The 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

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Our annual Holiday Sale is back, and so is our Holiday Gift Guide! This year, we have a mix of exciting new products as well as old favorites for musicians of all levels and ages.

Electric Violins

JSI Companion

JSI EV-4 Companion Outfit in red. ON SALE $320.00

JSI EV-4 Companion Outfit in red, ON SALE $320.00

Our brand for electrics, this instrument is a great option for those getting started with electric violin. An outfit comes with the instrument in one of five colors, bow, case and headphones.

Yamaha YEV

Yamaha YEV-104 Black Electric Violin Outfit ON SALE $696.00

Yamaha YEV-104 Black Electric Violin , $595.00

Winner of Best in Show at the 2016 NAMM conference! This innovative instrument can be purchased with four or five strings in two different colors. The outfit includes the instrument, bow, case, cable and rosin.

We haven’t forgotten about you viola, cello and bass players! See all of our electric instruments currently on sale on our website.

Galaxy Cases

Galaxy 300SL Comet Violin Case in green ON SALE $337.00

Galaxy 300SL Comet Green Violin Case, ON SALE $337.00

A newer, lighter case makes a great gift! This JSI exclusive, both durable and light, is a great option. Available for violin, viola and cello in nine different colors!

Ukulele

Cordoba 20SM Soprano Ukulele $149.00

Cordoba 20SM Soprano Ukulele, $149.00

Check out why the ukulele is such a great instrument in our blog post and give someone the gift of this versatile instrument this holiday season. There are four types to choose from: soprano, concert, baritone and tenor. May we also suggest this book to help them get started?

Children’s Books

These books are great holiday gifts for young musicians! Some of our favorites are:

Berlioz the Bear

Berlioz the Bear, written and illustrated by Jan Brett

Berlioz the Bear, written and illustrated by Jan Brett, $6.99

“Berlioz and his orchestra are scheduled to perform at a gala ball in the village square. But just before showtime, their bandwagon becomes stuck in the road. Whatever will they do?”

Zin, Zin, Zin, A Violin!

Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin

Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, $7.99

A Caldecott Honor book, this classic is a great introduction to the orchestra. Intended for ages 4-8.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, Illustrated by Marc Simont $6.99

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, Illustrated by Marc Simont, $6.99

“It is Friday evening. The sky is getting darker and darker. Here and there, all around the city, one hundred and five people are getting ready to go to work. Some of them take showers, others bathe. Some shave or trim their mustaches, others put on dusting powder and a little jewelry. Then they all get into special black and white clothes and travel to midtown with their instruments. There, at 8:30, they will work together–playing beautiful music in an orchestra.” Intended for ages 4-8.

Stocking Stuffers

Magic Rosin

Magic Rosin Bach Manuscript 3G $16.00

Magic Rosin Bach Manuscript 3G, $16.00

Not only is this rosin available with a Bach manuscript, it’s also available in GLOW-IN-THE-DARK!

Rockin’ Rosin

Rockin' Rosin Frog ON SALE $9.95

Rockin’ Rosin Frog, ON SALE $9.95

This fun rosin is available in six different shapes including frog, snowman and even pizza!

Overscore Tape

Overscore Removable Manuscript Tape $8.00

Overscore Removable Manuscript Tape, $8.00

The tool you never knew you needed: REMOVABLE manuscript tape!

You can find even more stocking-stuffer ideas here.

Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get our exclusive December Deals December 12-18th and for even more savings.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Johnson String!


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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Back to School: First-Time Players

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It’s that time of year again!

Is your child starting an instrument this school year? Not sure what they need? Whether they are taking lessons through their school or elsewhere, their teacher will have a list of what they require for their students. However, we can also give you a basic list of what your child will need to succeed:

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Where are you getting your instrument? For a child just starting lessons, many families choose to rent. This is a great way to have access to a high-quality instrument without the financial commitment of purchasing one. All of our rental outfits come with an instrument, bow, case, and rosin. They also come with insurance, which includes things like broken strings, accidental damage, and size exchanges. Check out the video below to learn more about our well-respected rental program:

Not interested in renting? Buying is also a great option! When shopping, make sure that the shop you buy your instrument at has a trade-in program. Keep in mind that most children are not going to start out in a full size instrument; they will need something smaller and will change sizes as they grow. Our sales department at Carriage House Violins has a trade-up program that allows you to trade any instrument or bow purchased with us for another of equal or greater value. Keep in mind that if you buy an instrument, you will be responsible for the cost of repairs and strings.

