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Violin Rosin 101: Here’s Why You Need It + How It’s Applied…

What is violin rosin made from? Can you play violin without rosin? We investigate...

We get asked a LOT about violin rosin!!

So much so that rosins have almost become a normal topic of conversation in our email inbox. Every month you can guarantee we’ll incur some sort of message asking a question like: “What is violin rosin?”, “Do I need a rosin as a beginner?” & “What does a violin rosin even do for my sound?”.

And after a quick look on the internet, we can see why. There’s very little info out there on rosins, not to mention their best use & how they impact the sound of your violin. All despite them being a SUPER important part of playing the violin, viola or cello!! So… we decided to change that.

Because as years in the music game have taught us, you can’t even unleash the full potential of your stringed instrument or its bow, without knowing a thing or two about Rosins. In which case, if you find yourself being a bit ‘in the dark’ about rosins, don’t worry – you’re in the right place. Keep reading & we’ll reveal everything you need to know about rosins, including which type you should buy, how they’re best used & more.

After something specific about what violin rosin is used for? Or just curious what type of violin rosin is best? Use the menu below to find all the answers you need fast…

applying rosin to a violin

NOTE: If you’re in the market to buy a rosin for your violin, be sure to check out our rundown of the Best Violin Rosins!

What is rosin? Where does it come from?

In short, a rosin (be it for violin, viola, cello or even double bass) is a sold form of resin that actually comes from trees! A substance not to be confused with sap.

Because while sap goes towards making things like medicines (due to it being a natural antiseptic), it’s the resin from a tree that goes into making adhesives, food glazing agents & for the keen instrumentalist – rosin.

They way this works is actually pretty simple. The resin is extracted from the trees (mainly pines & conifers) before being heated up – something that causes the liquid in the resin to evaporate & leaves behind a solid block of what we know as rosin. Basically a super hard block of tree resin that smells a LOT like Christmas – i.e. pine

And due to this moisture loss that rosins are SO incredibly beautiful… but brittle. Drop a rosin on the floor, & you’ll soon see what we mean. The spectacular shattering of a rosin never gets old! But this is also why you need to be very aware of how you’re storing your rosin, as not only can damp lead to cracks & warping, but different rosins prefer different climates. Something that can all effect how long it lasts + how well it adheres to your bow. Precisely why we’d suggest keeping any rosin in a safe & dry place.

We keep ours in a designated rosin case.

FUN FACT: Not all rosins are so simple; some rosins contain other waxes too, with one of the most common being beeswax. Plus, if you’re searching for a rosin to help you achieve a certain sound, you can even get rosins that contain small quantities of metal. Something that can drastically enhance the overall character of the sound!

All of which is great to know, BUT we know you’re all wondering…

close up of a cake of golden violin rosin

Is light or dark rosin better? What’s the difference??

Right – first of all, no type of rosin is ‘better’ than the other.

All types of rosin (be they light or dark) can be used to great effect across violins, violas, cellos & even the double bass. So much so that we don’t actually have a favourite, however there are some key differences between light & dark rosin that you should be aware of. Here’s 3…

  • Hardness & density – Not all rosins are the same density. In fact, it’s usually dark rosin which is the softest, while lighter rosins are slightly harder. As you’d expect, this means that light rosins tend to be the most brittle of the two & thus the most liable to crack when dropped. They’re also more preferable for the higher pitched instruments, like the violin or viola.
  • Overall stickiness – This is something worth noting when applying rosin, as too much rosin can very easily get messy & drastically impact the acoustics of your bow. With dark rosins being the softest, they tend to be the most sticky, which means that you’ll need to apply less pressure to get a good coverage along your bow. something that means darker rosins typically give you a bigger sound with more bite!
  • Climate – Pay attention here, because if you don’t it could render your rosin completely useless. See, not all rosins are suited to every climate. In fact, being softer, means that dark rosins are often enough too sticky for humid environments, & that lighter rosin would be your best bet. Something to bear in mind if you’re living in a part of the world that’s ridden with sun/ heat. To all our US readers – take note!

