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Shopping For Your Next Violin

  
  
  
Violinist

As an advancing player, you outgrow your starter violin at a certain point: your skill level is inhibited by the instrument you own (or rent) and the limitations of your instrument prevent full musical expression. So where do you begin your search? Ideally, you want to try out a few violins and see how the instrument responds to your playing style. However, due to high overhead costs local violin shops might not have a superior instrument within your budget, or a wide enough range of violins for you to try out. That's where SHAR can help. We have an In-Home Trial program that's easy to use and that allows you to try out a number of our instruments in your practice room at home. But to help you even further, we've also begun a recording and video project focused on some of our best-selling violins; hopefully, with our instrument demonstrations, you can get an introduction to these violins, especially their tone and projection, and perhaps even pick out a few you want to try. Enoy, and please do call our fine instrument consultants at 866.742.7270 if you have any questions!

Carlo Lamberti Sonata (for more info click here)




Carlo Lamberti Classic
(for more info click here)




Carlo Lamberti Master Series (for more info click here)




John Cheng Stradivari Model (for more info click here)




John Cheng "King Joseph" Guarneri del Gesu (for more info click here)




John Cheng Limited Edition (for more info click here

 






























Student Violins for Sale: A Guide

  
  
  
student violin

If you or your child is just starting out on the violin: congratulations! Welcome to the string community! If you’re looking for your first instrument, though, things can be confusing. Trying to find the best violin can be a bewildering path to take. Here are some guidelines that should help you along your journey!

When you’re purchasing a violin for the first time, here are a few things to look for: 

  • Pegs: do they turn easily without slipping or sticking? If the instrument has pegs that keep slipping then it will be very difficult for the new violinist to attempt to play in tune.
  • Fingerboard: is it real ebony or is it some other type of wood that’s been painted black? Violin makers have used ebony fittings for years because of the wood’s hardness, so if the fingerboard isn’t really ebony then it is much more likely to warp, crack, or splinter.
  • Bridge: Is it the correct height? Too low and the strings will vibrate against the fingerboard; too high and the violin will be hard to play. Do the feet sit flush against the top of the instrument? If not, then the instrument’s potential is not being met. The bridge conveys the vibrations of the strings into the face of the violin, so if it’s not making contact with the wood then the vibrations are being lost.
  • Purfling: Is it real ebony inlaid into the wood or is it just painted on? The purfling is inlaid around the edges of the instrument in order to protect the wood from cracking. If the instrument doesn’t have this inlay, then any sort of damage sustained to the edges of the violin is likely to spread into the face of the instrument, rendering it unplayable.
  • Wood: The top of a violin needs to be spruce and the back of it is almost always maple. The wood also needs to be properly aged; if it is varnished before the wood has aged properly then it is at risk of cracking or warping.
  • Fine Tuners: Do they turn easily? Are they digging into the face of the instrument beneath the tailpiece?

These are just a few things to look for. More often than not, if you purchase a violin from ebay or craigslist, it probably won’t fit the bill. These instruments are what we like to call VSO’s (“Violin Shaped Objects”). The good news is that all of our student instruments at SHAR are inspected to make sure that they fit these and other precise specifications!



Suzuki Teacher Training at Stevens Point: Part 3

  
  
  
Teaching violin

We're grateful to have Lucy Lewis, a trained Suzuki teacher and doctoral student in musical arts at the University of Iowa, share a series of blogs about her experiences at American Suzuki Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Every summer, the Suzuki Institute hosts a teacher training session at Stevens Point, and this summer Ms. Lewis was one of the teachers-in-training. This entry is Ms. Lewis's third and last about her training at Stevens Point, and we'll certainly miss having such a thoughtful and wise voice as Ms. Lewis's on our blog. Ms. Lewis shares quite a few insights from her teacher training, but we were particularly drawn to this gem: if we have a sincere love for our students and our goal as teachers is to develop their character and musicianship, we also need to tend to ourselves by "recharging and reconnecting with colleagues." Simply put, we can give more to our students when we persist in our lifelong development as teachers. please leave a comment below thanking Lucy for her blogs or send her an email at lucy-lewis@uiowa.edu

Why Own an Instrument Stand for Your Violin, Viola, or Cello?

  
  
  
Alberta Barnes

Pretty much every musician has a music stand, but not every musician has an instrument stand. Have you thought about the benefits to owing a violin stand or a cello stand? Here are four things to think about!

