Your teacher tells you you’re starting a new piece. You go to buy the sheet music, only to discover there are multiple editions to choose from.
Which edition do you choose?
The easy answer? The one your teacher tells you to buy. They like that edition and want you to get it for a reason. If they don’t have a preferred edition, it’s up to you to decide. While finances sometimes dictates that choice, here are a few things you should know about choosing sheet music:
What Do I Look For?
Everyone has different priorities when choosing an edition, but here are some things to keep in mind while browsing sheet music:
Is it easy to read? Can you read the notes? Are articulations clearly marked? It’s a good idea to look at different editions in person. Compare them side-to-side and see which one is easier for you to read.
Are there a lot of marked bowings and fingerings? These are easily changed with a quick pencil scribble. However, if too many are already marked in the part it can start to look messy if you need to fix them. Some people prefer to get sheet music with the least amount of bowings and fingerings so they can clearly mark their own.
Does it lie flat? Does the sheet music lie flat on the stand, or would you have to secure it? Would you have to break the binding to get it to stay where you need it to?
Price: More expensive editions cost more for a reason. You may find it helpful, or you may not notice a difference.
Is it Urtext? This only applies to certain pieces, but sometimes it’s helpful to use an urtext edition instead of a more modern one.
We pride ourselves on our sheet music selection at Johnson String. Stop in to compare in person or visit us online. We also do special orders; contact our sheet music specialist, Joan Faber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI! This series highlights the different people in our company. We’re able to run such a large business through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill they use 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.
The School Programs and Delivery department are the people you see at our rental nights throughout New England and New York State. They handle any deliveries, exchanges, and other transactions done through school districts or at rental nights throughout those areas. They are constantly in contact with teachers and school administration to make sure everyone has what they need. We asked some of them to talk about what they do:
What is your position at JSI?
Justin Davis: School Program/Guitar Specialist.
Natalie Harrington: I’m the Rental Delivery and Programs Manager.
Steve Soucy: I am a School Programs Specialist. This means I work specifically with teachers and administrators of various public and private schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to cater our products and services to meet the needs of their string/orchestra programs.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Justin: My days tend to be quite varied. Some days I will be setting up and repairing guitars, others I will be scheduling with and otherwise contacting teachers to ensure that they and their students have all of the proper instruments and accessories that they need to succeed. In the busy times, mainly the start and end of the school year, I will be visiting each of our programs in Connecticut and Southern Massachusetts while also helping out the rest of the team where needed.
Natalie: That depends on the season. My top priority is always working with our teacher clients to ensure we’re meeting their programs’ needs. Sometimes that means driving to schools myself; other times it’s coordinating staff, vans, instruments, and product to send on the road. I always need to be at my desk for at least a few hours a day to answer emails, update our service trips web page, and make sure everything is ready to go for the next delivery.
Steve: In September, I start the day at my desk to answer any questions or fill any requests made by teachers and clients the previous night or earlier that morning. Then it is off to the workshop to review and pack instrument and accessory orders for the event that night. Once we are packed, we head off to the event. There we unpack and prepare for parents and students. Afterwards, we pack up, head back to the workshop, and unload. Once unloaded, we close up the workshop and prepare for the next event.
What is your main instrument?
Justin: I call guitar my primary instrument but violin was my first instrument and I played that all through school as well. I was always a bit of a jack of all trades with experience with viola, cello, mandolin, and ukulele as well.
Natalie: Violin. I started in the Suzuki method when I was four, and continued to play seriously, even becoming concert mistress of my orchestra, until I graduated from high school.
Steve: Electric Bass
Did you go to school for music?
Justin: I went to the University of Maine, double majoring in music education and guitar performance.
Natalie: No, actually: I got my degree in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Wellesley College.
Steve: No, economics.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Justin: My favorite part of my job has always been seeing the excitement that a new player has when they first pickup their instrument. You can just see in their eyes that this will be a lifelong learning adventure for them.
