Best Holiday Gifts: 2015 Edition

The holidays have arrived!

Whether you are celebrating your favorite time of year or waiting for the term “holiday cheer” to disappear, we have what you need to survive gig season and spoil the musician(s) in your life. Here are some of our top recommendations here at Johnson String Instrument from our holiday sale:

 

GALAXY CASES

Galaxy Comet 300SL Shaped Violin Case: ON SALE $337.00

Galaxy Comet 300SL Shaped Violin Case: ON SALE $337.00

Adjustable Galaxy 400SL Viola Case: ON SALE $558.00

Adjustable Galaxy 400SL Viola Case: ON SALE $558.00

These are a JSI exclusive! An economical alternative to the popular BAM, these cases are lightweight, durable, and come in a variety of fun colors. Browse our entire offering of on-sale violin, viola and cello cases.

YAMAHA ELECTRIC VIOLIN OUTFIT

Yamaha SV130 Electric ViolinYamaha SV130 Electric ViolinYamaha SV130 Electric Violin

One of our most popular items! This instrument can either be amplified or used with headphones for silent practice, and comes in a variety of colors. A Johnson Artist bow and either a gig bag (red, blue, or grey) or Core case are included in the outfit. Take a look at our complete electric violin sale here.

JSI FOLDING STANDS

JSI Folding Music Stand: ON SALE $12.95

JSI Folding Music Stand: ON SALE $12.95

Possibly one of the most useful products on sale! These stands are light, compact, and come with a stand bag. They are also available in a wide variety of colors from the standard black and the not-so-standard pink. Check out our entire sale selection of music stands and accessories here.

FOLK, FIDDLE, JAZZ, AND POP (AND HOLIDAY!)

Classic Rock Instrumental Solos for cello: ON SALE $11.99

Classic Rock Instrumental Solos for cello: ON SALE $11.99

The Wizard of Oz for cello: ON SALE $11.96

The Wizard of Oz for cello: ON SALE $11.96

All folk, fiddle, jazz, and pop books are 20% off! Yes parents, this includes all Taylor Swift and Frozen sheet music as well as film scores, fiddling styles, jazz real books, and folk compilations. Have holiday gigs coming up? All of our holiday music is also 20% off.

 

Looking for stocking stuffers? Your search is over!

JEWELRY

Sterling Silver Treble Clef Earrings

Necklaces and earrings for all musicians who want to show off their passion for music with style.

ROSIN

Bernadel Rosin: ON SALE $6.95

 

Now’s the time to upgrade your rosin! Select brands on sale now.

SELECTED STRINGS

Jargar Violin Strings ON SALE

 

Whether you need to replace your own strings or they’re for your musician, they will be 100% appreciated. Select brands on sale now.

 

Now through December 10th, take 10% the ENTIRE store (excluding instruments, bows, and strings) as well as online. This means an additional 10% on top of already discounted products. Visit us at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls or online to take advantage of holiday savings.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram to stay up to date with all of our sales, promotions, and goings-on. Happy holiday shopping!

Don’t miss a post–subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

The War Against Winter

Winter is coming.

The citizens of Westeros are not the only ones who fear the coming season. Musicians can feel its icy claws reaching out in the form of slipping pegs and shrinking string heights. Humidity once again betrays us as it retreats from winter’s advance, leaving our instruments vulnerable. Rapidly changing environments, both outdoors and in, seek to wreak havoc. How can we defend ourselves against the impending storm?

Step 1: Know your enemy.

Winter has many weapons in its arsenal and wields them without mercy. As fellow survivors of Snowpocalypse 2015: Boston Edition, we remember its fury. The two most effective weapons winter possesses are humidity and temperature.

Humidity:  During more temperate times, humidity can be an asset. Wood expands and contracts depending on the humidity level; more humidity means expansion (swelling of the wood), lack of humidity contraction (depression of the wood). Winter is not a humid season in the northeast, which means the wood on your instrument is shrinking. There are a few specific consequences of this:

  1. As the humidity decreases, the belly will get lower. This lowers the bridge height and consequently the string height. This is most apparent on cellos—many cellists have seasonal bridges for this reason.
  2. Ever wonder why your pegs constantly slip when winter comes? It’s probably winter’s fault for driving humidity away. Pegs and the peg box are made from different types of wood that expand and contract at different speeds. This means the peg may suddenly be smaller than the hole.

Temperature: Like you (or unlike you), your instrument does not enjoy rapid temperature changes. This includes going from the frigid outdoors to the well-heated indoors and vice versa. It also includes switching between rooms with very different climates, like from the green room to the stage. Winter is diabolically skilled at making sure this situation materializes on a daily basis.

