Tag Archives: cello

It’s Coming…5th Annual Photo Contest!

Photo by Michele Wiler Kolbas
3rd Annual Photo Contest Artistic Winner, Michele Wiler Kolbas

Get Ready!  Our Annual photo contest has been a favorite of KV staff and fans for several years.  We are so excited to start it up again!

Theme: Musical Bucket List

While working at Kennedy Violins, we don’t just have the opportunity to provide our customers with the instrument that is best suited for their needs, we also have the privilege of helping many people start a new musical journey.  As well as, accomplishing long held personal goals.  This year, we’d love to see photos portraying how playing a stringed instrument has allowed you to mark things off of your “Bucket List.”  What have you learned?  Where has it taken you?  What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

The contest kicks off at 12:00 am PST on August 24th and ends at  11:59pm PST September 30th.   From our entries, three winners will be selected.  A second runner up will receive  $5in store credit,  the first runner up will receive  $100 in store credit, and a grand prize winner will receive a $200 in store credit.  The winners will also be featured in the Kennedy Violins blog and monthly newsletter.

Entering the contest is super easy!  There are two ways.

1.) Post the photo on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #musicalbucketlist and tagging Kennedy Violins. *Important:  the picture must be public for us to see it and include it in the contest.* 

2.) E-mail us at photocontest@kennedyviolins.com.  Please include the full name and contact information of the photographer.

The Official Photo Contest Rules are listed below.  Feel free to e-mail or call us if you have any questions.

Brent Jacobson's Winning Photo.
4th Annual Photo Contest Winner, Brent Jacobson

Photo Contest Rules

Term: 
Kennedy Violins, Inc. 5th Annual Photo Contest begins at 12:00 am PST on August 24th and ends 11:59pm PST September 30th. By submitting an entry, each contestant agrees to the rules of the contest.

Who may enter:
Any resident of the United States of America or Canada—except for individuals affiliated with the Kennedy Violins, Inc., including employees, interns, volunteers, and their immediate families (children, siblings and spouses) and others living in their households—are eligible.  Kennedy Violins, Inc. will determine winners’ eligibility in its sole discretion.

What to enter:
The theme of the 5th Annual Photo Contest is “Musical Bucket List”  The content of the photo must be linked to the theme.

How to enter:
Please submit photographs through our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KennedyViolins, Twitter, or on Instagram.  Any entry must tag Kennedy Violins in the photo and contain the hashtag #musicalbucketlist to be valid.  All entries submitted through social media must adhere to the rules of each individual platform.  Any entry submitted through e-mail must include the photographer’s name and contact information.  No entries sent through mail will be accepted.

High-quality scans of non-digital photographs are acceptable. Digital photographs should be taken at the highest resolution possible. Photographs must be in a .jpeg, .jpg or .gif format.

Kennedy Violins, Inc. reserves the right to disqualify incomplete entries and/or contestants who are unable to submit the correct format.

Entry deadline: 
All entries must be received through the Kennedy Violins, Inc web site by 11:59PM Pacific Time on September 30th, 2015.

Judging:
Judging of the annual contest will be conducted by a panel of experts selected by Kennedy Violins, Inc. Winning photographs will be announced on social media and Kennedy Violins’ blog in October 2015. Decisions of the judges will be final.

The contest is void where prohibited or restricted by law. Kennedy Violins, Inc. reserves the right to cancel the contest or modify these rules at its discretion. Decisions of Kennedy Violins, Inc. will be final.

Prizes:

Three prizes will be awarded and will be selected from all eligible entrants.

The grand prize winner will receive: $200 store credit.

The first runner-up will receive: $100 store credit.

The second runner-up will receive: $50 store credit.

Final Disclaimer:

By entering the contest, entrants grant the Kennedy Violins, Inc. a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, non-exclusive license to display, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works of the entries, in whole or in part, in any media now existing or subsequently developed, for any educational, promotional, publicity, exhibition, archival, scholarly and all other standard purposes.  Any photograph reproduced will include a photographer credit as feasible.  Kennedy Violins, Inc. will not be required to pay any additional consideration or seek any additional approval in connection with such uses.

