Violins, Bows & Strings, OH MY!
Without a doubt, the violin (and viola, cello & bass) is one of THE most difficult instruments to learn and play well. If you’re familiar with music, we would bet that at some point, you’ve heard the unmistakeable screech of a violin or even intonation so vile you could almost feel your ears bleeding. The violin is a highly complicated instrument, taking a beating in the realm of instrument jokes and is even the focus of this litany that hangs on our studio wall:
“String of Excuses”
I haven’t had time to practice ♦ It sounded better at home ♦ I have a different edition ♦ The editing is awful ♦ I practiced it faster ♦ I brought the wrong glasses ♦ These aren’t my fingerings ♦ The page turn messed me up ♦ My nails are too long ♦ It’s the dryness ♦ It’s the humidity ♦ My bow needs new hair ♦ I didn’t know we were repeating ♦ I have new strings ♦ My “A” string is false ♦ I don’t like this piece anyway ♦
We string players certainly have our share of problems to deal with and difficulties to overcome. However, the good news is, all of these roadblocks are fixable and generally fall into two categories:
#1 Difficulties with Playing the Violin
(aka “I have a chicken sandwich bow grip & I sound like a can of sardines!”)
If your name is not Jascha Heiftetz, you’re not a member of the New York Philharmonic or you don’t have a signed contract with EMI Recording, chances are, you’ve come across some difficulties while playing the violin. Maybe your intonation wasn’t spot on or your tone was questionably raspy. Or there are double stops, octaves and harmonics to contend with, not to mention the ultimate affliction, sounding like a “dead fish” (phrase coined by Fritz Valenches).
But not to worry — these are all problems that can be overcome with the know how of a master violin teacher — and we’ve got the best — and some sweat inducing practice. (Perhaps the sweat part was really just for dramatic effect). Bad technique and ill-formed habits are the kiss of death for virtuosic violin playing but even bad habits can be unlearned. So, that solves that problem, but the not so often thought about problems fall into category number two.
#2 Difficulties with Violins, Bows, Strings, etc.
(aka “My violin is plywood, my bow is fiberglass & my strings are shot!”)
You may have chuckled at the “String of Excuses” above but the truth is, factors like dryness, humidity, bow hair and strings do have an effect on playing quality, and of course, the instrument itself is a huge factor as well. Handing a Stradivarius to a three year old won’t make him play like Itzhak Perlman but if you’re Itzhak Perlman, you can’t play on the three year old’s instrument either. Actually, Itzhak Perlman could make a cardboard violin sound like heaven but when you’ve got a Strad, why bother?
The Violin: More than a Chunk of Wood
At the Valenches Music Company, we’ve taught hundreds of students to play the violin and in our professional opinion, quality is key when it comes to instruments and accessories. A solid and reliable instrument is a definite perk for a beginning violinist, but for an advancing student, even at the intermediate level, a high quality instrument is a necessity. A dollar store violin might make the cut for “Mary Had a Little Lamb” but once a player leaves the comfort zone of first position and enters the 9th and 10th position stratosphere, they’ll want an instrument that can stand up to the task. Unfortunately, the ability to produce high notes and harmonics is not a sure thing on a lesser quality instrument.
“The violin I purchased from Valenches Music House, LLC has a vibrant sound with incredible resonation. It has fantastic playability and allows notes to come out perfectly clear and crisp. I spent hours in a violin shop trying out a dozen or so violins in various price ranges. Not even the most expensive one I tried could compare to this violin. Not only does it have a far superior tone, it was so much more affordable!”
– Christy in Hazleton, PA
Most violins, regardless of quality, will respond decently in first position, but in reality, real violin playing demands notes from all over the fingerboard. When developing an intricate art form like the violin, good tools are a must. On a well-crafted violin, one can rip and smash the punishing chords of Paganini and produce the glass-like tone required for Massenet’s “Thais” just as well. Plus, believe it or not, precise intonation is easier to tackle on a better instrument. So in short, a pricier instrument is worth its weight in gold when it comes to playing ease.
