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Are You a Bassist? Minimize Your Travel Stress

  
  
  
bass

We recently published a blog on traveling with your cello. SHAR has long been the go-to shop for violinists and violists, but we've often failed to provide useful content and products for our cellists and bassists. Here's our second blog to remedy that! In the blog below, you'll find all sorts of tips and advice on how to minimize travel stress if you're a bassist. 

Choosing Music

  
  
  
Kim Wren

We have a wonderful guest blog today from Kim Wren, the upright bassist for the indie-folk band Doug Mains & the City Folk. Ms. Wren has been a member of Doug Mains & the City Folk since 2010 and is currently a senior music education major at Michigan State University. Ms. Wren talks about how "choosing the bass as a lifelong musical partner" introduced her to a rich variety of genres like classical, jazz, rock, and folk and to her current bandmates. It's a great story for our blog, where musicians like Christian Howes and Mark O'Connor have stressed the importance of playing in genres other classical.  

When I first saw the upright bass in the back of my brother’s 6th grade orchestra class, my ten-year-old self would have never imagined the places that instrument would take me over the next decade. From a performing arts high school in Georgia to traveling on the road with an indie-folk band in Michigan, choosing the bass as a lifelong musical partner has lead me down many unexpected and exciting paths.

I switched to bass in 6th grade after playing the violin for a year in 5th grade. For various reasons (mostly because of the screeching sound of the E string), I didn’t enjoy my 5th grade year of violin playing at all and I was ready to drop out of music completely by the time 6th grade came around. But my mom and the middle school orchestra teacher convinced me to stay and try the bass out for a few weeks before I made a final decision. So I started staying after school for beginning bass lessons with the orchestra teacher and two other 6th graders who were also switching to bass. It was just about instant love when I first played that beast of an instrument. The low E string, instead of screeching like my violin, rumbled the floor. I was hooked on orchestra for good. My teacher let me take a school bass home and, especially in those early stages, I remember my parents having to stop me from practicing so much because it was driving them crazy.

Since those beginning years, being a bassist has lead me to many places I very likely would have never gone had I not stuck with music as a middle-schooler. From All-State Orchestras across the states of Virginia (where I spent my middle school years) and Georgia (where I spent my high school years), to a performing arts high school where I met many friends and colleagues in the arts, to summers at Interlochen Arts Camp, to Michigan State University for my undergraduate education. Being such a versatile instrument, the bass has also lead me to expand and explore many genres of music including (but never limited to) classical, jazz, rock, singer-songwriter, and folk. Most importantly to me, through music and bass playing I’ve met a countless number of people from all different walks of life. Some of them have become lifelong friends, like my four band-mates in Doug Mains & the City Folk, Doug, Josh, Rob, and Kelly. I’m so grateful to be a part of this team of musicians. We’ve traveled many miles together throughout the country and have shared so many meaningful experiences, some high, some low, but always together as a little indie-folk music family.

I owe much to my mom and to my middle school orchestra teacher for putting a double bass in my hands all those years ago. Where would life have taken me without that defining moment? I don’t even want to consider.









What Should You Look For In a Case?

  
  
  
Violin Case

If you just bought an instrument for the first time, or if you're looking to upgrade your current case, check out our purchasing guide below. It takes you through the major features you should consider such as shape, exterior and interior materials, and construction. As always, feel free to contact our knowledgeable customer service team at 1.800.248.7427 if you have any questions. 

One of the most important accessories you can purchase for a stringed instrument is a case. Many student or intermediate violins, violas, cellos, and basses can be purchased as part of an outfit that includes a case that is usually consistent with the quality of the instrument; these cases generally offer very adequate protection and durability at an economical price. If, however, you want to replace or upgrade the case you already have, or you need a case for a new instrument, there are a few things you should consider.

Shape
Perhaps the first factor to consider is the case shape that'll work best for you. Cases come in a few varieties: oblong, shaped, and dart-style. Shaped or dart cases are usually very lightweight; these are often the cases that beginners and students choose. They're usually available in fractional sizes and are easy on the wallet.

Oblong cases, sometimes called rectangular cases, afford more room for accessories and are usually preferred by intermediate and advanced players. Although shaped cases tend to be lighter and easier to carry, you do have more room for accessories with an oblong case. And if you're really looking for a roomy and light oblong case, we do list the weight of most of our cases. Maybe that extra pound is worth the space!

