Introduction to Viola Accessories
In this article we will look at some more personal aspects of viola care, including how to re-hair a bow, change a chin rest, and also look at what type of options are out there for personalizing your viola with different chin rests, shoulder rests, mutes, and other options. You may want to look into these if you are finding an aspect of your viola playing uncomfortable (eg sore neck, look at other shoulder rest options etc) or if you are looking to buy a mute, or other gadget. Remember it's always best to shop around and do have a look at different products and options online as music stores rarely have much of a range, or items of good quality, unless you are going to a specialist stringed instrument store. If you have an expensive instrument, be warned that some lesser quality items can damage your viola and cause superficial scratches that may effect the resale price of your viola (especially if you bought your viola new).
There are a range of mutes on the market, and it is always good to have a look around for a mute that will suit you. Mutes are small gadgets that clip onto the bridge that prevent the vibration of the strings, creating a much softer sound. Mutes can be plastic, wooden, metal, or occasionally made from leather, and cover either the whole bridge or part of the bridge. Some mutes clip on to the strings or fit between the strings and can be pulled back and kept on the viola (as shown below) which is good for orchestral players who may need to take their mute on and off quickly. Other mutes need to be pushed onto the bridge and taken off and placed safely in a case, or on a music stand. The cheap black plastic mutes can sometimes leave black marks on the light-colored bridge, so if you are borrowing your viola or are worried about leaving marks, you should avoid these models. Also, different mutes will provide different extremities of effects, so it is good to consult with other players if you can about what type of mute may be best for you. Mutes range in price from a few dollars, to around 15-20 for a good mute. See the pictures below of various models for your reference.
Rosin is a solid form of tree sap that creates grip or friction between the bow and the string. If you play on a new bow which hasn't been rosined, very little sound is produced by the viola. There is a lot of different rosins on the market, ranging in value from as little as 10c, to around $30.00, with the majority of Rosins priced at about $10.00. The price difference relates to the quality of the rosin, and the extras that are mixed in with it. Some rosins contain gold, silver or other precious metal/crystal which create richer tones from the viola itself however, there is little point in upgrading to a more expensive rosin unless you re-hair your bow as well, as the residue from the less expensive rosin will mix in with the more expensive one causing little tonal difference. The type of rosin to choose depends on personal preference, and on how much you want to pay. See the basic price scale below for an overview of the types of rosins available to violaists online.
Many violaists have a strong opinion on what type of shoulder rest violaists should use. From nothing, to sponges or cloths, to specialist-made rests, shoulder rests are probably one of the most debated subjects between violaists. Some violaists insist that shoulder rests detach the player from the instrument, and that it is best to use nothing at all, while others prefer the grip of a sponge, or neck support of a specialist-made rest. When it comes to choosing for yourself however, it is good to try everything to see what you personally prefer. (unless you are a beginner in which case stick to what you know until you feel you are ready, and your posture is good enough to try out different preferences.) As far as prices go, this varies greatly from using nothing or a simple cloth or sponge attached with rubber bands, to specialist-made rests which range in price from $3.00 to $70.00. (A decent shoulder rest model costing around $10.00.) It is important to think about your choice of shoulder rest to prevent getting neck problems. Some people find they feel scared of dropping their viola when they have no support, and yet others find the shoulder rest to be too high for the neck. Talk to your teacher/ music store manager for their opinions if you are unsure what option would suit you.
A mistake often made by people when buying a viola is basing the decision on elements that can be easily changed. The chin rest effects the players relationship with the instrument and comfort considerably, but is one of the more basic elements to take on and off. Simply use a chin rest tool (around $5.00), or other small screwdriver-styled tool to unscrew the chin rest on the side of the viola, being careful not to scrape the side of the viola. You can then screw an alternative chin rest on, making sure there is some kind of support (usually cork or rubber) that will keep the clamp part from scratching the surface of the viola.
There are many different kinds of chin rests on the market now, some are small and straight whereas others are big and cupped. There are also gel chin rests now on the market for only around $10.00, and are perfect for people who have trouble with normal chin rests. Again it is a matter of seeking expert recommendations, and looking around to find the right one for you.
Written by Emma Hinge