The Top 10 Classical Pieces All String Players Should Hear

Listening to classical music is one of the most important things you can do as a string player, whether you are a seasoned pro or a brand new student. Perhaps you are looking to become a little more familiar with classical music in general, or maybe you are looking for some inspiration to motivate and encourage the budding string player in your life. If this describes you, read on! Start your journey by discovering ten of the most popular stringed instrument works in classical music.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
    Ludwig van Beethoven


    Beautiful, simple, elegant. Mozart completed this work in Vienna on August 10, 1787, and it remains one of the most timeless of all classical pieces.

  • Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 1 in C Minor
    Brahms spent at least fourteen years completing this grand work. Sketches of the masterpiece date from 1854, and the premier took place on November 4, 1876. It is a full, complex, rich composition.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 in A Major
    Beethoven’s nine symphonies are one of the artistic pinnacles of Western civilization. They are grand and fantastic, and were on a scale that went far beyond anyone before him.
  • Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings
    This work was originally taken from the second movement of Barber’s String Quartet, Op. 11. Alexander J. Morin wrote that this piece is “full of pathos and cathartic passion” and that it “rarely leaves a dry eye.”
  • Johann Pachelbel, Canon in D Major
    Like many other works by Baroque composers, the Canon lay forgotten for centuries and was rediscovered in the 20th century. This is a classic piece used in many weddings.
  • Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons
    This is a set of four concertos from the Baroque era. Each concerto is named for a different season, and consists of three movements. Listen closely and you will be able to hear growing thunder and a following storm, winter ice, birds singing, a shepherd’s dog, and a barn dance.
  • Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Serenade for Strings in C Major
    Premiering in 1880, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings remains one of the late Romantic era’s most definitive works. It is a gorgeously soulful and rich work which clearly displays Tchaikovsky’s beautiful melodic lines.
  • Dmitri Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor
    This string quartet was written over the course of just a few days. Shostakovich was a troubled, tragic character, and his composition ability managed to shine even in the difficult environment of the Soviet regime.
  • Antonin Dvorak, Serenade for Strings in E Major
    During a particularly happy, peaceful time in his life, Dvorak composed his Serenade for Strings, and it remains one of his most popular works. It took him just twelve days to write the entire piece.
  • Johann Sebastian Bach, The Cello Suites
    These suites contain a wide emotional range, a vast variety of technical devices, and some irresistible voice interactions and conversations. It is generally believed that these pieces were written pre-1720, and the exact date of their writing is unknown.
This is just a minute taste of the incredible pieces that classical music has to offer. Go ahead look these works up on Youtube or Spotify, and have fun listening! If you like what you hear, keep exploring the wonderful world of classical music. You will be sure to find other favorites that will inspire you in your stringed instrument studies.

Back to School: Music, Extracurriculars & Life Balance

There are only so many hours in a day. (Photo by Dave Stokes)

Living a balanced life.

Easier said than done. I remember having a high school schedule totally inundated with an overabundance of extracurriculars, especially during my junior and senior years. After all, college applications were due and I needed to beef up my resume. I was hoping for a music scholarship, so naturally I had to be involved in everything possible:

  • Orchestra
  • Wind Ensemble
  • Jazz Band
  • Pit Orchestra
  • Marching Band
  • Youth Symphony
  • All State Orchestra
  • All State Band
  • Western States Honor Orchestra
  • Solo and Ensemble

But what about that academic scholarship? Of course I needed to be involved in more than just music. So in addition to performing, I stayed busy with National Honor Society, lacrosse, the school play, Spanish Club, service projects, church activities, and as many AP courses as I possibly could fit in.

The world was mine. I could do it all . . .

. . . that is, until I found myself completely overwhelmed. One day in particular, I remember breaking down in tears, realizing I couldn’t be in three places at the same time. I had just landed a great role in the spring production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest after auditioning on a whim. Having never been in a play before, I was so excited by the possibility of acting on stage for the first time. But, unfortunately, rehearsals would conflict with lacrosse practice and my youth symphony’s rehearsals and spring concerts.

What to do? I didn’t want to let my team down. I didn’t want to let my conductor down, or my section, especially as I was standing principle. But I also didn’t want to let myself down and my own dream to try something new.

So a hard decision was made. I chose to do the play. And as torn and sad as I was to step aside from sports and music for a short season, I look back on my high school years and treasure being a part of The Tempest as one of the most rewarding, memorable, and just plain fun experiences of my life.

Of course, I haven’t acted since . . . but I do still play music. So not all was lost. The truth is, you just can’t do everything and do everything well—at least not at the same time. It was a hard lesson learned, but a truth I had to accept.

___________________

Later, I had a bass student who was in the same shoes I’d been in with too much on his plate. As far as his musicianship was concerned, he just wasn’t progressing as the weeks and months went by. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was too busy running from activity to activity (morning and evening swimming practice, Boy Scouts, service activities, family events, study sessions, etc.) to even have a moment to practice. He barely had enough time to squeeze in that weekly lesson; no wonder we weren’t getting anywhere. It wasn’t long before even lessons slipped through the cracks. Something had to give, which ended up being his musical training.

Truth is, lessons aren’t really just a one-hour commitment per week. Every one-hour lesson requires hours of practice in between to be worthwhile. Music lessons not accompanied by personal practice end up being a waste of resources for all parties involved (the student, the teacher, and the parents). So while it may seem like you’re doing your child a favor to enroll him/her in as many extracurricular activities as you can possibly squeeze in, remember that each activity has the potential of drawing value from the others.