1. Motivation to Practice. Having the instrument out on an instrument stand can be a great way to motivate yourself (or kids, especially!) to practice. It can be irritating to have to open the case and get everything set up correctly, but when the instrument is immediately accessible it is also that much more motivating to play it.

2. Time Saver. If you have to squeeze in practice time between the million other things inyour day then taking your instrument out and packing it up again can waste valuable practice time! With the instrument safely out of its case, you can move away from and return to your instrument to practice without fumbling with shoulder rests or endpins for those valuable minutes.

3. Useful at Gigs. 
Bringing a violin stand or a cello stand to your gig with you can prove veryuseful. A violin stand is a must-have if you switch between instruments at gigs. Or, if you are playing only the one instrument, it can be a much more secure way to hold the instrument during breaks than simply perching your violin on your chair.

4. A Way to Display Your Instrument. When used at home, the cello stand can be a beautiful way to safely display your treasure. It thereby enhances the ambience of the room much more than leaving it in the case would!

If you’re looking for a violin stand, we have several options: 











Three Ways to Improve Musicianship Outside the Classroom

  
  
  
christian howes

Christian Howes shares a terrific new blog entry with his top three ways to keep practicing when you're not in the practice room. Leave a comment below with your own "downtime" practice tips!  

Good musicians practice.

Great musicians practice better. And they gain an extra edge by using their time wisely outside the practice room.



Violin and Viola Accessories: The Top Five List

  
  
  
Berndel Rosin

Are you or your child just starting to play the violin or viola? Here are a few necessary accessories that you will need as you start out on this exciting journey.

1. Rosin
Without rosin your bow won’t work. It helps to create friction between the horsehair and the strings which, in turn, causes vibrations. There are a plethora of options to choose from, so here are a few guidelines. 

  • “Light” rosin is amber colored and preferred by most violinists. “Dark” rosin is a deep jade color and tends to be preferred by violists and cellists. Dark rosin is stickier than light rosin, so it is usually a better choice in arid environments. It is also less likely to crack in the winter.
  • The Hill (1185/1190) and Bernadel (1197) rosins tend to be popular choices for the average player.
  • Both Pirastro and Thomastik make rosins which are designed to match their brands of strings – this can be a good place to start if, for example, you know that you love your Pirazzi strings but you are having a rough time matching a rosin to them.

2. Shoulder Rest 
The majority of violinists use shoulder rests to help keep the instrument in place while they play. Which shoulder rest to use is almost entirely a matter of personal preference and a teacher’s guidance, but I can offer a few suggestions.

  • If the little beginner is using a fractional sized violin smaller than ½, the Zaret shoulder sponge (1399) will probably work well. This is simply a piece of sponge which is cut to conform to the shoulder; it attaches to the instrument with an included elastic band.
  • The Kun rest (1313) is by far the most popular shoulder rest. Of all the rests that we carry, it is the most adjustable and it tends to work well with most shoulder shapes. It also comes in a collapsible version (1313C) whose feet fold down so that it can fit into a small case compartment.
  • If the Kun rest isn’t working for you or you happen to have a particularly long neck, check out the Wolf shoulder rest. It is taller than the Kun and comes in two models; the Forte Primo (1443) works best if you’re looking for height. 

3. Mute
If you play or plan to play in orchestra, then you will need an orchestral mute. The most popular model of the orchestral mute is the Tourte mute (1305); it can stay on your instrument when you aren’t using it and can be easily utilized when called upon.

If you are trying to practice quietly then you may need a practice mute. The most effective one is the heavy metal practice mute (1167). The dampening effect that this produces is quite dramatic.

4. Music Stand
Unless you have photographic memory or you don’t mind playing while doubled over, you will probably want to invest in a music stand. You can check out my article on music stands here or read on for a few suggestions:

  • If you are going to be using the stand predominantly at home,I recommend getting a heavy, solid music stand that can support the weight of a lot of music. Good options would be the standard Manhasset stand (AC 48) or the Hamilton orchestral stand (KB990BL).
  • If you plan to use the stand on the go and you want something lightweight, go for a folding metal stand like the Gig-n-Go (PC10) or the Compact Music Stand (LS5) – these are light and they collapse in order to fit into a small carrying bag.
  • If you need something in between the two options above, try the Peak music stand (PSM20). It offers the best of both worlds since it has a full (but collapsible!) desk and is incredibly sturdy and reasonably lightweight. 