Natalie: I love a challenge! We rent to over 100 school programs throughout New England and New York, so there is a lot to coordinate. Doing my job well involves keeping an eye on a wide variety of staff, procedures, and departments, and anticipating problems so I can solve them before they happen. Never a dull day!
Steve: Working with schools and music teachers. Providing students with a high quality instrument that allows them to enjoy playing music and develop a life-long passion for it.
It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business 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.
The Front Staff are among the most visible departments in our company. If you’ve ever come in to our Newton location, you have probably talked to a member of our front staff. They handle everything from rentals to selling merchandise to fitting chin and shoulder rests. We asked them to answer some questions about themselves and their jobs:
Julie Metcalf: I am the Assistant Store Manager at JSI.
Amy Nolan: Store Manager
What is your favorite part of your job?
Justin: Finding the perfect instrument for a player, whether that be a first time student or a more advanced musician looking for a forever instrument. The process of pairing an instrument to a player is very rewarding.
Julie: The most exciting thing we do in the storefront is rentals! All kinds of people, young and old, come in each day looking to play an instrument for the first time. It is magical to share with them my joy and enthusiasm for music. I take care to help them select the right instrument and set them up with evrything they need to get started. Rental customers come in each day with many different needs: maybe the player grew and needs a bigger size, or there’s an open seam on a rental cello, or a violinist has a broken E string. It’s rewarding to be able to help people on their musical journeys.
Amy: Helping everyone from kids to adults find joy in music!
What does a typical day look like for you?
Justin: A typical day can include setting up each guitar to a tight specification to ensure proper playability, intonation, and quality. Working with customers to find them the perfect guitar, mandolin, or ukulele. Scheduling and/or visiting a school program to service students’ instruments to ensure that they are practicing on the highest quality rental instruments possible.
Julie: I work in the storefront every day, assisting customers who come in the door. I do a little bit of everything: helping people find sheet music, advising them on strings, fitting chinrests and shoulder rests, and showing accessories like cases and music stands.
Amy: Everything from renting instruments to new players and helping advancing players select higher quality instruments to working with local teachers to make sure they have everything they need for their students. I enjoy working with staff at all levels of the company to ensure great levels of customer service and a love of music all around.
What is your main instrument?
Justin: I have played violin since the age of 7 and started playing guitar in middle school. I have always been a jack of all trades and “master” of none. Anything with strings I can probably play it. But if you were to force me to pick one, I suppose it would have to be guitar as that is what my degree is in.
Julie: Violin. I have played many different styles of music on violin and viola. I mostly play fiddle for contra and square dances in the Boston area. I also play jawharp, and I am learning banjo and guitar.
Did you go to school for music?
Justin: I went to the University of Maine and double majored in music education and classical guitar performance.
Julie: I went to Berklee College of Music, where I studied violin performance.
Amy: Yes, University of Southern Maine, studying piano and cello.
Were you a Johnson renter growing up?
Amy: I was! I had only been playing for a couple of years when I switched to a JSI rental cello and had a great time. Later on my family used the rental equity to purchase a cello once I could play a full-size, and I still play that instrument!
The mandolin has a rich historical history. While we associate mandolin primarily with folk music these days, the instrument is more versatile that you may expect.
The Mandolin Family Is Based On Classic Instruments
The mandolin family is based on classic instruments from the baroque period. The mandolin started its life in classical music. In fact, many famous composers wrote mandolin concertos including Antonio Vivaldi. This instrument family itself is a lot like a traditional string trio. The mandolin is the treble voice, the mandola the inner harmony, and the mandocello bass support. Mandolin orchestras, as they are commonly called, are still around today.
Because the mandolin has the same tuning as a violin, it is a reasonable transition for any violinist looking for a new challenge. It means using a pick rather than a bow, but since the fingerings are the same between the two instruments many players can make the transition with a little practice.