Exterior Materials and Features
The great majority of today's modern cases are covered with a heavy-duty nylon canvas material. This lightweight material is scratch and tear resistant and provides decent protection against the elements. In addition, SHAR also carries a wide range of cases made with other other exterior materials: Cordura, suede fabric, leather, 3-ply composite, Conatex, polyamid fabric, fiberglass, thermoplastic, pebble grain vinyl, pebble grain mat-finish resin, and reinforced ABS. Each of these materials has its own unique qualities and characteristics that should be considered when making your case selection. 

Shaped cases usually include an exterior accessory pocket and sometimes backpack straps. Oblong cases quite often will have a full length music pocket which may include an accessory organizer, a subway strap end handle (for vertical carrying) and an adjustable shoulder strap.

Closure or latch mechanisms vary depending on the case, but it should be noted that oblong cases often have dual zippers and weather flaps to protect the zippers from rain and snow.

An important note about cello cases – some cello cases come with built-in wheels and you should decide whether this is an important feature for you: they can be handy in airports. Some cello cases include detachable backstraps, which is another clever way to lug around your instrument. If you're not looking for the heavy-duty protection most cases offer, SHAR also sells padded cello bags. These are similar to bass bags but include backstraps.

Construction
The type (or types) of material used in the skeletal, or hidden, construction of the case directly affects the weight of the case as well as the durability and protection the case provides. SHAR offers a variety of cases, and while some use more traditional construction, others use advanced materials that are both lightweight and strong.

Commonly used shell materials include foam, styrofoam, cellular foam, waterproof polymid foam, plywood, styrofoam reinforced plywood, laminated wood, injected/molded foam, foam/plywood combination, and in some cello cases an AIRTEX cellular skeleton.

Interior Materials and Features
Instrument case interiors can range from simple and functional to sumptuous and luxurious. Whatever your selection may be, it's important that your instrument fit securely in the case. This is generally not a problem since most instruments and cases are standard sizes; however, if your violin, viola, cello or base has atypical dimensions, it's probably a good idea to talk about your case options with a SHAR representative.

Most violin, viola, and cello cases carried by SHAR have Velcro neck restraints; a properly secured neck strap will protect the neck of the instrument and reduce movement during transit.

A French fit or semi-French fit case has an interior instrument compartment that follows the closely follows the contours of your instrument for a tight fit. Most cases, however, have a universally designed "instrument well" that very adequately secures the instrument.

Violin and viola cases are often described as being suspension or non-suspension cases. Suspension cushioned cases have a raised shelf (or shelves) that suspends the back of the instrument approximately an inch over the bottom of the case. This can provide added protection and is often recommended for violins and violas with delicate varnish. SHAR does carry a line of non-suspension cases that feature an injected foam cushion molded to the shape of the instrument. These cases have a snug fit that holds the instrument securely in place and also helps protect it from temperature changes. Case lining and instrument blanket materials include silk-plush, cotton velvet, suede and brush nylon-tricot.

Additional case features may include between two and four bow spinners (or holders), accessory compartments, hygrometers for humidity level monitoring, string storage tubes, and vapor bottles for increasing case humidity.

Please call our expert customer representatives at 1.800.248.7427 if you have any questions!

































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!






























Choosing the Right Set of Strings

  
  
  
Choose Your Set of Strings!

For advancing players, or established players who want to try something different, there's a lot to consider when upgrading your set of strings: Where do you typically perform? Do you want a string set suited for solos or ensembles? Which string set will draw the most out of your particular playing style and instrument? This graph will help you navigate (almost) everything you should consider!

Projection: Next to each string set there's a graphic that indicates that set's level of projection. The levels of projection range from "Mild" to "Aggressive."

Smooth/Textured:
The X axis (horizontal) depicts the continuum between smooth and textured string sets. Textured sets are complex sounding with many colors and rich, resonating overtones. Smooth sets are very clear and focused. The tone is clean and straight. 

Direct/Subtle: The Y axis (vertical) depicts the continuum between direct and subtle string sets. A direct string set has a brilliant, distinct tone designed for soloists to cut through piano or orchestral textures. A subtle set doesn't overpower. They blend well and often have a dark undertone.

Click on any string set to check availabilites and prices, but you should aslo feel free to call our string experts for extra guidance!  
 

The Violin as a Response to Bullying

  
  
  
Time for Three

There's been a lot of press recently about bullying and hazing: a Rutgers student hid a camera in his dorm room to record his roommate being intimate; the hazing practices of the Florida A&M marching band led to the death of drum major; and Mitt Romney's days at Cranbrook High School received close scrutiny in the wake of allegations that he cut off the long, bleached hair of a classmate. 

