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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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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Yamaha Electric Violins: Power and Performance

Congratulations, you decided to get one of the Yamaha electric violins: the YEV or the SV-200! How do you decide which one is right for you? Let’s take a look at the different instruments:

The Yamaha YEV Electric Violin

The newest of Yamaha’s electric violins and a bestseller, this instrument won Best in Show at Winter NAMM in 2016. It’s not hard to see why between it’s Mobius-inspired design and practical features. Created specifically for performance, the lightweight YEV has a built-in piezo pickup with a ¼” passive output. This means the instrument doesn’t require a battery. You can get the YEV in two different natural wood finishes and as a four- or five-string model.

This instrument is perfect for someone looking for an electric violin priced under $1000 exclusively for performance.

The Yamaha SV-200 Silent Violin

The veteran of the group, the SV-200 Silent Violin has one major difference that sets it apart from the YEV: a headphone jack. This allows for “silent” practice in addition to its standard ¼” output for performance. It includes an onboard preamp which requires a 9-volt battery, EQ adjustments that work with professional audio equipment, and dual piezo pickups for a larger dynamic range and resolution. The SV-200 is available in 4 colors.

This instrument is perfect for someone who needs something for silent practice as well as performing.

Yamaha Electric Violins: YEV vs. SV-200

Looking for something that the Yamaha electric violins don’t offer? Learn more about finding the right electric instrument and check out our complete selection of electric instruments online and in store. Our staff are always happy to help you decide which instrument works best for you!

Lesser-Known Soviet Era Composers

This April, we celebrate the birthdays of two influential Soviet Era composers: Sergei Rachmaninoff (April 1st) and Sergei Prokofiev (April 23rd). Rachmaninoff is known for his soaring, romantic melodies, while Prokofiev’s music is more dissonant and fantastical. Along with Shostakovitch and Stravinsky, they brought international attention to Russian music, often in exile from or direct defiance of the Soviet government. Many other Russian Soviet Era composers made significant musical contributions, yet their works are obscure and under-performed. Here are just a few of these composers:

Reinhold Glière

REINHOLD GLIÈRE (January 11, 1875 – June 23, 1956) made his name with folkloric pieces like his Slavonic epic Symphony No. 3 ‘Ilya Muromets,’ as well as an excellent body of chamber music. He taught Miaskovsky, featured below, and a young Prokofiev. He later conducted musical research in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Today, his most played works are his string duos and numerous works for double bass.

Nikolai Roslavets

NIKOLAI ROSLAVETS (January 4, 1881 – August 23, 1944) was a modernist composer, deeply influenced by Scriabin, as well as Schoenberg’s twelve-tone serialism. Fiercely outspoken about artistic liberty, he was among the first to be targeted by the Soviet Union’s political purges. His string works include two violin concerti, viola and cello sonatas, and many shorter violin works.

Nikolai Miaskovsky

NIKOLAI MIASKOVSKY (April 20, 1881 – August 8, 1950), known as the “Father of the Soviet Symphony,” composed 27 of them. He was good friends with Shostakovitch and Prokofiev, and taught Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. He was an introspective composer, a quality exemplified in his cello concerto.

Mieczysław Weinberg

MIECZYSŁAW WEINBERG (December 8, 1919 – February 26, 1996) was a Jewish Polish composer who fled the Holocaust to live in Russia. He struggled to be recognized by the Soviet musical establishment, and narrowly escaped execution by the Stalinist government. He enjoyed a close friendship with Shostakovich, and the two frequently exchanged musical ideas. Weinberg was prolific – he wrote twenty-two symphonies, seventeen string quartets, and many works for solo strings.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro

Women Composers You Should Know About: Part Three

This Women’s History Month, we honor women of the past and present and acknowledge not only their accomplishments but also their struggles and hard work to attain sometimes the barest recognition from society.
The vast sheet music collection of Johnson String Instrument includes music by countless other past and present women composers, all available for purchase.

Photo by Javier Oddo

ANNA CLYNE (b. March 9, 1980) is an English composer currently residing in the United States, specializing in electroacoustic music. She has received numerous awards, and her double concerto Prince of Clouds was nominated for a Grammy in 2015. Many of her works involve a visual component, such as her orchestral poem Night Ferry. Her work The Violin is a suite for two violins and electronic backing track, with optional violin ensemble. It is paired with poems by her mother and a series of stop-motion animations by Josh Dorman. Rest These Hands is a movement from the suite arranged for solo violin and strings.

LILI BOULANGER (August 21, 1893 – March 15, 1918) was a French composer known for her colorful vocal, choral, and orchestral works, influenced by Debussy. Taught with her sister Nadia by Gabriel Fauré, she made it her mission to win the coveted Prix de Rome.  After years of study, she won it in 1913 with her cantata Faust et Hélène, becoming the first woman to have ever won the prize. She composed two somber violin pieces around this time: Nocturne (1911) and Cortège (1914). However, throughout her entire career, Lili struggled with what is thought to have been Crohn’s disease. She died in poor health at just 24 in 1918. Her sister Nadia then turned to pedagogy, teaching composers such as Copland, Glass, Bacewicz, and Piazzolla.

CLARA SCHUMANN (September 13, 1819 – May 20, 1896) remains one of the most esteemed musicians and composers of the Romantic Era. She had a 61-year long career as a concert pianist, touring with Joseph Joachim and championing the works of her husband Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Felix Mendelssohn. She composed a piano concerto at age 14 and premiered it herself under the baton of Mendelssohn. Superb later works include her masterful Piano Trio (1846) and the popular Three Romances (1853) for violin and piano, inspired by her husband and dedicated to Joachim. Robert was committed to an asylum soon afterward, dying there in 1856. After his death, Clara focused on performing, and with Brahms edited her husband’s works for publication.

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Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Nate Faro