Category Archives: Bows

Support Young Musicians through Better Bows!

Kennedy Violins is honored to support Better Bows, a fundraising campaign with a goal to provide the local Wy’East Middle School Orchestra of Vancouver, Washington with high-quality carbon fiber bows for use in the classroom. We invite you to donate and support this great cause!

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How does it work?
“Bowbrarians” will care for a complete set of bows students can check out for use during classroom rehearsals. These high-quality, durable carbon fiber bows will be for in-class and performance use only, always cleaned and returned after each use.

Giuliani Carbon Fiber Bows
Kennedy Violins is proud to contribute our durable, strong, and super-responsive Giuliani Carbon Fiber Bows to the Better Bows cause. These bows, when well-maintained, will be played on by over the course of 20+ years, making a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of orchestra students.

Antonio Giuliani: Fine Instrument Bows Silver winding adds beauty and durability. High quality Carbon Fiber stick for warm sound and excellent bounce. Double metal mounted for durability and proper weight. Decorative genuine Abalone for beauty.
Antonio Giuliani Carbon Fiber Bow Features.

Why contribute?
Kennedy Violins will donate one bow for every two bows purchased with funds raised by Better Bows. We believe in supporting the youth in our local music community with high-quality, yet affordable instruments and accessories.

Make a difference in the lives of our talented youth by contributing to Better Bows today!

DONATE NOW      LEARN MORE

“Don’t touch that!”: 10 Reminders for Beginning Students

One reason not to touch your bow hair: Cheeto dust! (Photo by James Lee)

Stop picking your nose, don’t talk with your mouth full, be nice to your brother, look at me when I’m talking to you, don’t text and drive, mind your manners. Ugh. Minding your Ps and Qs is so much work!

But in the end, developing good habits and manners help us to become better people. Likewise, in order to become a better musician, there are a few Ps and Qs that will help you be on your best musical behavior. If you’re a string teacher, these are also helpful reminders to share with your students during those first lessons and beyond.

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  1. Tune first. Have your teacher tune for you, or if you’ve learned to tune your own instrument, take the time to do so before you practice. Because your fingers move to adjust the pitch of your instrument, you don’t want to develop muscle memory with your fingers in the wrong place because your open strings were out of tune.
  2. Don’t touch the bow hair. Definitely keep muddy or Dorito-cheese-powdered hands away from the bow (and the instrument)! There are myths about this general rule, but don’t worry–if you accidentally touch the bow hair, it won’t disintegrate. The reason touching the hair with your fingers is discouraged is because natural oils from your fingers or skin will transfer to the bow and cause the hairs to “slicken.” This greasiness (think of how greasy your own hair gets after not washing it for days) compromises the dry texture of the hair that grips to the string and picks up rosin. For kids practicing right after playing or eating, you may even want to instill the habit to wash hands before making music.
  3. Avoid over-tuning the strings. They might pop.
  4. Never over-tighten the bow. While the horsehair is stretchy and could take it, it’s the stick that can’t! Regularly over-tightening the bow will warp the stick and ruin the crafted arch of the bow that makes it responsive. Over-tightening may also cause the tip of the bow to snap off. Ouch!
  5. Always loosen the bow hair after playing. This is Point 4, Part 2–see above. Even if you didn’t over-tighten your bow, loosen the hair until some of the strands are hanging loose to relieve the stress on the stick. This will also prevent the arch and strength of the wood from being compromised.
  6. Stand (or sit) up straight. There are so many great reasons to have good posture no matter what you’re doing, really! But because playing a stringed instrument is a physical activity much like a sport, its important that you hold your instrument and yourself properly to promote good playing technique.