What rosins do professionals use?

Really, there’s no answer to which rosins professionals use, as it’s up to you to find the best rosin blend for your sound/ instrument.

However, we would say that if you’re a pro (or at the very least, intermediate) you should certainly take your choice of rosin seriously. With rosin being able to drastically impact not just the sound, but also the response of your chosen bow, you’d be wise to at least try a few out. We says so because aside from using different quantities/ types of tree resin, most modern resins also contain a certain amount of beeswax too.

Team that with how you can even get rosins that contain traces of metal (incl. copper, silver & even gold) & you can soon see why choosing the right rosin can get SO complex! Such metals are specifically designed to enhance your sound & in our experience, tend to be the darker rosins in colour.

BEGINNERS TIP: If you’re a complete novice to violin rosins, then we’d suggest sticking with a simple light-coloured rosin until you feel competent enough at applying it. With dark rosins being a LOT more sticky, it’s incredibly easy to overdo them, especially if you’re a first timer.

violinist applying rosin to their bow

Is a rosin necessary? What happens if you don’t rosin your bow?

If you don’t rosin your bow, then a LOT can happen.

Firstly, if your bow is completely new & has never had rosin applied before, then your violin, viola or whatever instrument you play will sound anything but impressive. The sound will barely even exist. Want to hear what a brand new bow sounds like straight out of the box? Take a listen to the video below…

As for if you neglect to reapply rosin to your bow – i.e. the rosin on your bow gets old – then you should start to notice a faint drop in sharpness & tone.

More than often this is most apparent when you use the ends of the bow to cue in some intricate hand movements. Something that all comes back to how the rosin at the tip of the bow tends to wear off quicker & is why some players just reapply rosin to either end in an effort to ‘top up’ these areas.

However, we would NOT suggest doing this, as excessively rubbing your bow in one spot could easily wear our the hair, & even lead to a rosin buildup over time. Another calamity that you do NOT want to happen! Hence why we’d suggest fully removing your rosin regularly & reapplying it to the whole bow each time you do so.

Yes, you may use more rosin over time, but for the sake of preservation – i.e. ensuring you can achieve a constant sound across all parts of the bow hair – we think it’s more than worth it. An extra block of rosin is a small price to pay to ensure a smooth & even sound.

Can I use wax instead of rosin?

You can, but… we wouldn’t advise using anything in place of rosin.

More to the point, rosin has been specifically created for applying to your bow hair & has been proven to not to cause damage + have many tonal benefits. Something that can happen with various waxes, including large quantities of beeswax. So while there are alternate theories out there on the internet – we read one about microwaving beeswax with maple syrup – we wouldn’t bother.

If professionals use rosin (& swear by it) that’s saying something… you should use it too.

packet of unopened violin rosin

Here’s how to apply rosin to your violin/ viola/ cello bow…

Just to be clear, there is NO ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ way of applying rosin to your bow.

In the end, it’s all down to what technique works best for you. However, over the years we have learnt a few techniques about applying rosin that we think would be valuable to know. So here’s our process for applying rosin to a bow…

As discussed above, no two rosin formulations are the same.

Some rosins are made purely of tree resin, while others contain various quantities of beeswax, along with other types of metals. So really, buying the right rosin all comes back to factors like: your bow hair, the strings you use & your violin itself. But we’re pretty sure there’s 1 thing we can all agree on… if you buy a student violin, get the cake of rosin that was included, & throw it away.

To cut down on cost, the rosins you find in the majority of starter instruments are of low quality & mass produced to shave costs. So by simply upgrading your rosin – preferably to one that’s made by a well-known violin brand – you can be sure you’re setting yourself up to achieve the best sound possible.

In most cases, a light coloured rosin will be the way to go.

Now while you can overdo this (& some violin fanatics advise against it completely), we do think agitating the surface of a brand new rosin is a good idea. Do so & it makes the rosin application significantly faster & less strenuous on your bow.