Step 2: Arm yourself.

Never forget you have your own arsenal with which to fight back.

Common Sense:

This is your most powerful weapon in the war against winter. Do not underestimate its importance! If you aren’t comfortable somewhere, neither is your instrument. Insulate and humidify it like you do yourself. The analogy ends here, because remember how we said rapid temperature changes were a weapon in winter’s arsenal? While we enjoy sitting by a heater or fire, your instrument does not. Don’t fall into winter’s trap—keep your instrument away from direct heat sources.

Humidity Control: We’ll say it one more time: lack of humidity is bad for your instrument. Humidify the case, just like you do your home or individual rooms. Ideally, you want to keep the humidity around 40%. There are many types of humidifiers you can use, but our recommendation is to stick to an in-case model rather than one that goes inside the instrument. Both work well, however in-case keeps direct moisture away from the instrument and requires less maintenance. If it goes in the instrument, it means drying it thoroughly, keeping track of it when it’s not in the instrument, and daily maintenance. You need to decide what’s best for you and your instrument.

Valuable assets to your armory:

Case covers

Case humidifiers and hygrometers

Peg Compound

Step 3: Find allies.

A luthier can be your greatest ally against winter. Despite your own preparations, winter can be a cunning adversary. Be on the lookout for these common battle wounds:

Open Seams: This is by far the most common issue seen during the winter. Thankfully, it is also relatively easy to fix. Keep an eye on the seams–even if you can’t see them, a tell-tale buzzing, pop, or sudden change in sound will usually let you know something is amiss. Again, this is something that a luthier can take care of relatively easily but DO NOT REPAIR THIS YOURSELF.  Any variety of glue you find at the hardware store should be nowhere near your instrument. Luthiers use hide glue as well as well-placed clamps to ensure everything is set correctly and have a trained eye to check for any other problems. Home repairs can mean more money spent in the future to undo damage. Don’t give winter the satisfaction—go see a luthier.

Cracks: Humidifying your case and protecting your instrument against rapid temperature/climate changes should minimize your risk of cracks, but sometimes winter wins and cracks appear. These should be seen by a luthier as soon as possible because they are more difficult to repair than open seams.

Now is the time to prepare for winter’s onslaught! Check out our newly re-vamped website at www.johnsonstring.com to find out more about the products mentioned here or visit us in person at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls.

 

Don’t miss a post—subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

 

Upcoming Dates at JSI

We have a lot of exciting things happening in our shop during this upcoming holiday season! Be sure to mark your calendars for the following dates:

 

November 21st-January 2nd: Our annual Holiday Sale is back! Keep an eye out for flyers arriving soon with more information. The sale begins this Saturday and runs through the first Saturday of 2016. Deals can be found both in store and online, so be sure to keep us in mind when shopping for the musician in your life this holiday season!

November 28th: Small Business Saturday is back and nationally recognized by Congress! Come in or visit us online to support local business.

 

Please also note will have abbreviated hours coming up as the holidays approach:

November 25th: Open 10-4pm

November 26th: CLOSED

December 24th: Open 10-4pm

December 25th: CLOSED

December 31st: Open 10-4pm

January 1st: CLOSED

 

Those of you who’ve visited our shop in the past few months may have noticed our new cello case decor. We’ve switched up in honor of Thanksgiving:

Ghost Cellos!

20151116_124840

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop by to snap a picture with our current turkey cello!

 

 

Don’t miss a post-subscribe to our blog!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

How to choose the right violin bow for you

VNB Blog Picture

Congratulations, you found your violin! Now for the hard part: finding the right bow. This task can be an even more daunting than finding the instrument itself. With so many options and factors to consider, it can feel overwhelming. Luckily, we are here to help! The best thing you can do is to connect with a knowledgeable salesperson who can guide you through the process, but here are some things to keep in mind before you begin:

The first step is to know your budget. If financially possible, a good rule of thumb is to narrow your search to within a 1/4-1/3 of the value of your violin. You want the bow to compliment the instrument, so compromising  on the bow will not help your violin sound its best. Customers often ask us what they can expect to find within their price range. The chart below will give you an idea:

 

Price Range Types of Bows
Under $300 These are mostly composite bows or other materials such as fiberglass. This is a good range for students and beginning players.
$300-500 These are workshop-made bows with some wooden options available but mostly carbon fiber. Serious beginners and some intermediate players will do well in this range.
$500-1,000 These are both wood and carbon fiber workshop-made bows. These are ideal for intermediate players, as they allow for extended technique.
$1,000-3,000 These are mostly top-level contemporary workshop bows with some antique workshop and personal work included as well as top-tier carbon fiber. Advanced and professional players will benefit from looking in this range.
$3,000-6,000 This range consists mostly of professional level contemporary bows and some high quality antique German and English bows.
$6000-10,000 Here you will find top-level living makers and exceptional antique French and English bows.
$10,000 and above These bows are sought after by collectors and professional players.

