Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

How to Deal with Rosin

Learn a few tips about using rosin on the cello

In this video, Prof. Mendoes talks about Rosin on the cello: how to use it, and how much of it to use?

Released on December 6, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, everyone. This is Joseph Mendoes with another video for Today I'd like to talk about the topic of rosin. So how much you should be using, at least how much I think you should be using. And then also, you know, how to, you know, should we be leaving rosin dust on the strings or should we be cleaning it off. And also what kind of rosin we should even be using. There's a lot of controversy on in the cello world on these topics so I thought I'd just lay out what my opinion is.

So the easiest thing to start off with is just to start off with talking about how much you should be using. So how much you should be using does eventually depend on playing style, but I would say that generally, in my opinion, string players, not just cellists, but I would say of everyone, probably don't use enough rosin. My attitude is this, is that when I play I want to have the freest possible technique. And what that means is that it should be a kind of a technique that allows me to easily express my thoughts and ideas, even to the point where if I'm on stage and performing, and in that particular moment, I have a different idea, then my technique is so responsive that I can then even implement that idea with a reasonable amount of success on the spot.

So now what does rosin have to do with this? Well, if you're not using enough rosin, what that means is that you're having to use a little more torque, you're having to use basically a little more effort in order to get your sound. So regardless of what language you use, if you use a language of weight in terms of how you get power and all that, this all works the same. It doesn't really matter what language you use. If you have more rosin on the bow, you're going to be using less effort to get a sound.

Now, a lot of people when they try using a lot of rosin or rosining frequently, well, I'll just tell you just by how much I rosin. I rosin about maybe three or four times a day. Basically, every time I get the cello out to play I use rosin and...or I put rosin on, and every time put the cello away I also cleaned the strings off. So every single time I'm approaching the cello, I have fresh rosin on the bow and hardly any rosin on the strings. Now what this does is, is it builds up a certain sense of contact, so that every single time I approach the cello, not only does it always feel the same to me, but I always feel this grip on the string right away.

So I find that it's very, very, very helpful to always have that feeling. And now all of you know my basic ideas on bow technique. But I do believe that there is a certain amount of finger motion that we need to have when we play, and developing this finger motion has a lot to do with getting a passive feeling in the fingers. But those fingers are passively reacting against the friction that you're feeling between the bow hair and the string. So in essence, then, the bow becomes a kind of a natural extension of your hand.

So rosin has a really important part in this, and without rosin on the bow, or without at least enough rosin on the bow, at least I think, you end up with a situation where you're not really feeling that connection nearly as much. So that's basically my attitude on that. I know other players have different attitudes, but I do find that without rosin you also end up with a more naturally aggressive style of playing because you're really trying to hammer out the sound instead of allowing the bow hair to grip the string in a natural way.

So, that's just my own approach, and of course, there's, kind of, some more artistic things involved in that approach too, so it's not just purely a technical thing. There's technique and then a little bit of my musical approach involved in that as well. Because I really want to play with long lines and sing, and, like, maybe some of you have heard on my recordings, I think you could look up on YouTube the recording, the CD I made of all the cello and piano works of the Swiss composer Joachim Raff. All those are kind of long melodies, and that's basically what I'm looking for is this, kind of, the longest lines that I can make, whether I'm successful at it or not. Hopefully, you won't blame the rosin, but I do think that the rosin had something to do with it.

Now as far as cleaning off the strings, the reason why I clean off the strings every time is because if the rosin does settle on the strings over time, and I do use a lot of rosin, then what can happen is, is it can actually start even changing the natural pitch of the string. A lot of people don't understand that the pitch of the string has a lot to do with the mass of the string. And so, obviously, if you're building up layers and layers of rosin dust on the string then the pitch of the string might be less true over time.

So to clean off those strings every time you play. So that means if you're getting out the cello, say two, three times a day that means you're cleaning the strings two, three times a day. Then that's just something that you really want to remember to do, especially if you're in my habit of rosining every single time.

Okay, so with that said now we'll move on to what kind of rosin do I think you should use? Well, for me personally I've used lots of different rosins over the course of my cello playing life. What I found is, is that generally speaking, what I'm looking for in a rosin is one that doesn't produce too much dust but that also has a nice clear bite to it. A rosin that I found in the last 10 years to be very successful at this is the Melos Dark, that's M-E-L-O-S. It's a little more expensive than most rosins, I think it's around $15 or $16, $17, somewhere in that range. It's under 20. It's made of Greek pine tree sap, which seems to have some kind of peculiar quality about it that allows the string to be grabbed in a very unique way.

On the less expensive side, the Hill Dark is actually quite good. I've used that on and off, you know, during my playing years. And well, I'm still in my playing years, so I've used it on and off since I've started. And that one works particularly well. I found that actually when I first started using gut strings, which I use now, that Hill Dark worked particularly well. And I thought maybe because that was a formula that was developed, you know, when gut strings were around. So I thought maybe that was one of the reasons why.

Recently I received a gift from a student that I have in Australia, it's this rosin, and I'm not doing an ad for them, I literally just got it the other day. It's called Leatherwood. It comes in this, kind of, leather pouch and it's unusually packaged in that normally very inexpensive rosins come in this kind of wood sheath, but this one is very, very high-end in terms of price. And it's very, very good. I really do like it very much. It probably has the best blend of bite and the lowest dust that I've experienced in a rosin so far. I say it's very comparable to the Melos, and probably better than the Melos, but I don't have Melos around the test against it right now.

But yeah, basically...and then in terms of light and dark, you know, some people say this depends on your environment, that if you're in a little more humid area, then you'll want to try to go for something that's maybe a little bit darker. And if you're less humid area, drier, you want to go for something that's a little bit lighter. Or might be the reverse, I don't remember. I mean I've now lived in various climates and played in various climates, and dark has always worked perfectly well in all those situations for me. So I've never really found the need to switch back and forth between light and dark. Light usually just doesn't give me the bite that I'm looking for. It doesn't give me that sense of contact that I'm wanting when I play. So that's that.

I hope all of you learned something from this video, and you can take away some of my advice, particularly about the amount of rosin that you should be using. I know a lot of my students are surprised when I say that, but rosin, I think, is really a critical part to developing a really beautiful singing sound and learning to be expressive. So if you have any questions, please leave them down below, not on YouTube, on the VSM website. And I will do my best to reply to those in a reasonable amount of time. So once again, this has been Joseph Mendoes with a video for
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

ermien van rensburg on December 27, 2017 @5:36 am PST
Dear professor Mendoes

How do you clean the strings?
Joseph - host, on January 1, 2018 @1:21 pm PST
Just a quick scrub with a cotton or microfiber cloth after you play, but for a deeper clean after a few months you can use rubbing alcohol (just keep it from touching the varnish on the cello, as it will destroy it.)
Mel on December 25, 2017 @1:13 am PST
Dear Prof. Joseph Mendoes. Thank you for telling us about ROSIN and when to use it. All your videos are greatly appreciated. I have learned so much from each and every of your videos. You have taught me so much about cello playing. If I may ask: Whats the piece of music playing at the end of this (and of every) video that you put up? Thanks a lot.
Joseph - host, on January 1, 2018 @1:19 pm PST
Hello Mel,

It is a recording of me playing the Prelude of the Cello Suite in C minor by J. S. Bach. Glad you like it!

Leong * VSM MEMBER * on December 19, 2017 @7:04 am PST
Thank you Prof. Mendoes for this video. The suggested rosin just felt perfect, enough grip but not too much to cause screeching sound. I never thought changing rosin will lighten my effort to play the cello.
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