Tuesday, September 29, 2020

10 Amazing Facts About the Double Bass!

All About That Bass!

The bass is often one of the most misunderstood instruments in the orchestra. If you are all about that bass, check out these 10 amazing bass facts, courtesy of the Oxford University Press!

1.   The double bass is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra.

2.   The origin of the name of the double bass stems from the fact that its initial function was to double the bass line of large ensembles.

3.   This hefty instrument has several nicknames including contrabass, string bass, bass, bass viol, bass fiddle, or bull fiddle.

4.   It is a hybrid instrument influenced by the gamba and the violin family.

5.   The double bass can be played using two different types of bows. The French or ‘Bottesini’ bow resembles a cello bow but is shorter and heavier. The second type is the German ‘Simandl’ or ‘Butler’ bow.

6.   It is commonly used in jazz, dance music, popular music, and folk music. Military and concert bands across the globe use it.

7.   In the orchestra, the double bass supplies power, weight, and the basic rhythmic foundation.

8.   Mozart wrote and published one of the first brilliant double bass works to appear in print, the aria Per questa bella mano.

9.   Many double bass players can also successfully play the electric bass guitar.

10.   The double bass was the most popular and most frequently used bass instrument in the 1950s despite the introduction of the bass guitar at that time.


Source: https://blog.oup.com/2015/05/double-bass/

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Premier Partner in NEMC

 A Premier Partner


We wanted to take a moment this morning to acknowledge a tremendous partner in the music industry and friend of Germantown violin Company: National Educational Music Company, better known throughout the land as NEMC.

We are honored to be associated with NEMC in their mission to provide quality band and orchestra instruments to every student that needs one. Working with their nationwide network of affiliate-partners, NEMC’s reach is extensive.

From the NEMC website:

***

Ray Benedetto was a trumpet player, public school Music Director and an Educational Director in a NJ music store, in charge of renting musical instruments.  Over time, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the poor quality of musical instruments being offered through rental programs.

With his knowledge of the industry, he founded the New Jersey Educational Music Company in 1957, and began visiting schools and establishing relationships so he could provide top-quality, teacher-approved, premium-band instruments to all students.  He changed the name of the company to National Educational Music Company and began developing a national affiliated program, established through community music stores across the country, that was unprecedented in the music industry.

Now more than 60 years later, our trusted brand, always known for quality and reliability, is becoming known as an innovator of school band and orchestral instrument rentals, sales and service, nationally distributed through this network of community locally-owned music stores or directly through schools or parents.

***

The driving force behind NEMC’s success continues to be the core mission of high-quality instruments that will allow a child to have a positive experience in band or orchestra. Combined with their top-flight Educational Representatives and a full-service repair shop, NEMC offers a combination that is hard to beat. We at Germantown Violin Company are proud to supply instruments to such a fine organization.

Learn more about NEMC here: https://www.nemc.com/

Learn more about Germantown Violin Company here: https://www.germantownviolinllc.com/

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Finding a quality instrument

Welcome to Music!

Great news! Your child has decided that they want to learn how to play a musical instrument. This is fantastic news! Many studies have shown over and over again that learning to play music has a myriad of positive effects: children who play music do better in school, have alrger social groups, score better on standardized tests, and develop the skills that will serve them in all aspects of like as they grow up.

But wait, you already know all of that…that’s why you signed them up!

So now you need to come up with an instrument. Yikes. You’re not a musician yourself, but you want to make sure that your child has the best possible experience. But, holy cow, have you seen  the cost of musical instruments? Several hundred dollars!! I want my kid to have a great time, but this is a really high cost of entry! And what if they try it and decide they just don’t like it? I mean, that happens, right? I don’t want to be out that much cash on a whim.

Luckily, your local music store understands this problem, and is all set to help you out. They usually have multiple options to help you decide how to obtain an instrument for your budding musician!

Choose your dealer!


