Rosin: What’s Really in that Cake?

Lesley Schultz • November 2023String Section • November 1, 2023

One essential accessory every string player needs is a cake of rosin.  Given the many different types, how does one choose the type best for them or their ensemble? Standard rosin is made of pine resins where the moisture has been evaporated and it is formed into a cake, either surrounded by wood or plastic, or put into a small cloth. Without rosin not much sound will come out, but there are several different types and here is a quick rundown.  

At its most basic, rosin is categorized into light, dark and amber. Light rosins are on the harder, less sticky side, and usually leave less residue on the instruments. Dark rosins are softer, sticker and can leave more residue on the instruments. Amber falls somewhere in between, being slightly softer than light, and leaving less residue than dark. When choosing, you need to consider your climate, as lighter rosins perform better in hot and humid environments, there is less clumping. Professional players sometimes use different rosins for different weather, or time of year or location they are performing in. Keep in mind no matter the rosin if it is in a particularly warm environment it will melt, so take care.

Bass rosin is its own category of rosin, being thicker and stickier than rosin for violins, violas, and cellos. It is always stored in a hard sided container and is often wrapped in foil or a paper cup to keep it more contained. Bass rosin is more prone to melting, so heat considerations need to be at the forefront of bass rosin storage. I personally have seen bass rosin stuck to and melted on bass racks just from improper storage. You also wouldn’t want bass rosin on a violin bow, it is way too sticky and can make it harder to play. Since bass rosin leaves more residue, wiping off the instrument at the end of every playing session is of particular importance to bass players to keep the buildup down.  

As you delve into the world of rosins, there are many different specialty rosins, rosins with gold, silver and copper included. These are said to give slightly distinct tones, from gold being warmer and richer to silver being brighter. These rosins should not be used by beginners, as we want them to develop a good basic tone first using a standard rosin for their instrument.  

Another specialty rosin that is available is hypoallergenic rosin, since most rosin has a pine or plant base to it, some people are allergic to standard rosin. I usually see a case of someone being allergic every few years in our ensembles. Hypoallergenic rosins such as Clarity or Magic Rosin are great substitutes for these people and is not terribly expensive, though they are more expensive than the standard cake.

Hopefully, you will consider the wide variety of rosins out there and do some of your own research to figure out what the best rosin is for your personal playing and your ensembles.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves on the National Conference Committee. In her copious amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family and making TikToks about her cats.

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