of the bow. As you can see in the picture, tips break off. Care for your bow, and you can keep it for a lifetime, but I've seen bows which were abused destroyed in less than a week.
Don't Abuse Your Bow Tip
I've Never Had This Happen, But... - Here's Evidence that YES YOU CAN BREAK A BOW!
Click Here to watch the video. The accident occurs about 43 seconds in!
Be sure to loosen the hair on your bow when you put it away!
Keep it Clean...Replace it When Necessary
The bow's hair is the medium which causes those strings to vibrate, and the beautiful sound to come out! Oil from your skin can actually cause the hair to slide on the strings, producing inconsistent and even intermittent tone! I know a Suzuki Violin teacher who, for the first six weeks her students hold their bows, makes them raise their hands and shout out, "DON'T TOUCH THE HAIR," every time the word "bow" is mentioned.
And if you're a parent whose child has come to you with the instruction from his or her teacher that the bow hair needs to be replaced...RELAX. It's normal maintenance. In all probability the hair has simply stretched so as to cause the bow to be less than optimal. It may be that the hair has broken. That's normal as well, it is probably not due to abuse. Depending on how the instrument is played, it may not even be out of line to get the bow re-haired once ever six months or once a year.
And loosening the hair EVERY TIME you put the bow away is essential. It allows the hair to relax, slows down stretching, and takes tension off the bowstick! So turn that screw when you put the bow away!
Take Care of Your Bow Hair!
Be sure to take the shoulder rest off your violin before you put it away!
What Was That "CRUNCH" I Just Heard?
A shoulder rest can be a marvelous aid in helping you to play well, but it can be deadly to your instrument if you accidentally forget to remove it when you put your violin into its case.
A part of the protection provided by a violin case consists of not allowing the instrument to move around much in the case. Movement can allow damage, so good cases will fit the violin quite closely. There is not room for the shoulder rest to remain attached to the instrument. That applies to some mutes and learning aids as well. Remove them all before you place them into the case EVEN IF YOU DON'T PLAN TO CLOSE THE LID. I've seen several case lids closed with shoulder rests and removable mutes attached. I've seen a bow left loose in the case and broken when the case lid closed. Make sure that rosin, tuners, and anything else harder than the cloth you use to clean the violin is put into the proper compartment. If the violin is being put into the case, put it in there "clean."
Be Careful Putting Your Violin Into Its Case!
Use a violin humidifier--it can prevent cracks and seam separations.
Use a Humidifier
Constant humidity is a HUGE part of violin maintenance and care!
All you have to do is look at it to realize that a violin is made of wood. In fact, a violin is made of several types of wood.
The front of the violin (usually called the belly or the table) is usually made of spruce. The sides and back are made of maple. The fingerboard, endpiece, and pegs are made of ebony, rosewood or boxwood. The parts are held together by glue, or in some cases pressure and friction only!
Wood absorbs moisture when it is humid, and it dries out when humidity is low. The tiny movements created by this repeated swelling and shrinking can cause separations at seams and (even worse) cracks in the sides, belly and back as well. Pegs stick and get loose. It's even possible for the soundpost inside the instrument to fall if too much swelling and shrinking occurs.
The purpose of a humidifier is to keep the humidity inside the violin case constant. The typical humidifier is absolutely simple to use, and the cost involved is so minuscule that it is foolhardy to go without one in a dry climate or when the violin is frequently moved from hot to cold or humid to dry and back.
Your Violin Likes The Right Humidity!
The Humidifier I Use
If It's July,
Humidifiers on eBay
Sometimes you can get really good deals on merchandise on eBay. For supplies like this there is really no need to audition the product. Strings, rosin, humidifiers, sheet music...it makes a lot of sense economically to buy all of these supplies online!
Take a look at what's available right now!
Always Wipe the Rosin From the Wood Parts of Your Violin and Bow When You've Finished Playing.
Wipe Off the Rosin
Violin Rosin is actually tree sap. The rosin has had chemicals added, has been melted and molded, and has been somehow attached to a wood block or a cloth, but the very soul of rosin is sap. And rosin and the varnish on your violin and bow do not co-exist peacefully. Use a lint-free cloth to wipe the rosin from the violin, from the bowstick, from the strings and even from the case lining every time you put your violin into its case. The total time involved is less than a minute, but the time that you save cleaning things up later and the money you save by not having to have your instrument's varnish repaired makes the effort well worth it.
Is All That (Cough) Rosin (Cough) Really Necessary (Wheeze)
In a Word . . . NO!
You really only need enough rosin to produce the desired sound. If, after rosining your bow, you produce a visible cloud when you bow the strings, you are using too much rosin. I like to rosin my bow then blow hard up and down the hair. Any rosin that I can blow from the bow hair would simply have wound up on the violin's belly, on the bowstick, or on the strings.. You can often go two or three practice sessions without re-rosining your bow. Rosin your bow when it NEEDS TO BE ROSINED. Any more than that wastes rosin and can cause (at best) a mess or (at worst) damage to your violin's finish.
