Think about this for a second: historically, how did humans learn to take care of things?
Traditionally, elder women taught new mothers how to care for the home and their babies while sons learned all about farming and maintenance from the males in their family and community.
It wasn't until the First Industrial Revolution that how-to manuals started cropping up. As best as historians can tell, James Watt wrote the very first instruction manual. It consisted of a single sheet of paper and laid out the steps to make copies. But it wasn't until the start of the 20th Century that Owner Manuals became commonplace.
It was mainly thanks to the auto industry that, suddenly, everyone had a need to understand their machines. Before then, it was much more common to try and take care of whatever broke down on your own, relying on intuition and common sense. And maybe the help of friends and family.
Or to call on a repairman if there happened to be one nearby.
Today, there is all manner of how-to books out there, addressing every topic from how to care for a particular breed of dog to starting an organic farm. There are even manuals for how to care for children.
And now, during Industry 4.0 - the Information Age, you can find how-to videos and web pages all over the Internet.
Is Superprof adding to the pile by detailing how to take care of your violin? Or do we bring a fresh perspective? Read on and decide for yourself.
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Storing Your Violin
It's not the heat, it's the humidity. Monica Geller, Friends
Have you ever noticed that it's much harder to breathe when it's humid out? How about when it's so humid that you break a sweat just standing still? If humidity affects you that way, how do you think it plagues your violin?
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Your violin is made of different types of wood, among them:
- maple: hard and durable, it makes great violin bodies, especially backs
- rosewood is durable and heavy; your violin's pegs and fittings may be rosewood
- spruce is generally used for violin faces, linings and blocks
- willow: a low-density wood that is also used for blocks and linings
- boxwood: ideal for turning and carving, your violin's tailpiece may be of this wood
- ebony: dark and durable, it's likely your instrument's fingerboard and bow are ebony
Depending on the quality of your violin, it may be made of more than three of these types of wood. Each of them reacts differently to heat and humidity. You might not see any immediate damage after it's sat in a humid or dry environment for a few days but, to any trained ear - maybe even yours, it will sound a bit off.
And, of course, if you routinely store your violin in humid or dry conditions, soon, the damage will be visible.
Storing your violin away from direct sunlight and far from any heat source is a good first step. You don't want to store it where it could be exposed to very low temperatures, either, meaning that you shouldn't leave it in your car's garage or some other place with similar conditions.
You should also consider the storage environment's humidity. If your region suffers long bouts of highly humid weather or your home is just naturally humid, consider investing in a dehumidifier.
Conversely, if you're in a drier part of the world, your violin could likely use a humidifier parked nearby - but not too close. You don't want it to get misted on.
Ideally, you would store your violin in its carrying case so that, come time to go to your next violin lesson, you'll have everything ready.
By the way, do you have the right size violin? If you've not yet bought your own violin, you'll need to know how violins are sized before you choose the one that's right for you.
Transporting Your Violin
You may have seen a character in a film or television show strolling along a beach or city street with a guitar casually slung over their shoulder, apparently oblivious to the effects that the wind, sand and elements might have of their instrument.
Granted, it's usually a guitar being toted around and we're talking about violins but the two have much in common; they're both stringed instruments made of different woods. They're also both highly susceptible to environmental conditions.
That's why you should always carry your violin in a case.
True, a violin case won't necessarily protect your instrument from humidity or lack thereof but it will shield it from pollutants, precipitation and harsh sunlight. Also, having a case makes carrying everything you need to play your violin easier - its bow and rosin, your sheet music and cleaning cloths.
We'll talk about those cloths in the next segment.
Some violin cases are soft-sided; essentially a bag for your instrument and accessories. They tend to be a bit cheaper than the overwhelmingly recommended hard-side cases, which can also carry everything you need to play your violin but offer it a greater degree of protection.
Let's say you ride the bus to and from your violin lessons, or maybe to your music class at school. All of the bumping and jostling risks damaging your violin, and what if you accidentally smash into it when the driver has to hit the brakes hard?
A hardshell case is more resistant to those bumps and bruises. It can take (reasonable, accidental) hits all day long while its precious cargo remains safely nestled in its pre-formed, cushioned interior. So, if you have to take your violin anywhere, bring its case along, too.
There's no better way to protect it from accidentally being bashed into or the rain and sun.
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Playing Your Violin
Did you know that there's an entire Wikipedia page listing music artists who've destroyed their instruments? Not just onstage, as a part of their show, either. Sometimes, it's just because they'd been heckled once too often.
Still, even though there have been a measly two recorded instances of violin destruction on stage, you likely won't see the likes of Boyd Tinsley or Jean-Luc Ponty smashing their instruments. Like you, they treat their violins like the delicate, precious things they are.
They begin each session by wiping their violin down and tuning it. An untuned violin doesn't just sound bad; it's hard to play and could even damage the instrument itself - not just the strings. And then, they tighten their bow's hair - not too tight, so as to not cause the bow to lose camber.
A bit of rosin, a few exercises to warm up your arms and hands - you have to take care of yourself, too! - and you're ready to play.
At the end of your session, you will take those steps in reverse: limber up your arms and hands again, loosen your bow hair, wipe it down, especially around the frog and home it into your case. Finally, wipe your violin down, give it a careful once-over and secure it into its case.
Note that wiping down is not the same as cleaning your violin; that's a more extensive process. Be sure to learn how to do it correctly.
Caring for Your Violin: Rule #1
Without a doubt, the most important takeaway is wiping your violin down, both before and after playing it.
You might wonder about the 'before'. After all, it's going straight into its case after your last session's wipe-down and won't see the light of day again until you get ready to play again. How much dust/dirt/impurity could it attract when locked in its protective shell?
Here's a fun fact: rosin cakes are very brittle; they tend to shatter under the least pressure.
Let's return to the aforementioned bus scenario. You and your violin are headed to lessons. As the bus lurches down the road, your case strikes a post or seat. When you finally open your violin case, you find rosin all over the place. Sure, it looks pretty but...
Your violin's sound doesn't just result from its unique construction or well-tuned strings. Even the varnish can affect your instrument's sound... so can you imagine how flat it might sound with rosin all over the place?
Be sure to keep a couple of clean microfiber or chamois cloths in your violin case, preferably in a separate compartment so that they don't suffer from any rosin cake explosion. After you wipe down your violin's body, pass a cloth over the strings and fingerboard - a different one than the one used on the body.
Secondary to that rule is keeping your violin in its case unless you are playing.
There should be no practising in your room and then throwing it on your bed (or worse: the floor) to head downstairs for tea. The very best place for your violin is in its case - unless it's in your hands and you're playing - bottom line.
Now, find out all you need to know about buying a violin for beginners.
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