**A note about instrument shopping and rentals: Always work with a reputable shop. You may notice lower prices on sites like Amazon or eBay. To learn an instrument, you need something that is high enough quality that it works with your child, not against them. Quality can’t be guaranteed on sites like these, but it can at shops like Johnson String Instrument whether you choose rent or buy. 

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Almost all programs require a beginning method book. Your child’s teacher will tell you which one they use. Make sure to pay attention to the edition they ask for; a lot of publishers make significant changes between editions and group classes all use the same book. You can find our full selection of method books here.

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No matter which instrument your child chooses, you’ll need something to help stabilize it. For violin and viola, this is a shoulder rest. For cello and bass, it’s an endpin rest. Both help the player hold the instrument and promote good technique. Talk to your child’s teacher about their preference.

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Some teachers list music stands as optional, but they are important. Like a podium for a public speaker, it puts the music at a comfortable level and angle. You don’t need anything fancy – our JSI folding stand will do the trick! It comes in a wide variety of colors and is easily carried and stored. We also carry other models and non-folding stands here.

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These things required but highly recommended for players of any age:

  1. Metronome/Tuner: You can find some great apps that do the same thing, but sometimes a dedicated device just works better. Available as individual products or combos, we carry all major brands and models.
  2. Practice Planner: These are great for tracking practicing, recording assignments, assessing progress, and all-around organization.
  3. Flashcards: These are a great tool for beginners. They are available for all instruments in different positions as well as for general music.

Don’t forget: Your child’s teacher is your greatest resource! They will tell you exactly what they want their students to have. If your child is taking lessons locally, many school districts and teachers have arrangements with us to have a rental night where you can pick up all of these supplies at school in your area.

We hope everyone has a great start to the school year!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

What is Instrument Insurance?

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Instrument insurance is an important part of caring for your instrument. Professionals use it regardless of their genre and music shops have it to protect their inventory. Whether you recently bought an instrument or own one that isn’t already insured, we highly recommend purchasing a policy to help protect your investment.

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It’s exactly what it sounds like: an insurance policy with specific coverage for your instrument(s). It usually takes the form of either:

  1. A rider on your current renter’s or homeowner’s policy, or
  2. A separate policy through a company that specializes in insuring musical instruments

Insurance Why Should Subheader

Any insurance policy is about financial protection should damage or theft occur in the future and instrument insurance is no different. It is designed to protect you against things like theft, accidental damage, and devaluation. Always check with the insurance provider about specific coverage questions, but most companies will cover common problems that can happen with musical instruments.

Insurance Options Subheader

Rider: This something you can add to a preexisting renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy. This is a great option if you are not a professional musician but still want protection for your instrument. Be sure to ask about the kind of coverage a rider has with your current insurance company before adding anything.

Separate Policy: If you use your instrument professionally, this is what you will need. The main companies used by most musicians and shops in no particular order are:

  1. Heritage Insurance Services, Inc. 
  2. Clarion Associates, Inc.
  3. Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Inc. (formerly known as Merz-Huber)
  4. Traveler’s Insurance (they have a valuable items policy that includes musical instruments)
  5. Total Dollar Insurance

The benefit of these companies is that they understand the specific nuances of musical instruments and their value. It’s also a good option if you have multiple instruments, a lot of equipment, or travel frequently.

Insurance Policy Subheader

You will need a couple of things before you start looking:

  1. A list of items you need to insure. Many companies will insure everything from instruments to electrical and recording equipment, sheet music, and cases but always ask the company what is and is not covered first.
  2. Up-to-date appraisals for all of your instruments and bows.

Once you have this information, start shopping! Talk to the companies you are considering about any concerns and ask what they specifically cover in their policies. Make sure to compare deductibles as well as rates. For example, if you have a $1,500 instrument and the deductible is $1,000, that policy may not be your best option. Get quotes from everyone you are thinking of using, decide what will work best for you, and enjoy the piece of mind that comes with knowing your instruments are protected.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Summer Program Necessities

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Summer has finally arrived!

Excited yet?

