From Frog to Tip: How to Choose a Bow


It’s hard enough to know what you’re looking for when shopping for a violin outfit. So just when you think you’re all done making such life-altering decisions (Shoulder rest? Strings? Case? Rosin?), you’re faced with another mammoth dilemma. Which bow do you pick?

Kennedy Violins offers a wide variety of bow options (and upgrades!) with any violin or viola outfit because we know how important it is that you get what you’re looking for. But what if you don’t know what you’re looking for? Well, look no further! Welcome to . . .

. . . Bows 101! Your basic tutorial on how to choose a bow!

When choosing a bow, it helps to know what the bow is made of. From there, you can decide what quality of fittings you’d prefer. Note that in general, the more expensive the bow, the nicer the fittings, materials, and build.

BOW TYPES

Fiberglass

Fiberglass bows are often the most affordable option. Fiberglass, not to be confused with carbon fiber (see below), is glass-reinforced plastic that is not as strong or light as carbon fiber, but also not as brittle. Fiberglass is easily molded and cheap to manufacture, which allows for its affordability. These bows are recommended for beginners, especially children, as they are very durable (if dropped, scratched, or thrown about by a sibling) and affordable, especially when purchased in smaller sizes that will be grown out of. On the other hand, fiberglass bows rarely respond or bounce as well as quality wood bows, and can sometimes be heavier than preferable.

Wood

Wood bows are usually a step up from fiberglass bows when made properly with quality fittings. Beware though, if a bow is describes as “wood,” but without the type of wood specified. Just like you wouldn’t want to buy a violin made of balsa, steer clear of bows made of “mystery” wood. Look for wood types such as ebony, pernambuco, and Brazilwood (see below).

Pernambuco

Bows are traditionally made of pernambuco, a high-quality, dense, strong wood of a beautiful red hue grown in the north of Brazil. However, as the export of pernambuco to Asia and Europe became so popular to the point of exploitation in the 1700s, pernambuco has since become an endangered tree species. Pernambuco forests are now sponsored by many instrument makers who hope to continue the tradition of using this scarlet wood in the art of bow making.

Brazilwood

Brazilwood is another name for pernambuco (Caesalpinia echinata). But as pernambuco is now endangered, related species of wood similar in quality, strength, springiness, lightness, and color are now used and also referred to as Brazilwood in the bowmaking industry. Related species include include Pink Ipê (Tabebuia impetiginosa), Massaranduba (Manilkara bidentata) and Palo Brasil (Haematoxylum brasiletto).

*Note: High-quality, cured Brazilwood is often used in bowmaking because it has less tendency to warp. A warped or curved bow is unfavorable. To check for warpage, “sight” down the length of the bow from the frog to tip to view whether the wood is bent to the left of right, if at all.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber, or carbon fiber reinforced polymer, is extremely strong and light with a high strength-to-weight ratio. Used in aerospace and automotive engineering, carbon fiber is more expensive to manufacture than fiberglass or other plastics, but the material is of such quality that the effectiveness of carbon fiber bows can sometimes exceed that of Brazilwood bows–depending on the bow, of course. Carbon fiber bows can be manufactured to such precise dimensions that their response, balance, and bounce can be exactly predetermined. Carbon fiber bows are thus more expensive than fiberglass or lower-grade wood bows as they are so well made. The CodaBow is a popular, professional-quality name brand of carbon fiber bow which we are pleased to offer at Kennedy Violins. We carry the CodaBow Prodigy, CodaBow Luma, CodaBow Diamond NX, CodaBow Diamond SX, and CodaBow Diamon GX.

