These hints won't teach you to play your violin, viola or 'cello any better, but it will help in looking after it. I hope too that it may save you worry if something goes wrong.
CLEANING A dry, clean duster is all that's needed usually. Used after each playing, it will stop resin building up on the front of the instrument. Dust the stick of the bow as well, but don't touch the hair. On instruments that have not been cleaned for some time you can use one of the special liquid cleaners, such as Hidersol. Follow the instructions and use sparingly. Don't use furniture polish or wax of any kind. The varnish of the violin and bow is usually a spirit varnish. If you drop any spirit, such as meths, alcohol, nail varnish remover, the varnish will dissolve and leave an unsightly blemish.
PEGS Jerking or slipping?
A repairer's job really, but there are some tips. If the peg slips, remove it and dust it in chalk before refitting. If it sticks, rub pencil lead on the two rings that fit the hole. This friction is a very delicate balance and actually varies from day to day with humidity etc..
TUNING Tuning pegs cause most problems on stringed instruments. I mean the four wooden pegs near the scroll. Often, particularly on cheap instruments, they don't fit well and it's left to the teacher to move them. Nowadays there are two kinds of string - synthetic and metal. Synthetic have replaced gut almost completely, and metal are found on many student instruments. The quality metal strings by Thomastik and Jargar are used on better instruments also. All metal strings need four metal adjusters on the tailpiece. If you haven't got them, get them fitted. It's almost impossible to tune accurately without them. Each peg is a taper fit in its hole. They are not interchangeable. When tuning, first break the peg's grip by turning the top of the peg towards you (as seen from above the instrument). This will lower the pitch. Bring the string up to correct pitch by gradually turning the peg the other way, gently pushing the peg into its hole as you do so. Make sure that the string coils neatly round the peg in the pegbox, and that the final turn of the string lies against the inside of the pegbox. This will help to prevent the peg from slipping.
You can see the sound post through the right F hole. It can fall over if all the strings are let down at once, or the tailgut breaks (holds the tailpiece to the bottom of the instrument), or the bridge falls over, or the instrument is jarred or dropped, or sometimes just because it feels like it! If you see it rolling around, let the strings down - all of them - to take the pressure off the front. Then get a repairer to set it upright again.
Adjusters not screwed tight on the tailpiece (as distinct from being screwed down until they touch the front) can buzz when strings are bowed or plucked. Certain notes buzzing suggests the string is catching the fingerboard somewhere - usually needs a new bridge. Other buzzes are caused by glue joints opening around the instrument, or cracks opening. Sometimes a cello spike will vibrate inside. Extend it to different lengths. Does the buzz disappear?
REPAIRS Most damage is easier and cheaper to repair than you think. Even points of bows can often mended if you follow this advice: don't try glueing it yourself! If you use the wrong glue, any permanent repair is prevented. Keep all the pieces that break off
Release all the string tension if the front or back is affected.If the fingerboard comes loose you can temporarily secure it with Sellotape under the strings and round the neck, but don't use Sellotape on varnish - it often marks it. Get the instrument to a repairer.
GENERAL TIPS Never carry a 'cello with the spike extended. If the violin case catches or hinges are weak, buy a strap to go round the case. If you're not sure of the handle, carry it under your arm. If the bow-clips break, get them mended - the instrument will be damaged by anything loose in the case. Don't force your shoulder rest into the case - rather carry it separately. Never pack music into a case that's not designed for it, or put the violin away with the shoulder rest attached. Keep the instrument away from direct heat or moisture.
Observe these tips and your instrument and you will enjoy a long and happy life together.
For help tuning, click HERE.
It is quite safe to relax one string at a time to remove a peg or change a string, but bring it back to pitch before taking another. Make sure the adjusters on the tailpiece are not screwed down so far that they are marking the varnish. If they are, slacken them off and raise the strings to pitch using the pegs.
After you have tuned, look at the bridge from the side of the instrument. Is it upright or leaning forward? It should be upright or possibly leaning slightly backwards. With constant tuning the top of the bridge tends to creep forwards towards the scroll. Since the feet can't move, the bridge leans, bends, and will eventually break or fall over. Your teacher will show you how to pull the bridge carefully upright after each tuning.
BRIDGE Impossible to play one string without catching another? Look at the bridge from the side. Can you see each pair of strings as they pass over the bridge, or does one hide its neighbour? If so, the bridge needs re-shaping or renewing. Feet of bridges must be fitted to the curve of the instrument, and the height adjusted also. This is a repairer's job. You can buy a Jacques bridge which has self-adjusting feet. They are sold in three heights for all sizes of instrument, and whilst not ideal, will mean the instrument is usable. If the bridge is too high you'll have difficulty pressing the strings down, too low and the strings will buzz on the fingerboard.
BOW Always slacken it off when finished, slack enough to see individual hairs. Don't unscrew so far that the frog (the black bit under your right hand) comes off. Don't touch the hair. Grease from even clean fingers will prevent the resin from doing its job. For the same reason, never pluck the strings where the bow moves over them. If the bow won't tighten sufficiently for playing, the hair may have stretched. At best it can be shortened, at worst it means a re-hair. If the screw just turns and turns, the thread in the brass eyelet through which the screw runs inside the stick, has worn and needs replacing.
RATTLES Something loose and rolling around inside? It's probably the sound post - a wooden rod like a short pencil that is lightly wedged between front and back, inside. It is not glued, should be upright, and sits about half an inch behind the right bridge foot.