It seems appropriate, then, to share a video from the bass and violin trio Time for Three (it's tough to categorize their sound since they meld classical, country, jazz, and even Roma music). The trio has been wildly successful ever since their breathrough performance at the Philadelphia Mann Center: the stage lights failed and two members of Time for Three had an impromtu jam session of folk, pop, gospel, and ragtime tunes. The audience loved it. 

The trio, though, is now using their popularity for a good cause. Time for Three's new video "Stronger" tells the story of a young violinist who's persisently bullied by a classmate. The classmate does all the usual stuff, though he also breaks the young violinist's instrument by trying to hit a baseball with it (!). As the narrative progresses, however, we watch the violinist persevere in his playing and eventually receive recognition at a talent show.





The video, of course, is a tiny bit sentimental in parts, but it also contains a complicated and important message. The video reminds us that music is not just about music, performances, and success; it's about being heard by others. While the bully has his say early on through his strong-arm tactics of pushing and harrassing the violinist, the violinist ends up being the "stronger" and more articulate of the two by the end of the video. He is the one being heard and being recogized.

And isn't that what bullying attempts to silence – a young person's voice? Victims of bullying are often ridiculed for their identity, whether that identity centers on their sexuality, race, style of dress, religion, class, or any of the hundred other elements that form us. Music and art can rehabilitate and affirm a child's identity, their unique voice, and are perhaps some of the more powerful responses to bullying. The pain of being silenced becomes a reason to speak.    

For Violins, Too, the Weather Outside is Frightful

  
  
  
SHAR Offices

A few timely tips on string instrument care and maintenance.

Here in Michigan we're lurching toward the heart of winter: snow on the ground for four months, ice-encased cars, and the early-morning cacophony of salt trucks and snow plows. But even if you don't live in a winter wonderland like we do, we thought this would be the perfect time to share a few of our instrument care and maintenance tips.


We offer a few tips below on basic instrument care, including and temperature and humidity advice, from our "Instrument Care & Maintenance" guide. For more instrument care tips on pegs, strings, and periodic inspection you can check out the full guide linked above. Though it probably goes without saying, we want your violins, violas, cellos, and basses to sound as full, rich, and precise as they should (and to look as good as they sound).  

Special thanks to our SHAR Apprentices for their hard work compiling these informational videos and guides over the years!


Instrument Care and Maintenance


One of the most exciting things about having a stringed instrument is the beautiful music one can make with it. Learning about such everyday matters as proper care and maintenance can, as a result, fall by the wayside. Players, teachers, and parents alike all too often and all too easily find themselves thinking of care as repair. However it is a fact that both the time invested in careful handling and the money spent on preventative maintenance are considerably less than the inconvenience, cost, and potential loss of value incurred in fixing damage due to accident or neglect.

Whether you presently own an instrument of which you are proud, are searching for another instrument, or maintain a collection, we invite you to familiarize yourself with instrument care and maintenance procedures so that stringed instruments can continue bringing beauty and joy to you.



Handling an Instrument


When handling a stringed instrument, one should constantly be aware that the varnish of a fine violin, viola, cello, or bass is very fragile. Players should avoid putting their hands directly on the varnish of the instrument whenever possible. While playing, care should be taken to protect the instrument from damage by jewelry, buttons, and zippers. While in their cases, violins and violas should be protected against possible damage by using a blanket or instrument bag.





Cleaning


The recommended method of cleaning is to use a soft cloth to remove rosin dust, oil, and dirt from the instrument immediately after each use. Special treated or untreated cloths may be purchased specifically for cleaning instruments. If a treated cloth is used, one should take great care not to use it on the strings or get it near the hair of the bow. Other cloths may also be used provided they are soft, lint-free, and non-abrasive. There is a wide variety of polishes and cleaners available for stringed instruments. However, if an instrument is properly maintained, these products will not often be necessary. If using a polish or cleaner, always test for compatibility with the varnish in a small inconspicuous area of the instrument. On a related note, using commercial or household solvents near an instrument is to be avoided since, in some cases, even the vapors can cause serious damage. SHAR Products sells a variety of cleaning supplies; visit the SHAR Cleaning Department (General Accessories area).


Humidity


Humidity control should be of great concern to players of wooden instruments. Bowed string instruments in particular are made of a number of pieces of wood of different types and grain direction which can be susceptible to fluctuations in humidity. Too much or too little humidity can be the cause of arching distortion, cracks, neck projection problems, glue joint separations, strings which are too high or low, soundposts which are too loose or tight, and many other problems. Here is a guide for maintaining the proper level of humidity:

Liebenzeller Rosin, for Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass

  
  
  
Liebenzeller rosin

There's been lots of buzz online about Liebenzeller rosin, and now it's finally available again in the US from SHAR!

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