The Studio blog
Yes, it can!
I was getting my bow re-haired at Kenmore Violins recently and was able to ask the shop owner that very question. He told me that rosin does indeed become less effective if it dries out. How long a block of rosin remains useful has to do with the quality of the rosin and the climate you are in. High quality rosin is pure. Rosin is the solid form of resin acquired from conifers, and cheaper brands (that often come with rental instruments) can contain less than 50% pure rosin in them.
So here is what I learned:
If your rosin is leaving a thick, white layer of dust on your instrument the rosin is not pure.
You should never have to scratch up the surface of your rosin in order to apply it.
You wouldn’t need to use a lot of high quality rosin, a little goes a long way.
Be mindful of where you buy your rosin from. Large retail music stores likely purchase rosin from suppliers in bulk, and the one you are buying could very well be 10 years old by the time it gets to you. Your local violin shop/luthier will probably have rosin to sell that they order in smaller quantities so what you buy is newer.
You get what you pay for, so the more you are willing to spend on a block of rosin the purer it is likely to be.
(D’Addario produces quality rosins that are not very expensive and a good option for beginning students).
If you leave your rosin in a hot, dry climate it will become dry and brittle, so keep it with your instrument. You are keeping that in a stable climate, yes?
And finally, how do you know if your rosin has gone bad? The rosin should be soft enough that when you draw your bow hair across it, a dusty path will be left on the block, (as shown in the image). If you do that and the block remains shiny or there is not any dust left in the bow’s path, then your rosin has hardened and is no longer of good service to you.
Here is some basic information about taking good care of your instrument.
Your violin is delicate and sensitive to variations in temperature and humidity. When you are not playing your instrument, it should be kept in a hard case, out of direct sunlight, and out of cold drafts. It is also inadvisable to leave your violin in a car for extended periods of time. The reason for all of this is that variations in temperature can cause cracks in the wood or blisters in the varnish that would require repair.
The varnish on the violin’s body is vulnerable to the oils and sweat on your hands, so to protect the instrument's shiny finish, it is a good idea to handle it by the neck as much as possible and make a habit of washing your hands before you play. Equally detrimental to the finish is allowing rosin dust to build up. After each time you play, clean the dust off the strings, fingerboard, and body with a soft cloth. If you find fingerprints on your violin, you can use a slightly damp cloth to wipe them off. If your varnish becomes really dull in places, it is best to take your violin to a luthier so they can clean and polish it for you, or get their recommendation for one you can use yourself. Violin cleaners are readily available, but if you are concerned about maintaining the value of your instrument, defer to the professionals before using any.
Your bow is strung with horse hair, which has microscopic barbs all over each strand. These barbs are responsible in part for the friction that produces sound when you draw your bow across the strings. That being the case, the oil and sweat on your hands will ruin the hair if you touch it so try not to.
When you are preparing to play, tighten the hair enough so that it is not touching the wood, but not so tight that you lose the concave curve of the bow. You will need to regularly apply rosin, but probably not every time you play. You should apply enough for your bow to easily grip the string and not feel slippery, but if you are creating clouds of rosin dust you have used too much. When you are finished playing loosen the bow hair before storing it.
One of the biggest challenges music students face is finding time and motivation to get their practicing done consistently. Here are some tips to create a habit of practicing and make good progress when you do:
1) Pick a time every day when you know you won’t have something else to do and be consistent. Make practicing a habit as automatic as brushing your teeth.
2) Do it even when you don’t feel like it. Good habits function like compound interest, so small contributions that are made consistently can benefit a lot in the long run (like brushing your teeth!)
3) Have a general plan for what you are going to practice and what you would like to accomplish before you even open your case. Having clear objectives to pursue and complete in your practice time is rewarding, and habits that make you feel good about yourself are more likely to stick.
4) Spend 80% of your time working on details and small sections of music. I call this micro practicing. It is much more productive to zero-in on your trouble spots and carefully solidify the technical execution of challenging passages in small, bite-sized pieces than it is to run through pages at a time, fueled on hope that your trouble spot will just work itself out. Practice running through larger sections as well, but let that be 20% of the time. It is so fulfilling to let your musical expressiveness go, so don’t deprive yourself! But do use micro practice methods to give yourself a really strong foundation first.
5) Practice makes permanent, so practice in a way that minimizes mistakes! This is why I advocate micro practice methods. It is far easier to give careful attention to slow, accurate repetitions when you have smaller sections of music to work with, and that allows for success nearly every time you play it. Too often I observe my students begin their piece, make a mistake, stop, go back to the beginning, then replicate the same mistake, only to attempt to make yet another go at it as if some magic will intervene and untangle their fingers! That’s how you practice a mistake into permanence! Eventually, this student would probably break through the barrier after ramming it a few more times assuming that they’ve “fixed” that spot. But they haven’t, because while they succeeded once, they practiced the mistake multiple times. Reinforce the muscle memory of the correct way of playing the music, even if that means playing slowly. Slow and accurate repetitions will help you improve more than sloppy fast playing.