Over time, the mandolin evolved from a small bowl-backed instrument meant for ensemble playing to a solo instrument mostly used in bluegrass and country music. The Gibson Company and their sound engineer Lloyd Loar are credited with modernizing the “bluegrass” (F-style) mandolin. With a powerful, clear treble voice and a decorative curling scroll, the F-style mandolin is an instantly recognizable instrument by sound and appearance.
The Eastman Music Company still follows many of the classic designs developed in the late 1920s through the mid-1930s (known as the golden age of mandolin building). Along with the F-style, the teardrop-shaped A-style mandolin is a popular choice for players who tend to play more chords than leading lines.
Eastman offers a great selection of both A and F style mandolins in a variety of price ranges. Featuring all solid woods and hand-crafted precision, Eastman mandolins are terrific instruments for everyone from the new player to the veteran picker.
The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument offers many of Eastman’s best mandolins, all of which are set up in house to ensure proper playability, tone, and intonation. Though we may be best known as a violin and guitar ship we are a mandolin store as well. Visit us in store or online to see our full selection of Eastman mandolins.
You want to start experimenting with electric violin, but you either don’t want a second instrument or need something budget-friendly. What’s your best option? Electrify your acoustic by installing a pickup! Now for the harder question: which pickup should you choose? Like finding the right electric violin or amplifier, there are different factors to consider. First let’s take a look at different pickups options that are available:
This is one of our favorite pickups at Johnson String. Designed by Ned Steinberger of NS Design fame in collaboration with David Gage, the sound quality is fantastic. Even though the pickup element sits under the bridge, your instrument’s acoustic tone will not be affected. However it can only be installed by a luthier, so it is not easy to remove.
Players looking for a pickup that is easily installed and removed don’t need to look any further than The Band. This instant-fit pickup wraps around the body of your instrument using Velcro, making it easy to take off when you don’t need it. The Band produces a strong, lively tone suitable for a variety of styles from fiddle to classical.
If you are looking to transform your violin into an “electric-acoustic,” then a replacement bridge like the LR Baggs violin pickup is a great option. Featuring a transducer embedded in a Despiau Superior bridge blank, this pickup will effortlessly capture your instrument’s inherent dynamics. However, this also means the pickup requires professional installation to fit your instrument. The LR Baggs was our pickup of choice when creating our JSI Performer-Acoustic Violin.
The next step in selecting a pickup is to consider your needs. If you need to be amplified on a regular basis and do not mind leaving a pickup on your violin, the Realist or LR Baggs are great options. If you need a little more flexibility or only need to amplify your violin once in a while, the Band may be the one for you. It is difficult to make a wrong choice with any of these options as each produces a great sound that can always be tailored with a little EQ.
Finally, all of the pickups mentioned in this post are “plug and play.” This means that once installed, you can plug straight into an amp or PA system and start rocking and rolling. While preamps are not required with any of these pickups, they are highly recommended. Look for my next post to find out why!
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:
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.
Choosing a violin case is an important decision. While everyone is looking for something different when it comes to cases, there is one commonality everyone is looking for: a product that will protect their investment. How this can best be accomplished is an individual decision, but here are some factors to consider:
What To Look For In A Violin Case
Instrument. We’ll start with the obvious: Does your instrument fit in the case? Is it secure, or does it slide around? When you close the case, does it look like nothing hits the top of the instrument? Again, you want the case to protect your investment and the less your instrument slides around, the safer it will be.
Bow. Do all of your bows fit inside the case? Do you want them to? Violin cases usually have between two and four bow spinners, which is enough for most players.
Accessories. How much extra stuff do you want to keep inside your case? Some cases have more room for things like accessories or music than others.
This means different things to different people. Think about the type of travelling and commuting you typically do with your instrument. Then, consider the following factors:
Weight. Some cases are lighter than others. If you are doing a lot of walking or get around using public transportation, you may want a lighter case since you will be carrying it on your person more frequently. If you typically drive to your gigs, weight may be lower on your list of priorities.
