July 31, 2015
Cello Rosin: Everything You Need to Know
There is a variety of cello rosin available on the market and, if you’re a new cellist, you probably have no idea where to start. Whether you’re purchasing cello rosin for the first time or for the first time in awhile, this essential accessory is actually a bit of a mystery to most string musicians, regardless of their comprehension level. Few know how it’s made, how it works, or which types of rosin are best for their particular instrument. To help decode the mystery behind cello rosin, here is some valuable information about that little box of rosin hiding in your accessory bag.
First of All, What’s Rosin?
Rosin, known as colophony to luthiers, is a resin collected from hundreds of different types of pine trees throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and New Zealand. Collected from trees in much the same way as maple syrup, the resin is sometimes mixed with other tree saps to create a specialized formula. From there, the formula is cooked, cooled, and packed into a swath of cloth or fitted into a tight-sealing container. You may notice that rosin comes in different colors, which is dictated by the time of year it’s collected and affects its playability and tone. Amber rosin is collected in the late winter or early spring, is harder in texture, and produces a smoother tone, while darker rosin is collected in the summer and fall months, is softer in texture, and produces a bigger, grittier sound.
Why Do I Need Cello Rosin?
Bow hair is great to use for playing the cello, except for one unfortunate thing: a bow can’t create the friction that’s needed to cause a string to vibrate and produce sound on its own. Many new cellists make the mistake of trying to play the cello without rosin, only to find that the bow either produces a faint, whispery sound or no sound at all. Since rosin provides the bow hair with the friction it needs to produce sound when the bow is pulled across the cello strings, a brand new cello bow won’t make sound until the rosin has been applied. This friction against the string actually caused the rosin to melt momentarily, sticking to the string, pulling it, and activating its vibration.
How Do I Apply Rosin?
Rosin application isn’t difficult, especially once you’ve had some experience with it. Before application, tighten the bow hairs by gently turning the tension screw- just be sure to avoid over tightening. Once tight, place the bow hairs flat on the rosin near the frog of the bow, and gently rub the bow hairs up and down a few times, as if you’re scrubbing a small spot on the floor. (Note: if you’re using cake rosin, rotate the rosin as you apply it so you’re not putting a groove into the rosin.) From there, pull the flat bow hairs straight across the rosin until the tip of the bow is reached, repeating the same scrubbing motion. Repeat this process across the full length of the bow several times.
How Often Should I Rosin My Bow?
No matter which type of rosin you choose, use it sparingly. Many musicians use way too much and, if you notice a rough, gravelly sound during play, you might be one of them. How often your bow needs to have rosin applied to it depends on how often you play (and for how long). For example, if you play the cello daily for a few hours at a time you may need to rosin your bow before each session, while those who play for less than an hour a day may only need to rosin their bow every four or five sessions, or until they notice the bow hair slipping from the cello’s strings during play. Pay attention to your cello: it’ll give you insight into how often rosin needs to be applied to the bow.
Boxed vs. Cake Rosin
Rosin comes in two forms: box or cake. In general, boxed rosin is cheaper than cake rosin and comes in clear and amber colors. Since it’s a universal rosin, it can be used for any stringed instrument, in any season. Boxed rosin is the better choice for student musicians who are using non-horsehair bows, as boxed rosin tends to stick to the bow better. The main advantage of boxed rosin is its durability- it’s less prone to cracking and breaking, and a single box tends to last longer than a cake. Cake rosin, on the other hand, is a higher-quality, purer rosin and is available in amber to solid black colors, in both winter and summer mixtures.
If you find yourself allergic to or irritated by rosin powder, many manufacturers now offer hypoallergenic rosin. Found primarily in cake form, this clear, powder-free alternative doesn’t produce any powder or residue when used.
How Do I Clean Rosin Off My Cello?
Since the rosin powder will fall from the bow onto your cello during play, it’s important to wipe down your instrument after each and every use. Use a soft cotton rag for cleaning the dust off the strings, the cello, and your bow after each playing session. Although warm water and a cotton rag will suffice, there are specialty string cleaners and microfiber cloths available. If rosin dust and debris accumulate on the varnish of your instrument, bring or send your cell in for a professional cleaning. For more cello cleaning and maintenance tips, check out Proper Cello Care and Maintenance.
Where Should I Buy Rosin?
At Music & Arts, we’re dedicated to bringing you one of the largest offerings of professional band and orchestral instruments, products, and accessories in the world. As a one-stop shop for students, parents, and educators, you’ll find cello rosin from some of the top manufacturers, including Thomastik and Otto Musica. Remember, when selecting cello rosin you should take a variety of things into consideration, including whether boxed or cake rosin is right for you . If your child is a student, a great place to start is by speaking with their music educator for more information.
Curious about what other cello accessories you’ll need? Check out Cello Strings & Accessories: An Introduction.