In addition to the school year being done and the promise of warm, hopefully beach-filled days, many of you are getting ready for summer programs. Not sure what to bring? We have a few suggestions:

THE BASICS

  • Extra Strings. This may be the single most important item to bring excluding your instrument. In most cases you won’t be near a shop and you do not want to be in a bind because you didn’t have an extra A string. Bring at least a full set of new strings, and hang on to those old ones that may be less than ideal but better than nothing in a pinch.
  • An organized way to carry your music. Maybe you have a music pocket in your case that works just fine. If not, a messy pile on the floor you grab before running to rehearsal is not gonna cut it. Whether it’s a backpack, tote bag or something else entirely, make sure it safely fits those original parts.
  • Tuner/Metronome. Yes, many of you have an app on your phone. However, it is nice not to have to drain your phone battery. Plus, these metronomes and tuners can be much louder and more versatile. Go for a combo to take up even less space.
  • Peg Compound. This product is small but useful. It’s helpful in both summer and winter to help pegs grip and to lubricate them. When you are far away from a workshop, this can be an invaluable product.

THINGS THAT GET LEFT BEHIND

  • Water Bottle. Hydration is the key to success. You may not be rehearsing in the AC, and these programs, while rewarding, are also tiring and can take a lot out of you. Stay healthy and hydrated.
  • Sunblock. This is an important and easily forgotten item. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside. Stay protected! Playing a violin with a severely sunburned shoulder is not fun.
  • A Fan. AC is not a given in the dorms you are most likely staying it. Even a small box fan in a window can do wonders for air circulation.
  • Pencils. This is a no-brainer. You are a musician and need a pencil in rehearsal. Grab a package of them before you leave (and a sharpener if you prefer non-mechanical ones) so you’re not caught without one.

ONE LAST THING!

Before you leave, visit a luthier. Get your instrument and bow looked over. Be sure to let your luthier know if you will be going somewhere with a drastically different climate so they can prepare your instrument accordingly.

Have fun and work hard!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

The Best Grad Gifts: 2016 Edition

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They did it! All of the hard work, late nights, practicing, homework and dedication have paid off. If you’re looking for ideas for what to get the grad in your life, we have a few suggestions for you:

Sheet Music

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This is a great gift in so many different forms. Maybe it’s the Urtext edition of their favorite chamber piece or a piece they have always wanted to learn. All of our folk, fiddle, jazz, pop and world music is included in the Grad Sale, which includes things like Star Wars, Disney, The Fiddler’s Fakebook and more.

A New Case

Now is a great time to invest in a new case. With brands like Bobelock and Galaxy (a JSI exclusive) on sale, this is a great option for surprising your recent grad.

Ukulele

While not included in our Grad Sale, our ukuleles start at at just $89, making them budget-friendly in addition to being an accessible instrument. Curious to learn more about the ukulele? Check out our previous post about them.

Upgrade Their Instrument

CHV Grad Sale Instruments Twitter

Our Grad Sale for commercial instruments is back! Selected commercial instruments are 10% off through June 30, and you can take 15% off the bow and case when purchasing an instrument on sale as part of an outfit.

Want to purchase your rental instead? We’re offering double your first year equity when you purchase a rental instrument from us. Keep in mind that while you can always use your equity to purchase an instrument through our sales department at Carriage House Violins, this double first year offer is only available when purchasing your rental instrument.

Gift Certificates

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Always available in any amount.

Still not sure what to get them? You can’t go wrong with a gift certificate! You can purchase one in any amount (call for details) and they are valid on everything from accessories to instruments.

You can check out the products listed here and much more in store or on our website. A heartfelt congratulations to all graduating this May and June. Good luck with your future endeavors!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Upright bass: integral to jazz and classical music

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The bass is arguably the most integral component of any group. Can you imagine a jazz standard without the bass line, or an orchestral masterwork without a bass section? As the instrument with the lowest range, the bass provides the foundation for almost all music we are familiar with. For all of its importance, it is also a surprisingly unknown instrument and one that invites myriad of questions, including the favorite “don’t you wish you played flute?”

(The answer is no, by the way.)

Whether you call it upright bass, double bass, string bass, or just bass, it is different from the rest of the string family in a few ways. First, it is tuned in fourths rather than fifths. It also sounds an octave lower than what the player reads on the page.

The two main genres people associate with the bass are jazz and classical. Each of these genres have their own use for the instrument and superstars who dominate the field. What are some of these differences?

TECHNIQUE

In jazz, the bass is almost exclusively plucked.  Classical repertoire requires both the bow and pizzicato. Bass is unique among string instruments in that it has two different types of bows and bow holds: French (similar to a cello bow) and German (held with an underhanded grip).