Straps. How to do you like to carry your case? Check for strap configuration options–most cases allow for different variations. Also take into consideration what kinds of straps come with the case. Brands like Galaxy and BAM come with two padded backpack straps, while Bobelock comes with only one strap. (You can also purchase individual straps depending on your needs.) One more useful kind of strap to look for: the subway strap. This is the one that is attached to the scroll end of the case that allows you to hold it vertically, and can be a lifesaver on the (of course) crowded subway.
Shape/Style. Shaped cases tend to be more compact but fit less things, while oblong (rectangular) cases fit more things but take up more space. Half-moon cases fall somewhere in the middle.
We’re referring to two specific things when we say protection:
Suspension. Get a case that has suspension. Period. This means that the instrument is not touching the back or front of the case and will not absorb all of the impact if something happens. 99% of cases you look at will have suspension, but double check.
Climate. Do you live somewhere hot and humid? Dry and cold? Both and everything in between? Most cases on the market are at the the very least water resistant, but you may need something more waterproof or insulated depending on where you live. Most cases can be customized to accommodate the climate you live in (in-case humidifiers and case covers are two popular examples), but this is still something to keep in mind when shopping.
Still unsure what to get? Here’s a quick breakdown of the most popular brands we carry:
It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI ! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business 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.
Our Sales Department consists of our sales consultants and director of sales and acquisitions. These are who you talk to when you are looking to purchase an instrument, be it by phone, email, or in person. We asked them to answer a few questions about themselves:
What is your position at JSI?
Allan Espinosa: My position at Carriage House Violins of Johnson String Instrument is Senior Sales Consultant.
Matthew Fritz: Director of Sales and Acquisitions
Armenuhi Hovakimian: My position is a Violin Sales Consultant.
Robert Mayes: Cello Consultant
Phil Rush: Viola Sales Consultant
Lucy Turner: Assistant Sales Manager
Where did you study your main instrument?
Allan: I spent three years of study at the University of North Texas. I then moved to New England and completed my studies at the Boston Conservatory where I completed my BM and MM in violin performance.
Matthew: Bachelors in violin performance from Arizona State University. Masters in Orchestral Conducting from The Eastman School of Music.
Armenuhi: My education started in Armenia and then in Rochester, NY at the Eastman School of Music Prep Department. I received my Bachelors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and my Masters in violin performance at Western Michigan University.
Robert: Walnut Hill, New England Conservatory, Julliard, Boston University
Phil: UC Riverside (composition/theory) B.A.; California Institute of the Arts, Viola Performance M.F.A.; Florida State University, Viola Performance D.M.
Lucy: I have a BMus degree in violin performance from Vanderbilt University and an MMus from Boston University.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Allan: My typical day at CHV revolves around my clients. This would include speaking with my clients to gain a better understanding of what they are looking for in an instrument, hunting down those instruments within our inventory and spending one on one time to help select a particular instrument with the player. When I am not working directly with clients, I spend time with the luthiers of the workshop, fine tuning instruments and making sure our instruments are in top condition. They day is full of communication be it face to face, on the phone or via email.
Matthew: My days are varied. Much of my time is spent evaluating instruments as potential appraisals, consignments or acquisitions and advising clients about buying and selling instruments and bows. Additionally, I oversee the sales staff and support them as they endeavor to match clients with the perfect instrument and bow. On any given day, I can be found at my desk, attending trade events, traveling for sales and acquisitions opportunities or meeting with my staff.
Armenuhi: My day begins with emails and phone calls to my clients. Then I work with our highly qualified luthiers and bow makers to adjust instruments and bows to reach the goals and needs of my clients.
Robert: I begin by practicing for 2 hours on 2-3 different cellos and 3-4 different bows. I find it important to be as familiar with the instruments as possible. When I work with my clients I want to provide them with my honest opinion of the instrument or bow. Every day at the shop is different because we work with a wide range of musicians. At the beginning of this week I was in Los Angeles with members of the LA Philharmonic and on Friday I will be working with one of the cello professors at the New England Conservatory.
