Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Burn Baby Burn!

We did a presentation on "How to maintain your Chinese Music Instruments" to a group of secondary school students at the invitation of the Ministry of Education of Singapore on Tuesday.

Besides sharing what I know about how to maintain the instruments or improve the sound quality, the students also shared with us some of the things they come across.

Two suggestions were of particular interest to me.

I was talking about how to maximise the Erhu rosin. You know when you keep rosining a particular spot on the rosin, a groove forms on the rosin. Though its easier to rosin with a groove in the rosin, there is a lot of wastage from the mountains of rosin you built while cutting grooves left right centre of the rosin cake. So I suggested to rosin the cake down evenly so that you do not waste the rosin. So this guy from Chinese High told us that when the peaks of rosin forms, he melts them together again. He just takes a cigarette lighter and holds the rosin face down above the open flame. When the rosin melts together and before it drips down, he turns it front side up again. Good idea I thought. I'm sure the rosin will still retain its properties after a hot sauna.

A groovy kind of rosin...

Another girl shared with us another way to play with fire, with compliments from her Erhu instructor. The instructor suggested to use an open flame from a cigarette lighter and place it under your Erhu bow hair. The heat is suppose to straighten the Erhu bow hairs. The girl remarked that the bow looks nicer with straight hair rather than natural curls, but remains uncommitted as to whether it improves the sound in anyway.

Sounds a bit risky to me. Your whole bow might go up in smoke.

But if you got bows to burn, go ahead and try it.


  1. 1) Hai, the melting rosin. I do that. I use a tealight (candle) instead so that I don't have to keep pressing down on the cigarette lighter. I thot this is common knowledge. ;-) Found it on the internet long ago when dealing with a broken cake of rosin.

    2) Heating the bow. Heard this from the erhu laoshi before altho' nvr thot to try.

  2. ok, I didn't know about the melting rosin thing. The tea light sounds like a good idea.

    What did your laoshi say about heating the bow by the way?

  3. I suggest a lot of care when handling rosin around flame. Rosin is apparently quite flammable. I would rather just get new rosin than take the risk.

    Here is a link to an interesting article on making rosin:

    Best wishes,


  4. Thanks for the link David.

    Yes I second just getting a new rosin to save the trouble.

    You can find them easily at music instrument shops, or you can order online from us:


  5. I only remember hearing her tell us about heating the bow when we were discussing good/poor bows, but seriously I didn't pay that much attention. My son's teacher, lah.

  6. re the burning hot rosin.

    Need to just warm it enough for it to start to melt. If it is put for too long, it gets really smelly, like "chao tar". So yucks.

  7. ok, I tried it with the bow that we got fr u. My boy likes to play with bowhair very very loose, so there were a few extremely loose ones. Yah. They straightened out so it doesn't look quite so straggly now.

  8. if u apply direct heat to the rosin from the lighter, a little amount of soot might accumulate on the surface of the rosin. would taint the purity of the rosin.