Instrument Setup: How to Set Up a Violin

Bridge, pegs, fine tuners, fingerboard, nut — we do it all!

We recently created a new page on kennedyviolins.com highlighting our setup process and what goes into the finally assembly of a violin. If you want to learn the trade secrets of violin setup, check out our Instrument Setup page! You’re bound to learn something new!

Face to Face with Heather from Kennedy Violins

Today, we get to know Heather Case, a Kennedy Violins veteran!

Heather started playing violin in the public school system in the third grade. She continued through college where she studied music education. Currently, she performs locally with groups like the Beaverton Symphony Orchestra and the North Oregon Coast Symphony.

Heather Face1. How long have you worked at Kennedy Violins?
Two and a half years

2. What is your favorite thing about working at Kennedy Violins and why?
It hardly ever feels like work! When I get up in the morning, I am excited to go play violin and talk to people about playing the violin all day long. From the very beginning student — to the parent who is encouraging a student to begin — to a teacher doing research for their program — to a professional player who wants to try new strings, I look forward to all aspects of the string world in my day.

3. What is your favorite instrument/product that Kennedy Violins carries and why?
That constantly changes because we are always getting something new! My current favorite is the Vitacek Violin Outfit because it has such an incredible sound and is easy to play. I’ve been calling it our “red violin” or the “gypsy violin” because of the color of the finish. But, our new David Yale line is quickly growing on me as we have been getting them in and playing each of them. They definitely have unique characters to them (you can click here to see more David Yale instruments).

4. What is your favorite band/musician/composer?
I always wanted to be involved in movie soundtracks or Broadway musicals as a kid. I find ways to play for cheesy occasions whenever I can. It is my guilty musical pleasure.

5. If you didn’t play the violin, which instrument would you play?
Piano, without a doubt. Performing an instrument with both hands seems to be a constant hurdle for me. I should say something more like the ‘bagpipes,’ but that’s not going to happen.

6. Which musician (alive or dead) do you wish you could play with?
For me, music has never been about fame or fortune. I am amazed by people who do it so well, but music is a very social thing in my life. Performing with my friends and family (especially my kids) is the best thing ever, and I wouldn’t give that up for performing with someone who would only intimidate the heck out of me.

7. What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year?
With our new retail location, I’m looking forward to working with new teachers and school programs in our immediate area as well as outreach across the country.

A picture of Heather drawn by one of her students.
A picture of Heather drawn by one of her students.

WINNERS ANNOUNCED! Kennedy Violins’ 3rd Annual Photo Contest

Back in May, we announced Kennedy Violins’ 3rd Annual Photo Contest.  By the end of the contest, we saw more entries than ever before!  Our judges needed extra time to deliberate, but they have finally chosen the winners!

Performance Category

With so many good entries, we’d be remiss to not highlight a few Honorable Mentions.  Two that stood out in the Performance category were some great action shots by Alma Wright and Emrah Lekiq.

Performance category Honorable Mention: Alma Wright
Performance category Honorable Mention: Alma Wright
Performance category Honorable Mention: Emrah Lekiq
Performance category Honorable Mention: Emrah Lekiq

The winner of the Performance category ended up being David Jhoo!  The judges really liked the dynamic movement in the shot and they felt that the outdoor setting provided great natural light for the instrument and made for an interesting backdrop.  Congratulations, David!

WINNER in Performance category: David Jhoo!
WINNER in the Performance category: David Jhoo!

Artistic Category

The entries in the Artistic category were especially interesting.  We’d like to give Honorable mentions to Clotilde Zehnder and Steve Bryan for their unique and creative entries.

Honorable Mention Artistic category: Clotilde Zehnder
Artistic category Honorable Mention: Clotilde Zehnder
Artistic category Honorable Mention: "Tea Time with the Angels" by Steve Bryan
Artistic category Honorable Mention: “Tea Time with the Angels” by Steve Bryan

For the winner of the Artistic category, the judges selected Michele Wiler Kolbas’ gravity defying entry.  The judges liked the energy and joy that the photo communicated.  Congratulations, Michele!

WINNER in the Artistic category: Michele Wiler Kolbas
WINNER in the Artistic category: Michele Wiler Kolbas!

Humorous Category

In this more relaxed category, our entrants got really creative.  Honorable mentions go out to Marie Dunford and Clotilde Zehnder.  Both were able to capture light-hearted moments with children experiencing music.

Humorous category Honorable Mention: Marie Dunford
Humorous category Honorable Mention: Marie Dunford
Humorous category Honorable Mention: Clotilde Zehnder
Humorous category Honorable Mention: Clotilde Zehnder

Apparently, our judges are real pun-sters, because the winning entry in the Humorous category was titled “Violin for Dummies.”  Take a look at Cecille Gove’s silly submission.  Congratulations, Cecille!

WINNER in the Humorous category: "Violin for Dummies" by Cecille Gove
WINNER in the Humorous category: “Violin for Dummies” by Cecille Gove

GRAND PRIZE Winner!

