String instruments are fragile and care must be taken to insure that they are not damaged. With continued care a string instrument will be playable for as long as one wishes to maintain it. In fact, there are string instruments being played on today that were built over four centuries ago.
The simplest thing that can be done to take care of a string instrument is to keep it in its case when not in use. The majority of accidents occur when the instrument is not being played and is left out of the case.
String instruments are susceptible to changes in weather. Keep the instrument at room temperature whenever possible. Hot emperatures cause the wodd to expand, dry out, and crack. Very hot temperatures will cause the glue that holds the instrument together to fail. Cold temperatures cause the wood to contract, and crack.
A string instrument will dry out if the air lacks humidity. Ideal humidity for a string instrument is between 45 and 50 %. Below 25% humidity is dangerous for the health of any string instrument. Use a dampit in the instrument case, or run a humidifier in the room where the instrument is kept to prevent the instrument from drying out and cracking. If your instrument case does not come with a built-in hygrometer. Purchase one to accurately monitor the humidity level of the room in which the instrument is kept. This is especially important during the winter months, when the heat is turned on.
After each use, wipe the rosin off of the strings and instrument body using a soft cloth. Rosin left on the instrument body will eat away the varnish. Over time, the value of the instrument will depreciate and the instrument will look ugly. Rosin left on the strings will affect the tone by preventing the bow from "grabbing" the string properly.
Once every two or three months, the instrument should be polished. For polishing the instrument, do not use household furniture polish. These polishes contain wax, which is not good for the varnish. For best results, use a product that has been specifically developed for cleaning string instruments. If you are not sure if a polish is safe to use, consult a professional. An error in cleaning or polishing can be costly, if not irreparable. You should also consider getting your instrument professionally cleaned and polished on a regular basis.
The hair of the bow should be loosened when the bow is not being used. Loosening the hair removes the tension from the bow and prevents the stick from warping.
The hair of the bow should not be touched with the fingers. Fingers leave oily deposits on the hair of the bow that prevent it from grabbing the string properly.
Over time the horse hair will become stretched, dirty, and may break. The barbs on the hair break down, and the hair will not grab the strings very well.
A bow should be rehaired once a year, especially if it is being used everyday. Rehairing will restore proper balance to the bow and the fresh hair will grab the strings rosined correctly.
The bridge of the instrument may need periodic adjustment. Pressure from the forward movement of the strings through tuning can warp the bridge or move it out of place. This adjustment should be carried out by a trained professional.
From time to time, even with the best care in the world, a major repair or restoration may be needed. Be sure to seek out the advice of other string players in your area when choosing a repair person for your instrument. Undoing a bad repair job, can sometimes require more extensive work than just doing the correct repair in the first place.
If you see a crack in your instrument, or hear your instrument buzzing in a peculiar manner, it is a good idea to take your instrument into a shop to have it inspected.
By keeping your instrument in its case when it is not being used, by keeping the temperature and humidity stable, and by wiping the rosin off the strings and instrument when you are finished playing, you can extend the life of your instrument. Remember to bring your instrument into the shop every few months to have the bridge and soundpost adjusted, and professionally cleaned.
Care and Maintenance
Household Remedies for String Instruments
Contributed by Emily Barkakati, Amelia Giles, and Tea Prokes
Cleaning Your Instrument
Aside from wiping off your instrument and strings after you play, it is also important to occasionally take further steps to clean your fingerboard and strings. Two household items that can help you do this are rubbing alcohol and steel wool.
There are two steps to safely cleaning your fingerboard and strings with rubbing alcohol. First, cover the top of the instrument with cloth. Rubbing alcohol can damage the varnish on the instrument so it is important to ONLY apply the alcohol to the strings and fingerboard area. Second, wipe down the fingerboard and strings lightly with either a cotton pad or swab. Remove any excess alcohol from the fingerboard with a clean, dry cloth.
Steel wool is an effective way of removing caked on rosin from the strings. Gently wipe the area two or three times between the bridge and the fingerboard with steel wool. It is recommended to use this method of cleaning sparingly as the steel wool can eventually strip the strings.
String and Peg Tips
When changing a string, it is beneficial to rub pencil lead on the bridge and the nut of the fingerboard. The lead acts as a lubricant that can keep the string from cutting into the bridge and nut.
Chalk can help with slippery pegs. After removing the string, take the loose peg out of the peg box. Apply chalk lightly to the two areas where the peg comes in contact with the peg box. For sticky pegs, some musicians will use a black crayon in the same way to lubricate the peg.
How you wind your string can affect the tension of the peg in the peg box. If your peg is too hard to turn or slipping it can help to change the winding to change the tension accordingly. Consult the figure for further explanation.
A newly changed string can take days to stretch and stay in tune. A simple trick to speed up the stretching process is to rub the string up and down between two fingers. This helps to heat up the string, which in turn helps the string stretch faster.
If you struggle with a sliding sponge or shoulder rest, a cut piece of drawer liner or non-slip rug pad can be placed between the sponge and the back of the instrument. A rubber band can secure the pad from slipping.
A large paper clip can be used to tighten or loosen your chinrest. If you aren’t careful, it is easy to scratch the varnish behind the chinrest, so make sure not to insert the paper clip all the way through.
Some people find it more comfortable to add additional padding to the bow at the frog. While specialty products are available, you can easily slide a pencil grip or rubber tubing onto the stick and place it wherever is comfortable for your hand position.
Purchasing or Renting an Instrument
String instruments vary widely in appearance, sound quality, and cost. When selecting an instrument for purchase, a visit to a store or maker’s workshop will allow the buyer to try a variety of instruments and select one or two to try in practice or performance settings in advance of the purchase.
String instruments fall into three categories:
1) Factory made instruments, which are usually of a lower quality for rental or inexpensive sale.
2) Workshop instruments, which are handmade by a number of skilled luthiers and can range widely in value from step up quality student instruments to those of the Amati or Vuillaume workshops.
3) Handmade instruments by a master maker. These instruments are typically contain the highest quality of workmanship and materials.
Way too big!
Still too big
Scroll touches wrist. Yes!
Hand wrapped around scroll with bend in elbow. Excellent!
To determine if the violin or viola is the correct size, ask the child to reach under the instrument while holding the instrument in playing position. The teacher can assist the student with holding the instrument, if the student is a beginner. If the student extends the palm outward, the scroll should touch the base of the palm of the hand. The student should be able to reach both their middle fingers around the scroll, while maintaining some bend in the elbow.
Instrument Sizing for Children
For children, string instruments are available in smaller or fractional sizes, to allow for students to acquire technique on an instrument that suits the length of their arms and fingers. As a student grows, so should the size of the instrument they study on.
For violins, sizes begin at the 1/32 size, and continue in increments as follows: 1/16/ 1/8/ 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8, and 4/4, or a full-size violin. These sizes do not actually correspond to the true sizes of the instruments. For example, a 1/16 size is actually about half the size of a full size violin.
Small violas are available in 11, 12, 13, and 14 inch lengths.
Cellos are available in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and full sizes.
Basses are available in 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 7/8 sizes. The 3/4 bass is the standard professional size. 4/4 basses are very rare.
If the instrument is too large, it can cause fatigue, tension, and hinder progress.
INSTRUMENTS, BOWS AND ACCESSORIES
Guide to Selecting a Shoulder Rest, Sponge, and Chin Rest
Contributed by Gunnhildur Daðadóttir, Lindsey Bordner, and Elizabeth Kim
Many violinists use some type of shoulder rest or shoulder pad. The role of a shoulder rest is to support the violin and elevate it to the proper height, and to make it easier and more comfortable to hold the violin. In addition, any violin you might buy today is fitted with a standard shaped chinrest. Many sizes and shapes of chinrests exist and are well worth trying out, as chinrests can highly influence one’s posture as well. There are many different options out there, and it is very important to find the combination of shoulder rest and chinrest that is most suited to your body in order to maintain correct posture.
Here are some brief, generally agreed upon guidelines for posture. First, think of sitting or standing tall. This natural stance should be maintained when you hold the violin. The end of the violin should rest on the collarbone, and the scroll should be level with the body of the instrument. Keep the head in a neutral position, turned slightly to the left. The head should not tilt or strain to reach the violin. The jaw simply rests on the chinrest. There should be no tension involved in holding the violin between the collarbone and jawbone, solely the weight of the head. A proper shoulder rest and chinrest height will make this possible.
Sponges are generally good for people with shorter necks and children. They are found in different widths and heights, and shapes. Sponges can be attached to the violin with a rubber band or worn under the clothes. Many are already manufactured specially to attach to the violin, such as the Kinder Chinder pad and Sostenuto shoulder pad. Others are more simple sponges, such as Red Sponge and the Zaret.
More rigid shoulder rests that clamp onto the underside of the violin are usually good for anyone with an average to long length neck. They come in all heights and many are adjustable. Some of the more common shoulder rests are the Kun, Mach One, and Wolf. Others include Bon Musica, Everest, Comford, Resonans, and Viva la Musica.
Another option is to play without a shoulder rest or sponge. This is most common among people with shorter necks. Some people use a cloth over the end of the instrument. Most importantly, the violin needs to feel comfortable and stable where it sits.
Chinrests come in various heights and degrees of concaveness, and also vary in placement on the instrument. There are as many options as there are for shoulder rests, but people often don’t realize they can change their chinrest. Height is an important factor, especially for people with long necks. Amount to which it rises up under the jaw (concaveness) will affect how well you are able to hold the violin up with just the head, without having to squeeze or tense. Most chinrests sit to the left of the tailpiece, such as Dresden, Kaufman, Morawetz, and Taka. The most common chinrest, Guarneri, clamps on in the center, but sits to the left. Others, such as Berber, sit in the center of the instrument directly over the tailpiece. Chinrests in the center of the violin are less common, but enable people with shorter arms to play at the tip of the bow more easily.
In conclusion, finding the right shoulder rest and chinrest combination takes some time and can be a learning process. Every violinist is shaped differently, and it is important to try a variety of options to find what works best for you. A comfortable setup can free you up to express yourself musically.