5. Metronome/Tuner
You may not need a metronome right when you are starting out but it will become absolutely imperative as you progress. There really is no surer way to make sure that you are playing at tempo! Besides, if you get a metronome with a built-in tuner then you will have a device that helps you play at tempo and in tune! We have many different metronomes and tuners, but here are some thoughts: 

  • My personal favorite metronome/tuner combination is the Korg digital
    tuner and metronome (KTM50)
    . I have owned this for about eight years, I’ve used it continually, dropped it on the ground numerous
    times, and yet it still works. It is incredibly easy to use – the metronome is on one side and the tuner on the other. This may be my all time favorite SHAR product (ranking alongside the Peak music stand).
  • If you are looking for the traditional woodblock sound with the quartz dial, try either the Seiko Quartz metronome (M380) or the SHAR Perfekt Time metronome (SM380). These are also two of our louder metronomes.













Notes from a Suzuki Mom: Strengthening Family Bonds Through Music

  
  
  
Falcon Ridge

We've had some great discussions on our blog about the value of a music degree, the difficulties of earning a living as a string player, and the importance of early music education. But what we haven't talked about is how much playing music can bring families together. Nerissa Nields of the folk band The Nields writes this on her blog: "There really is nothing like music to strengthen family bonds." She's reflecting on time spent with her parents, her sisters, her children and her niece, an evening in a mountain cabin when all three generations played and sang together, talked to each other with and through music. We're not sure there's a better argument out there for music education.      

Last night, Katryna and I played a show for the Williamsburg elementary school – a sort of pre-opening end-of-the-summer hurrah. Because of the rain, the event was held indoors and families spread their blankets out on the floor of the gym to have their picnics. But within minutes, Katryna was teaching everyone "A Ram Sam Sam," and the room was full of big arm movements and waving. Hard to eat pizza that way. A little later, the sixth graders had bounded down from their seats in the stands and were front and center dancing to "Going To Boston." I kept thinking, "What an easy way to make people happy – just add music and dancing."

It’s been a very musical summer. We started off at Kripalu the week of July 4th and led a Family Music Camp there, complete with drum crafting, harmony singing, a trip to Tanglewood to see and hear James Taylor, and a performance at the conclusion, complete with a (Suzuki) string section and ukulele Orff. A few weeks later, we took our four kids to Falcon Ridge where they reprised their guest appearance with Guitarchestra (and violins) and joined us on "Mango Walk" – including the grandparents.

Most recently, we spent time with our sister and her kids and our parents in the Adirondacks. One night we put on a play for our father in honor of his turning 70; the kids made up most of it (it was a sort of hybrid of Harry Potter – the hero was Granddaddydore – and our own family mountain climbing lore). And we three sisters sang him a song with new words to "The Unicorn Song" (a feat taught to us by our dad and written about extensively in our book All Together Singing in the Kitchen). Later that week, we pulled out guitars and violins and Loogs and sang together: "Red River Valley," "Sweet Baby James."

There really is nothing like music to strengthen family bonds. I know we say this all the time – in fact it’s our mission in life to live this truth and teach it to others – but sitting there in our shared house in the mountains, playing guitar across from my niece, whispering the chord changes to her so she could follow along, and having that long, never-ending musical conversation, I was so grateful for every music class I have taken, every time I really listened to a record album, every scale I played on guitar or piano.









Getting the Most Out of Your Bow

  
  
  
Violin Bow

Today we have another fine blog from our apprentice James Engman. James shares six tips that will help you maintain and care for your bow whether you're just starting out or an established professional. 

As a young player becomes more experienced, their technical ability
may begin to require a higher quality bow. The balance, weight, flexibility, and setup of a decent bow will allow a student to accelerate their formation of technique and tone. Just as a sharpshooter can’t perfect his or her aim with an old black-powder musket, a violinist can be held back by an inferior bow. However, the cost of a good bow can often seem unusually steep to first time buyers. It is easy to forget that the instrument in your right hand is just as much of an investment as the one in your left, and it requires just as much care, if not more. Therefore, a student should learn to care for their bow as it were a $90,000 Peccatte from the first time they pick one up. Here are six simple tips, for students and professionals alike, to get the most out of your bow.