    Playing an instrument, like playing sports, requires good posture. Check out that batting stance! (Photo by Michael Pick)
    Playing an instrument, like playing sports, requires good posture. Check out that batting stance! (Photo by Michael Pick)
  7. Have a pencil handy. Write things down so you’ll remember them.
  8. Keep your instrument in its closed (and zipped!) case when not in use. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen someone pick up their violin case, not realizing it was unzipped, and the violin and accessories come cascading out onto the floor. Keep your case nearby when you practice so that when you step away you have a safe place to put your instrument down. P.S. Avoid leaving your instrument on a chair! Like a pair of glasses, it’s bound to be sat upon.
  9. Don’t let your instrument get too hot. Or cold for that matter. But heat–even from leaving your instrument in the sun, can warp the instrument, damage or melt the varnish, melt your rosin, cause cracks, etc. Store your stringed instrument like you would potatoes–in a cool, dry place.
  10. DON’T GIVE UP! Enough said.

Do you have more tips for beginners? Contact us or drop in at Kennedy Violins anytime. We love hearing from you. Happy playing!

The Classical Music Poetry Corner

poetryHappy Friday! This is no time for serious business. Here are a few original poems by yours truly, pulled off the shelf and brushed off just for you.

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The Vegan Violin
I’d like a violin please,
that doesn’t involve the murder of trees.
No spruce, no maple, no ebony,
or use of animal gut strings.

I’d like a custom bow too,
without horse hair a horse grew,
or lizard skin to make the grip,
or ivory upon the tip

What can you use instead, you say?
Sunshine and recycled leaves!
Organic air and compost tea
Dirt the earth will give for free!

Can’t be had?
You think me mad?
Well, fine.
I guess I’ll buy the Strad.

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Last Chair
Pleasantly, happily last chair
I touch up my makeup and pin up my hair
Brush up on fashion with Vogue on my stand
Paint all the nails on my left and right hands
Munch on a muffin
Sip on some tea
Flirt with the handsome violist by me
Gaze out the window and lavish the view
Who’s the conductor?
I haven’t a clue.

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The Christmas Gift
For Christmas
I asked for a laptop and printer,
a snowboard and skis
to take out every winter,
an iPhone
an iPad
an iPod and headphones,
unlimited music
and customized ringtones,
a ’69 Mustang
with keys made of gold,
an Xbox
a Wii
and a girlfriend to hold
(preferably blonde).

The morning of Christmas
I launched down the stairs
My parents, they beamed
as I surveyed the wares
I saw just one gift for me
under the tree
I knew it must be something
too good to be!

So I ripped off the paper
and what did I see?
Wait just a second.
Are you joking me?

But they clapped
and they cheered
with the biggest of grins
as I held up a
crusty old,
dusty old,
rusty old,
musty old
brown violin.

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The Menu
Pizzicato pizza
Crescendo cannoli
Largo lasagna
Rondo ravioli

Cantabile caprese
Spiccato spaghetti
Fermata fagioli
Mezzo manicotti

Adagio alfredo
Piu presto pesto
Giocoso gelato
Ostinato orzo

Bravura bruschetta
Presto pepperoni
Placido pancetta
Scherzo stromboli

Molto minestrone
Forte focaccia
Piano pugliese
Mezzo marinara

Vivo vermicelli
Calando carbonara
Legato linguini
Marcato mozzarella

Pesante puttanesca
Tutti tortellini
Grande gorgonzola
Music makes me HUNGRY

 _________________________

More to come!

-Liz

String Instrument Techniques: How to Learn Vibrato

Photo by Melissa Weiss

One of the trickiest, but most essential techniques to learn on a string instrument is the practice of vibrato.

What is Vibrato?

Vibrato is the act of actually altering the pitch of the string by rocking or vibrating your finger the pitch of the note through the physical movement of your fingers.

It’s an artistic effect, an embellishment that adds to the musicality, phrasing, and beauty of notes that might otherwise be played flatly and without character.

Using the Left Hand

Vibrato is as essential to phrasing and musicality as dynamics and articulation with the bow. But unlike the nuances of volume and texture created with the bow in the right hand, vibrato is a unique expression performed with the left hand. For those of us who are right handed, it may seem challenging to train your left hand to do such minute and intricate movements, but with dedicated practice, it will eventually feel so natural you’ll hardly realize you’ve conquered the technique.