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

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).

Musical Identity: Defining Instrumentalist Personalities

The Borealis String Quartet. Photo by Vancouver 125.

Which instrument you play (or even want to play) somehow becomes an indelible part of your identity. Even now when I talk about my musicianship with strangers, I often hear, “Oh, I played the cello growing up,” or “I’ve always wanted to learn the guitar.”  To the former I say, “Do you still play?” to which they sometimes say no. So I respond saying, “Hey, it’s never too late to pick it up again!” To the latter, I say, “Hey, it’s never too late to learn!”

Either way, the fact that these individuals have, had, or want to play an instrument is a part of their identity which helps them both establish their background and relate to me as a fellow musician. It provides us with common ground and a shared interest.

But deeper than that, the instruments we identify with not only become associated with our identity, but even define our identity. Over time, as you play your instrument and spend time in your section, your orchestra, or your practice room, you may find that your specific instrument teaches you something or molds you in a specific way.

 

Instrument-Associated Personalities

I’ve found, as a bass player, that most bass players have similar personalities: relaxed, a little rebellious (we run off and join punk bands in high school), perhaps more introvert, “chill.” We’re often the type of people who stand at the back of the orchestra making sarcastic comments about the “uptight” violinists who don’t know when to stop practicing and take a break. (Am I stereotyping here?) Bass players usually have less competition than violinists, so we are usually less competitive individuals. Not to say we aren’t driven or dedicated, but . . . there are just a different set of demands that shape a bassist player versus, say, a violinist. Make sense? Of course these stereotypes aren’t always accurate, but still, you’ve probably noticed a difference between choir buffs, band geeks, and orchestra nerds.

This poses the question, do you choose the instrument, or does the instrument choose you? From a Kennedy Violins standpoint, it’s fascinating to observe customers choosing a violin or viola for purchase. What causes one individual to choose the rich, dark sounding Gerard with the dramatically flamed back while another chooses the Antiqued Giuliani Violin with the lighter yellow, distressed finish and a different sound altogether? What draws one towards a reddish violin, like the Giuliani Etude, and another to a dark chocolate brown, like the Bunnel G1?

Beyond choosing a specific violin, choosing which instrument to play, especially as a child, is an important decision that can shape the rest of his or her life. Helping your child choose an instrument may come down to practical decisions such as already owning a specific instrument in the home for them to begin. Do you allow the child to choose the instrument, or do you choose it for them? It’s an important decision, one that requires a balance between the child’s interests, personality, and any other factors.

 

Switching Instruments: Identity Crises

While the instrument that you associate yourself with will always be an important part of your identity, I hope to discourage the tendency to feel trapped or stuck playing a certain instrument. For example, I’ve heard of many children who want to play the cello or bass, but begin on the violin because it’s smaller, easier to carry, more affordable, or more accessible. Some never switch over to the instrument they intended to play, while others do. I’ve know of concert violinists switching to play the viola in college and succeeding tremendously. I’ve known many bassists who started on the cello and switched over. And I know of many violinists who have made excellent guitar players later in their musical careers.

Is it preferable to start on the original instrument you intend to play? Not necessarily. However you choose to define your musical identity, don’t be afraid to try something new. Renting a different instrument than you currently play from Kennedy Violins may be just the change you’ve been looking for to refresh your interest and personal development as a musician.

The Fine Art of Tuning

A cello section tuning.

In high school at the beginning of each concert, like all orchestras, we would take some time to tune.  Once the squeaking and squawking settled into a common A natural, our conductor would say, “Thank you very much.  Our first song was ‘The Fine Art of Tuning.'”  The audience, slightly confused, would laugh and we would move on to the actual concert.  His comment, while quite dry, actual holds a lot of truth.  The concept of may seem like simply matching pitches but there is “fine art” to it that I see even advanced musicians missing out on.  In my experience there are two main things that will help you master the fine art of tuning: a strong pitch reference and good tuning habits.