First, you need to choose a retailer that you can trust. Many local music stores have a history of working with the music teachers and schools in the area that they serve. Often, the owner and employees are musicians themselves. It’s important to locate a store that can provide you the proper type of instrument, and service it as well. Your child’s music teacher undoubtedly has a store or stores that they recommend, and you would be wise to go with their recommendations.

A word about instruments.

A quick internet search of any instrument type will turn up hundreds of instruments across a huge price range from $50 to well over $1000 (or much much more!). What’s a parent to do? They all look alike! Again, this is where you should follow the recommendations of your teacher and local store. In general, an instrument for a beginning band or orchestra student will cost between $400-$700. Large instruments like cello, bass, and saxophones will cost more, but this is a good starting point.

Rent or Buy?


You can, of course, purchase your instrument outright. This will be the least expensive option, but it also offers the least flexibility. If your student decides that music is not for them (it happens!) then you will still be the proud owner. Most educator-approved branded instruments depreciate in value, but not rapidly. If you decide to sell a gently used band or orchestra instrument, you will be able to recoup about half of its value. As an example, if you purchase a new violin outfit for $600, and resell it when it is about one year old, you could reasonably expect to sell it for about $300. Your monthly cost would then be about $25/month for the time that you owned it.

A more flexible option is renting. Nearly all music stores offer some type of “rent-to-own” program. Typically, these programs offer a trial period for a relatively small amount of money (3 months for $25 is typical), with larger monthly payments starting later, once a level of commitment has been achieved. A reputable rent-to-own program offers the following advantages:

  • You only pay as long as you have the instrument. If you return the instrument, the payments stop and the contract is cancelled.
  • Your payments apply towards the purchase of the instrument, which you can buy at any time.
  • Maintenance and repair of the instrument is included in the rental price, or available for a small fee.
  • If you decide to purchase the instrument early, a discount is usually offered.
  • If your student decides/needs to switch instruments, an exchange is easy to do. The payments that you have already made usually apply to the new instrument.

Most teachers recommend renting from a local music store, as it provides the most flexibility to beginning students.

A final word about costs

When it comes to purchasing anything, the faster that you purchase something, the less money you will spend. A cash purchase will always cost less than renting-to-own over several years. The higher overall cost of a rental provides you with the flexibility to change your mind and/or instrument that a cash purchase does not. The “extra” money that is spent on a rental is purchasing this flexibility and peace-of-mind. Many music stores will let you start with a rental, and sell the instrument for you at the “cash price” if you make that decision early. It’s the best of both worlds!

Welcome to music!

We are thrilled that you have decided to start this musical journey. Working closely with your music teacher and local music store, you will find the solution that works best for YOU!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Oh $#&%! my bridge fell down!

“My bridge fell off!!”

 

This exclamation could be heard from nearly any beginning string player from coast to coast. It’s usually accompanied with a tone of sheer terror: the student is convinced that they have irreparably damaged the very valuable instrument that they have been told several times is “very expensive!”

Turns out, this really is not that big a deal. It often happens when a student has loosened all four of the strings on their instrument, and discover that in fact, the bridge is NOT glued on! As long as the bridge is intact: no cracks or chips, no missing parts, it can usually be stood back up with very few problems.




First take a close look at the bridge: There is usually printing on one side, and this lettering should be visible to the player when the instrument is held in playing position. You should notice that the curvature of the bridge is not symmetrical: the right-hand side is much lower than the left-hand side. This will help in the orientation of the bridge: the thin “E” string is on the lower side, while the thickest “G” string is on the highest. If the bridge is damaged or cracked, STOP. It is time to head to your repair shop for a proper repair.

Second, take a close look at the instrument. The soundpost inside the instrument should still be standing. It sometimes falls, because the release of all of the string tension will allow the top and back to expand, and the post will fall. If the soundpost is down, STOP. Head to your repair shop!

Continuing with the instrument, take a close look at the top. Are there any cracks or warps that may have caused the bridge to slip and fall? If so, STOP. Off to the shop you go!

