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The Violin Bow
What is the bow?
Your bow is a wooden or fiberglass stick that has horsehair stretched on it, kept taut. If your bow's stick is wood, it is usually one of the following woods:
Typically, the black parts of the bow are plastic or ebony wood. The screw is metal. Sometimes there is mother-of-pearl on the frog (the dot on the frog) and sometimes that's plastic.
The hair, which is white horsehair, has rosin applied to it that makes the normally smooth horsehair sticky. Rosin's stickiness is what makes the hair create the violin's characteristic sound when it is
The bow may have other things on the stick near the frog, such as a pad or wound wire around the stick, which are to help your hand to not slip around when you're holding the bow and playing your violin.
You must make sure not to touch the horsehair of the violin bow! If you do, that part of the bowhair will get some of your skin's natural oil on it.
Skin oil on the bowhair will make that part of the bowhair not be able to become as sticky when rosin is applied to it, which will make the bow not create a sound at that part of the bow. Touching the bowhair will also make that part of the hair attract dirt much more quickly. If your bow gets dirty, your playing might not sound very good!
The bowhair must be tightened before every playing session and loosened after you are done. This is done with the screw, on the frog of the bow. See the picture below:
You usually only need to turn it about 2 or 3 times to tighten or loosen it. If you hold the bow as shown above, with the screw on the right, you should turn the top of the screw away from you (to the right) to tighten the hair. Then, to loosen it, you turn it toward you. Right-y tight-y, left-y loose-y. Here's another picture to help you remember:
What I show my students is how to tighten the hair enough to where, in the middle of the bow (see picture below), the space between the hair and the stick is about as thick as a standard wooden pencil or perhaps slightly thicker.
Rosin should be applied, at most, only once per playing session. If you apply too much rosin, it will attract dirt and shorten your bowhair's life. You only need to apply about 5 to 7 strokes of rosin, most of the time.
To apply rosin, hold the rosin in your left hand and your bow in your right. Use your usually bowing motion to rub the hair against the rosin cake. Use long smooth strokes at a slightly slow bow speed (compared to playing speed). You can go slower if you want. Be sure not to touch your bowhair to your hand.
With round cakes of rosin (like in the picture below), try not to wear a single groove in the rosin. Each time you need to rosin your bow, rotate the cake just a little bit. Click here to read about all the different kinds of rosin available and what's good for a beginner!
Violin Bow Rehairing
Sometimes, bowhair just wears out. Usually, this is after it becomes so dirty that it will not pick up rosin any longer. It doesn't make a good sound and it begins to turn an ugly grayish color. Time for new hair!
You have two choices. You can either take it to a violin shop and get the hair replaced or you can try to do it yourself with a bow rehair kit (which I do not recommend...there are a lot of tiny parts inside of the frog that can be easy to break or lose).
If you are offered synthetic bowhair, I don't recommend using it. Real horsehair, in my experience, always gives a better sound. I also recommend not using bleached horsehair, although it may not be marked, because the bleaching process makes the hair more brittle and likely to break sooner.
When you get a bow back from the shop, after the bowhair has been replaced, you may find that it makes no sound when you try to play with it! This is because the bow needs to be rosined for the first time.
It takes a looooooooooooooong time to put on enough rosin. Keep putting on rosin and trying to play with the bow every once in awhile until it starts acting like a proper violin bow (making sound when drawn across the strings)!
For a couple of weeks after you bring back a newly rehaired bow, sometimes hairs will fall out of one side or the other on the bow and hang loose. This is normal, and happens once in awhile anyway. Simply (and carefully) clip the hairs close to where they are anchored with fingernail clippers.
How to Store Your Violin Bow and Avoid Damage
When you are not actually playing your violin, you can do one of two things to safely store your bow. You can either put it into the case with the violin or you can hang it up with the violin on a violin hook.
Violin cases have bow spinners to store at least one bow. Usually, cases have places for two bows. The bow's tip is usually tucked into one end of underside of the top half of the case and then the spinner secures the frog end of the bow.
Violin hooks mount on the wall and allow you to quickly hang your violin gently on the hook. You then, just as gently, hang your violin bow from the extra extended piece. Take a look at the picture below:
Finally, here are a few tips on how to best take care of your bow.
- You always want to loosen the hair after you're done playing so that the stick of the bow does not warp.
- Also, never play without tightening the bow because the hair will not be taut enough to draw a good sound fromt he violin.
- Never overtighten the bow because it may break the parts inside the frog that keep the hair taut.
- Never over-loosen the bow because you can make the hair so loose that it catches on things or even falls out.
- Don't tap things with the tip of the bow. The bow is not a sword! It can break.
- When you're not playing the violin, during a break for example, either put the bow on the music stand or hold it straight up or down. In orchestra, it can be very easy to accidentaly poke someone. It is no fun to be poked in the eye with a bow!
- Don't put your bow in your chair. Put it on the music stand if possible. It's too easy to not see the bow and sit on it, possibly breaking it.