A Strong Pitch Reference: Unless you were born with “perfect pitch,” you will need a reference to the correct pitch.

-A tuning fork is the classic tool for tuning.  It is a piece of metal cast into a specific u-shape so that when struck, it emits a particular pitch. *NOTE:  Never strike a tuning fork on your instrument.* I’ve seen this happen which is why I have to say it…

-For beginners, an electronic tuner is useful because they can either emit the desired pitch or show you digitally what pitch you are playing.  There are even some that clip directly on the instrument.  I suggest investing in a tuner that doubles as a metronome.  It’s less to carry around!

Pitch pipes are lightweight and easy to use as well.  All you have to do is blow.  The down side is that if they get dropped or beat up, the notes on the pitch pipe will get out of tune themselves.

Pianos are best used in a band setting.  They aren’t exactly portable like the other options but they are the best choice if you are going to be playing with a piano (I’ll explain that later).

-If you want to be super tech savvy, there are several apps for mobile devices that turn your phone into a tuner.  Just be careful which one you get, the free ones aren’t always accurate.

Clockwise from top left: a chromatic pitch pipe, a tuning fork, a violin pitch pipe, and a mobile app.

Good Playing Habits: some of this may seem like common sense, but it’s good to be reminded.

-The best habit to have while tuning would be listening. It’s not enough to simply look at the tuner see that you are in tune (or worse, just play a note and turn the pegs until you are tired of it or the rest of the group stops tuning).  Listen to what it sounds like to be in tune and out of tune.  On a stringed instrument, you will need to listen to the intervals between the strings.  Traditionally, violin, viola, and cello strings are tuned in fifths (sounds like the beginning of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”).  If you are playing in a group, listen to the other players and “agree” with their tuning.  At times, the people you are playing with may have instruments that aren’t perfectly in tune and can’t be tuned without great difficultly.  I’m not talking about stubborn viola pegs or sticky clarinet keys, but a 250 year old pipe organ or a tinny house piano at a bar.  Your instrument may be perfectly in tune on its own, but if it doesn’t match the instruments you are playing with you will sound out of tune.

-Having strong fundamentals is another habit that will make the tuning process easier and more effective.  In the violin family, a good bow hold is key to quality sound production.  If you don’t have a strong bow hold, you won’t be able to produce a good sound to tune from .  Also, applying too much or too little pressure with the bow can cause the note you are trying to tune to go in and out of tune.  Long and steady bow strokes at medium volume are best for tuning.  Likewise, having the correct shape and placement in the left hand directly impacts the intonation of the notes you are trying to play.  I hate to say it, but it’s best to practice scales over and over again to strengthen tuning in the left hand.

-Lastly, take the time you need to make sure you are in tune.  I remember when I first started tuning my own instrument, the time it took to get it right was frustrating and felt like everyone else I was playing with was getting in tune faster.  Yet, I know that my stand partner and my teacher always liked it when I took an extra 30 seconds to make sure that I was in tune.

Other Helpful Articles: How to Install Strings and Keep Pegs from Slipping, Strung Out on Strings, Beginner Basics, Stringed Instrument Care and Maintence Part One, and Part Two.

OCS Scholarship Auditions

This past Sunday, April 22, the Oregon Cello Society held their annual scholarship auditions.  The auditions were open to students in Oregon and SW Washington.  The OCS auditions have several divisions and levels for students to participate in with awards at each level.  The major award that the students were vying for was the Bud Armstrong Scholarship in the amount of $500.

This year, through the OCS auditions, Kennedy Violins awarded Hannah Burke, a talented young student, a Prodigy Coda Bow.  Hannah is 11 years old and studies with Nancy Ives of the Oregon Symphony.  We know that equipped with the new bow she will progress and continue to be successful in her cello studies.

For more information about the Oregon Cello Society and its scholarship auditions, check out their website or you can contact Valdine Mishkin (valdinemishkin@gmail.com).