FITTINGS

Higher-quality bows, like violins, usually have higher-quality and more durable fittings that reflect the craftsmanship of the bow:

Grip: leatherette (textured or smooth vinyl or plastic), genuine leather, snakeskin, lizard skin

Winding: whalebone, nickel-silver, silver, gold

Tip: white plastic, tagua nut, ivory, mammoth ivory (a legal alternative to elephant ivory)

Frog: plastic, wood, ebony

Plate: mother of pearl, abalone, ivory, mammoth ivory

Hair: synthetic, genuine horsehair (white and/or black)

Half or Full Mounting

What is a half-mounted or fully-mounted bow? On a fully-mounted bow you can see the thin stripe of a smooth metal plate between where the frog is connected (or mounted) to the bow, allowing a smooth fit and protection for the wood as it slides back and forth when the bow is tightened and loosened. A half-mounted bow lacks the metal plating, resulting in raw wood on wood between the frog and stick that may wear over time. Half-mounted bows do not have a ring around the pearl eye of the frog, while fully-mounted bows will have a ring around the pearl eye.

Comfort

When choosing a bow, you’ll typically want to try it (such as with our in-home trial program!) to test the bows comfort for you as a unique player. Consider factors such as weight, balance, bounciness, response, and even length, which can vary (especially for bass bows). Try different bow strokes such as spicatto, staccato, and long tones to assess the bows quality and comfort in your own hands.

Questions?

Give us a call at 1-800-779-0242! At Kennedy Violins, we want to make sure you know what you’re buying before you buy it with a commitment to answer your questions with honesty and professional know-how. So go ahead, check out our selection of quality bows . . . especially now that you know just what you’re looking for.

Holiday traditions: roasting (and listening to) lovely chestnuts

I’m going to jump on the holiday bandwagon here and encourage everyone to not only have your own holiday family concerts, as Heather wrote about last week, but to also go out and take advantage of the seasonal offerings in your community. Concerts, holiday celebrations, bazaars, charity events, food drives – they all tend to have something in common during this season. It’s usually when they break out the big budgets to add impact, and that usually means adding music to the proceedings. Everything from small chamber groups, like a brass quintet playing in a mall, to string quartets playing at fundraisers, all the way to the ballet hiring an entire orchestra to mount a production of “The Nutcracker”.

Or these guys playing outside in the snow. Christmas brass

 

There are certain holiday traditions that come round  every year that ought to be experienced by everyone, but especially if you have budding musicians in your family. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet is a great holiday tradition. Not only do you get to hear the rich and varied (and familiar) music of a great composer, you experience ballet, with its costumes, sets, visual beauty and utterly amazing athleticism of the dancers. Ballet, like opera, is a wonderful art form that is an expensive undertaking, and so is a rare treat when you can take the whole family to experience it.

Nutcracker Suguar Plums

And the Nutcracker has something for everyone in the family: a well-known story, kids as central characters (rather than props), beautiful ballerinas and even a fight scene. But for us here at Kennedy Violins, above all is the music. Tchaikovsky’s rich scoring and (now) familiar tunes are beautiful to listen to on their own, but when paired with the dance and the drama of the story, the experience of the music is heightened by a factor of, oh, about a million.

Nutcracker fightAnother great tradition, and one you should experience at least once, is the great tradition of Handel’s Messiah. Most people think this piece is just a Christmastime tradition, because it is so often done only at this time of year. The reality is that this piece has several parts and can be performed really at any time of the year. However, a long-standing tradition is to perform just a part of the oratorio at Christmas.

The orchestra is on stage for this – oh, and there is a choir, and vocal soloists as well. But the orchestra is the foundation of the piece. The multi-movement work has soloists singing the story, with the choir and orchestra providing the underpinnings. But the main event – the one movement that everyone is waiting for – is the Hallelujah Chorus. Tradition has it that everyone stands up when the Hallelujah Chorus is performed. [A bit of trivia: The custom of standing for the “Hallelujah” chorus originates from a belief that, at the London premiere in 1743, King George II did so, but there is no compelling evidence that the king was present, or that he attended any subsequent performance of Messiah. IMHO, I think people stood for the chorus just to stretch their legs – this piece is very long!]

As string players, we love to participate in these traditions. It’s not often you get to play in an orchestra, with a chorus and soloists where the audience also gets to participate (as in a Sing Your Own Messiah). So it’s a treat for us as well.

