Violin Parts: All About Fingerboards

As a luthier at Kennedy Violins, I spend hours a day staring at fingerboards–sanding them, smoothing them down, looking for the scoop (see below). As you can imagine, a stringed instrument would be impossible to play if there were no place to put your fingers. So, naturally, one of the most important parts of a violin is the fingerboard: the long black piece of wood that (hence the name) is a board on which you put your fingers.

fingerboardstevesnodgrass
A fingerboard painted black to look like ebony. Fingerboards made with less-dense white woods usually decrease the value of the instrument. (Photo by Steve Snodgrass)

IS IT EBONY? AND DOES IT MATTER?
The main reason ebony is used for fittings (chinrests, fingerboards, nuts, pegs, end buttons, tailpieces) on stringed instruments is not because it’s pretty or exotic, but because it’s STRONG. Each time your press a metal-wound string down in contact with the wood, the wood has to be dense and strong enough to be a firm platform and hold up to potential wear over time. For example, imagine if your teeth were made out of balsa wood instead of enamel. Each bite would wear your teeth away in no time.

SHAPE & CONSTRUCTION
If you look at the fingerboard, it may not look very special at a glance. But while this standard part may look like a simple addition to the body of a violin, it must be made with detail and meticulous precision in order to function as it should.

1. Curve
When you look at the fingerboard of a violin, you’ll notice that its not flat like a fretted fingerboard on a guitar or mandolin. The reason why the fingerboard is convexly arched on violins, violas, cellos, and basses is because these instruments are bowed rather than exclusively strummed or plucked.

fingerboardblindrobert
Violin fingerboards are not flat like the fretted fingerboard of a guitar or mandolin. (Photo by Blind Robert)

Think about it. When you’re playing a bowed stringed instrument, you’re normally playing one note at a time. Playing one note at a time means your bow is only touching one string at a time. If the fingerboard were flat and the strings level, drawing a bow across the instrument would cause all the strings to vibrate at the same time.

Therefore, the arch of the fingerboard (as well as the bridge) must be precisely shaped and measured so that individual strings may be played with ease.

2. Scoop
By just looking at a fingerboard, you probably won’t even notice the imperceptible dip in the length of the violin. While there is a convex arch across the width of the violin, there is a concave scoop along the length.

The scoop in the fingerboard leaves room for the vibration of the strings. Imagine pressing a string down on a completely flat fingerboard with a flat bridge. The string would lie flat along the length of the fingerboard making contact at every point, giving the string either no room to vibrate at all or just enough to buzz.

When luthiers (violin makers) plane and carve the scoop into a fingerboard, they start by placing a straight-edge along the length. They slowly carve a dip into the fingerboard until it meets precise measurements. This will keep the strings from buzzing when played.

Ébano
Raw Ebony (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3. Smoothness
Fingerboards (as well as every part of the violin) are smoothed with wet and/or dry sandpapers, micromesh, steel wool, and scrapers to be extremely smooth to the touch. Who wants to press their fingers down on rough, splintery wood? Ouch!

Smoothing and scraping out any bumps also prevents buzzing. If you sight down the fingerboard, it should look smooth, not wavy or ripply.

CRACKS & IMPERFECTIONS
Most cosmetic imperfections on the surface of a fingerboard can be corrected. First, check and see if your fingerboard is made of ebony or a white wood painted black. If the wood is anything other than ebony, it will be approached differently because it is coated with a finish. A fingerboard not made of ebony lessens the value of an instrument.

1. Cracks
For cracks, the key is depth. Is the crack large enough that it opens when you put pressure on either side, the fingerboard will need to be either 1) clamped and glued, or 2) replaced. Fingerboards are typically glued on with hide glue, a water-soluble glue used by luthiers so instrument parts can be removed, repaired, or replaced.

2. Chips, Scratches & Surface Cracks
Because not all pieces of ebony are perfectly smooth, and some may be splintered in the planing process (especially if the wood grain isn’t forgiving), one trick luthiers use is filling imperfections with a clear glue (or even fingernail polish) mixed with ebony dust. Black dyes can also cover any discoloration in the wood.

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So next time you pull out your violin, take a look at your fingerboard. Look to see if its ebony or wood, then look for the scoop, observe the shape, and check its smoothness.  Who knew there was so much to it?