And really, there are so many good choices: music (to which we’re biased, of course), drama, sports, art, dance, clubs, student government, and more. For each individual’s interests, there are good choices–then there are better choices, and the best choices. As Ghandi so well put it,

“Action expresses priorities.”

No matter what you, your child, or your student chooses to do, consider where the heart lies. Doing what you’re passionate about, what brings you fulfillment, and what leads you to your future plans plays a huge role in where you choose to invest your time.

So as the school year begins, and those choices present themselves, keep in mind that there are only so many hours in the day. Still, even with those limited hours, it is possible to achieve great, great things.

Happy learning, and best wishes. Let the school year begin!

Rent or Buy? That is the question!

1950's Music Store

Around this time every year, as the musical season gears up again, we see a lot of new string players preparing to start a new adventure.  There are inevitably A LOT of questions, and we are happy to address them.  In the past, on the blog, we have covered many topics about Beginner Basics.  One that we haven’t gone over in too much detail, though, is the question of renting vs. buying and in these tough economic times, how you spend your money is important and worth considering.

Renting is usually more affordable in terms of the monthly payment.  Our rental payments range from $14.97 a month to $92.50.  The amount you pay is determined by the instrument you need and the quality of that instrument.  Also, all stringed instrument stores have a rental agreement.  As part of the rental agreement, you may be required to commit to a minimum number of months, which is important to keep in mind.  For instance, the store may require a minimum of 6 months of payments and that amount could be close to or equal the cost of just purchasing the instrument.  Another thing to consider is what happens to the money you pay each month.  Does it go towards the eventual purchase of the instrument?  If so, how much of the monthly payments go towards the purchase?  At Kennedy Violins, we don’t have a minimum rental requirement and we set aside 55% of all rental fees as store credit that customers can use towards the purchase of any instrument.

Buying an instrument certainly requires the most  money up front, but it can be the most affordable in many cases.  If you are part of a family with several children, purchasing would give you the ability to keep the instrument after the oldest child grows out of it or looses interest and pass it on to younger children.  Or, if you were like my family and you required at least one year commitment to whatever new thing you are trying out, purchasing could be less expensive in the long run.  For instance, if you purchased Kennedy Violins’ Bunnel G2 Violin outfit, based on our current rental price, it would pay for itself in about a year.  Plus, purchasing usually means that you have “trade-in” power later when it’s time for a new size or an upgrade.

Either way, the most important factor in the decision making comes down to what the customer is comfortable with.  At Kennedy Violins, we are happy to provide both options for people ready to start the adventure of learning to play an instrument.

Violins in several sizes

Musical Olympics: The Spirit of Competition

Photo by Si B

While nations around the globe tune in to the 2012 Summer Olympics, I’ve been thinking about the spirit of competition. What is it that drives us as individuals and societies to compete with each other? What motivates us to be better, stronger, faster, and smarter than each other? Is the spirit of competition healthy or destructive—or could it be both?

I asked a similar question in a recent post, “Musical Role Models: Depressing or Inspiring?” It seems that in any type of competition, the challenge between to parties can be either approached in a spirit of sportsmanship or enmity. I think the appeal of the Olympics is in an incredible display of inspiring sportsmanship between nations. Differences and politics are set aside as athletes shake hands and face off in fair competitions of skill and speed.

Musical Competion
In turn, there is definitely an element of competition in the music world. From challenges between two violinists for first chair to international competitions between ensembles, musicians are constantly being judged in competition with each other. And as with the Olympics, these musical challenges are meant to be fair and inspiring demonstrations of harmonious sportsmanship.

But how do you “judge” the quality of a performance? Let’s take a look at an example of scoring guidelines from the Olympics:

Women’s Gymnastics Scoring Guidelines

 

  • Difficulty – Dance skills, acrobatic skills, and composition are judged by difficulty.
  • Execution – On a ten-scale, execution, technique, and artistry are evaluated.
  • Neutral Deductions – Errors, such as stepping out of bounds or violating time requirements, may result in a deduction from the total score.

Judging a Performance
Take a look and you’ll find that the same criteria for a gymnastics routine could be applied to a musical performance. (Check out Joel’s post, “Auto Racing and Stringed Instruments” and his similar comparison between musical competions and racing cars.) It turns out athletics and musical performance are very similar. Musicians simply go from the practice room to the stage instead of the gym to the arena.

While a musical performance may seem like an abstract “thing” to judge, it turns out there are very specific criteria judges (and even listeners in the audience) look for in a quality performance, just like in a gymnastics routine. Next time you prepare for a performance, try evaluating yourself by the following criteria to see where you need improvement:

Musical Performance Scoring Guidelines

  • Tone – What is the quality of sound?
  • Intonation – Is the soloist or ensemble playing in tune?
  • Balance – Do the musicians (soloist, accompanist, and/or ensemble members) blend together and balance each other in volume?
  • Ensemble – Are performers playing in sync with each other with a sense of togetherness?
  • Interpretation – How is the overall performance and styling of the piece?
  • Musicianship – Are phrasing, tempo, and dynamics used to shape the music?
  • Rhythm – Is rhythm sloppy or accurate?
  • Diction – How is articulation: clear and defined or muddy and unclear?
  • Accuracy – Are all the notes being hit?
  • Selection – Is the piece musically appropriate in nature and difficultuly?
  • Stage Presence – Is the performer appropriately dressed? How are overall appearance and poise?

 

So whether you’re preparing for an orchestra audition, a chair challenge, a competition, or even our 2012 Kennedy Violins Video Contest, try approaching your performance the same way an Olympian might: with dedication, attention to detail, motivation, and a strong drive for success. Don’t forget that Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” and you’ll find that your determination to achieve your music dreams will take you very far . . . perhaps even to the world stage.