Who knows? At some point during your holiday preparations, you’ll find yourself taking a break at a food court like these folks did:

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Or taking a train in Copenhagen (not a holiday tradition, but a great flash mob!):

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At any rate, get out and enjoy the season, the music and the spirit of the holidays the music brings.

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Some might say that it’s too early to be thinking about Christmas, but this is the best time for everyone to dig out all of the Christmas music and get prepared for this year’s festivities! Make it a family activity and “wow” everyone at the family, work, or neighborhood gathering! Everyone in my family plays an instrument of some kind, and the holidays are one time during the year that we make a point of playing music together, even though we have a random collection of instruments from violin to flute to tenor saxophone to trombone, etc.

If you don’t already have a pile of holiday music waiting to be dusted off, there are so many online resources for sheet music. Usually, a concentrated search can bring up many different printable selections. Of course, you can seek out particular music and buy books from your local store or websites, such as SheetMusicPlus.com. Some books come with play along CD’s that provide full accompaniment. Sometimes, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll even make customized parts for my family using notation software such as Finale or Sibelius.

After picking a few songs and some practice, you can be prepared to share your holiday play list at parties, church services, or family gatherings. Not only will the audience remember it for a long time, but the people you find to play music with will have the experience and confidence to anticipate the next year’s performance. This video is evidence of great preparation and creativity, not to mention some electronic assistance.

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For those of you who are just investing in your first instrument from Kennedy Violins, this year may not be the year of performing in front of family and friends, but there are plenty of easy tunes out there to look forward to next year. It can be a goal to be able to play simple songs like “Jingle Bells” and “The First Noel.” But, the whole point is getting together with the people around you and making music that everyone already knows and can easily play. It might not be technically challenging, but it becomes more about building relationships with other musicians and playing music everyone is familiar with. Who knows? You may get an extra cookie or two out of it! What’s not to like about that?

Itzhak Perlman: An Inspirational Virtuoso

I have been inspired by many violinists, but one stands out in particular. This musician overcame a big obstacle in his life, and didn’t let it stop him from becoming extraordinary.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Itzhak Perlman performing

Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv, British Palestine on August 31, 1945. Having contracted polio at age four, he was able to make a good recovery. Today he walks using crutches and plays the violin while seated.

This is not a typical situation for most musicians, but Perlman didn’t focus on his limitations. Instead, he diligently studied the violin and became extremely accomplished.

Perlman first heard someone playing the violin on the radio, and this inspired him with a desire to play. From an early age, he studied violin at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv until moving to the United States to study at the Julliard School under master teachers Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay.

THE ROAD TO SUCCESS

In 1963, Itzhak Perlman made his debut at Carnegie Hall, as well as winning the Leventritt Competition in 1964. At this point he began to tour extensively, making appearances on American television programs. He has also played for several functions at the White House.

In 1987, Itzhak Perlman joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and toured Russia, China, and India, primarily as a solo artist. He has played with other notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Isaac Stern, Yuri Temirkanov, and Pinchas Zukerman.

Perlman also enjoys playing jazz, and has been a soloist in several movie scores. Recently, he conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Westchester Philharmonic.

ITZHAK, THE TEACHER

In 1975, he joined the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, and in 2003 succeeded his own teacher, Dorothy DeLay, at the Julliard School. Perlman also began his own music program on Long Island, New York, where he teaches master classes to promising young violinists.

THE MASTER’S VIOLIN

Itzhak Perlman has the privilege of playing an antique Soil Stradiviarius violin that was made in 1714. This violin was formerly owned by Yehudi Menuhim and is considered to be one of the finest made during Stradivarius’ “golden period.” He also plays the Sauret Guarneri del Gesu, made in 1743.

WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATION?

If you already play the violin, do know of someone who inspires you? If you don’t yet play the violin, have you ever been inspired to play when listening to or watching someone else?Tell us about it!

And If you haven’t yet begun to play the violin, let the friendly, helpful staff at Kennedy Violins assist you in selecting a violin that will be just right for you.