What is Violin Rosin?
Violin rosin is a hard block of specially prepared sap from specific kinds of trees. You put it on the hair of the violin bow, so the bow's hair will be rough and sticky enough to make the strings vibrate when you bow on the strings. If you get a bow that has never had rosin put on the bowhair, the bow makes no sound at all when you try to play on the violin with it!
If you use a lighter rosin (for example an amber rosin) then it will be less sticky. This means that the bow hair will glide more on the strings, rather than stick and grab on them. This is usually better for the beginning violinist, because you're still learning how to best control the bow on the string. However, it can mean that you can't get the full range of volume from the violin.
If you use a dark, soft rosin, then you will notice that your bow hair will stick to the strings more as you play. By "stick to the strings", I don't mean that the bow won't move! I mean that the bow hair will be just a little harder to move when it touches the strings. The sound may be a little harsher, especially for beginners. This can mean that you'll be able to draw more sound (volume) from your instrument, but you'll have to control the harshness while you're playing.
What Kind of Rosin Should I Get?
There are a few kinds for you, the beginner violinist. Rosins' differences in color can change how you use it. Rosin comes in different colors, all the way from dark greens and browns through very light ambers and tans. The darker the rosin, the stickier and softer it is. The lighter the rosin's color, the less sticky and harder it is.
The kind of rosin you get depends on your playing style. If you tend to really dig in or you are an absolute beginner and need to get rosin that helps your bowing sound smoother, get a lighter colored rosin. If you tend to play lightly or you have a little more experience and need help boosting your sound a little, try a darker colored rosin.
You should get higher quality rosin as soon as you can. Your violin probably came with rosin in a wood block, but you'll want to get a better rosin as soon as you're sure you'll be continuing with violin.
Some people develop an allergy to violin rosin, which isn't solved by getting a higher quality rosin, typically. There is a brand of violin rosin for those who are allergic called Magic Rosin.
What's a Good Rosin for a Beginner?
I suggest going to your music store or looking at a listing of rosin on a reputable strings site such as swstrings.com or shar.com and buying one of the rosins that come as a round cake. For whatever reason, those seem to always be higher quality than rosins that are encased in a wooden or plastic block.
If you need specific brand recommendations, I would suggest either D'Addario brand rosin or Dominant-brand rosin for beginners. As I explained above, more advanced players will need to select their own rosin based on their playing style and instruments. I've not had good experiences with students using Super-Sensitive rosin, as it tends to be too harsh sounding on many beginners' violins.
Please share your questions, comments or experiences about rosin!
How Do I Apply Rosin?
Rosin should be applied maybe once per playing session. Many players put on too much rosin, too often, which results in a more harsh sound. Too much rosin also attracts dirt, causing horsehair to wear out very quickly.
Hold the rosin in your left hand, rosin cake upwards. Hold your bow in the right hand, using the standard bow grip. In a normal playing motion, stroke the bow hair against the rosin surface all the way from the frog to the tip. You can stroke the bow both up and down. Make sure you go all the way to the frog and all the way to the tip!
When I put on rosin, I usually put on between 5 to 7 strokes of rosin. You only need to apply the rosin to the part of the bow hair that contacts the strings and not the part of the bow hair that is closest to the stick of the bow.
To find out if you put on too much rosin, tighten the bow as if you were going to play and then bounce the bow on the string a few times gently. If you see dust flying around from the bow, you have too much rosin on the bow.
Where Do I Get Rosin?
You can either get rosin from your local music store or from the Internet. Often, a violin will come with rosin. Examine the rosin to make sure that it's in good shape.
Does Rosin Go Bad?
No, not really. Usually, it just gets used so much that after a few years it crumbles to bits.
Examine your rosin, when you first get it, to make sure that it is decent quality. Check to make sure it doesn't have many bubbles trapped in it and that it isn't crumbled and has a semi-smooth surface.
Take care of your rosin!
How Do I Take Care of My Rosin?
The very first time you use a cake of rosin, you may need to lightly scratch the surface to make sure it transfers to the bow. You can do that with a coin.
Keep your rosin cool (don't leave it in the sun). Don't drop it, you might find yourself with little pieces of rosin. Keep it in a padded part of your case (NOT right next to your violin); violin cases almost always have little areas specifically for rosin. Don't step on it. Rosin doesn't need a whole lot more than that.