How to choose the right violin bow for you

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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 about 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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Which Edition of Sheet Music Do I Buy?

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:

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.

urtext-graphic

 

We pride ourselves on our sheet music selection at Johnson String. Stop in to compare in person or visit us online.


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Finding A Private Teacher For Your Child

Finding a private teacher for your child can seem daunting, especially if you are not a musician yourself. Maybe you want to get your child an early start on an instrument, or their school director recommended they get a private teacher. Whatever the reason, many parents ask the same question: How do I find the right teacher? Here are a few things to keep in mind when searching for a private teacher for your child.

The Commitment Level

The commitment level is different for each teacher, and the best fit will depend on what your and/or your child’s goals are. Consider how many hours of practicing they require, the type of repertoire they expect their students to learn, and their expectations about students participating in competitions. The good news? There are many different types of private teachers out there! Make sure the commitment they expect matches what you and your child are looking for.

You should also consider what your commitment level as a parent will be, especially if your child is a beginner. In the Suzuki method, one of the recommendations is that the parent also learns the instrument if they don’t know it already and serves as the “home teacher.” You will obviously be involved no matter what, but remember to take into account what the teacher expects of you too when your child is practicing at home. If you do suddenly find yourself learning a string instrument, don’t worry; we have instruments available for children and adults in our comprehensive rental program.

The Location

Some teachers rent out space in a music store, a school or a church, while others teach in their own home. Most people look for a teacher that is close to their home, their child’s school, or their work. Depending on where you live and what your goals are, you may need to be flexible on distance to find the private teacher you’re looking for.

Another thing you can look for is whether a teacher travels to students’ homes, or even if they offer online lessons. This can be a great way to accommodate a busy schedule or let your child study with someone they wouldn’t normally be able to.

The Cost

Most private teachers require weekly lessons, and cost is important to consider. Before you sign on with any teacher, talk about rates and how they handle payments so that everyone is on the same page. Some teachers prefer to be paid weekly, others at the beginning of the month or semester. Others work directly for a music school, in which case the payments might be handled by the school itself. Everyone has a different system, so it’s worth figuring out what works for your family.

The Person

In the end, the most important thing to consider is whether your child enjoys working with their teacher. Does their teacher support their goals and challenge them musically? Since this is a one-on-one relationship, the goal is to have it be supportive and positive. Trust your gut and your child’s experience with their teacher.

More Help Finding a Private Teacher

Need more help in your search? Our teacher database can help you find a private teacher! Log in or create an account on our website and immediately search our extensive database of private teachers located across New England.

 


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Adult Beginners: Setting Yourself Up For Success

People may say it all the time, but you truly are never too old to start learning an instrument. Like any skill, learning to play an instrument as an adult is a process with no immediate pay-off. However, it’s one well worth the time and effort. Whether you played as a child and want to start up again or are starting from scratch, here is some practical advice to help set adult beginners up for success.

Finding an Instrument

No matter which one you choose to learn, starting with the right instrument is key. Regardless of whether you decide to rent or buy, you want to make sure that you’re getting an instrument that’s in good condition. Work within your budget, but don’t fall prey to getting the cheapest instrument you can find. Cheap instruments are usually made incorrectly and with poor quality materials. They are difficult to play, which will hinder your progress and enjoyment — and playing an instrument should be fun! Johnson String Instrument can help with instrument rentals or purchasing an outfit.

Enlisting Help

There are ways to teach yourself, but we highly recommend finding a teacher. Learning an instrument is a specialized skill, and doing so alone can be frustrating. Using a teacher can help speed up your progress and reinforce good habits. They can be your cheerleader, mentor, and someone to hold you accountable. They are also a great resource for general questions and opportunities for playing in small groups with other students at your level.

The Mental Game

It’s easy for adult beginners to fall into the mental trap of embarrassment or self-doubt. Remember: you ARE a beginner, and that’s okay! Everyone starts somewhere. Make sure you practice daily — yes, daily — to build up muscle memory and reinforce the skills you are learning. Also keep in mind that simple scales or practice pieces are not bad. You don’t learn to drive by being put on a highway your first day, and you don’t learn to play a concerto right away either. There are many other foundational skills that must come before that.

If you’re coming back to playing after a lengthy hiatus, be patient with yourself. You have a memory of what things felt and sounded like when you were actively playing, and that won’t be what you immediately hear or feel. Going back to basics is difficult but rewarding, so keep at it.