REMEMBER: The more you rub your bow hair along the rosin, the more friction (i.e. heat) is generated. Something that can increase the chance of your rosin melting & cause unnecessary wear on your bow string.

However, to do so, we would advise against any sort of knife or sharp object. The last thing you want to do is create grooves or cracks in the rosin. Do so & breakage is incredibly likely! Our method of choice would be to get some fine-grit sandpaper & ever so gently tease the shine off the top surface until the rosin goes matted.

That way the rosin applies quickly without damaging the hair.

dark rosin that's cracked due to heat

Applying rosin is an art-form.

One that requires a good deal of hand-eye coordination & patience. The key when applying rosin is smoothness. You want to be moving that bow right the way across the rosin (tip to tip) as if it’s your strings. To ensure the best coating possible, we’d suggest investing in a rosin case/ holder, so that the angle between the rosin & the bow remains the same. Something that should help you achieve a nice even coating.

You also need to apply a decent amount of pressure too. Not so much that the bow is flexing like a gymnast & gauging out a channel in the rosin, but enough for there to be some resistance. Feel that & you can be confident that rosin is adhering to your bow.

NOTE: You’ll see a lot of players (even pros) go super fast towards the top/ bottom end of the bow. However, we do NOT suggest you copy them! Ask them why & they’ll say it’s because the rosin has worn off the tips of their bow. Fair point, but the irony is that applying rosin in such a fashion heats up the bow & in short, makes the rosin less likely to adhere. So all they’re really doing is wearing down their bow.

Take it from us, when applying rosin to a bow – slow & steady wins the race.

Want to see more about the technique of applying rosin to your bow? Jump into the video below, where the experts for D’addario show you how to do just that…

beginner applying their first coat of violin rosin to their bow

How often should I rosin my bow?

How often you rosin your bow is not something you can just put a number on. It all comes back to various factors, including…

  • How often you play
  • How intricate/ hard you play
  • The type of bow hair you use
  • What strings you’re using
  • The type of sound you’re looking to achieve

Saying that though, the main overarching factor is actually the instrument itself. What type of instrument is it? It’s common knowledge that out of all the stringed instruments that use rosin, violins are the ones that need re-rosining the least (is that even a word?).

Anyway, what this means is that on average you’ll find yourself applying new rosin for around-about every 5-6 hours of play time. Whereas if you’re playing say a double bass or a cello, you can expect you instrument to need fresh rosin a little sooner – perhaps after 3-4 hours of play time. This really all comes back to the string gauge of your instrument, as those with thicker gauge strings tend to be more rosin-hungry.

How often should a typical cake of violin rosin be replaced?

Another tricky question, because with no 2 rosin formulations being the same, the rate of expiry differs quite substantially. Team that with how rosins last longer in certain climates & you could easily find yourself throwing out a perfectly good rosin. Or on the flip-side, relying on an old rosin that isn’t fit for purpose.

Generally – we must stress that word – the expiry date for a rosin is around a year. However, it could be sooner for softer rosins, especially in a bad climate. The long & short is that to maximise the life of your rosin, you need to lock in that moisture & protect it from elements. Hence why we always suggest investing in a rosin case. That way, not only is a lot of the moisture locked in, but it also prevents your rosin from cracking/ shattering.

Just one of the ways that can cause even a new rosin to expire extra fast.

PRO TIP: An easy way to tell if your cake of rosin is still good to use, is to drag your bow across the block & observe what happens. If the rosin is soft enough that your bow leaves a dusty path across the block, then chances are, the rosin is good to use. When a rosin is too hard – i.e. out of date – this won’t happen.

Enjoy this review of violin rosin and eager for more? Jump into our latest blogs on Caring For Musical Instruments, as well as our Reviews Of Stringed Instruments. Recently, we also did a rundown of the Best Beginner Violins + another on the Most Popular Professional Violins, which you may also enjoy.

pile of rosin dust with a violin blurred in the background

Or if you’ve still trying to decide what violin rosin is best for you, keep reading & we’ll answer more of your burning questions…

The lowdown on violin rosin, its affect on sound & more…

Simple – you can’t (or shouldn’t) touch the hair on a bow for any stringed instrument because of your skin.