 

The next step is to consider what type of playing you do. Are you a student, professional, or somewhere in between? Do you mostly play in one genre or in many? A player who tours with pop musicians will be looking for something different than an orchestral player or an amateur fiddler. Know what your priorities are for the type of playing that you do.

Choose the violin first. Have you not found the right instrument yet? Then that should be your first priority. The bow needs to match and enhance the violin, not the other way around. If you do have the instrument, make sure you bring it with you when trying out bows. You’re looking for a match for your violin, not one the shop has provided for you.

Finally, use your time wisely and trust your instincts. Be sure to try a large variety of bows with different characteristics to help narrow down your choices. While going through this process, test bows with a wide range of articulations you use in your playing. Include long, legato strokes as well as short, quick ones. Remember: if something feels wrong, the bow may not be a good fit for you. Be patient and go with your gut. You will know when it feels right.

Some final things to be aware of:

eBay: These bows are not always vetted by a professional shop, and you have no way of verifying authenticity or trying the bow out before purchasing. Proceed with caution if you are thinking of going this route.

Old vs. New: An older bow is not necessarily better than a newer bow. Neither is 100% perfect, but don’t pick something simply because it’s older. Newer makers can often rival or outperform older ones and be more affordable (see “Types of Bows,” above).

Fancy Fittings: These are mainly ornamental and include things like tortoiseshell frogs, gold fittings, and inlays. Their primary purpose is to add both aesthetic and monetary value, so you should focus on how the bow plays rather than how it looks. If it contains materials like tortoiseshell, make sure to verify that it is legal. Any reputable shop will only carry legal materials.

Ivory: This is currently a contentious issue in the US. The current laws in place ban the sale and use of elephant ivory, with some exceptions for antiques. Any modern bows sold by a reputable dealer will use either imitation or mammoth ivory, which is completely legal. To learn more about the current laws, click here.

When you are ready to begin your search, we are here for you! Our salespeople have an in-depth knowledge of our violin bow inventory and will work to help you find the right bow for your instrument. Call 617-262-0051 to schedule an appointment and visit us online to check out our inventory. We hope to see you soon!

 

Don’t miss a post–subscribe to our blog!

 

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Applying to Music School

Applying to Music School Photo

It’s that time of year: college application season. Deadlines may seem a long way off, but do not be deceived;

They will sneak up on you.

If you are looking to study music, now is the time to begin if you have not already. Some things to keep in mind when you’re applying to music schools:

Decide what kind of program you want. Do you want a conservatory where the sole focus of your studies is music, or a music school within a university/college so you can take outside classes as well? There are advantages to both, but ultimately you need to decide what works best for you. This is not to say you can only apply to one or the other–many people apply to both, and some variety in your options down the road can be a great asset. When you are vetting prospective schools, it is a good thought to have in the back of your mind.

Be careful of how many schools you apply to. Remember, as a musician you will need to audition at all of these schools and possibly send in pre-screening materials. That friend who’s looking to study political science and is applying to twelve schools? That friend does not have to do ten auditions at ten different schools with ten different repertoire lists on top of the regular application process. Know how much you can handle, and don’t schedule so many auditions that you are overwhelmed.

Know which application you need to fill out. Some use the Common Application, others a common conservatory site, and still others have their own application process. Double check each school’s website you are applying to if you aren’t sure what materials are required or on what platform they need to be submitted.

Get your prescreening materials in on time. If you are a violinist or cellist, most if not all schools will have some sort of prescreening process. The best case scenario is to have all of your repertoire learned by the beginning of October so that you can be ready to send recordings in November/December. Make sure you follow the guidelines detailed by the school–your recording could be incredible, but if it’s not the repertoire or the format requested you could be shooting yourself in the foot. This is the easiest way to weed out applicants: if you don’t follow directions, they won’t waste their time.

One last thing about prescreening recordings: do not cut in the middle of the piece. Most schools are fine with a cut in between pieces, but they do not want to hear or see any editing during. Think of it like a live audition: you don’t get to stop in the middle and start over. If you’re ever unsure, check the school’s website or call the admissions office.