Use Rosin Sparingly and Wipe it Off Your Instrument!
A Gentle Reminder
Don't use furniture polish to clean or polish your instrument.
Polish and Care Kits
Use Products Well-Suited to Your Instrument!
The varnish on your violin does more than just add to its beauty! Many experts believe that it was the rosin that masters like Stradivari and Guarneri used which added in those tiny overtones which transformed their instruments from very good to masterpieces! Use a product which is guaranteed not to harm the varnish. A cleaner specifically made for stringed instruments is preferable. And I have had more than one luthier tell me that if you clean an instrument you need to apply a new coat of polish as well to seal it up again. After more than forty years with my instrument I still don't call myself an expert in the field, but following their advice for the last forty years still has my instrument looking and sounding great!
Only Use Violin Polish & Violin Cleaner on Your Instrument!
Violin Care Supplies - A Little Spit and Polish...Well, Not the Spit, But Polish and the Like!
Your Bridge is Straight
Every Time You Play.
Straighten Your Bridge
London Bridge is Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down . . . Not a Song You Want to Hear
The Bridge is actually the key to the violin. The bridge is that which holds the strings above the belly of the violin. It is the mechanism which transfers the vibrations of the strings to the resonator box formed by the body. It keeps the strings physically separated so that it is actually possible to play one string at a time due to the arch of the bridge's top. And it is only held in place by the tension between the strings and the instrument's belly.
Straightening a bridge is really not difficult. Generally speaking the proper place for the feet of the bridge is between the slashes in violin's f-holes. The bridge should be place so that the strings are centered over the fingerboard. Tightening the strings actually draws the top of the bridge toward the pegs at the top of the violin. You want the side of the bridge toward the pegs to remain perpendicular to the belly of the violin.
When you start a practice session or a performance, if the angle formed is not a 90 degrees you need to straighten it.
Check Your Bridge Regularly!
Violin Bridges on Amazon
Make Sure That Your Fine Tuners Don't Dig Into the Belly of Your Instrument.
Fine Tuners are REALLY Helpful, But...
It's Amazing How Much Damage Those Little Things Can Do!
One of the saddest things that I've ever seen was the tears on the face of a 12-year old girl whose parents had given her a a beautiful violin for her birthday. Through everyday tuning the fine tuners of the instrument had been tightened over and over. When they reached their limit the girl loosened the fine tuners a little and tightened the pegs. That's a perfectly logical thing to do! But she did not realize that as a fine tuner is tightened, the underside of the tuner moves down toward the belly of the instrument. There were four evenly spaced gouges from the fine tuners in the belly of her violin.
Ideally, look at your fine tuners every time you play. When you loosen them and turn the pegs back, loosen them dramatically, not just a couple of turns. You absolutely MUST maintain space between the bottom of the fine tuner and the belly of the instrument.
I'm not naïve enough to believe that most people are going to look at the spacing every time they play. Heck, I've been playing for more than forty years and I don't even do that! But I tell people that they have four strings on their violin. On the fourth of each month, adjust the fine tuners so that there is no chance they are going to damage the instrument!
Check Your Fine Tuners Regularly.
And If Your Pegs Slip or Stick...Peg Drops and Peg Compound - Sticky and Loose Pegs Begone! Help the Fine Tuners Do Their Job!
A Great Little Tool! - You Don't Need it Often, But When You Do...
If you've ever played with a loose chinrest, or perhaps even had the instrument slip away while playing (I've done that--blush!) you know how important a tight chinrest is. This chinrest wrench is designed to fit into the hole in the barrel which tightens the chinrest without going all the way through.
Violin Sound Post Setter - Help, I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up
A sound post setter is the tool you need. An inexpensive tool. Not a simple one to use, but with a little practice you can re-set your own sound post. If you can handle it, this can save you a trip to the luthier!
Care and Maintenance of Your Violin - Further Reading to Help You Along!
You've heard the saying, "Knowledge is Power!" And in this case the speaker is right! Sometimes violinists hear advice from teachers about caring for their instruments, but they don't take it seriously. Sometimes they just need to hear it from a third party. Sometimes the teacher tells you what to do, but not why. And without the "why" question being answered, the advice goes unheeded. And sometimes it just takes seeing it in print to make it stick. This page is a great place to start, but here are some reference materials that just might help put this all in focus! (And you can carry it with you anyplace you take your instrument!)
If you know a fabulous way to care for your instrument that we've missed, tell us about it! Thanks!
And If Something Goes Wrong -- See a Professional
I never want to see anyone have instrument problems with their instrument, but if you do have a problem, use a professional. I love this little video promoting professional luthier services. It's visually lovely, and the violin playing's nice, too!
What's Today's Violin Tip
Click Here For Today's Tip!
An Interesting Violin Website - Just Click the Image
Some Interesting Violin Websites on the Web
- Violin Student Central
A website for violin students of all ages. Daily Violin Tips. Music History. Apparel, Puzzles...all sorts of information.
Please take a moment to tell me about you, your playing, and any questions you might have. I'll do my best to get back with an answer as soon as possible!