One of the most important lessons when learning to play the violin is how to take care of the violin itself! It’s so easy to let the excitement of playing and new beginnings cloud our judgment and suddenly we have a broken violin or excess maintenance that requires professional consultation. Luckily there are some small things we can do daily and throughout the year to make sure we keep our violins in tip-top condition. Let’s explore: How to take care of your violin.
Day-to-day Care and Habits
Where should I keep the violin?
- Buy a Good Case
The violin case is very important because it is the only thing protecting it when it’s not in use. It’s tempting to get the most light-weight case, but sometimes this can compromise the safety of the violin if it is not made of sturdy, quality material. Choose a durable case that is at least water-resistant.
- Safety First
The violin can suffer damage even while in the case. Always make sure to store the violin in a safe spot; somewhere that’s not at risk of someone bumping into it or drop something on top of it.
Violins are very sensitive to temperature, as well as abrupt changes in temperature. Avoid leaving the violin in an excessively hot or cold car, and conversely, avoid leaving the violin near a heat or A.C. vent. When bringing the violin in and out of drastically different environments (like driving in the summer in a hot car with the violin and then going immediately inside a cold building with the A.C. blasting), let the violin sit for a minute or two to adjust before opening the case and getting set up.
How should I commute with the violin?
- Place the violin face up or on its side
Always store the violin, in its case, on its backside with the bridge facing up. If you place the violin case “upside down,” or with the bridge side down, this can easily break the violin.
You can also place the violin on its side, as you would a briefcase.
- Don’t put the violin in the trunk
It’s not always possible to avoid, but if you can – don’t put the violin in the trunk. There are two reasons for this: first, it’s easy to forget about the violin if it’s in the trunk and then subject it to extreme temperatures if left in the trunk. Secondly, the violin is at risk of being damaged if you were ever rear-ended.
- Never leave it in the car
If you leave the violin in the car, it can lead to damage since the temperatures will constantly fluctuate. Also, leaving the violin in the car will easily invite theft.
What should I do about humidity?
Depending on where you live, you might experience a lot of humidity at certain times of the year, or perhaps you are afflicted with a super dry climate that is absent of humidity. Both extremes can wreak havoc on the violin.
It’s very similar to when the wood door frames in our homes swell or shrink depending on the seasons. If you’ve noticed the door gets stuck more often, or get’s “sticky,” it’s because the wood has swollen from the high humidity. Conversely, in the winter the lack of humidity causes the wood to contract and the door feels more “loose” in the frame.
Violins are the same way! In humid climates, the wood expands from excess humidity, and in the winter, it contracts from the lack of humidity. This can affect the sound, but it can also affect the health of the violin.
Violins are more susceptible to cracking in dry environments, and they are more susceptible to seams opening up if things get too humid. If there is too much humidity, consider using a dehumidifier to remove humidity from the air. If the humidity drops below 30-40%, there are some extra steps you can take to help protect the violin:
- Bring out the Damp-it!
A Damp-it is a long, thin sponge wrapped in rubber that you use to create isolated humidity for the violin. First, you soak Damp-it in water for a little bit so that the sponge absorbs water. Then, you squeeze it dry so there is no excess water that can drip out. Then you place the Damp-it inside the F-hole of the violin.
The Damp-it will help remotely boost the humidity surrounding the violin and is good for traveling/commuting.
- Invest in a humidifier
Ultimately, the best choice (albeit more expensive option) is to invest in a humidifier. This is the best way to ensure your violin has the proper humidity. It’s best to store the violin in the same room as the humidifier: it won’t do you any good if the violin breaks because it was stored in the hot, stuffy room next to the heater and not in the perfectly regulated humidified room!
Tips for daily violin hygiene and habits
Always wipe down
After playing even for just a few minutes, a layer of rosin dust begins to accumulate on the violin and bow stick. If you don’t wipe this off on a routine basis, it will stick and be impossible to get off later. This will damage the varnish and affect the sound.
Avoid using polish
You’re polishing the wooden dining room table and think to yourself, “Might as well polish the violin!” While this seems like a good idea – it’s actually not healthy for the violin and could end up causing more damage in the long run. Using a simple, soft, dry cloth is the best way to “clean” a violin.
Always loosen the bow hair
Even if you are taking a “break” for a minute, loosen the bow hair! Whenever we take a “break,” we risk forgetting about it and then you realize the next day that you forgot to put your violin away and you forgot to loosen the bow hair!
It’s important to loosen the bow hair because it prevents the stick from warping and it helps maintain the bow hair. The more tension it’s under, the more bow hairs you will break.
Less is more with rosin!
It’s not necessary to rosin the bow every time you play. Most violinists only need to use the rosin maybe once or twice a week – sometimes even less! If you use too much rosin, it will end up being too sticky while you play, causing a kind of “scratchy,” unpleasant sound.
Keep your nails short and wash those hands!
Keep your nails short for two reasons: first, it is important for technique. You cannot play with proper technique if your nails are too long because it distorts the angle that your fingers can be placed on the fingerboard. Secondly, having long nails can damage the violin. The nails will eventually cause wear and tear on the strings and they will begin to fray.
Also, wash your hands! Playing with dirty hands will leave you with a dirty violin and can even make the fingerboard sticky, which ultimately makes it harder to play.
Twice a Year
How often should I change the strings?
Over time, the strings lose their spunk and become difficult to stay in tune. Because of this, it’s a good idea to change the strings about once every six months. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to change the string, but if it’s new to you – consult a teacher or violin shop for guidance.
What if a string pops?
Fear not! If the string pops – don’t panic. This is normal! Sometimes it happens because we made a mistake (like tightening a tuning peg too far), but more often than not it’s purely because the string was old and it was inevitable. Consulta teacher or violin shop if this happens; they will help you fix the string.
How should I clean the fingerboard?
The oils in our fingers can build up over time on the fingerboard and you’ll start to see white streaks develop. Simply take a soft cloth, dip it into a little rubbing alcohol, and gently wipe the fingerboard. It’s ok to touch the fingerboard and strings with the rubbing alcohol, but avoid touching any other part of the violin.
Don’t forget about humidity!
Keep an eye on the humidity as the seasons change: you may find that you have to make some changes to adapt to the changing climate.
Time for a rehair
Over time, the bow will naturally lose hairs and eventually you will need to bring the bow to a luthier to be rehaired. This simply means the hair is taken out and replaced with fresh hair. Sometimes it’s cheaper to just buy a new bow if it’s a small beginner bow.
Once a Year
Time for a checkup!
Even with our best intentions and daily care, every once in a while a violin needs to be seen by a trained luthier who can spot problems we may not see, such as opening seams or a warping bridge. The luthier will offer some maintenance suggestions that will ultimately help the quality of sound and playing. It’s good to have this “check-up” about once a year, and even better if you can go to the same luthier because they will keep a record of what they’ve done. Sometimes the dealer itself will offer such a check-up if you are already renting from their shop.
Take care of your baby!
A lot of people say the violin is like their “baby;” it’s something very dear to them and something that they want to keep in the healthiest condition. When thinking about how to take care of your violin, daily habits are key to maintaining the best violin health. But don’t forget to check-in twice a year for some bigger maintenance tasks like getting a rehair or adapting to the humidity changes. And once a year – bring the violin to the shop like you would a car. It will make you feel better and will help avoid bigger problems from arising.