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the Grand Prize WINNER.  This year, the judges were almost unanimous in their selection.  The grand prize of $200 store credit goes too Emrah Lekiq!  The judges really liked the composition and attitude of the photo.  Congratulations, Emrah!

Grand Prize WINNER: Emrah Lekiq
Grand Prize WINNER: Emrah Lekiq

Thank you so much to everyone that participated.  We really appreciated the enthusiasm of all the entrants.  If you weren’t one of the winners or weren’t able to participate, don’t worry!  We will be announcing the next contest soon.  Stay tuned to our blog and Facebook for details.

Face to Face with Liz from Kennedy Violins

Today, our ongoing “Face to Face” series introduces us to, perhaps, one of the most diversely gifted members of the Kennedy Violins team, Liz Lambson.

Liz poses with her bass, James.
Liz poses with her bass, James.

Liz Lambson: string bass player, artist, luthier, and writer–and somehow she plays all these roles at Kennedy Violins! She grew up in Colorado Springs, studied music and English at Brigham Young University, and moved to the Portland area about four years ago. Besides working at KV and freelancing as a classical bassist, Liz is also a mom of two little boys.

1. How long have you worked at Kennedy Violins?
Two years. Time flies!

2. What is your favorite thing about working at Kennedy Violins and why?
Working at Kennedy Violins in itself has been my favorite thing. By far, this has been the most fulfilling, rewarding, and enjoyable job I’ve ever had, and I constantly feel so blessed to work doing something I absolutely love. As a luthier and writer, I get to use my skills and knowledge as a musician in an artistic, creative way that is both fun and intellectually stimulating. Win, win!

I especially love working with my hands, which is why lutherie is such a great fit for me. I love the feel of sawdust and wood when I’m carving bridges and nuts and smoothing down fingerboards (click here to learn more about our professional set-up). I even enjoy washing my hands after work and seeing how much grime rinses off! There’s something strangely fulfilling about getting your hands dirty while getting up close and personal with these instruments. It’s like gardening, but we’re growing violins instead of snow peas or something.

Liz poses with the custom artwork she created just for us!
Liz poses with the custom artwork she created just for us!

3. What is your favorite instrument/product that Kennedy Violins carries and why?
That is a tough question. All the violins have different features worth loving. As one who works on the instruments, I have two favorites: the Ricard Bunnel G2 and G1 violins and the Anton Gerard violins. The Bunnels are fun because those are the ones I do the most finish work on, so each one is like a little craft project–and I am a die-hard sucker for crafts.

As far as the nicer violins go for more advanced players, I really love the Gerards because they are so, so beautiful with their tiger-flamed one-piece backs. The flame is just so stunning. And they sound great.

4. What is your favorite band/musician/composer?
While I love music by classic composers (especially Bach) and modern musicians (from jazz pianist Dave Brubeck to the folky Fleet Foxes to bust-a-move Beyoncé), my favorite and most meaningful musical experiences have been with musicians I know personally and with whom I’ve had the privilege to perform.

With that said, my favorite pop artist is Fresh Big Mouf, my favorite band is Fictionist, and my favorite composer is Christian Asplund. Each of these artists has been so influential when it comes to my own musical development and understanding of creativity.

5. If you didn’t play the bass, which instrument would you play?
I would play the bass. Which I do. I seriously think the bass is the best because 1) it’s so versatile and allows you to play any style of music (classical, jazz, rock, folk, etc.), 2) it’s so big it can beat up any other instrument, 3) it can serve as a boat in a flash flood situation, and 4) I play it, so you can trust me.

Liz (and James) at All-NW.
Liz (and James) at All-NW.

6. What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year?
I’m actually moving to New York soon. (Don’t worry, I’ll still be working and writing remotely for KV!) I’m excited to check out the East coast music scene and meet new people.

7. What is something interesting that we don’t already know about you?
I’m half black and half Korean, which means I can make both family-recipe gumbo and family-recipe chajangmyeon (noodles with vegetables and black soybean paste).

8. What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t working at Kennedy Violins?
Eat French fries with my boys.

Suzuki vs. Traditional Method

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“Music is the language of the heart without words.” -Dr Suzuki

There is so much confusion surrounding what the difference is between traditional and Suzuki method violin lessons. What’s the difference? Is one better? How do you choose?

I, personally, started on the Suzuki method at the age of three, went through two years of Suzuki pedagogy training,  and currently have a studio of thirty students that I teach the Suzuki method to. I believe in the Suzuki method and really enjoy using it with my students.

Dr. Suzuki was born in Japan and was a firm believer that every child can learn to play music. He was a strong advocate for creating an “environment” where music was fostered and encouraged in every child. The basis of his method was on linguistics and how a child learns spoken language. Just as we do not expect a child to read before they can talk, we should not expect a child to read music before they can play music.