The Musician’s Résumé – Part 2: Writing & Distributing

A well-written résumé can be your ticket to the job of your dreams. (Photo by woodleywonderworks.)
A well-written résumé can be your ticket to the job of your dreams. (Photo by woodleywonderworks.)

In “The Musician’s Résumé – Part 1: Getting Started” on our Kennedy Violins blog, we brainstormed ideas on how to get started with a musical résumé. Now that we know the direction we’re headed, it’s time to put it all together.

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WHAT TO INCLUDE

Keep in mind that your résumé should include a combination of the information below whether you are a performer or teacher.

THE BASICS

Everyone needs to include the same basic information to start, regardless of your end goal:

  1. Full name
  2. Contact information (phone, e-mail, address)
  3. Educational background and degrees/certifications obtained
  4. Primary Instrument and style (classical, jazz, folk, rock, etc.)
  5. Secondary instrument(s). Note: Only list instruments you can play fairly well–not the oboe you played for one year in middle school. As a rule of thumb, honestly consider your capabilities: could you perform in an ensemble or teach beginner/basic music lessons on this instrument? If so, list it.

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Below your contact information you will clarify your emphasis in the first (and main) section. Group information in a logical way: chronologically, in order of significance (recommended), or in a combination of both (i.e. categories with information within the category in chronological order).

FOR PERFORMERS

Performers will emphasize performance experiences on a shorter, focused, résumé that doesn’t need wordy descriptions. According to The Musician’s Résumé Handbook by Bob Borden and Kathy Ivy of the Eastman School of Music, “Performance résumé must be limited to one page and should include only educational training and performance experience. All material should be listed in order of performance, without any description or list of duties.”

However, while its up to you how much and what information you include, you might consider noting your roles as either a section player, principle, or soloist, unless you’ve exclusively been a section player only and repeatedly mentioning it is unnecessary.

What to include:

  • Ensembles with which you’ve played: orchestras, operas, bands (be selective–don’t mention your garage band to a professional symphony admin or anyone you want to take you very seriously).
  • Teachers of note
  • Master classes in which you’ve performed or taught. Mention notable artists with who you’ve worked.
  • Freelance work and recording gigs. Note studio names and other meaningful specifics about the nature of the gig.
  • Major recitals and other solo performances.
  • Major artists with whom you’ve performed or accompanied.
  • Touring experience.

FOR TEACHERS

  • Workshops and masterclasses you’ve led.
  • Private teaching experience, whether at a studio, a music school, or in your home.
  • Non-music teaching experiences that reflect your capabilities.
  • Certificates and memberships with associations like MENC or Suzuki.

ADDITIONAL SKILLS & INFORMATION

Ttowards the bottom of the page, include info that shows you’re a well-rounded individual with other marketable skills:

  • hobbies
  • languages you speak
  • community service involvement
  • achievements
  • computer/recording skills
A modern résumé layout by Conor Luddy. Choose a style and readable font that reflect the impression you hope to give about yourself.
A modern résumé layout by Conor Luddy. Choose a style and readable font that reflect the impression you hope to give about yourself.

MAKE IT LOOK GOOD

There are many ways to take advantage of the space on the page of a modern résumé, limiting white dead space and including all the important information you can. Working with columns and even spreadsheet cells can help distribute information evenly across a page.

Using light colored paper, like a classy off-white, can also give it a nice touch. However, as most résumés are distributed online now, you may not need to worry about paper. Still, you could make the background of your résumé a non-white, unassuming color for interest in your PDF or digital file.

DISTRIBUTING YOUR RÉSUMÉ

Now you’re ready to send! Send this résumé (along with a brief cover or introductory letter of inquiry) by e-mails or snail-mail to orchestra managers, school administrators, or other potential employers. You might even Include a recording (on a CD or as a sound file attached to e-mail) or yourself performing.

TIP: Once your résumé has been handed over, don’t just wait for a response, be ready to perform! Have audition pieces ready, to play, be brushed up on your conducting, or have a first lesson for students prepared.

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Once your music résumé is complete, we would love to see it here at Kennedy Violins! Feel free to contact me at liz@kennedyviolins.com with questions or with your résumé for review. As supporters of the music community, we want to see you succeed.

All the best!

The KV Team