Do so & the natural oils from your body can very easily transfer onto the bow hair – fibres that are usually taken from a horses’ tail. Something that’s incredibly absorbent of all these human oils. So as a result, the bow hair will become greasy & the rosin will have a hard time sticking.

All of which can impact the sound quite dramatically! If your rosin doesn’t adhere properly, then you’ll struggle to achieve the level of friction you need to create a well-rounded sound. And you bow? Well, that becomes virtually useless.

Unless of course you get it re-haired, which as you’d imagine, is a specialist procedure that’s anything but cheap!

Violin rosin is NOT highly toxic, but it does have some characteristics that you’d be wise to be aware of.

Violin rosin is…

  • Highly flammable – If you like to engage in the occasional cigarette, bear this in mind. With a rosin covered bow & a wood violin, we’re pretty sure you can imagine what could happen if you lighter accidentally slips.
  • Minimally toxic – If you ate a good sized portion of it, then yes, it’s likely you would become ill. Not that we can see why you’d want to eat it though. To taste, rosin isn’t anything to shout about – pretty darn disgusting to be honest. Bitter, sour… blahhhh! We know, because we tried licking a rosin when writing this blog. Smells like Christmas, but by God it doesn’t taste like it… #RespectTheSacrifice
  • Can trigger allergies – The white dust created by rosin has been known to cause mild allergic reactions if inhaled or even touched. So if you’re at all allergic to pine products, see the final FAQ to learn more about how you can get around this problem – yep, there’s a solution!

* If you’re worried about rosin being consumed, be sure to keep it away from young children & pets.

And in the case the above does happen, you can rest easy. According to science, Rosin is actually non-toxic & if swallowed would likely be thrown back up.

Violin you ask us, violin rosin isn’t actually that pricey – even the premium stuff!

Go online & for a block of good quality rosin, you can expect to pay anywhere in the region of £10-£35. And while you might think that sounds a lot for what is essentially a block of crystallised tree wax, when you consider what rosin does for your sound, it’s actually not that much at all.

So if you ask us, we’d go crazy & buy a few different rosins to start out with. Then try them out & once you’ve fathomed which gives you the best balance of sound & longevity, stick to that. For all you know, trying a different rosin may even be the reason your sound develops & thus why you get more bookings!!

So don’t cheap out on your rosin – it’s important!

Your violin (or other stringed instrument) will usually make a scratchy sound because too much rosin has been applied.

It’s worth noting that not all rosins are the same. Some are stickier than others & thus adhere faster. All of which means you can very easily end up putting too much rosin on your bow. If this is your situation, our advice would be to try removing the rosin (very gently) with a form of soft cloth. We find that microfibre cloths work the best. And then after the surface rosin is removed, wiping the bow clean with some rubbing alcohol.

You could of course just restring your bow to combat this issue, but for the sake of saving £$€, we’d say this is well worth a try first.

PS/ Some players actually over-rosin their bow on purpose. A trick they do to give their sound a bit more of a gritty tone.

Surprisingly, yes.

Banjo players can use rosin, although it is in a slightly different way to that you find with violins & cellos. See, violins players use rosin on their bridge to keep it sturdy & avoid unnecessary movements during vigorous play.

Rosin can also be applied to banjo head too, to avoid finger slippage in the case of a brand new head. Good to know.

Relax. That’s the first thing.

See, the good news is that if you’re allergic to any of the ingredients you find in modern rosins – tree resins/ beeswax etc. – then there are synthetic rosins available. Instead of pine-resin, these will be made of a hydrocarbon resin, which is specifically designed not to irritate the skin or cause redness to anyone who’s allergic to pine products.

What’s more, the majority of synthetic rosins are also non-toxic too, so they’re also super friendly to the environment! And as far as we can tell, to the ears, there’s very little (if any) difference in sound. Our favourite synthetic rosin is the Clarity Rosin by D’addario.