Assuming that everything is A-OK to this point, look at the two “F” holes in the top of the instrument. Notice the two small “notches” in each hole. These are directly across from each other and create the line that the bridge will rest on. There may also be small marks in the finish that will also show you where the bridge should go.

So, loosen the strings (but do not remove them!) so that you have enough room to stand the bridge up. Holding the bridge with one hand, turn the pegs so that there is enough tension to hold the bridge in place without it falling. Don’t worry about the exact position of the bridge just yet. Now apply tension to the other three strings.

By this point, the bridge should be standing unassisted. Take a moment to make sure that it is oriented properly: printing facing the player, and the low side on the right when viewed from the chinrest end of the instrument. Now, gently move the bridge into the correct position: centered on the instrument, and between the notches in the F-holes. Make sure the feet are standing flush on the top of the instrument with NO gaps. Once you have the bridge in the correct position, make sure that each string is seated in the notch designed for it. Now you may tune the instrument to pitch.

If, during the tuning process, the bridge slips and falls, you may reset it and try again. There is tremendous pressure on the feet of the bridge, so it MUST be flush to the top. If it continually slips out, there may be another issue that a luthier will need to adjust. Take it to a reputable shop to have a new bridge cut and fit to the instrument.

A final note: you CANNOT buy a ready-to-play bridge from a music store. Each bridge must be custom fit to the unique curves of your instrument. It is not a hard or costly job, but it is something that only a trained luthier can accomplish. A new bridge is NOT a DIY opportunity!

Now that you are all set…go practice!


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rosin Explained!

Rosin Explained

 

“What the heck is rosin anyway?” 

This is a question that many new musicians and their parents may have. If you rented your instrument from a local music store, chances are that you received an “outfit” that includes the instrument, a case, and if you look inside the little pocket inside the case: a small square thingy, either yellow or brown, and often in a wood holder. What is this anyway, and why do I need it?

Simply put, rosin is tree sap or resin. It usually comes from pine trees and other conifers. It is heated and then cooled until it becomes solid and develops a rich, colored, glassy look.

Rosin is sticky when warmed. This rosin, once applied to the hair of a bow, is what allows the bow to “grip” the strings of an instrument and set them in motion as the hair is drawn across. This sets the string vibrating and produces the sounds that we are all familiar with.

In fact, if a student opens up their brand new violin and bow, and proceeds to play the instrument without applying rosin to the bow, the bow will simply slide across the strings with no friction at all, and no sound will be produced. It can be very frustrating for a beginner to experience this, as all the excitement of getting a new instrument evaporates when they cannot produce even a squeak!

The solution is simple: apply rosin to the bow hair. To start, the shiny surface of the rosin cake must be roughed up to expose the raw rosin. This can be done with a small piece of sandpaper or a coin scratched across the surface. In a pinch, I have even used a car key!

Then, with tension applied to the bow hair, the musician should simply rub the bow back and forth across the rosin until some of the rosin transfers to the bow hair. This is most easily accomplished by working in thirds: from the frog about 1/3 up the bow, the middle third, and finally from the tip down about a third of the way. A new bow will need a good amount of rosin before it will play as expected.

As the musician plays, rosin wears off the bow, and the dust flies everywhere! The dust should be wiped off the instrument and strings each time the student finishes playing, otherwise it will build up and deaden the sound of the instrument. Fresh rosin will need to be applied to the bow each time it is played, but not in the amount used initially.

Rosin comes in different sizes and colors: dark and light, hard and soft. In all cases the purpose is the same: to provide friction so as to create sound. It is highly recommended that you follow the advice of your instructor in the selection of rosin. (Basses for example typically use a much softer compound than a violin or viola.)

And that’s about it! Take care not to over-rosin the hair, don’t touch the bow hair, and clean the instrument each time it is played.


Now, go practice!