Phil: My day begins with correspondence via email and phone in response to customer queries. After that I set up for any appointments I have, work with our luthiers and bow technicians on adjusting instruments and bows that need it, and reach out to my sales contacts who are looking regarding our latest acquisitions.
Lucy: The first thing I usually do in the morning is respond to client emails and return calls. Once I’m caught up there, I work with clients who have in-store appointments or I play instruments in preparation for shipping trials. A lot of my managerial duties involve inventory and getting new instruments and bows ready to trial and sell, so I take care of tasks related to that throughout the day as needed.
Do you play any secondary instruments?
Allan: I do not claim to play a secondary instrument very well but I did spend time studying piano and clarinet and have sung in choirs.
Matthew: I do not make music other than playing the violin and conducting.
Armenuhi: I played piano for 20 years.
Phil: I also play piano and guitar. I guess you could say that as a violist, the violin is also a very important secondary instrument….
What is your favorite part of your job?
Allan: My favorite part of my job is the moment when a young musician has found the instrument that inspires creativity and pursuit of creativity in music. I also enjoy the vast array of instruments and the opportunity to work with contemporary luthiers hand in hand with the sales staff and clients.
Matthew: I enjoy many aspects of my job. The instruments are fascinating, especially then it comes to the craft and history of the violin. There is so much to learn, and even the internationally-recognized experts are constantly adding to their knowledge on a daily basis. I also enjoy traveling and meeting a variety of people from players to makers and collectors. In my position, there is never a dull moment, and you never know what a day will bring.
Armenuhi: Seeing my clients smile and working with my clients to find a great tool and the right instrument to carry their passion for music.
Robert: I enjoy being able to interact with so many musicians of all levels. Finding the right instrument or bow is crucial and I am thrilled to help people find their voice.
Phil: My greatest satisfaction comes from helping our clients find the instruments that inspire them and take them further toward their goals, whatever they may be.
Lucy: I love working with a client to figure out exactly the sound they’re looking for in an instrument or a bow. It’s really satisfying to find an instrument for a client that’s a perfect match and that they’re excited about playing.
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:
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.
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
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.
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!
Finding the right amplifier can be just as difficult as finding the right electric violin. Unfortunately for us electric violinists, most amplifiers on the market are designed for guitar, specifically electric guitar. Now, any amplifier will amplify your electric violin, but you may have difficulty getting the exact tone you are looking for. Why? A violin has a much wider frequency range than a guitar, and produces many over and undertones. Through years of trial and error, I found that most electric guitar amplifiers cannot quite handle the upper octaves of a violin; they start sound quite shrill once you get to the E string.
The best solutions we have found here at Johnson String Instrument are amplifiers designed for acoustic instruments and guitars, like the Fishman Loudbox and the Roland AC series. These amps are designed to reproduce the sound of the instrument that you plug in, a tremendously helpful feature when you are trying to make your violin sound like a violin. Acoustic amplifiers can also handle the wide range of a violin, and most have anti-feedback systems which are extremely useful when you are using a pickup on an acoustic violin.
Figuring out which one to purchase? This decision is highly dependent on what you are planning. A little amplifier like the Roland Mobile AC is surprisingly loud, but would have difficulty competing with a full band. It is a great little amp for practicing, traveling and busking. If you are looking for a portable amp that is loud enough for small venues and groups, a Fishman Loudbox Mini or Roland AC-33 will do the trick. The Loudbox Mini packs a little more punch, which the AC-33 counters with an on-board looping function you can use to channel your inner Andrew Bird.
Looking for more volume to play with a rock band? The Roland AC-60 or Fishman Loudbox Artist should do the trick. If you need even more volume to compete with guitarists using tube amps and drummers with full kits who like to play loudly, you may need the power of the Fishman Loudbox Performer. The performer will allow you to be heard in any situation.
Any of these amps are a wonderful choice and will help make your electric violin sound like a violin. If you decide this isn’t what you want, you can always dive into the wonderful world of effects and add distortion, delay and modulation stomp boxes; stay tuned for more on these and other topics related to electric instruments!