1. Rosin the Bow!
Although a strand of horsehair appears smooth, it is actually covered in tiny scales and hairs. Not only does your rosin help the bow stick to the string, but it also protects its texture. Bowing without enough rosin or rosining a small area with too much pressure and frequency can smooth out the hair and ruin it. So, it is always important to keep the hair evenly rosined.


Fresh hair is most easily rosined with powdered rosin, but a cake of rosin can do just as well.To allow a cake of rosin to work better, scratch the surface with a dime in a cross-hatched pattern until it looks etched. Rosin new hair from frog to tip with an extra short motion over the six inches at each end, where rosin doesn’t stick as well. After about 15-20 strokes, test it on the strings. It should leave a white mark on the string, and grip along the whole length of the bow without being too “sticky”. After the first time rosining the bow, it is recommended to apply 6 strokes of rosin before each playing session, with a couple extra in the area where the bow has been played the most.

*Pro-tip*: When using a round cake of rosin, continuously rotate it as you rosin to prevent grooves from forming.



2. Maintain and Adjust Tension Properly!
Adjusting the tension of the bow is a skill to be perfected! When turning the screw with your right hand, hold the frog between your left thumb and first and second fingers. Do NOT hold the bow by the stick. Failure to hold by the frog can cause the eyelet to wear away at the inside of the stick, causing a “wobbly frog”, and can also strip the threads of the screw and eyelet, rendering the bow useless.

A bow should only be brought up to the tension needed to play at. It should always maintain curvature toward the hair, and never be straight or concave. Finding the ideal tension for each style of playing may take some experimentation. Once it is found, note the distance between the stick and hair, and the amount of pressure needed to touch the hair to the stick at the center. Most players prefer for there still to be a small space when playing fortissimo, but others like less tension.

When putting the bow back in the case, loosen the screw all the way without removing it (again, holding at the frog). The hair should be floppy and relaxed. If the hair is not slack when it is fully loosened, it may need to be rehaired. By loosening the hair, you are preventing warping. Warping ruins bows!

3. Thou Shalt Not Play with a Balding Bow!
Every player looses a few hairs now and then, but as soon as there is a significant amount of hair loss from one side of the bow, stop playing, and get it rehaired! Tightening a bow with lop-sided hair for a significant amount of time can warp the bow, and a $60 rehair is cheaper than a $600 bow. A good rule of thumb is to get your bow re-haired when the wooden plug under the hair at the tip of the bow begins to show, though some would say that is too much loss already. Professional players and serious students might rehair their bow twice a year or more, but for young students, a bow can usually go 12-18 months before a rehair is necessary.

4. Don’t Tilt the Stick of the Bow When Playing Forte!
Many students are taught to tilt the stick of the bow away from themselves as proper bow technique. While this is okay for soft playing, the stick should always be directly above the hair when applying pressure (playing forte). Using a vertical bow-stick not only produces more sound, but is healthy for the bow. Applying pressure with a tilted bow will cause warping over time. Also, the stick might drag across the strings, wearing off the varnish and exposing the wood. Not only is this visually unattractive, but it leaves the wood on one side vulnerable to moisture in the air, causing it to expand and warp even further. This is a habit that must be constantly checked when playing.

5. No Bow Waving, Stand Tapping, Sword-Fighting, or Shenanigans!
It is a common practice among young orchestras to applaud soloists and conductors by tapping the bow on their stands or waving the bow in the air. This is dangerous for your bow. Hitting the bow against something can cause small fractures at the tip of the bow which could eventually split, destroying the bow. A better option is to set down your instrument and clap, or stomp your feet on the ground. Also, do not challenge your stand-partner to any duels.

6. Wipe Rosin Dust Off of the Stick After Playing.
Rosin dust can build up on the stick of the bow over time. By wiping the stick with a cloth after each session, you can prevent build-up which is difficult to remove. If build-up does occur, first try using a rag dampened with distilled water (being sure to keep the hair dry). If this is not a enough, a mild cleaner or alcohol is usually okay for most bow varnishes, but not recommended for the violin itself. If varnish is ever removed or worn off, have a skilled bow repairer put more on.

With these six steps, you should be able to make any bow last a lifetime and more!






























A Violinist Plays Ugly

  
  
  
Christian Tetzlaff

I'm not sure how many of you all out there read Jeremy Eichler's profile in The New Yorker on the German violinist Christian Tetzloff. If you have, good on you. If you haven't, you should pick up a copy soon. Most likely the article – and Tetzlaff's approach to music – will challenge your notion of how a violin should sound. However, it's an exciting and important challenge, no matter what you decide about Tetzlaff. Tetzlaff is an well-respected soloist, but he's not a soloist who's found success and recognition by being flamboyant, a crowd-pleaser, or a crossover star. Rather, his success comes from his ability to play "an unusally wide range of tones, from the refined to wild" (Eichler). To put not too fine a point on it, Tetzlaff even once told a a group of students, "Beauty is the enemy of expression!"

Even though many fellow musicians admire Tetzlaff, critics have occassionally been impatient with his playing. This is, of course, because Tetzlaff is upsetting the conventions of the instrument. If Tetzlaff wants to include harsher sounds in his playing, it comes with a price: beauty, and perhaps the ire of listeners who expect the Romantic composers to be played a certain way:

Most important, he [Tetzlaff] refuses to embrace what might be called the School of the Big Tone: the broad, velvety sound, sustained with uniformly wide vibrato, that many listeners in the age of Izhak Perlman have come to think is how a violin should sound. Tetzlaff's palette extends to harsh or crushed tones, even to sounds that he has purposefully leached of color. And older French musician of my aquaitance dislikes Tetzlaff's playing precisely because such ugliness is allowed in the door.

Rather than exhaust Eichler's article, I want to end to send you toward it with a hint of its praise for Tetzlaff. As Eichler demonstrates, audiences do respond to Tetzlaff. Eichler ends the essay with a description of Tetzlaff playing a Bach concert in a medium-sized church (and only two-thirds full) in Dresden. Eichler expresses a quiet but intense admiration for Tetzlaff's playing, and he senses that most of the concertgoers feel the same way as him: 

A marathon Bach recital could easily try the endurance of people seated in hard pews, but the concertgoers in Dresden sat in rapt silence. I attributed this to a distinctive aspect of Tetzlaff's charisma. Onstage, many violin soloists adopt a confident swagger, but in Dresden Tetzlaff, as whenever he plays Bach, seemed to expose layer after layer of vulnerability, creating an atmosphere of naked confession.

I'm squirming a little bit in my seat as I write this, but I can't imagine a better concert. Beauty is only one register of expression, and it's a shame that artists often stay there too long. I can imagine other responses to Tetzlaff though. What do you all think? How central is beauty to your playing? How important is a wide range of expression?  











An Invitation to O'Connor Method Alumni From the Ann Arbor Workshop

  
  
  
Val

Today's guest blog is from Val Jaskiewicz, the Vice President of Merchandising at SHAR Music. Val has been a tireless champion of alternative styles here at SHAR and was instrumental in bringing Mark O'Connor and Pam Wiley to Ann Arbor for a teacher training workshop in August. Below, Val expresses his heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated and invites the workshop participants to share questions, reactions, and ideas about the teacher training session in the comments section. 

Just one week has gone by since we all met at the Mark O'Connor workshop, and I have heard from so many of you about how much you learned and your eagerness to apply it. Thank you, Pam Wiley, for your masterful and enthusiastic presentation of Mark O'Connor's rapidly growing method, and for showing us how to teach concepts that are not familiar to most of us. Thanks, also, to the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts, who partnered with SHAR to bring this worthwhile event to Ann Arbor. And of course, we'll never forget Mark O'Connor and Melissa Tong's brilliant performance at the Ark Saturday, alongside the great Saline Fiddlers! It was indeed a memorable weekend. I highly recommend you read  James Engman's blog about the event. James was one of the teacher attendees, and is SHAR's newest apprentice. I believe he has brilliantly captured the essence of what Mark O'Connor is doing through his method.

The intent of this blog is to create an opportunity to connect with each other and share ideas about using the O'Connor Method in your studios and classrooms. Fifteen hours of classroom training in the method is a lot of training, but there are always things that come up that you wish you may have asked, usually right after leaving for home! There was definitely a lot of enthusiasm at the workshop and I want to be sure that we can keep the momentum going.

Please jump in with your comments and experiences! This blog is open for all to see, but we'd like to invite the attendees of the August 24-26 workshop at the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts O'Connor to participate in this particular conversation. If you did not attend the teacher training session but still want to contribute, SHAR welcomes you to propose a guest blog, which you can send to our blog editor Joe Chapman at this address: joec@sharmusic.com.







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