Tag Archives: violin

Music Theory Basics (Part 2)

In Music Theory Basics (Part 1), we discussed the musical staff, clefs, and note names.  Today, we will cover the basics of rhythm and note duration.  There are lots of charts in this one!

The term rhythm has come to mean several different things in today’s culture, but for our purposes, we will use the following definition:

Rhythm: The controlled movement of music in time usually divided into strong (or accented) and weak (or unaccented) beats in a piece of music.

  • Beats: The regular pulse of music.  Often, beats are dictated by accents in music, a metronome, or a conductor.
  • Strong (or accented) beat: The effect that occurs in music when one note or syllable is stressed or emphasized more than others.

Duration: The length of time that a note is sounded. This length of time is determined by the note value.

  • Note value: is the duration of a note in the context of a measure/bar of music as determined by the time signature.  Here are some common note values.

Common note values chart from Music Theory Basics (Part 2) on blog.kenneedyviolins.com.

To avoid confusion with note names, it is important to think about them in relationship to a whole note.  A half note is half the value of a whole note, a quarter note is one-fourth (or a quarter) of a whole note, and an eighth note is one-eighth the value of a whole note.  Here is another chart to break it down.

Note Values Chart #2 from Music Theory Basics (Part 2) on blog.kennedyviolins.com

  • Measure/Bar: a term that signifies the smallest division of a piece of music marked by vertical bar lines on the staff.  Each measure contains a fixed number of beats.  The number of beats is determined by the time signature.

Picture of Measure and Bar Lines from Music Theory (Part 2) on blog.kennedyviolins.com.

  • Time Signature: A symbol placed at the left side of the staff indicating the meter (or measure of time) of the piece of music.  A time signature is made up of two numbers.  The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure and the bottom number tells you which note is the beat.

The top number is pretty straightforward. It always signifies how many beats are in a a measure.  If it’s a 4 then there are four beats, if it’s a 6 then there are six beats, and so on.

To “crack the code” of the bottom number, you need to be familiar with factions.  The bottom number is the denominator of the fraction of the note that it represents.  For instance, a quarter note is one-fourth or 1/4 the value of a whole note. So, if the bottom of a time signature is a 4 then the quarter note gets the beat.  Likewise, an eighth note is one-eighth or 1/8 the value of a quarter note.  So, if the bottom of the time signature is an 8 then the eighth note gets the beat.

Here is a chart of common time signatures you will run into.

We will stop there for now.  You can now take the concepts we have learned in these first two parts and apply them too some of the basic songs in the repertoire!  Why not try this part of “Jingle Bells.”

 

A Violin is Brought Back to Life (Part 1)

A Violin in Pieces

I recently began a new project: putting together an old violin that had fallen completely apart. The instrument is an older German violin, probably made around 1930 – 1950.

Violins are similar to puzzles, in that they have many small parts that fit intricately together. They are also similar to puzzles in that they are actually designed to be taken apart if necessary.
Figuring Out What Goes Where

The type of glue used in making violins, called hide glue, is purposefully used because of its unique, not-too-strong properties. During times of extreme humidity or

Clamping Linings

temperature change, as the wood shifts slightly in size and shape, the glued seams will give way before the wood cracks. This saves the violin from becoming seriously damaged. Hide

Making New Corner Blocks

glue also ensures that the violin can safely be taken apart and put back together again when necessary. Heat and water will soften the glue, and seams can be safely opened and closed.

This violin had fallen apart probably because it was exposed to lots of differing temperatures and humidities over the years, and because hide glue naturally breaks down after a certain amount of time. As you can see, there is also a big crack on the top plate that will need to be repaired.
Stay tuned for future posts, and watch as this violin is brought back to life!

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).

Rasika School of Music and Arts Receives Kennedy Violins Award

In February of this year, Kennedy Violins announced that it was seeking a local music teacher to award with a prize package including a violin outfit and accessories to beef up their resources.  The deadline to apply ended May 1 and the selection process began.  Out of all the applicants, there was one organization that stood out to us: Rasika School of Music and Arts.

Rasika began in Portland, OR in 1999 with the goal of bringing the classical Indian arts to the city and surrounding areas through entertainment and education.  Over the years, they have presented many dance and music concerts featuring premier performers from India.  In 2010, they started the School of Music and Arts.  The school has two locations in Hillsboro, OR and Vancouver, WA.  Already, the school has around 75 students enrolled making it the largest school of classical Indian music in the Northwest.