Playing While Pregnant

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life.  I wasn’t sure exactly what all of those would be since  I had never been a mom before.  Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me.  I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

Pre-Pregnancy Playing

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician?  I knew I wasn’t the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time.  I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant.  All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just “go for it.”  I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way.  Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1.  Know where the bathrooms are.  There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else.  Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water.  This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3.  Invest in the appropriate brace.  Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand.  I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn’t playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

My husband and I after a trio recital at 6 months pregnant

4.  Stretch and take breaks.  For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes.  I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief.  The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions.  It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn’t have a break for 30 minutes or more.  If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key.  Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5.  It’s okay to say no.  This is one I struggle with.  I used to play music with every one that would let me,  but it is very important that you don’t try to do it all.  The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can’t do everything like you used to.  Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6.  Know that every pregnancy is different.  You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play.  Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7.  Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever.  All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered.  For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths.  Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently.  For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived.  Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.

How to Return to The Violin After Years of Not Playing.

At Kennedy Violins, we get calls all the time from people who want to get back to playing after taking a hiatus of several years.  The one thing that these individuals have in common is that they regret not keeping up with the violin.  As a side note, if you are a current violin student and are thinking about quitting, consider this fact when when making your decision because at some point, you will regret quitting!  The fear that everybody has, is that they will have forgotten how to play the violin and will not be able to teach their adult minds how to do what they did when they were much younger.  The simple answer is an emphatic YES!  You can get back into your stringed instrument and have a great time in the process. 

The better player you were when you were younger, will make it easier to get back into it when you are older.  The simple reason for this, is that your brain creates neural connections to play the violin and the more you practiced when you were younger, the stronger those connections are and the longer they will stay with you.  Physically, any elasticity that you created in your joints when you were younger, will go away to some extent, especially if you current hobbies or job do not require you to have loose joints. Conversely, having a job description that requires a lot of elasticity like typing, will help you get back into playing a stringed instrument.

Regardless of your past level of experience, you’ll want to start with the basics.  Even though you’ll probably be very tempted to start digging into to a bunch of music that has your all favorite songs, you probably end up just getting frustrated with your scratchy sound and bad intonation.  More than anything, you just need patience.  The first thing you should do is play scales.  If your playing the violin, you’ll want to start with a simple 1 octave G Major scale.  With the viola and cello it’ll be a C Major scale.

Easy Scale for Violin

 

 

As you play your scale, concentrate on using whole bows from tip to frog and focus on drawing the bow with an even speed in the middle of the bridge and the fingerboard.  This will help retrain your arm to draw a straight bow consistently and be able to do it automatically.  Being able to control the bow well will not only help you produce a nice sound without squeaks and scratches but will also reactivate and loosen the large joints in your arm.

Regarding the left hand, you’ll want to focus on placing the fingers correctly, and resist the urge to pick up your fingers after you’ve used them.  Keep your fingers down until you MUST pick them up to go on to the next string.  This will retrain your fingers to consistently have the correct placement on the fingerboard and will teach your hand to not move around while placing individual fingers down.  Your goal (and proper technique in general) is to have a relaxed hand that changes position as little as possible. Having a stable and relaxed hand will create the situation where your hand works efficiently and will lend to more reliable pitch placement.

After you’ve warmed up sufficiently with easy scales (with a metronome), you can start playing more difficult scales that have more flats and sharps in them.  You can also start playing your scales faster. You can determine how fast you can play from your pitch.  As soon as your pitch starts to get unreliable, then practice the slower speeds more before moving on.  From here, you can graduate towards scales that require shifting into other positions.  Once you feel that you are drawing the bow fairly well and your fingers are pretty in tune, then start playing pieces that are similar to the scales you’ve just played. If you’ve mastered the G Major scale, then play a piece in G Major and go on from there.  Every day, you’ll notice that not only are you sounding better in every way, but any soreness or stiffness in your hands will slowly go away.  In general, you never want to go 2 days without practicing.  You can skip 1 day but any more and you’ll have to work harder to get the gained flexibility back into your hands.

Being patient will help you learn faster

The most important thing to remember is to be patient with yourself.  If you start out slow and practice with intent you’ll surprise yourself with what you can play within a week or so.  In many ways, playing a violin can be more rewarding as an adult because any peripheral pressures to practice as a child are gone.  As an adult, you are just playing for the love of the music.  It’s a simple pleasure that never goes away.

