Caring for Your First Viola and Violin
Congratulations! You (or your child) have decided to take violin/viola lessons! At your very first lesson, you can expect to discuss the details of purchasing and renting an instrument; additionally, your teacher should recommend the appropriate brand, size, and equipment you will need (books, shoulder rests, etc.).
When you first receive your violin, or viola, chances are you are going to want to take it for a test run. So, you pop open the case, pull out the bow, and draw it across the strings. But wait… there’s no sound?? Why are the bow hairs so loose? And what is this little block of wood used for?
These are probably some of the questions swarming in your mind, or they are the questions your kid is directly asking you, repeatedly. In fact, there are a lot of things to know regarding the initial care of your instrument. To make things easier, I will outline the major points of violin and viola care below for beginner students!
Treat your instrument like it’s your very first (very expensive) new puppy
Would you leave your puppy in a hot car? Or would you leave it outside in the cold? Would you carry it around by one foot, or worse, drop it? Hopefully, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “NO!” Moral of the story, treat your instrument well!
DON’T TOUCH THE BOW HAIR
Especially for children beginners, it is important to enforce “no touching the bow hair”, no matter how fascinating it may seem to them. Our hands’ oils can reduce the bow’s sounding ability, get the hair dirty, and thus require a re-hair much sooner than necessary. And yes, bows do require re-hairing, so be sure to inquire with your instructor about the best timeline to get this taken care of, depending on the age of the student and how often they play.
Before you play, you MUST apply rosin
Typically, new students should have their instructor break in the rosin and apply it very thickly onto the bow hairs (for a brand new bow). Otherwise, the instrument will not make sound! The rosin acts as an adhesive agent, allowing the bow hair to create friction on the strings and thus produce sound. So, if you haven’t rosined the bow in over a month, chances are you may not get more than a few squeaks out of the instrument.
ALWAYS wait for your teacher, or a professional, tune the instrument
While tuning may seem very exciting to the new student, there are many rules regarding appropriate procedure to tune an instrument (and each one is different, depending on the size, brand, strings, etc.). So, until your teacher has specifically taught you how to tune, always have them tune your instrument for you. For beginners, most instruments will hold a tune well enough to last them through the week of practicing.
Use ONLY a dry, lint-free cloth to clean the violin
Do not apply any type of water, alcohol, or cleaning agent to the violin or viola! These items can all cause terrible problems with the varnish if they are applied to the instrument. The ONLY thing you may need to clean the instrument is a dry, lint-free cloth. After each playing session, you may use this to wipe down the strings, body, and even the stick of the bow (NOT the hair) to remove any rosin residue.
Tighten and loosen the bow, ALWAYS
Have you ever heard the phrase “Right is tight, left is loose?” If not, it is good to become familiar! Before you begin to play a note on the violin, you must always tighten the bow hair—otherwise, you just end up whacking the strings with the stick. At the end of the bow (NOT the pointy end), there is an adjusting screw, typically made of silver. To tighten the hair, you turn the screw to the right. To tell if it is tight enough, take a pencil and slide it between the stick and the hair. If it fits snugly, then that is good! The stick SHOULD NOT be straight. It should always have some curve, which allows the bow to bounce. Once you finish playing and are ready to pack up, make sure to turn the adjusting screw LEFT, which loosens the hair. Just make sure that the hairs are slack enough that they can move freely (if you loosen too much, the bow will separate, and may cause an un-needed panic attack). If you don’t loosen the bow, then the bow may risk losing its curve.
If anything falls off, breaks, is accidentally dropped, etc., consult your teacher FIRST!
We all know that accidents happen sometimes, but it is always best to let your teacher know before trying to fix anything! So, if any part of the violin or viola moves, buzzes, falls off, etc., consult your teacher on what you should do. If he or she can fix it, then they will let you know; but, some problems may need to be addressed by a professional luthier.