 

 

 


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How to change your instrument's strings


Changing your instrument’s strings

 

With so many school systems going to an online/virtual model this fall, nearly all of the routine maintenance of musical instruments will be in the hands of students and their parents. Teachers often take care of small things like tuning the instrument, adjusting the bridge, and when disaster strikes…replacing a broken string!

The truth is, replacing strings is not hard, but there is a procedure that should be followed to make sure it is done correctly, and to make sure that the instrument doesn’t fall apart in the process! I am going to explore changing strings on a violin, but the same basics apply to all four string orchestra instruments.

 

Know how your instrument is constructed

Many beginners and their parents do not realize that there is no glue holding the bridge up, or the soundpost (inside the instrument) in place. In fact, there isn’t! The entire instrument is held together by the tension of the strings stretched across the top. If all four strings are removed, the bridge will simply fall off the instrument. Worse, with all the tension suddenly gone, the top and back of the instrument will move away from each other, allowing the soundpost inside the instrument to fall. Now you are up a creek: you usually need to take the instrument to a luthier (repair shop) to properly set the soundpost. This mess is easy to avoid: DON’T REMOVE ALL FOUR STRINGS AT THE SAME TIME!


Be prepared

The only equipment you need for this project is a new set of strings. There are no tools required. But, make sure you have the correct strings! Make sure your strings are for the instrument you have. Viola strings will fit on a violin, but it won’t sound right! Also, make sure that you have the correct size strings for your instrument. Finally, see how the strings are packaged. Sometimes they are in individual envelopes that identify the string inside. Other times they are all bundled together, but there is usually a code on the package that tells you which color is which string. Look for it and be prepared!


 

Study up

Take a moment and note how the strings that are currently on the instrument are wound. You should see that the strings don’t cross from one side of the pegbox to the other, and that the strings are wound neatly around the peg.

 

Time to start!

I usually start with the “G” string, on the left side as you look at the instrument from the top, scroll facing away from you. Trace the string to the pegbox to see which peg to loosen. (It should be the peg closest to you on the left-hand side.) Turn the peg towards the bridge to loosen the string and unwind the string from the peg. The peg may come out of the hole. That’s OK. Lift the string off of the bridge and slip the ball-end out of the fine-tuner/hole in the tailpiece. That’s it! One string off.

 

Replacing the string…

As I mentioned above, REPLACE the string you removed BEFORE you remove any more strings. This is critical to keeping the instrument together!!

Take the replacement string out of the envelope and unwind it so it is fully extended. Take the ball-end (so named because there is a little “ball” in a loop at the end of the string!) and carefully slip it into the fork in the fine tuner in the tailpiece. The ball pulling against this fork is what holds the string in place.

Then, pull the string toward the peg box. It’s going to flop around a bit because there is no tension on it yet. That’s OK. If the ball-end slip out as you start winding, just re-insert it. No biggie.

Place the peg into the pegbox, and locate the hole drilled into the peg. (Having a good light here is very helpful, as trying to find a black hole, in a black peg, in the dark pegbox is sometimes challenging!) Insert the string through the hole so that about a ¼” of the string comes out the other side. Then, start winding the string around the peg by turning the peg away from the bridge.

The string should wind tightly around the peg towards the side (not the middle!) of the pegbox. When done, the string should be closer to the side of the pegbox. As you wind, you will need to keep tension on the string with your other hand. As you continue to tighten, make sure that the string crosses the bridge in the groove cut for it. Continue to tighten until there is enough tension that you can tune the string with a tuner. When you reach the desired tension, push the peg firmly into the hole in the pegbox. The peg and the hole are tapered, and this “pushing” action “locks” the peg in place so it won’t turn until you want it to.

 

Continue with the other three strings

Repeat the above procedure with the other three strings, moving left to right across the instrument and finishing with the “E” string. Again, make sure to change only ONE string at a time! Also, take special care with the “E” string as it is very thin and the most prone to breaking.

 




Success!!