With that idea, a Suzuki teacher will teach at least the first year of violin without having the child read music. The focus is on posture, tone and developing a love of music. This means the child will attend concerts, play with other violinists, perform as often as possible and be immersed in the violin world.  It is for these reasons that the Suzuki method is often the preferred method for teaching younger children ages 2-5. Children at these ages are not trying to keep up with any kind of school orchestra, are often not reading yet and their ear is still developing making them prime candidates for learning music by ear.

suzuki2
Dr. Suzuki leading a group of children playing violins

Traditional violin lesson teachers will often be leery to start a child before 1st grade and often would prefer to wait until 4th or 5th grade. This is sad because many years have been lost in which the child could have been exposed to music and learning to appreciate it. The other major benefit to starting young is learning to perform at a young age which makes it less intimidating as you get older.

The positive side of waiting and doing traditional method is that the child can be self-propelled and often needs very little help from the parent other then encouragement. The Suzuki method is very parent involved. Especially when you start from a young age. Dr. Suzuki always encouraged the parent to learn along side the child. He felt like this was a positive role modal for the child and then the parent could assist in practice. Ask any teacher; too often a parent ruins a week of practice by giving a student wrong advice.

You can start the Suzuki method at a later age. I have started many students age ten to twelve on the Suzuki method. They do really well. The benefit of only focusing on posture, tone and love of music really brings out the artistry in playing the instrument. Making it way less about the technical side of reading music and more about the artistic side of making music.

To be honest, I do start my students with reading music by Book 2 of the Suzuki method. My reason for this is that my own musical growth was stunted by leaving out the reading of music for so long. By the time most of my students reach Book 2 though, they have been playing for three years. This is plenty of time to focus on posture and tone development without the stress of trying to read music at the same time. I do not however, use the Suzuki book to read music. I supplement with fiddle tunes, duets, scales, etudes and rhythm training.  If a teacher claims to be a Suzuki teacher and just teaches from the books they are missing the whole point of Dr. Suzuki’s method. His method was not about the songs he wrote or pieces in the books. His method is about believing in the ability of every child to play music, to foster the love of music in every child and to start them off in music the best way possible.

 To get a visual idea of what Dr. Suzuki was like and what his method brought about, watch this YouTube channel by clicking here. Crazy what love, devotion and belief in a child’s ability can bring about.

Face to Face with Travis from Kennedy Violins

This week, we will feature one of the newest additions to the KV team, Travis Chapman.

Travis is a freelance violinist based in Portland, OR who began playing the violin at the age of eight in the Portland public school string program. Recently, he has completed his Bachelor’s degree in music performance from Portland State University and has been completely engrossed in the Northwest music culture. Travis has a private studio where he teaches students, in addition to performing with various ensembles and orchestras in the area including the Vancouver Symphony, Portland Columbia Symphony, Classical Revolution, The Degenerate Art Ensemble, and the Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project.

Recently, Travis took some time to answer a few questions about his life and his time with Kennedy Violins.

Travis Blog1.  How long have you worked at Kennedy Violins?
This is my third month at Kennedy’s.

2. What is your favorite thing about working at Kennedy Violins and why?
I love the overall mission of the shop and the atmosphere that it creates.  Everyone that works here is extremely positive and motivated to providing the best possible instruments to those that have the desire to learn them.  Another benefit is that we all have so much fun doing it!

3. What is your favorite instrument/product that Kennedy Violins carries and why?
The Frank Lee violins are my personal favorite.  The overall sound is so warm and smooth, that it feels like you’re sitting in a hot tub while you play it.  I also love the Portland shoulder rest that we carry, which I began using after I started working here!

4. What is your favorite band/musician/composer?
I love so many composers, but I am a bigger fan of music with impressionistic and/or minimalistic qualities.  Some composers include Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Philip Glass, and Max Richter.  I love listening to music that paints a picture in my head, but not in a completely structured way.  I think that when the music is more free, it allows your imagination to be as well.

5. If you didn’t play the violin, which instrument would you play?
I actually do love being a violinist, but if I had to learn to play another instrument, I would pick the banjo.  I know, it seems kind of strange, but it’s always been a fantasy of mine!  I remember seeing Bela Fleck a couple of years ago at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and ever since I have always had a desire to learn.

6. Which musician (alive or dead) do you wish you could play with?
Oh my gosh there are so many!  The first that comes to mind is Elvis Presley.

7. What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming year?
I’m looking forward to the shop’s showroom growing, improving, and becoming a place that people come to enjoy (click here to see our new showroom).  I’m also excited for all of the recitals that are scheduled to take place here.  Personally speaking, I’m looking forward to doing some traveling and to continue my musical education, meet new musicians, and make some music!

8. What is something interesting that we don’t already know about you?
I love to perform comedy in my spare time!  Shhhhh, it’s a secret.

9. What is your favorite thing to do when you aren’t working at Kennedy Violins?
Whenever I’m not at Kennedy’s, I’m usually practicing or performing somewhere.  If that’s not happening, you’ll find me cooking in the kitchen, reading, or coming up with some new skits.  I also love going out and seeing live artistic performances, whether they are music related or not.

Travis 2