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.


Copyright 2021 • All Rights Reserved

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.


Copyright © 2021 · All Rights Reserved

Famous Pedagogues of the String Instrument World

It’s back-to-school time!   Whether students are in the building or learning remotely this school year, teachers are working hard to make sure their students are getting the best education they can offer.  This blog post celebrates some of the most famous pedagogues in the string instrument world throughout history and their influence on today’s music students.

Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831)

Kreutzer was born in Versaille, France on November 16, 1766.  He studied violin with his father, then with Anton Stamitz (1750-c. 1809) and Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824).  He met Beethoven in 1798 on a European tour.  Without Kreutzer’s knowledge, Beethoven dedicated his Sonata in A Major, opus 47 to him.  Kreutzer himself composed 19 violin concertos and 40 operas.  He passed away in Geneva, Switzerland on January 6, 1831.

As a teacher, he was one of the founding violin professors at the Conservatoire de Paris, and taught there from 1795-1826.  A famous pedagogue that co-wrote the violin curriculum for the conservatory, he is considered one of the founders of the French violin school.  His method book, the 42 Studies or Caprices (ca. 1796) is still a popular method book used by many violin students. It has been transcribed for viola and cello

Lillian Fuchs (1901-1995)

Fuchs was born in New York City on November 18, 1901 to a musical family – her brothers Joseph and Harry played the violin and cello.  Her music education began by studying violin with her father and later with Franz Kneisel at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Julliard School).  Fuchs began her career on violin in 1926, but quickly shifted to viola.  She became a highly respected string player, performing with chamber groups and as soloist with major orchestras like the New York Philharmonic,  and passed away on October 5, 1995.

Fuchs also had an exceptional career teaching at some of the most renowned music schools around the country, including the Manhattan School of Music and Julliard.  Among her most notable students is Isaac Stern.  During her teaching career, she composed two method books for viola:  16 Fantasy Études and 15 Characteristic Studies.

David Popper (1843-1913)

Popper was born in Prague, Bohemia on June 16, 1843.  He studied under cellist Julius Goltermann (1825-1876) at the Prague Conservatory.  Conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow recommended Popper to become Chamber Virtuoso for the court of Prince Constantin (1801-1869). He composed works for cello, including four concertos, a Requiem for three cellos and orchestra, and a number of pieces for cello and piano.  He passed away on August 7, 1913 near Vienna.

At the Conservatory at Budapest, he taught many cellists who would go on to have successful careers, including Adolf Schiffer, who was János Starker teacher.  In addition to his compositions, Popper wrote a collection of études called High School of Cello Playing.

Franz Simandl (1840-1912)

Simandl started his career by studying double bass at the Prague Conservatory with Josef Hrabe (1816-1870).  After his studies, he became the principal bassist in the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra.  He was professor of double bass studies at the Vienna Conservatory from 1869-1910.

As a pedagogue, Simandl was extraordinarily influential in double bass studies.  He wrote his method book, New Method for the Double Bass, during his tenure at the Vienna Conservatory.  Simandl said the purpose of the book was to provide the first complete double bass method that is not only thorough, but also easily accessible[1]

Special thanks to Yoonhee Lee, John Guarino, Phil Rush, and Robert Mayes of Carriage House Violins for their assistance.


[1] Franz Simandl, New Method for the Double Bass (New York: Carl Fischer, Inc., 1904), 3.

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Copyright © 2020 · All Rights Reserved · Stephen Loikith