That’s all there is to it! You have successfully changed your strings! Now get them tuned up, and tune them constantly for the next couple of days. The new strings will stretch, and it will seem like they are ALWAYS flat. As the strings stretch and adjust, this problem will subside.

 

Now, go practice!


Monday, July 20, 2020

Does instrument size actually matter??

Why does size matter?

I have spent over 20 years in the music industry, and during that time I have worked with countless music educators as they recruit beginners into their band or orchestra programs. One of the biggest differences between string programs and band programs is the size of the instruments. In band programs, it is literally one size fits all. Or more accurately, one size fits most as best as we possibly can when they are in fifth grade! Some students may not be able to play certain instruments at all because of their size!

In the orchestra, instruments come in different sizes to accommodate all different size players. A question I sometimes get is “Does the size of the instrument really make that big of a difference? After all, I have my dad's old violin that he can use, and we don't have to pay to rent another one!”

The short answer is: YES! Correct size is critical when it comes to stringed instruments. With violins and violas instruments range in size from very small to what is typically called full sized. Sizing a child for an instrument is especially important. If the instrument is too large, they will not be able to reach the proper string positions and will have difficulty playing the instrument. If the instrument is too small, their left arm will be folded up tighter than it should be, it will still be difficult to reach the correct positions, and fatigue and discomfort will set in quickly. Both will discourage a smaller player from practicing their instrument. Learning a new instrument is difficult enough already, adding these additional complicating factors just makes it that much more difficult.

“But how do we know what size instrument we need?” parents often ask. This is can be a simple to answer. Your child’s string teacher has the skills to measure your child to make sure that they get the correct size instrument. Often, teachers will hold events at the school, and will measure their child at that time so that when it is time to get their instrument, they already know exactly what size they need.

It is always important to rent your instruments from a reputable music dealer, but especially so with stringed instruments. Most major retailers offer rental programs, and when it comes to stringed instruments, exchange programs as well. This way, your child can rent a smaller instrument that fits them properly, and when it comes time for them to move up to a larger instrument, they can exchange it with no difficulty. This allows your student to have the correct size instrument throughout their career, without tying up unnecessary funds.

But what if you are in a situation where your teacher can't get you measured, and you're nowhere near a music store to measure your instrument properly. Measuring a child for an instrument is something that you can do yourself, if you take your time and make sure that you do it properly. The first step is to determine how long your child's left arm is in inches. Using a yardstick, place one end of the yardstick at your child's neck, and lay it flat against the inside of their arm such that it crosses the center of their palm with their hand outstretched. Note the measurement in inches in the center of their palm.

Then, using the chart below (thanks to Yamaha.com), determine what size violin or Viola your child needs. Assuming that you were measuring your child yourself because you are not near a music store where you can get this done by a professional, you can then order the proper sized instrument.  If the number is right on the boundary, it is usually OK to go with the larger of the two sizes, but make sure to check with your teacher! 

When your instrument arrives, one of the first things you should do is take the instrument and your child to your child's teacher, so they can check for proper fit. If the fit is not correct, then you can you have a chance to exchange your instrument before classes start.

Measuring properly for cello is a bit more difficult, and a bit more subjective. It is nearly impossible to measure properly without an instrument on hand. Generally, with the student seated in a chair and the instrument in the proper playing position with the peg about halfway out, the pegbox should be just about level with the student's ear. There is obviously some room for error here, and with cellos and basses it is very highly recommended that you work with your private teacher school teacher or music store to get the correct fit.

If your child is just starting out an orchestra, getting a properly sized instrument is something that's just too important to leave to chance . Make sure to work with your teacher and music store to get the properly sized instrument before you start. In that way your student can have the right equipment in hand to maximize their chances of success!

 

As you continue your internet research, here are some great resources regarding proper instrument sizing:

https://www.mencheymusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2015_violin_sizing_chart-1.pdf

https://www.lashofviolins.com/useful-measurements.htm

https://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20138/14944/

https://www.stradviolin.com/rentals/measurings.html