TYPES OF PERFORMANCE OPPORTUNITIES

Of course, there is always room for innovators in any genre (think Esperanza Spalding or Edgar Meyer), but these are the most prominent positions you can expect to see for bass players in the two this post addresses:

Bass performance chart

 

ACCESSORIES

Bass players will need things like rosin (most popular are Pops, Nyman, and Carlsson), a wheel for transport, and a bib for comfort. Jazz players may also need a pickup on their instrument, an amp, or may even use an electric bass for ease of transportation among many other benefits. Brands that manufacture electric basses include Yamaha and NS.

Keep an eye out for more posts about bass in the future!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Practice Tips

Practicing: the necessary evil of all musicians. We log countless hours plugging away at passages we just can’t seem to get right and etudes that drive us up a wall. How do you stay motivated and not waste time? Our staff has advice on everything from motivation to tackling that beastly passage:

 

Obviously, warming up is essential for the physical aspect of practicing. However, it’s also important to warm up your mind and get in the right head space before working on a difficult passage or technique. Beginning your session with fundamentals, a piece you know well, or some improvisation will help to establish focus and increase your productivity once you get to the serious wood shedding.

Rob Laff, General Manager, Bass


 

-Look for extra practice opportunities no matter where you need to do it. Don’t just practice at home. For years I have brought an instrument with me every day to work which I spend my entire break, alone, practicing. My last job wasn’t friendly to inside practice so I would simply take the instrument outside to a nearby park or the sidewalk. People will stare, let them stare!

-Invest in a “beat up” practice instrument.

Amer Koudsi, Customer Service Representative, Guitar and Bass


 

The best advice I ever received was this: If you are not feeling all that motivated to practice at a certain time, still go to the practice room. Do not allow yourself to get involved with other activities. Just sit there. Eventually you will just get bored and practicing will not seem so bad!

Matthew Fritz, Director of Sales and Acquisitions, Violin


Practicing is a skill that develops over time (and frankly one I didn’t truly learn until college). The two things that made a major difference in my playing were simply:

  1. If you know a particular section of the music well, stop practicing it until you need to use it in a larger context of the piece. Practicing passages that you know only wastes your valuable practice time. Practice time is better spent on correctly repeating sections that are still difficult. They become easier over time.
  2. I always had success working backwards. Starting at the end of the piece for some reason made things go more smoothly for me. I think a large reason of its success for me was that it forces you to work in small increments, whether that be a line of music, a measure, or even tricky passages within a measure. This allows not only for easily digestible sections but it always puts the music into context and avoids awkward transitions. But remember to refer to step one; once you get back to your comfort zone, stop. Running the piece as a whole should only be done when you are in the final steps of preparation for a performance.

Justin Davis, School Program and Guitar Specialist, Guitar


-When practicing, always have a goal and deadline in mind.

-Be sure to always practice your scales and the passages you are finding difficult to play.

-Practice using a metronome.

-Practice slowly and clean/polish your messy passages.

-Use a mirror.

-Be practical and don’t waste time by zoning out while practicing. Keep yourself mentally engaged.

-Slow down your right hand if it can not catch up with your left hand.

Armenuhi Hovakimian, Sales Representative, Violin


 

-Don’t expect to fix an issue or fully accomplish learning a technique or a piece within one practice session. It is easy to get frustrated if you overestimate what can be accomplished in a short amount of time, so it’s better to adjust your expectations and think of a practice session as one step on the staircase of improvement: the length of the staircase may vary depending on the goal (and you can argue that the staircase never ends), but this way you will find value in your practice and will not get discouraged if you don’t master something as quickly as you would like.

-Make yourself comfortable! Practicing is much more enjoyable if your surroundings suit your style. For example, if you are always cold (like me), make sure you practice in a warm area or wear finger-less gloves, and be sure to give yourself time to warm up properly. If you prefer privacy while you work, find a time to practice when no one else is home. If you like to take breaks, take them! Do whatever makes you comfortable and suits your personal style the best.

-COFFEE IS MAGIC-I enjoy practicing most when I have an ice coffee readily available!

Theresa Cleary, Customer Service Representative, Viola

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

 

The JSI Winter Survival Guide

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The season we’ve been dreading is finally here. While we hope this year is not nearly as buried in snow (despite current forecasts to the contrary here in Boston), winter provides a variety of stresses for musicians. Here are some posts to help you deal with the two main offenders:

INSTRUMENT CARE

Tips for Instrument Care: Great information on general instrument maintenance for any time of the year.