The Bow: Not All Sticks are Created Equally
Though seemingly just a stick garnished with horse hair, a quality, responsive bow is as important as the instrument itself. The bow is the violin’s great facilitator, responsible primarily for tone production, which, if you’ve ever heard a violinist sound like a dying cow, is a big deal. A proper bow grip is the key ingredient for pulling off fancy schmancy bow tricks like staccato, spiccato and flying spiccato, but every good bow grip deserves a well crafted bow to compliment it. Some bows can make tasks like bow bouncing an obstacle or those same rip-roaring Paganini chords have about as much gusto as a purring kitten. In the string of excuses, “My bow is garbage,” is pretty legitimate. A bad stick can give your playing a permanent case of the hiccups but a good stick can open a whole realm of bowing possibilities.
A side note about instrument outfits…
While student instruments often come packaged as an “outfit” (violin, bow & case), better instruments and bows are stand alone items. Neither violins, nor bows are one size fits all in terms of style or response, especially to an advancing player. It’s highly unlikely that an instrument dealer could prepackage a suitable violin outfit for an advanced player on intuition alone. In other words, if you’re paying thousands of dollars to purchase a violin outfit, you’re probably getting much less than the dollar amount would suggest. The bottom line? High quality violins and bows don’t “go together”. Case closed (and pun always intended).
Instrument Care & Maintanence
An stringed instrument is something to be treasured and it needs to be treated as such. Here are some items that will keep your instrument in shape and sounding up to par:
- A sturdy case: The fact is, violins and bows are fragile. They need to be protected, especially while being transported. *Never sit or stand on an instrument case.
- A good set of strings (and spares!): Almost as bad as a clunker violin or a warped bow is a burnt out set of strings. You know your strings are toast when you suspect your violin may have swallowed a fur ball. Strings with a lot of playing mileage lose their sparkle. Keep your sound fresh and bright by regularly replacing your strings.
- Rosin: Rosin is a resin substance that causes the bow to “grab” the strings. For a string player, it is an essential component in sound production; however, if you’re one of the screechers or your intonation tends to cause bleeding ears, try axel grease. *By the way, rosin does have a candy-like appearance, but don’t eat it! (We once had a student taking a lesson while his brother stood by, happily eating a cake of rosin — oops!)
- A soft, non-abrasive cloth: Both the violin and stick of the bow should be cleaned of rosin after each use. Caked up rosin not only dulls the finish of the wood but melts into the varnish as well, creating an icky mess. For dirty jobs, a cleaning solution designed specifically for stringed instruments can be used, or just contact us.
Violin Sales, Rentals, Repairs & More in Scranton
Valenches Music House, LLC is our boutique style string shop specializing in fine student string instruments and accessories. We’ve got countless years of experience in both string playing and teaching so all your VMH purchases are backed by our professional authority and expertise.
“I’ve always loved playing the violin, but I was having a lot of trouble with things like harmonics and vibrato. When Fritz suggested I try a better violin, I wasn’t sure that would make a difference, but after playing one, I knew I was sold. It was like I was playing a totally different instrument! I never realized what a huge difference it would make. Everything I had struggled with in the past came much easier to me on this violin. I was really worried about the price but it was surprisingly affordable. Valenches Music House, LLC really kept me and my family in mind when selling me my instrument and I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase from them again.”
– Pia in Moscow, PA
Furthermore, our shop and services are always accessible to students of the Valenches Music Company anytime they’re working with us. Whether you need minor repairs or some new accessories, we can provide everything on the spot in our studio. Our shop is open for non-students by appointment only. Call us at (570) 344 – 1746.
Our Specialty Products & Services
- Fine student string instruments & bows in a variety of price ranges
- Accessories: Rosin, shoulder rests, tuners, etc…
Valenches Music House, LLC has a range of string instrument outfits available for rental. We’re certain that we can provide you with an instrument of the perfect size and price.
Instrument Maintenance & Minor Repair Services
If you’re instrument needs a bit of attention, we can help.
- String replacement
- Peg conditioning
- Cleaning & polishing
- Bridge adjustment
- Soundpost setting
- and more…
Affordable Violins & Bows for EVERYONE
As great lovers of music ourselves, it is our priority is to ignite the love of music in anyone and everyone who has a desire to learn. We believe that everyone should have access to high quality instruments and accessories at an affordable price. We’re thrilled to assist you with all your string playing needs. Contact us today and come on in!