The Mechanics of Vibrato

The mechanics of vibrato are slightly different on violins and violas versus cellos and basses because of the angle of the instrument in relation to your body. Cellos and basses are played in an upright position, with the endpins towards the ground and vibrato performed by rocking the forearm and fingers on the strong. Violins and violas are played with the violin perpendicular to the body, in a horizontal position somewhat parallel to the ground with vibrato played with a motion centered in the wrist.

When to Learn Vibrato

Learning vibrato isn’t recommended until you are consistent and confident with your left hand positioning and finger placement first. Ideally, you have learned to play in tune without tapes or guides on your fingerboard. Your muscle memory (in terms of the proper shape of your hand and where your fingers contact the strings) is precise.

Your “Vibrato Mentor”

If you don’t have a private teacher or mentor working with you on your technique, now is the time to “consult” with an experienced player. With these fundamental techniques, like a proper bow hold and vibrato, learning how to do it correctly from the start is so important! Bad habits, especially when it comes to playing a string instrument, are extremely hard to break if initially learned improperly.

Sometimes students learn vibrato and bow holds in school orchestra programs without working one-on-one with a teacher. That one-on-one attention is invaluable with these more difficult and artistic techniques. Be sure to get that individual attention in this learning process.

Tips to Learn Vibrato

Here are a few tips when learning vibrato, whether on the cello or the bass:

  1. Find an experienced teacher to be your “vibrato mentor.”
  2. Relax your hand and arms. Playing with tense muscles will undermine your technique.
  3. Begin practicing vibrato without the bow, simply moving your wrist (on violin/viola) or rotating your forearm (on cello/bass) in a rocking motion on the string.
  4. Practice that rocking motion very slowly, even with a metronome, from slower to faster speeds until the motion is comfortable. Listen for the pitch to bend, actually changing in frequency.
  5. Vibrato is not a “shaking” motion; i.e. don’t shake the life out of your instrument trying to vibrato. The instrument itself shouldn’t move, shake, vibrate, or respond to this movement of your fingers. The instrument will remain still as you rock your fingers on the fingerboard, somewhat like a wheel rolling back and forth on a flat surface.
  6. Once you feel comfortable with the motion itself, add the bow. Practice first with long tones, drawing the bow from frog to tip and spending time with each finger: first, second, third, and fourth.
  7. Using vibrato with your left hand while bowing with the right feels something like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. Don’t get frustrated as you practice until the motion in your left hand, wrist, and arm is comfortable! Learning vibrato takes patience and time.
  8. Once you feel confident playing with each of your fingers, try out your vibrato with a slow song with more long tones, like a Largo of some sort.
  9. Now you’re ready to use your vibrato for phrasing throughout a piece. Try varying the speed of your vibrato or starting with a straight tone and adding vibrato to the note.
  10. Remember that vibrato isn’t necessary on every note. Use vibrato with discretion.
  11. Baroque pieces, such as works by J.S. Bach, are typically played with very little or no vibrato at all.
  12. Romantic pieces, such as works by Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky, are typically played with lots of dramatic, wide vibrato,

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Good luck! Remember, patience, patience, patience while you practice, practice, practice. Before you know it, what felt like an awkward, impossible technique will soon become second nature. You can do it!

Looking for something to do?

Looking for something to do this summer?  Take part in Kennedy Violins first official video contest.  The theme of the video contest is: “Play.”  We want to see how you play, why you play, where you play, your favorite way to play, anything!  We will choose a winner based on their ability to best embody the theme.  The winner receives a brand new Prodigy bow from Coda Bow!  For more information click here.  For complete rules click here.  If you have any questions, call (1.800.779.0242) or e-mail us (rachel@kennedyviolins.com).

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. At Kennedy Violins, we offer the highest quality, name-brand fiberglass bow on the market: Glasser Fiberglass Bows.

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 Coda Bow is a popular, professional-quality name brand of carbon fiber bow which we are pleased to offer at Kennedy Violins.

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 free 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.