If possible, visit the schools and attend performances. This will give you an idea of what kind of repertoire, caliber, and school culture to expect. If you can’t go in person, many schools have performances recorded on their websites, YouTube, or Vimeo. If you can, talk to current students or recent grads to get an idea of what the program is like. You will have questions about what is important to you in a school, so don’t hesitate to ask for answers.

 

When the time comes, visit us at our store in Newton Upper Falls or online and www.johnsonstring.com for all of your audition needs. Short of practicing for you, we have everything you need to do your best at your auditions. Good luck to all, and stayed tuned in December for another post specifically about college auditions!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Departments of JSI: Carriage House Violins Workshop

This is the first post of a new series called Departments of JSI. We’re able to run such a large company through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill that they utilize to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.

If you brought in an instrument or bow you own for repairs, you probably worked with our CHV workshop.  A few of our luthiers agreed to answer some questions about what they do:

How did you become a luthier? 

Adam Kology: I come from a family of woodworkers and artists, so craftsmanship has been at the center of my life since I was very small. I obtained my BFA in sculpture and painting in 2006. During this time I began repair instruments as a side job. By 2009 this had evolved into a home business. In 2012 I took a full time position in the rental department at JSI. Shortly thereafter I moved over to Carriage House Violins where I find myself today.

Jess Fox: I started playing violin at the age of six, studied art and art history in college, and took a job woodworking after college in a high-end picture framing shop. Going to the North Bennet Street School violin making program in 2003 was my way to combine all of the things I love doing into one career.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Jess: On a typical day, I float between hands-on bench work, talking to customers to help diagnose repairs, and occasionally doing adjustments for the sales department.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Adam: Definitely customer reactions to simple repair jobs that I take entirely for granted. The times when I am handed an instrument and moments later I know I made a significant difference in someone’s playing.

Jess: I really enjoy solving problems with customers, helping their instruments to sound and feel better.

What is the most interesting project/instrument you have worked on?

Jess: I have had some unusual instruments come across my bench: five string violins, electric violins and cellos, hardanger fiddles, a rebab, and (less unusual) baroque instruments. I like the challenges that come along with working on unique and non-standard instruments.

What is your main instrument?

Adam: Violin. I play traditional American fiddle music for the most part. I can be found playing at festivals and pubs all over the eastern USA.

Jess: I play the “fiddle,” and also the baritone saxophone.

What advice would you give to someone looking into becoming a luthier?

Adam: Prepare to spend a lot of time reading and researching, throw your ego away, go cut a few thousand bridges, and spend all your extra money on the best tools you can find.

Jess: In my opinion, in order to be a good luthier you need dedication to the craft, an eye for detail, and sure and steady hands. If you have an interest, I would suggest talking to a few of us in the field, taking a short course or even a basic hand tool course to get a feel and see if you have an aptitude for the work, and be well aware of your employment and income prospects on the other end.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

JSI vs. Dunn Gaherin’s Softball Game!

In the last game of the season, JSI lost to Dunn Gaherin’s 16-14 despite an incredible 8 run comeback in the final inning. It all began when a representative from Dunn Gaherin’s, an Irish bar across from us on Elliot Street, walked over to challenge us to a game of softball back in July. While we lost to their more established team, we have been giving them a run for their money the past two games with the help of some extra batting practice.

Check out photos from the games below, and be sure to visit our neighbors and softball rivals Dunn Gaherin’s for great food, drinks, and fun!

Johnson String in the field while Dunn's bats during Game 3.

Johnson String in the field while Dunn Gaherin’s bats during Game 3.

 

Someone thought our warm ups were an elaborate game of fetch.

Someone thought our warm ups were an elaborate game of fetch.

 

Luckily that someone was also very friendly.

Luckily that someone was also very friendly.

 

Getting a quick batting practice in before the game.

Getting a quick batting practice in before the game.

 

Luthier Colin Skofield at bat.

Luthier Colin Skofield at bat.

 

The two teams celebrating a great Game 1 at Dunn-Gaherin's.

The two teams celebrating a great Game 1 at Dunn-Gaherin’s. Photo credit: Dunn-Gaherin’s

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

 

Districts are Coming: Preparing for an Audition

Bach has a question for you....

Every student’s worse nightmare: Bach judging your district audition.

Auditions got you worried? Not sure how to prepare? We’ve got you covered! Many of us at Johnson String Instrument have gone through auditions so we’ve been there. We asked our staff to share their tips and tricks to help you do the best that you can. They had some great advice:

1. Relax! Breathe! Try not to get too worked up about it. Every musician (even the judges!) has had to go through auditions, and everyone knows it’s a nerve-wracking experience.