Sri Anand Nadh Teaching Students at Rasika

What stood out to us, at Kennedy Violins, was the obvious passion that the teachers and staff of Rasika possess for the arts and the expertise of the instructors in their individual art forms. Anand Nadh is the teacher violin and voice in the School of Music and Arts. He comes from one of the world’s most renowned classical carnatic music lineage.  Anand studies with violin maestro Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman and Sri Lalgudi Krishnan. Coming from this powerful classical tradition, he studied this art form and all of its nuances, staying in the home of his teachers in the Gurukulam custom for years. He has a rich teaching experience and can communicate well to a diverse and global student community, having taught at Singapore, Middle East and in India before starting as a master teacher with Rasika.

Rasika strives to fill an obvious void in the musical culture of the Northwest for the thousands of Indian families here and the community at large.  They expertly do so as evidenced by growing enrollment.  As Rasika continues the journey to enhance the cultural richness and quality of music locally in Portland and Vancouver, they seek the support of local funders and Kennedy Violins was happy to step in. In the words of their president, Raman Srinivasan, “The gift award of violin package for our music teacher and our school will be a valuable asset to our music school. We are definitely in need of instruments and this in kind award from Kennedy Violins, Inc will be valuable asset to the teacher and the music school.”  It is our hope that by Kennedy Violins supporting this great organization that others will be moved to donate what they can to Rasika as well.

Sri Anand Nadh of Rasika receiving the award from Kennedy Violins

For more information on Rasika School of Music and Arts, and how you can support them, visit their website.

If you would like more information on how Kennedy Violins can support your organization, please email rachel@kennedyviolins.com for more information.

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.

Stradivarius in the Attic?

So you’re at Grandpa’s house helping him clean out his attic.  While cleaning, you stumble across a dusty trunk and inside you find some old books, a quilt, and a violin.  At first, it doesn’t look like much, the bridge is missing and who knows the last time the strings were changes.  But wait!  Something catches your eye inside the f-hole.  You take a closer look and see, “Antonius Stradivarius, Cremonenfis, Faciebat Anno 17XX” along with a symbol of an A and an S enclosed in a circle.  That name, “Stradivarius,” isn’t that the one you hear on the news or read about online when a violin is worth millions of dollars.  Your heart starts beating faster and you immediately begin planning out how many yachts that you will be buying….STOP!  Take a breath and read on.

Label from a Stradivarius Violin Copy

Yes, it is true that a genuine Stradivarius violin, or Strad, can be worth millions of dollars, but that is only if it’s genuine.  The reality is that there are only about 500 genuine Strads in existence today (depending on who you ask) and they are all pretty much accounted for.  There are millions copies out there and some date back to the time when Antonio Stradivari was alive.  So how do you know if what you have found is the real deal?

Copy of a Stradivarius Violin from the late 19th Century

The best thing for you to do in this situation is to take it to a reputable violin maker/dealer for an appraisal.  Most places will do this for free.  It’s important to go in with realistic expectations.  There were thousands and thousands of Strad copies manufactured during the late 19th century and on into the mid 20th century which means that you have a 99.997% chance that your “Strad” is a copy.

 

1903 Sears Catalog Listing for a "Genuine Stradivarius"

Strad copies from this time are not worthless though.  Monetarily speaking, if there aren’t any major repairs needed, most are worth $100-$300 (or more if they were well taken care of).  If there are repairs needed, however, the cost to repair the violin could easily override the potential value.  Whether or not you repaired the violin would be up to you.  If money isn’t important to you, why not use this serendipitous find as your chance to start learning how to play the violin?  Or, it could be a gift for another friend or relative wanting to play.  Besides, there is always the sentimental value that is  attached with heirlooms and that is priceless.

Roses are Red…

Roses are Red…
We are trying to get into the Valentine’s spirit here are Kennedy Violins by writing a lovely little poem about how much we love violins, violas, cellos, and music but, we have writer’s block!  Maybe you can help.

Submit a Valentine’s Day poem to our facebook page!  We’d love to hear your sonnets, odes, and perky limmericks.  To sweeten such a sweet request, we will pick a winner from all the poems submitted by midnight (PST) on Tuesday, February 14.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, February 15.  The winner will have their choice to receive a set of D’Addario Helicore strings, a Music Doctor Metronome/Tuner, or a Portland Acoustical Shoulder Rest.

*Please note: to qualify, a submission, must be posted on the Kennedy Violins facebook page.  The poem must be an original work of the person submitting it and can’t have been previously published.*

For inspiraton, please enjoy these classic Valentine’s poems:

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet.
And so are you.

Roses are blue.
Violets are red.
If you agree,
You’ve got rocks in your head.

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Please don’t kiss me,
‘cuz I have the flu.

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.