How To Care For A New String Instrument

What to do to care for a new string instrument.

Many people bring home a brand new string instrument and then ask, now what? Caring for one can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. There are a few specific things you must know.

First, your instrument should come with a case and a bow. Your bow is made from horsehair, and will come with the hair very loose. The small metal part at the end of the bow will turn to tighten the hair, as it should be while playing. When putting the instrument away, you should store the bow with the hair loose, just as it arrived.

Before using the bow for the first time, it should be rosined. Rosin is the shiny orange, yellow, or black cube in instrument case. It needs to be rubbed very hard until the shininess goes away and a white dust starts appearing on the surface. This white dust is what helps the bow grip the strings. Violin, viola and cello bows can be rosined using a back and forth motion across the surface of the rosin. Bass rosin, however, is different. It is stickier and softer than the other forms of rosin, and bows should be pulled down across the surface, lifted, and pulled down again. They should NEVER be pulled back and forth.

The instrument should always be put away when it's not being played, and it should not have anything under it or on top of it that could create problems with it fitting into the case. Shoulder rests should not be left on, or set over the strings. Violins and violas, in their cases, should always be stored either on their sides, or on their backs (string side up). Cellos and basses should be stored upright (preferred) or on their sides. They should never lie on their backs and NEVER string side down.

New instruments will need to be tuned before they are played. If you know how to tune them, do it yourself. If you don't, take it to a local music shop so they can show you how to do so properly. It's important not only to know what note each string is, but what octave it's in. Basses have E, A, D, and G strings (from lowest to highest). The low E string is two octaves and a sixth below middle C, and the instrument is tuned in fourths. Cellos have C, G, D, and A strings, and the low C string is tuned two octaves below middle C, and it is tuned in fifths. Violas have C, G, D, and A strings, and the low C string is one octave below middle C, and it is tuned in fifths. Violins have G, D, A and E strings, and the G string is a fifth below middle C. It is also tuned in fifths.

New instruments will need to be tuned frequently, because new strings need time to stretch out and get used to the instrument. Have a teacher tune it weekly if you have one; otherwise take it to a music shop periodically until you learn how to tune.

Instruments will sometimes accumulate dust. You should use a very soft cloth (an old T-shirt works well) to clean the instrument. Wipe the body of the instrument gently, including under the fingerboard (the black part under the strings). Wipe the strings as well, making sure you get all the way around.

If the strings become very dirty, you can clean them with rubbing alcohol. Simply pour a little bit onto a soft cloth and gently rub the strings. NEVER allow alcohol to get onto the body of the instrument; it will ruin the finish. For this reason, only adults or advanced students should do this. If you are at all uncertain about cleaning the strings, talk to a string teacher.

Keep your instrument out of direct sunlight or any extreme temperatures. Heat can cause the glue at the seams to melt; cold can cause the wood to crack. Either could break the strings. If you notice any problems, take your instrument to a qualified repairman immediately.

Be smart about caring for your instrument. Don't drop it or allow a child to play with it, keep it clean and put away when you're not playing it. Using some common sense and following these guidelines will keep your instrument in good condition for years.

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