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!

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

 

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Departments of JSI: Rental Workshop

Departments of JSI is back! 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.

If you have ever rented an instrument from JSI, you’ve reaped the benefits of our in-house rental workshop.  Our head luthier, Sef Gray, agreed to answer some questions about what he does:

How did you become a luthier?

I played violin growing up and when it became time to go to college I was looking at woodworking/sculpture. My violin teacher’s husband made her violin and he helped me find a bunch of local luthiers to talk to. They all seemed like they did the sort of work I could see myself doing. I decided to I wanted to make/repair instruments because of the hands on nature of the craft and I also found it very interesting to do work that would support musicians. I applied to 2 violin making schools and went to North Bennet Street School. While studying at NBSS I built 8 instruments and learned some repair techniques.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I find it rewarding that the work I do helps musicians do their job and bring music to their communities. I build instruments outside of my job at JSI and I am always amazed that I can make a tool for musicians to play. It is so exciting to hear an instrument for the first time after all the work you have put into it.

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

I would encourage someone  interested in becoming a luthier to reach out to local makers or repair people to see what the work environment is like and what the work is like. It is challenging work and takes a long time to get comfortable working with the level of detail and patience that is required to be a luthier. Go to a violin making school and take a tour.

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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!

 

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Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Rentals at JSI

With over 40 years of experience, Johnson String Instrument is the largest string instrument dealer on the east coast. The cornerstone of the company is our extensive rental program. We pride ourselves on our attention to detail—everything from setting up our fleet of instruments to managing your account is designed to make your rental experience easy and enjoyable.

Our rental program is so successful because we listen to what our customers need. Students need high-quality, affordable instruments that will make their experience enjoyable. Parents want staff that are well-informed, insurance to cover inevitable child mishaps, and convenience when it comes to managing their accounts. Finally, teachers want to send their students to a reliable place and know that each student has the right tools. It is with these things in mind that our rental program has evolved and expanded over the years into the household name it is now. Start a rental today by visiting us in-store at 1029 Chestnut Street in Newton Upper Falls, online at www.johnsonstring.com, or by phone at 800-359-9351. Watch our newest video to learn more:

 

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

Update: The Johnson String Project

JSP Logo

 

For more information on El Sistema, please visit our previous post.

Formed in the spring of 2015, The Johnson String Project is a non-profit organization based on the Johnson String Instrument rental model and designed to offer the same level of service and high-quality instruments to children in under-serviced communities that all JSI customers have come to expect.

The efforts of the Massachusetts Cultural Council are what make this possible. Through their SerHacer initiative, the MCC was able to distribute grants to qualifying El Sistema inspired programs across the Commonwealth. The Johnson String Project received $30,000 through SerHacer as well as generous private donations.  This combination of public and private funding will be used to supply rental instruments for these programs.

Our mission at The Johnson String Project is supporting El Sistema-inspired string programs in under-serviced communities in Massachusetts. One of the largest barriers these programs face is obtaining high-quality instruments. Through the development of our instrument lending library, we strive to ease these financial burdens and provide access to this crucial piece of the musical experience.

To learn more about the Johnson String Project, check out our video

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

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

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