Mailbag: Building Callus and Questions on Purchasing

  1. Thom
  2. November 14, 2009 1:50 am

Thanks for the positive feedback! It looks you liked the mailbag, so I’m going to keep the answers coming as long as you keep asking!

Fingers Hurt?

Angelsoos writes:

Hello Thom, I’ve watched many of your videos, and they have been very helpful.
I just got my Violin 5 days ago, which really thrilled me because I was assured by my family that I’d never get one. but still, after I got it, I was not allowed to get a teacher and most of them told me that I’d never learn how to play the violin. I am determined to learn it, you see….the violin to me is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen or heard. It just gives you this overwhelming feeling when you listen to it, and I will never give up till I learn it, but it is very hard to train without a teacher.
I just wanted to thank you for all your videos, although some of them were a little hard because I don’t have the book you are working on, but still, thank you for all your hard work.

P.S: May I please ask you a question? You know how you press on the string with your fingers to produce numerous notes? Well it really hurts my fingers when I do that. Is that supposed to happen or am I doing something wrong?
Thank you again for your time.

Hello Angelsoos,

That is awesome that you want to do whatever it takes to learn! The violin brings me a lot of joy as well! I found that if I wake up early to play a little before work, my mood through the day is significantly better than if I just woke up and went to work like normal.

On the topic of your fingers on the strings- Your fingertips may hurt a little in the beginning, especially if this is your first instrument. This is because your fingers are needing to build callus (hardened skin). Every now and then I noodle around on the guitar. The first time I ever did, the round wound strings along with the frets were super rough on my fingers, and they felt like they were on fire! Your skin may take a little bit of time, just don’t overdo it. I would watch to make sure you aren’t pushing down too hard. You need only to apply enough pressure so that the strings are touching the fingerboard. Any harder than that is simply wasted energy, and probably harmful to your hand!  Good luck, and I recommend getting the book, it will make things much easier for you!

I hope that helps!

What should I be shopping for?

I had two questions on this topic, so I figured I could combine them into one:

Katie writes:

How important is having an expensive or high quality bow? Does the bow really affect the sound the violin makes so much that you shouldn’t use a cheapo? I have a cheap one and someone told me that my playing would sound better with something as simple as buying a more expensive bow. ok, thanks!

Anonymous writes:

I’m buying an electric violin. What are the things that should I buy/check when I buy? I think I should have:
1. Violin

2. Bow. Any advise how to chose a good bow? I heard we cannot touch the hair to make sure no oil from our hand doesn’t goes into it, is that true? and you know why? let say I accidentally touch the hair, what would be happen? it won’t produce sound nicely because of slippery? can we just apply rosin again and it back to normal?

3. Case. I think soft case should be OK right?

4. Rosin. What is the good rosin which suitable for both electric and acoustic string? Any advise how to choose/brand maybe?

5. Cleaner. How often you clean your violin? I heard that we should clean the rosin that felt into our violin after every play. Can we use same cleaner to clean electric and acoustic? or depend on finishing?

Thank you.

Great Questions!

More often than not, a student violin will come in what is called a “violin outfit.” This means that at the very least your package will contain a violin, bow, and case. If you are purchasing a more advanced acoustic or an electric violin, more often than not you will just be getting a violin and therefore will need to shop for the other accessories.

When looking for bows, beginner student bows will range from $30-$50. Generally they will be made of fiberglass and synthetic hair. Many violinists prefer the sound and feel of real horse hair on their bows. The material can vary from carbon fiber to pernambuco or even snakewood. I currently play with a Coda Aspire (carbon fiber bow). The Aspire model is no longer in production but it is probably about equal to the Coda Prodigy. While a better bow may sound and respond better, you really shouldn’t be looking to spend a whole lot on your first bow. I first learned on a cheap fiberglass bow just like everyone else I know. After you have been playing for a while you will begin to learn different bowing techniques and find you have a preference for a certain type of bow. That preference may end up being different from what you currently have, so start with a less expensive bow and move up from there!

It is true that you should not touch the hairs with your fingers. Our fingers secrete a natural oil that when rubbed on the hair will detract rosin and attract dirt. So avoid touching the hairs as much as possible!

Some people feel comfortable carrying their violins around in a soft case. By soft case I am referring to what is called a “gig bag.” A gig bag is just a soft nylon bag in the shape of the instrument. I personally don’t feel comfortable with these and I use a hard case. Hard cases can have both soft and hard exteriors, but the difference is that they will have injected hardened foam and other materials to help keep your violin safe against bumping, falling, and even changes in temperature and humidity (to an extent!). Never leave your violin out in the car on a hot day or a cold day. Either extreme can damage your instrument!

Rosin is yet another thing that doesn’t matter too much in the beginning, but as you mature in your playing your tastes will develop for your own preferences. I currently use Tartini rosin which is believe is now being sold under the name of Andrea.  In high school I used a hypo-allergenic rosin called Clarity Rosin. Another Rosin I found was popular while searching through some rosin enthusiast forums was Motrya Rosin. A type of rosin won’t make a difference on acoustic vs. electric.

I usually use a regular polish cloth to clean my instrument. a quick wipe of the strings and the wood underneath to catch rosin dust is all you need!

Hope that helps!


Thanks for the great questions, you guys rock! If you like the idea of this “mailbag” please let me know in the comments below! Also feel free to add me on twitter or register with the site.


  1. Jeff says:
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    Should my calluses be in particular spots on each finger?

    As a guitar player, my calluses were right on the tips of my fingers.

    But with the violin the ones on my ring and pinky are a bit on the side closer to my index finger?

    • Hello Jeff!

      If your callus is more on the angle of the finger versus on the tip you may want to take a look at how you are placing your fingers. They should be landing on pretty much at the tip of your finger pads, allowing your fingers to maintain a strong (but relaxed) curl.

      Thats the best advice I can give without seeing you up close. I hope that helps, Jeff!

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