Final Tips for Adult Beginners

  • Go practice! Lunch breaks can be a great opportunity depending on where you work.
  • Play with people. Find other musicians, groups, or organizations to play with. You can also consider making your next vacation a musical retreat or program; they’re not just for kids!
  • Need inspiration? Check out this wonderful article about a senior who picked up the cello again.
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN! Make it joyful work. You’ll be rewarded in the end.

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The Bach Cello Suites: A Brief History

Written between 1717-1723 and popularized by Pablo Casals in the 1930s and by Yo-Yo Ma in more recent years, the Bach cello suites have become standard in many repertoires. 

Origins of the Bach Cello Suites

A suite (pronounced “sweet”) is a collection of dance pieces. Though not standardized at first, a German composer and keyboard player named Johann Froberger (1616-1667) ended up forming what is known today as the classical suite style. It consisted of allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigueKing Louis XIV (1638-1715), an accomplished dancer, was also heavily influential in the development of the suite. He was the patron for many composers who wrote many dance suites on his behalf, including Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and François Couperin (1668-1733). He even founded the Académie Royale de Danse, Europe’s first school dedicated to dance.

Bach and the Classical Style Suite

Johann Sebastian Bach

When you look at the number of suites in Bach’s catalog, it is soon apparent that he was at least familiar with the French dance styles.  However, when you take a closer look at his dance music, you can see that he not only knew how many measures a piece needed to be (and their respective time signatures), but he also had intimate knowledge of the physical dance steps for each piece based on the meter, and which beats in the measure were emphasized. Not bad for someone who spent his life living in Germany!

The cello suites themselves more or less follow the form established by Froberger, except that each one begins with a Prelude and there is either a minuet, a bourrée, or a gavotte in between the sarabande and gigue. While each suite has its own unique character, arguably the most noteworthy one is Suite no. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012.  This was written originally for a five-string violoncello piccolo (strung C-G-D-A-E). With the higher E string at his disposal, Bach took advantage of that higher range. Since modern cellos do not have the higher E, this suite requires players to go into higher positions while navigating Bach’s highly technical passages.

Sheet Music for the Bach Cello Suites

Because of their popularity, there are numerous editions of the six suites available in our catalog. You can find versions ranging from the high-quality Bärenreiter and Henle edition, to the more affordable Carl Fischer editionInternational Music Company also has an edition that includes scans of Bach’s autograph manuscript. In addition to cello, we have versions for viola and bass as well.

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Beginning a Lifetime of Musical Memories

student with viola

They may have walked in with some doubts, but they left as budding musicians, ready to begin an amazing journey that may last a lifetime.

That was the feeling in the air at the instrument rental event held at Canton High School in Canton, MA on September 14. Coordinated by the Performing Arts Program, the event matched up students with the stringed instrument of their choice. Johnson String Instrument sales staff were on hand to answer questions and help parents complete the necessary rental paperwork, while their children waited patiently for their instrument, handed to them in a padded black carrying case.

“For the last few days my daughter has talked about nothing else but getting her first violin,” one parent remarked. “But when she saw the viola displayed at the Johnson table, she fell in love with it and that’s what she ended up choosing.”

Ensuring equitable access to a high-quality stringed instrument is part of Johnson’s core mission. We know from decades of experience that if a child isn’t happy with their violin, viola, cello, or bass, then the less likely they are to practice or enjoy the experience of playing. Even if it means swapping out the instrument for a different size — or for a different instrument altogether — Johnson is ready to assist.

“Tonight is about more than just renting instruments,” said Joe Heffernan, Director of Sales at Johnson String Instrument. “It’s about introducing students to their first stringed instrument, which in turn can help them develop a deeper appreciation of music. Our staff understands this because many of us are string players who started out at rental nights like this one. We want to help students experience the joy of making music.”

Many students were beaming as they headed home with their instrument. “I can’t wait to get my viola home,” said one Canton student, who proudly hugged her new instrument against her chest. “My brother plays violin, and I want to be as good as him some day.” 

That’s exactly what we like to hear from new string players, and we wish all of them the best of luck as they begin making a lifetime of musical memories. •

Learn more about Johnson String Instrument’s rental program. We are happy to provide instruments for students of all ages and levels of experience.


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