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What is Rosin?

By Grace and Marisa Kobilan

Your new violin comes, you’re so excited. When you open the case, one of the things you notice inside is something that looks like a lump of tree sap. What is it? Rosin is a sticky subject. If you don’t get a grip on it, you won’t get very far in playing your violin, viola, cello or bass. Seriously though, rosin is an important element that is required in order to excel at playing, or in fact, to even produce any sound at all with the bow. I shall enlighten you as to what this shiny lump inside your case is, its use, and how to select the optimum rosin for your instrument.

What is rosin?

Rosin is melted tree sap, usually taken from conifer trees. It must be heated to release the terpene components from it. Rosin is brittle at room temperature, but will melt on the stovetop. Once melted, other ingredients are often added, such as beeswax, and sometimes even flecks of gold. Some rosin makers even have secret recipes for their special blend of rosin. Different key ingredients distinguish one type of rosin from another.

What is rosin’s purpose?

The purpose of rosin is to create friction with the horsehair on the violin bow in order to create sound. Without rosin on the bow hair, you cannot produce any sound with the bow. You know you don’t have enough rosin on your bow when your instrument sounds unusually quiet, and/or the bow slips around too much while you are playing.

Are their different kinds of rosin?

The varieties and types of rosin are endless. Each variation has a slightly different use. Rosin types can roughly be divided into two categories: light and dark. In general, the light rosins are dustier, and better for more humid environments, while the dark rosins are stickier and better for dry climates. Within those categories, there are some types which are better for violas, celli or bass. My particular favorite rosin for violin is Pirastro Oliv Rosin. Kennedy Violins has a large selection of rosins from which you can choose the rosin to best fit your playing needs. If you have any more questions about rosin, feel free to ask one of our staff members, and they will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

How do I put rosin on my bow?

Apply your rosin by rubbing it in long smooth strokes from frog to tip; tip to frog. When you get a brand new cake of rosin, it will be smooth and shiny on the top. Your job is to slightly roughen up the surface of the rosin with a piece of sandpaper or a knife. This gets the rosin dust going. If you don’t rough up the surface the first time, the rosin won’t be applied to your bow correctly. Don’t rub your bow across the rosin very quickly, or else the friction created will make the rosin heat up and stick to itself instead of the strings!