Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Like a brand new bow

My newly cleaned bow actually sounded quite good. Not really knowing what I was doing, I could only hope I wasn't wrecking it by cleaning it the way I did. This morning, I rosined it very lightly and adjusted the tension somewhat looser than I'd used before, and jumped right in. The bow "bit" into the strings without any hesitation, there was less screeching and slipping around on the strings - all of which produced a richer, cleaner sound.

It's not as if I've stumbled onto any magic secret or anything: less rosin, less tension, regular cleaning with a cloth. I guess what I have learned is exactly what "less" means. I used to use so much rosin that my strings would become caked every time I played. Today, although there was some rosin on the strings after two hours, it was so much less.

At the same time I realized that I was holding the bow lightly and loosely, using just my forefinger to control the pressure. My wrist was also looser and the bow changes were smoother.

I only started playing the Bach "Minuet in C" ten days ago (we had skipped over it last spring and only just came back to pick it up), but today, as I played it through, I realized that my rendition sounded pretty good! I've already memorized it, and after a few days of extra attention to the rhythm, the intonation was smooth and the notes were cleanly connected. Then I went on to play through the two Minuets in Suzuki 2 and the Judas Maccabeaus piece with a similar sense of accomplishment. Maybe the bow has been (part of) the problem all along...

Still, I'm not yet happy with that ill-fated Minuet #2 in Book 1. I've been struggling with the opening sequence of this particular piece since the end of February - six months ago! I suspect I'll struggle with this for many more months until one day I'll realize that I finally "got" it.

Boy, I feel like a true cello geek now, having a conversation about rosin!

It's funny you use lots of rosin. When I started I was very suspicious of it, and used almost none, or only the hardest kind that doesn't stick to the strings much. But-- I was playing way up near the fingerboard, where it's easier to get the strings vibrating. Once my teacher "corrected" me and moved me down near the bridge, it all fell apart and I couldn't grip the strings at all. Finally, I understood what rosin is for!

I'm still kind of stingy with it, as my bow was absolutely gunked up with the stuff when I got it (from being tried out in the shop I guess) and it took months for all the rosin to wear out. I don't want to over-do, and I'm way too afraid to do the alcohol cleaning bit.

Happy bowing!
The only thing missing from this cello-geek discussion is one of the ICS curmudgeons telling us we have it all wrong...

In hindsight, the alcohol cleaning project was very simple and only took a few minutes. I wouldn't have the slightest problem doing it again someday.
I've cleaned the hair with alcohol a few times in the last three years. Works great from what I can tell.
Terry, have you had to rehair your bow in those three years?
No rehairs, and no intention of getting one real soon. That said, I do have three bows. One is the bow I got with my 1st cello. Cello and bow were $139 (plas $40 shipping). I did decide, after a couple years to get a rehair since I thought I should and some hairs had broken over that time. The shop refused to re-hair it, saying the bow itself wasn't of sufficient quality to re-hair.

I ended up buying a bow I liked better from that shop for $79, so I feel they weren't trying to gouge me. The new bow cost not much more than a re-hair.

Then in May I got a new, quite good cello (that's what everybody that plays it tells me) and bow with it ($3000 + $700). Beacuse I do some chopping on occasion, I probably break more hairs than most beginner-intermediates and I'll get a rehair in a year or so.

That's how I consider myself, I'm just beginning the intermediate phase. In that way, I'll always be a beginner, and that's alright with me.
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