Happy Practicing!

Gifts That Will be Music to You (or your loved ones) Ears…

In case you haven’t noticed, the Holiday season is upon us and for many families out there that means exchanging gifts of some kind.  If you read this blog, I assume that you or someone close to you is a string musician.  So, what do you buy for a musician and where do you get it?  Stuff Mart doesn’t usually have aisles flowing with merchandise to match a musician’s need. *NOTE:  If you ever find a musical instrument for sale at the same place you can buy your toothpaste-just say no!*

1.  Strings-These are often overlooked as a gift.  String musicians will always need strings.  Even if the current ones they have are not worn out, back-ups are always welcome.  Plus, many string musicians (including myself) find it a fun adventure to experiment with different types.  The cost for strings varies a lot so you really only have to spend as much as want to.  Sets of violin strings range from about $10-$100+, viola strings range from about $20-$150+, cello strings are in the $40-$200+ ballpark, and bass strings you can expect to pay $90-$300+.  New strings are also a great way to upgrade the sound of an instrument without having to buy a new one altogether.

2. New Case-This is another item that a musician will almost always have use for.  Of all the parts in a string instrument outfit, the case probably receives the most wear and tear (as it should!).  Most cases these days come in a variety of shapes and colors that can match the recipients personality.  A new case is a great way to revitalize the instrument outfit without having to break the bank.  Cases have a wide range of prices too.  Violin cases are usually $20-$500+, viola cases range from $50-$500+, a good soft cello case starts around $40 and a good hard cello case starts around $200, while bass cases start at $100.

3. New Bow-Like the previous two listed, a new bow is another way to “upgrade” a string instrument without buying the whole kit and kaboodle.  If you don’t know anything about buying a bow, I would check out last week’s blog by Liz.  She has a lot of great information.  Bow costs range greatly.  For most string instruments, the cost for a new bow starts around $40 and can go into the thousands of dollars.  For this item, I would pick a budget first and stick to it.  The $500 bow will always sound better than the $100 bow.

4.  New Instrument-This is a great idea if you or your loved one wants to start playing a string instrument or if they are progressing to the next level.  A new instrument can be a more expensive option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good deal.  Most instruments come as part if an outfit which means that many of the accessories included (case, bow, rosin, etc.).  There are instruments available for less that $100…but those are usually glorified paperweights.  For a decent student violin, I would expect to pay around $200 for the outfit, a good student viola would go for $400,  a nice student cello outfit should be around $600, and for a student bass I would pay around $1500.  If you are upgrading the instrument, I would get the player’s input.  See what it is about playing that they like.  Do they prefer a warmer sound or brighter sound?  You may even consider taking them with you when you make the purchase to play a couple of instruments.  If you want it to be a surprise, you can always get a teacher’s or professional’s opinion.  At Kennedy Violins, we are all professional string players here any we love to talk shop so feel free to call us.

5.  Novelty Accessories-A lot of the accouterments that go with string instruments are pretty mundane.  Lately, businesses have emerged on the market that feature more dazzling accessories.  They may not be the highest quality, but they are sure to bring a smile to any players face and a little bling to their instruments.

6.  Sheet Music-This is one of my favorites, but it can be touchy one.  For instance, if you gave your loved one a book titled “How to Play More in Tune,” that could back fire.  I would choose something that is lots of fun for the player.  The technical sheet music will usually come from a teacher.  Look for sheet music featuring songs from something like their favorite bands or a favorite musical.  Sheet Music Plus is a great resource.

The only other advice I feel I should offer is this:  Don’t buy a string player something just because it has a violin, viola, cello, or bass on it.  Over the years, I can’t tell you how many picture frames, clocks, dishes, jewelry, and other knick-knacks I have received with string instruments on them and sadly I have no use for any of them…especially the creepy violin playing cherub statues.  Mom, if you are reading this, I’m not talking about any of the gifts you got me.