The War Against Winter: How to care for your instrument specifically during the winter.

COLLEGE AUDITIONS

How to Rock Your College Audition: Set yourself up for success! Check out our tips and tricks to help you play your best.

Flying With Your Cello: Flying to your auditions? Know how to safely get your instrument on the plane and to your destination.

Coming soon: In a complete seasonal shift, everything you wanted to know about summer programs!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

Surviving Holiday Gigs

Holiday Gig Season

That time of year has arrived! It’s holiday gig season, when you live in orchestra pits and churches while Tchaikovsky and Handel reign supreme. Whether you are a seasonal veteran, a newcomer on the scene, or just wondering how many more times you have to play the Hallelujah Chorus before your brain starts trying to escape through your ears, it can be a stressful and exhausting ordeal. Here are some tips to help keep you both healthy and sane:

  1. Get organized as soon as possible. Calendars are your best friend, whether electronic or hand-written. Make sure to note call times and repertoire to avoid confusion the day of.
  2. Use the commute to decompress. You may be traveling quite a distance for these gigs. Have some coffee or tea, something unrelated to your gig to listen to, and bring plenty of snacks.
  3. Prepare for your venues. Orchestra pits can be dangerous places for your instrument; it’s a small, cramped space and accidents happen. Bows especially are in danger of damage, so whenever possible it’s advisable to use a carbon bow or at least not your best bow for these particular gigs. For churches, make sure you bring layers because it tends to get cold. Hand warmers and even long underwear are both invaluable at a frigid midnight mass.
  4. Take care of your instrument! It’s working hard too. Have extra rosin and strings on hand, and humidify your instrument. Each gig is in a different environment, which means your instrument will need time to adjust. It’s your most valuable tool, so treat it as such.
  5. Take care of yourself. Plan meals ahead of time, drink plenty of water, and sleep whenever/wherever you are able. Don’t try to suddenly change your lifestyle either–if you need to play a week’s worth of Nutcracker performances and then some, now is not the time to try and kick that caffeine habit.
  6. Be safe. If you are too tired to drive after a gig, consider staying overnight somewhere or taking a quick nap/caffeine break before heading on the road. Stay on the lookout for inclement weather and adjust your travel plans accordingly. Leave enough time to get to and from gigs as well so you don’t have to rush.

Good luck to all in the holiday hustle. We wish you a safe holiday season!

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Choosing Strings and the Thomastik Back to School Sale!

Choosing the Right Strings

Choosing strings for your instrument is a personal and complicated process. With so many options available on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, we are here to help!

Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

What style of playing do you do? What works for a classical player may not work for a jazz musician or fiddler and vice versa. Different genres call for different types of sound, which can be achieved with different kinds of strings.

How do you characterize your instrument’s sound? Strings have the ability to enhance or stifle the particular qualities of your instrument. In order for them to help rather than hinder, know how to characterize your instrument’s sound. Is it dark or bright? Mellow or piercing? This knowledge will help you work with your instrument rather than against it.

What are you looking for? Do you want to brighten the sound? Tone down the power? Speed up response? Slow it down? Knowing what you are looking for helps make sure your strings accommodate your needs.

 

There are three basic types of strings: gut, steel core, and synthetic core. Keep in mind that the majority of players today use steel or synthetic core strings. The basic differences are:

Gut

Steel

Synthetic

  • Warm, complex sound
  • Softer under the fingers
  • Unstable tuning
  • Long settling period
  • Shorter playable life
  • Sensitive to changes in climate
  • Stable tuning, settle quickly
  • Direct and cutting sound
  • Thinner sounding than gut or synthetic
  • Warmer than steel core strings
  • Stable tuning and settle quickly
  • More subtle tonal colors than steel
  • Most widely-used type of string today
  • Similar tonal qualities to gut

 

**Keep in mind these are generalizations. Each type of string will perform differently for different instruments, and the varying qualities of each will appeal to some and push away others**

Experimenting with strings involves trial and error. Now through October 9th, Thomastik is having their back-to-school sale on select string sets and bundles for all instruments, making this a better time than ever to try something new with your strings. As always, our string prices are up to 55% below list price.

For more detailed information about the different kinds of strings we offer and their differences, please visit our website.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons