Playing with less rosin

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Apr 13, 2014.


  1. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

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    is it also more likely to damage hair? Or just make it more difficult to pull a sound?

    Thanks for reading!
  2. Andrew McGregor

    Andrew McGregor

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    Less rosin is less likely to damage hair, and easier to pull a sound.

    You want to use the least rosin you can still get full contact with, and no more. Rosin has a very weird characteristic of being both sticky and slippery; too much, and you get stick to start the sound OK, but then it slips over the top of it. So, lots of rosin actually limits how loud you can play.

    Too much rosin also limits how softly you can play because your sound tends to disintegrate into unfocused gravel before you get to a real ppp.

    More is definitely not better... but there is such a thing as not enough.

    Too little rosin, or rosin that is too old, leads to the start of your strokes being fuzzy and unfocused; in the limit of no rosin at all, the sound just fails to start at all.
  3. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

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    Thanks Andrew.. I had read the pros/cons of applying rosin, I was just wondering if by using less I could do damage to the hair..
    (I was thinking of the analogy of a polished floorboard, I guess...)

    By the way, if it hasn't already been covered, what are the things that actually contribute to loss of hair on a bow? Age? Technique?
    Usage? All of these? One more than the others?

    Thanks again
  4. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

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    Less rosin on its own (to a point) isn't going to be a problem. There are plenty of players/teachers who advocate for less rosin, Joel Quarrington and François Rabbath being among them. They both suggest using more arm weight, playing closer to the bridge, and other methods for drawing a big sound. Joel has called rosin "liquid technique" before (not in a good way) by suggesting that a lot of people apply too much rosin in order to make louder sounds, instead of correcting poor technique. How you play with less or more rosin is a bigger determining factor on how much hair you break.

    If you are heavily rooted in one camp of the other, adjusting the amount of rosin you use without adjusting your technique is going to result in a sound you are not happy with and potentially some broken hairs. If you are in the more is more camp and part of your technique is a lot of rosin, when you start using significantly less you will have to exaggerate your current technique to try to obtain your previous sound. If you are in the less is more camp, your sound will likely become aggressive, hard to control etc. Both cases involve potentially breaking some hair, and using rosin to attempt to fix problems that might have nothing to do with rosin.

    As for breaking hair in a bow, age is the biggest culprit but technique and a few other factors can cause hair loss as well.

    Age, in the sense that the older the hair is, the more brittle it becomes. If you get a good rehair with fresh hair, the hair is fairly elastic starting out. This makes it strong, and able to flex instead of break when it is stressed. As it ages that flexibility is lost, and the hair starts to break. If you have ever played a bow that sat unused for a long time with old hair in it, or you very rarely play arco and your bow hasn't had a rehair in years, you will notice you break a lot more hair than you typically would with a fresh rehair.

    Technique can be a factor too. If you have a tendency to overplay or use a lot of pressure instead of arm weight, you can break some hair. This is why fiddlers and electric violinists and people who play amplified with a bow tend to shred through hair much quicker than say classical violinists. They are often not using techniques that allow them to get the most sound out of their instrument safely, "overplaying" by classical standards actually produces their desired sound, or they are attempting in vain to be heard over the other instruments. Sometimes this is compounded by age, as rehairs might not be prioritized by those musicians as well. There is an electric string quartet based out of Toronto that talked about breaking a lot of hair and even injuries because they were trying way too hard to get more sound out of their instruments, and then they came to the realization that they have volume knobs/pedals. You will rarely see orchestra string players breaking a lot of hair even in the biggest/loudest/most intense moments of the symphonic repertoire. They are using technique that gives them a big sound safely, and the orchestration/strength in numbers helps them out as well.

    Strings where the windings are starting to ravel, or there are some rough edges present can also cause problems. Too much rosin as previously mentioned isn't particularly good for a bow, and time in general plays a factor as well. The hair in your bow doesn't grow back, so while you might just be breaking a few hairs here and there, down the road you have significantly less as the loss accumulates.

    Most bow makers and players advocate a rehair every 6-18 months depending on the amount of playing you are doing and your personal preference/tolerance for less than fresh hair. If you are experiencing significant hair loss before then, I would start by evaluating your current technique and seeing if you have strings with rough spots/open windings. If you're moonlighting in a heavy metal string quintet or starting the bass version of Apocalyptica, post some videos. We would love to see that.
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  6. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

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    Thanks Mike - "more arm weight" - uhm, off to the gym to work that arm out .... No, but seriously, how do you gauge arm weight, most that I have been taught / read advocates simply resting the arm on the strings...
    As for moonlighting in a heavy metal string quartet, very unlikely, but I will consider for bucket list...
    Thanks again for the time
  7. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

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    That's a good question. I've heard completely opposite points of view on the answer. Which is surprisingly common in music pegagogy IME.
    One teacher said "the bow should be like a butterfly on the string" - I think he admitted that he was quoting somebody but I don't remember who.
    Another teacher taught me to use the full weight of my arm, not pressing, but the full weight, very similar to left-hand technique.
    I think my opinion, until someone persuades me otherwise or my teacher sets me straight, is that you need to be able to do both, be extremely light for soft passages and nuances and heavy for loud passages and everything in betwee. In the end, I try to allow just enough weight to get a pleasing, lively tone at the right volume.
    That said, I'd love to what the more experienced/better developed players have to say on this.
  8. Rodger Bryan

    Rodger Bryan Supporting Member

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    +1 to the points MikeCanada mentioned.

    My class with Lynn Hannings was very informative and the subject was discussed at great length one afternoon while we were practicing tying knots. She said you want rosin on the bow, not caked on the strings- particularly with bass rosin. Once you put so much on that you are gunking up the strings, you have more than necessary and it will negatively impact the tone.

    The opposite can also be a problem: under-rosining or not applying rosin causes the player to apply too much arm weight, damping the string vibrations instead of allowing for an easy grab/release cycle.

    Start with a fresh rehair and see how much you need to play with minimal effort at all volume levels and different techniques.
  9. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

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    My experience with arm weight comes mostly from Joel, and then building from there with other teachers who have worked quite closely with him. Some were previous students of his, and some studied with many of the same teachers that Joel himself did.

    We started by establishing a completely relaxed arm. When talking about "arm weight" every teacher I have ever encountered says this is where it comes from. You don't need a particularly bulky/heavy/weighty arm, but it needs to be relaxed enough that you can take advantage of its full weight when required. If your arm is tense, you end up pressing which is almost universally considered bad in order to create sound.

    The desired "default" sound in this scenario is usually a pretty strong forte dynamic. If you let your arm completely relax and you pull long bows across your strings with the bow situated at the middle of the distance between the end of your fingerboard and the bridge or lower, you should be able to pull a very strong sound out of the bass. It often takes a very long time to achieve that state of a completely relaxed arm with a teacher present and assisting, and it is one of the first things to disappear for a lot of us when we start working on other things like bow speed, technical passages in the left hand etc. I have studied with some really fantastic teachers and feel like I fully understand the concept, but I still struggle with applying it from time to time.

    From there, stronger dynamics are obtained by relaxing even more, and moving closer still to the bridge. You will find out why less rosin is endorsed by people who advocate a relaxed arm and playing closer to the bridge at this point if you haven't already. Rosin becomes a barrier as you get closer to this state of "total relaxation" and as you play closer to the bridge while doing so, the rosin will hold you back. If you are a "more is more" kind of guy, when your arm is fully relaxed you end up having to add tension back into your playing in order to get the bow to move. If it will move, consistent sounding longtones (another thing I have yet to see a teacher think is a bad idea) become a problem, as your bow gets "stuck" in the rosin. Watching someone who has a strong grasp on this technique play longtones is remarkable. Joel likes contests when he is working with groups, and "who can play the longest longtone" usually comes at the end of a longtone session. If Joel is "competing", I have seen classes where 3/4 of the students are out of bow when Joel is only halfway.

    To get softer dynamics, some of this weight is removed. This is much harder than getting a big sound for most people because you need to continue to be as relaxed as possible, while lifting some of the weight. This "lift" comes from your back muscles. I can't name them, but if you relax your arm by your side and lift it while allowing your shoulder to be as passive as possible, you should be able to feel where those muscles are. If your shoulder is doing most of the lifting or you are tense at the elbow or somewhere else, then you shouldn't feel the weight of your arm as much, because you are engaging other muscles to lift the rest of your arm. A much more difficult exercise that I have yet to execute in a fashion that I am fully satisfied with is to slowly "lift" from that previously mentioned default sound, until you have managed to lift the bow off the string completely. In theory, you should be able to obtain extremely soft dynamics that still have a healthy fundamental to them because you are still using a fully relaxed arm. Usually I end up with that wispy, overtone-y sound that does not have any fundamental to it before I lift the bow completely, and your relaxed arm starts to go out the window again in "harder" passages.

    Moving the bow further from or closer to the bridge does not play a big role in changing dynamics. Some teachers like Rabbath suggest that each left hand note has a "sweet spot" a certain note in the harmonic series if I recall correctly. I am not an expert at all on this, and it has been discussed elsewhere on the site. The "school" I subscribe to is that "changing lanes" should be a colour decision, not necessarily a dynamic one. While quite often the two are related and it might be desirable to play with the more airy sound associated with playing over the fingerboard while playing softly or playing with a more focused/punchy/direct sound associated with being close to the bridge might be desirable with a fff dynamic, that isn't always the case. What I would consider a "solo piano" dynamic comes to mind here. You can still be playing softly, but you need your sound to be focused and very present in order to be heard above whatever the accompaniment is. One of the most effective ways I have found of achieving this is playing softly while still very close to the bridge.

    Hopefully that is a little less philosophical or clearer than some explanations. I would suggest that "the bow should be like a butterfly on the string" is more a statement about playing delicately with agility while not subscribing to the brute force method of bass playing that some people employ. I think a more accurate phrase for what I originally called arm weight would be "playing with a fully relaxed arm" and that can be done in conjunction with a so called light touch. I seem to have written another one of my novels, and discussion of butterflies is heading towards some of that philosophical pedagogy territory that can be quite helpful for some, and make the rest of us scratch our heads.
    Jsn likes this.
  10. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

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    "quite helpful for some" ...indeed, Mike-sensei ...indeed so.
    Domo arigato
  11. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

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    What a great post from Mike! Andy, when thinking of "weight" vs pressing; for me, pressing comes FROM the hand, resulting in a tighter hand. Weight comes from the upper arm and travels THROUGH a relaxed hand. When it's feeling really good, I almost get the sensation of my tricep becoming heavier. As I continue to develop as a player, I find that quite a lot of what I'm trying to get the bow to do starts in my back and upper arm.

    I think that I'm basically echoing some of Mike said, I thought I'd throw in my two cents because it is sometimes helpful to hear the same idea a few different ways.
  12. Hector Wolff

    Hector Wolff

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    Great explanation Mike - it should be in the technique section.

    I think the whole weight of the arm concept becomes much clearer if you sit behind the bass, with the bass leaning back to you. Then you can place your bow on the D or A string and totally relax your arm letting the string support yout total arm weight - if you draw the bow you will see how easily a sound is produced and how loud and full it is. You can also see what unweighting the arm feels like and it's effect.

    The problem for me and I think many players who stand, especially if you have learned to keep the bass very upright, is that the relaxed arm weight is harder to feel - it seems hard to apply that weight to the E string.
  13. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

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    A great observation, and I think one of the reasons why teachers like Joel sit low behind the instrument like he does, and Rabbath and many others are advocating for the Laborie endpin in order to take advantage of that angle while standing. I haven't found a way to teach a relaxed arm to students who stand with the bass vertically that I am happy with. One of the biggest causes of tension I have found in these students is the fear that they are going to drop the bow if they relax, and quite often they do. With the bass on an angle underneath the bow, that problem isn't there. I have managed to get students to significantly relax their arm, correct their bow hold, and reduce a lot of the tension, but for me that "lightbulb" moment didn't happen until I was sitting down.

    If anyone has success stories or tips they want to share about that, I'm all ears.
  14. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

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    Seriously, we need a *best post of the year* award. Mike's would win hands-down!
  15. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

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    Thanks Mike...Adding to your post, HOW should you transition from standing to sitting, weight of arm is one factor, but should other "watch outs" be included, for example use of different back muscle and potential initial pain associated with their use? Do you think your students know straight away if they are more confortable sitting than standing or is there a "trial" period, and if so, is it typically weeks? I know there has been plenty written about the relative merits of each, not sure as much is available about HOW to go from one to the other though...
  16. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

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    Andy, some really great million dollar questions here, and I think something that can be overlooked in a lot of pedagogy. A lot of teachers have "their way" or "the right way" and good teachers are able to separate "this works for me" from "this would work better for you" but we often approach changes in technique like a light switch we can just turn off and on. Most teachers I have worked with will demonstrate and teach the new/right way to do something, and then you go home and practice it. Maybe you will be given suggestions like "play it slowly with a metronome" or "look in a mirror to make sure your posture is right" or something like that, but the success is usually measured by observing how well you are progressing with the new technique, instead of how well you are transitioning from the old technique.

    This is how I transitioned from standing to sitting, and how I try to approach it with my students.

    Standing wasn't working for me. With the way I am build and the bass I was playing, standing just wasn't comfortable and it was going to lead to injuries if I kept playing that way. I do occasionally stand now, (quite differently than I did years ago) but I sit about 95% of the time. My teacher and I spent a full hour lesson trying to find a posture that would work for me. This involved standing and sitting, several different stools of different heights, raising and lowering the endpin, positioning myself beside, behind, or somewhere in between, having my left foot on a rung of the stool or both feet on the ground etc. We tried a LOT of things to find what worked best for me.

    The initial process was seeing if I could play two full bows from frog to tip and back on the low F on my E string (I was in 4ths at the time) and then the harmonic G three octaves above the open G string, and occasionally a few notes in the middle. If it wasn't possible to do that, then we changed something. Some of the possibilities felt great for the left hand or the bow hand by horrible together, some involved contorting my body into all sorts of shapes that would have caused injuries down the road. A lot of things were ruled out quite quickly, and as we got closer to something that worked, we started slowing down and tweaking things a bit. The endpin would go out half an inch and be positioned two inches farther away from me, I'd sit a little more forward on the stool etc. until I was positioned in a posture that in theory should allow me to play the entire instrument with the least possible chance of injury.

    Initially it felt awkward, and my body did need to adjust. I had to alter my practice routine as well, because I could not play for the same length of time when I was transitioning. I wouldn't say that it was especially painful, which should be a definite warning sign for anyone at anytime, but I noticed changes. I changed sleeping positions as an example, as I didn't need to contort myself into the same position to feel relaxed as I needed to with my old playing posture. Over the next couple of weeks and lessons my teacher and I made some small adjustments here and there and I learned what the limitations of my new posture were and how best to address them. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it was considerably better than what I was doing. The process took a month or more and evolved a bit as it went along, but it was mostly small tweaks from the initial lesson.

    I ended up changing my playing position again a few years later to what I currently use. Although I feel like both solutions are imperfect and have their limitations, my current posture works well for me now. It also involved a transition period where I needed to listen to my body and make small adjustments. Regardless to how well something should work, it doesn't work if it hurts.

    If and when I go through this process with my students, I try to do it much the same. I spend a full lesson with stools of different heights, adjust the endpin up and down, and try everything to see what works for that particular student and their bass. What works for my bass and body might not work for them. After we find what looks like our most promising posture, we will spend the rest of the lesson playing in that posture. I encourage them to go home and practice that week as much as they feel comfortable, making little changes if they help, and tell them to stop if anything hurts. Over the next few lessons we will troubleshoot and adjust a bit, and if anything ever looks really weird even months down the road, we will address it then. Usually the process also involves other technique changes like how the bass is balanced, what your left thumb does (not) need to do now, what happens in your bow arm differently and the like. There is always an open feedback loop between me and my students, and if something isn't working we will change it. I am not married to a particular method or posture, which helps a lot.

    Pain is a warning sign, and should be taken seriously. At the same time, it helps to be able to distinguish between "this is unnatural and hurts" and "my muscles are adjusting to being used in this way". Think of it like riding a bike the first time in spring if you've taken the winter off. Provided you didn't injure yourself you feel it in your legs and might be sore the next day, but that is because you haven't used the muscles that way in a while, not because you injured yourself.

    Hopefully that helps.
    Jsn likes this.
  17. Hector Wolff

    Hector Wolff

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    I went through a similar process, bought a bass stool, and worked all day to find a positon in which my left hand and more generally my upper body/arm maintained a relationship to the fingerboard/neck similar to that which it was comfortable with standing up. I also made sure I could reach and play all four strings.

    The problem I had was that the reach around and over to the G string seemed so long, and the entire process of bowing/string crossing seemed so different that I was afraid I was going to have to re-learn my bowing technique. Since I really didn't have any complaints playing standing, I decided it was not worth the trouble and inevitable temporary loss in playing ability.
  18. SteveFreides

    SteveFreides

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    A few points about having a heavy arm to add (I hope) to Mike's excellent post and the other excellent contributions here:

    I play and teach piano, and I was taught, and teach, a very similar thing, namely that loud playing is the easiest because the full weight of the arms is in the fingers, and playing quieter requires more, not less, effort. My first instrument was guitar, and I also teach the same idea for the left hand there - relaxing the weight of your arm into your fingers is the way you want to achieve sufficient pressure on the strings.

    The idea of a heavy, relaxed arm is a paradox - you are, in fact, applying more force to the string by doing less. This isn't an easy thing for anyone new to bowing, and it's not something you can do until you've put in some time with a bow in your hand.

    As to the original question about rosin, using less rosin also takes time with a bow in your hand. I haven't rosined my bow in a five weeks, and I'm still wiping rosin off my strings. Somehow, I needed it until then, and I rosined my bow pretty much every time I picked up the instrument. I seem to have crossed some sort of threshold and am now patiently waiting to use up the store of rosin in my bow - I thought of cleaning it, but somehow letting it come out through use seems to be causing a natural, gradual, adaptation to using less rosin and I don't particularly feel the need to hurry the process.
  19. basic74

    basic74

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    should be a sticky, lots of great posts!
    also get joel quarringtons "daily studies" (downloadable on his website) where he writes a lot of times things like "pull the bow with your back" and the like.. suddenly it made click and the feel of the string under the bow has changed and so has my tone, to the better :)

    when playing jazz type pizz (which is my background) it feels like home.
    more and more I feel the string under the bow in a similar way.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014

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