2. Scales! Practice scales! More scales and arpeggios! I missed out on senior districts by bombing the scales because of a combination of nerves and not practicing enough.  Get the format down, make them second nature, and that will help you not only with scales but also with sight-reading.

-Alex Wagner, Product and Inventory Specialist, violinist

1. Be sure to listen to the entire piece. The audition committee can tell if you are hearing how your part interacts with the rest of the ensemble. Hearing the piece as a whole rather than just your part is the difference between a good instrumentalist and a good musician.

2. Perform your audition rep for as many people as possible before the audition. I know it can feel awkward or embarrassing but that’s the point! Better to get all the jitters out in front of friends/family than the audition committee.

-Sara Wilkins, Customer Service Representative, cellist

My biggest piece of advice would be not to practice for several hours on the day of an audition. The truth is that your repertoire is as good as it’s going to get that day. A great alternative to playing through the music over and over is to come up with a ritual that helps you feel calm and focused. A couple methods I’ve used are to play a scale (slowly) with all of its arpeggios or to eat a piece of my favorite chocolate while I warm up.

-Sarah Rogers, Administrative Assistant, violinist

1. Be able to play excerpts in any order presented. Be able to switch from fast and technical to slow and calm.

2. Play for non-string players. If you have rhythm issues play for drummers. Excerpts that have tricky shifts or string crossings, play for flute or other wind players; they are less forgiving about string player-specific issues.

3. Tape and film yourself to look for areas that need improvement.

4. Be ready at least a week before the audition, and relax.

-Jon Crumrine, Bow Maker, violist

Set a box of doughnuts (or preferred favorite treats) in the corner of the audition room. Whenever you get nervous, look at them & feel relieved 🙂
Then treat yourself afterwards!

-Amy Nolan, Store Manager, cellist

1. Get plenty of sleep.

2. Eat well.

3. Live healthily.

4. Play your audition for anybody who will listen, especially if they might have some constructive advice.

5. Read all of these books by Don Greene, and practice the techniques found therein with diligence and devotion.

-Phil Rush, Sales Consultant, violist

Still need to purchase your music for districts? Stop into our store or visit our website, and good luck to all auditioning in the coming months!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Switching From Violin to Viola

If you are a violinist, you have probably been asked this question at some point during your musical career:

Can you play viola?

For some, the answer is a resounding “NO.” For others, this question leads to them taking on the viola as a secondary or primary instrument. This can happen at any point, but many students are asked around middle or high school in an effort to even out the sections in school programs. Since the violin is more well-known and recognizable, many students or families initially choose it over the unknown viola. Whenever or whatever reason the switch is happening, here are some important things keep in mind:

Be careful when choosing a viola size.

The viola is unique in that there is no “full size,” unlike other string instruments. The viola began as two separate instruments: alto viola and tenor viola. Technically, in order to achieve an ideal tone the viola should be much longer than it is now–upwards of 19 inches. That length would make it impossible to play. The tenor viola was the closest solution to this issue; however it was still so long that unless you had very long arms and fingers, it was too painful to play for an extended period of time. Modern violas fall closer to the size of the alto violas, with makers striving to recreate the sound found in the tenor violas of the past.

Today, the viola typically ranges in size from 15” to 17”, with most players falling between the 15.5”-16.5” range. Some 14” violas do exist (the same length as a full-size violin), but they do not have the same sound quality/depth. For new players, your best course of action would be to start by trying a 15-15.5” instrument and adjusting up or down from there. You do not want to feel like you are straining to play. It will feel larger, but should still be comfortable.

Learn to read or transpose the clef.

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to rely on your ears to tell you exactly what you should be playing, especially if you are working on familiar repertoire. Violists primarily read alto clef and it is one of the only instruments that does so. It lies between treble and bass, with the middle line being middle C. This accommodates the instrument’s range well. Like learning another language, practice and immersing yourself will help you learn faster and more completely. Your treble clef skills will still come in handy, as viola music sometimes switches between the two. There are books that can help you make the transition into reading alto clef, which can be found on our website.

Your position will need to change.

It may look like a violin. It may still be held on your shoulder. It may even feel the same.

It isn’t.

Keep in mind that violas and their bows are heavier than violins and this will change how you support the instrument. Your arms will be more extended and the finger-spacing of your left hand will be more spread out, which will necessitate changes in your overall position and posture to prevent tension. The best way to discover what you will need to change is:

Find a teacher who plays viola.

Find a teacher who really plays and works as a violist. Even with only one or two lessons, they can be an invaluable asset in finding a position without tension. Many violists are former violinists and will be able to help  you with the transition.

 

Keep your eye on the Johnson String Instrument blog for more posts, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons