Violin and Viola Lessons by Richard Tweney - Cobourg, Ontario

WHY NOT LEARN TO PLAY THE VIOLIN?

Instruction for ages 6 & up • Lessons in English or French
25 years of experience • Reasonable rates

Phone: 905 373-4378  
Email: richard@violinlessonsnorthumberland.ca
563 Shirley Street, Cobourg ON

 
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HOW TO CARE FOR THE VIOLIN OR VIOLA

A violin is a delicate object, containing several dozen bits and pieces, and yet, it is surprisingly strong and resilient. Over time violins are degraded by physical abuse or accidents, lack of routine cleaning or maintenance, incorrect tuning, extreme humidity or dryness, direct exposure to sunlight, and the sudden temperature changes that are a feature of living in our extreme Canadian climate. In addition, home or inexpert repairs can be very damaging, so if you are fortunate enough to own a good violin, make contact with a good violin repair shop or luthier, as they are sometimes known, and rely on their expertise entirely.

The proper place for a violin when not in use is the case. If you need to set your instrument down for a few minutes during a practice session, set it on the table, or stand it up in a chair. The floor is not the right place! In addition be careful transporting your instrument. During the summer, do not leave your instrument in the car, as it becomes far too hot. During winter, allow some time for your instrument to warm up before you take it out of the case, especially if you have been outdoors for a long time. And bicycles are a bad idea at any season. If you fall off, it can mean some very expensive repairs (Sadly, I speak from personal experience).

Probably the most important maintenance step is regular cleaning of the instrument, especially the wiping down of the top after each use with a soft cloth (Natural fabrics like linen that have been washed a lot are quite serviceable. I rip up old cotton pillow slips myself). Especially important is cleaning under the fingerboard, as the rosin dust tends to build up in this area. It must be remembered that rosin is acidic, and it will attack wood and varnish over time. In addition, if rosin dust is melted by the sun or other heat source, it will bind to the violin varnish, creating those heavy black spots sometimes seen on older instruments. If it becomes necessary to clean your violin more thoroughly, skip the furniture polish or waxy cleaners, and obtain a bottle of cleaning fluid from your violin shop. (Even so, however, you will need to test the fluid on a small part of the violin body; with older violins you can never be too careful, although the newer ones often have harder finishes).

Keep an eye on the bridge. Although bridges vary greatly in shape, most tend to be higher under the fourth string. If yours is not, it could be installed backwards. The strings should run up the centre of the fingerboard, and the bridge itself should be in line with the little notches on the sides of the f-holes. If you always tune your violin using the main pegs, your bridge may tend over time to become warped. Keep your bridge straight up and down by adjusting it between your thumb and fingers. It will eventually be necessary to have a new bridge fitted. Then you should see your violin shop, as this is not a job to be carried out at home.

The strings are the part of the violin or viola that suffer the most wear and tear. After a period of time- perhaps from six months to a year- they will wear out and require replacement (Even if unbroken, they lose their tone and luster). This is a job that you can do yourself. However, only change on string at a time (I start with the inner two strings and then change the outside strings), and make sure the string is would neatly against the cheek of the peg box, in order to minimize torque pulling on the peg itself. Be careful NEVER to push on the pegs, as it is quite easy to snap the peg box (another bitter personal experience). If your pegs slip like crazy, or stick, then talk to your violin shop. Some peg compound may help, or you may need your pegs refitted. If you are unsure of how to change strings, ask your teacher to show you the first time. The choice of which type of strings to use is largely a personal matter. Most strings today consist of a core and a winding. The core is either metal or nylon (occasionally catgut), and the winding is one of several metals. I personally prefer Thomastik Dominant strings, which are a nylon core string. They are reasonably priced and quite long lasting (though not as long as all metal strings), and most important of all, they give a beautiful tone. 

Finally, concerning tuning, many students are afraid of using the main pegs and rely entirely on the fine tuners. This is a mistake, since the fine tuners soon have so much tension on them that it exceeds the stresses that they are designed to bear. Just enough tension on a fine tuner to make it possible to adjust the pitch up or down very slightly is the ideal. (No tension is not good however, as slack fine tuners can buzz). If the main pegs are hard to turn-especially during the summer months- be careful to loosen the peg a bit before tuning the string up. This will prevent a peg from “giving” suddenly and snapping the string.

The bow also requires some thought, as it is quite as important as the violin in our music making. Never tighten your bow too much, as excess tension does nothing to improve the performance and merely strains the stick. And remember to loosen the bow after use to preserve the proper camber of the stick. The end screw is provided for this purpose, of course, and it should be used as gently as possible. Inside the frog there is a brass “eyelet” that is actually quite delicate. Turning the screw slowly will help to preserve the eyelet, as will holding the frog gently against the stick in order to eliminate any play in the mechanism. Before loosening the hairs, carefully wipe any rosin dust off the stick. Also try to avoid touching the horsehair, as it will absorb oil from your fingers, and become less able to take the rosin. When your bow no longer takes rosin, or when the hair becomes yellowed and translucent in appearance, take your bow in for rehairing.

Last of all keep an eye on your instrument and bow. If anything unusual develops, such as cracks or noises, bring it to your teacher’s attention right away. If you cannot resolve the matter, consult your violin repair shop right away. You will be rewarded with an instrument that plays easily and sounds at its best.
    

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