Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A 440. Not So Standard.

Written by Stefan Aune

Violins, Violas, and Cellos all have an A string, and every violinist, violist and cellist invests a great deal of  time and energy into keep that A string in tune and then tuning their other strings in relation to the A. Most orchestras and ensembles tune from the A pitch, which is usually used as the standard for tuning. Whether it is a line of beginners waiting for their orchestra teacher to tune their instruments, or a seasoned professional attempting to wrestle a stubborn string into tune before a concert, tuning is an (all too often aggravating) shared experience for musicians. Despite the importance placed on playing "in tune," you might be surprised to learn that "in tune" has meant a variety of things over the years, and only recently has there been anywhere near a consensus on what exactly an in tune "A" should sound like.

Sound is a vibration that travels in waves, and humans perceive these sound waves as a pitch that is measured in a unit called Hertz (Hz).  Hertz are used to measure the rate of vibration of a sound, and each of our musical notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G) corresponds to a certain Hz measurement. However, there hasn't always been a general consensus on what each musical note should measure in Hz. When Bach played an "A" on his organ, that note's Hz measurement was different from the "A" that we tune the violins to in our shop. The development of pitch standardization has been the result of technological and scientific advancements as well as "pitch inflation," the gradual rise in pitch levels that results from instrumentalists attempting to achieve brighter and brighter tones.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Christian Howes

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren


Many days in the violin shop something new, strange or exciting unexpectedly walks in the door. Sometimes it's an old friend (human or wooden), sometimes it's a rare instrument or bow, sometimes it's something so odd it defies explanation.


Last week, a young man came in with a violin family instrument I had never seen before. It was about the size of a large viola, with a cello style bridge, ribs about twice as high as a viola, and it had a chin rest. It was an "OktavGeige", German for Octave Violin. It is tuned like a violin but one octave lower. After some study I agreed to work on it. It was then that I found out it was owned by Christian Howes and used by a member of his band.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Fine Art of Practicing

 Written by: Amy Tobin

It may sound a little funny, but knowing how to practice takes practice! When you are learning a new piece, I think you will agree that just playing it over and over again isn't going to make you learn it any faster or better. In fact, it might even slow your progress! Sometimes we need to take baby steps in order to be able to make those giant leaps!

In any practice session, the first thing you absolutely need to do is warm up. This is crucial! You would never see a major league pitcher come right from the dressing room and start pitching full force, whether it was for a practice or a game. He takes the time to warm up his muscles by doing some stretching and specific exercises.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chin Rests- Find The One That Fits Your Face!

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

When purchasing a violin, usually you play on a few different instruments before choosing the correct one for you. The same can go for chin rests! There are many different structures of faces around the world so there are also different options for chin rests. You do not necessarily need to stick with the one that came with your violin. In fact, if the chin rest on your instrument is not comfortable, change it!

A tremendous variety of chin rests are made for violin and viola. Some hold your chin on the left of the instrument and some on the center. Some have deeper arcs, some are close to flat. You should choose your chin rest the same way you choose your instrument. Somehow, you need to fill the space between your chin and your shoulder. It's best to do it in the most comfortable way possible.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Cheapest Violins - Maybe Not Such A Good Deal

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

As time passes and technology improves, the number of people worldwide who shop online continues to rise. It's easier for customers to shop and see what's available, and our shop's online store has given us customers and friends from all over the world! But how do you know when you cross a deal for violins, violas or cellos that is too good to be true? This blog explains why the cheapest violin (viola or cello) you find online (or in a store) is the wrong violin to purchase. Visit our other blog  Finding Your Violin Online to read about purchasing the right one for you!

If you're just starting out, it's hard to fathom why you should spend any more than the cheapest price you can find. Unfortunately, stringed instruments are pretty hard to learn and if everything (& I mean EVERYTHING!)  is not set up pretty close to perfect it makes it almost impossible to learn to play. In fact, the set up on a beginner instrument is just as important as on a fine soloist instrument.

Violin Values range from under 100 dollars to over 100,000 dollars.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to Prepare For an Audition

 Written by: Amy Tobin

Auditions are stressful situations, and preparing for them can feel overwhelming. You want to play as perfectly as you can, and you want to impress the people listening to you, but with music being such a subjective thing, what, exactly does that really mean?

First of all, let me help you to alleviate some of the stress. I think that, many times, the words we use can create certain feelings within us. For instance, if I say the word "audition," I think there is an entirely different visceral response than if I say the word "performance."

Friday, August 19, 2011

François Tourte and the Making of the Modern Bow

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

The 18th century was a period of great productivity in the arts and commerce. Many changes were going on: World trade, the French Revolution, the  end of the Baroque period and the beginning of the Classical period (circa 1750). For string players, luthiers and bow makers, the advance in playing techniques demanded better and different equipment. Bows underwent a profound change, from the Baroque bow, which was the standard, to the "modern" bow, which we now use.

Up until the middle of the 18th century, bows were more of an accessory for a violin instead of an integral part of the instrument's sound. Bow makers were continuously experimenting with different techniques and materials, but they never went too far out of the "guidelines" that were documented for bow making.

The baroque style bow was usually made of snake-wood (a stiffer and denser wood) rather than the modern bow which uses pernambuco (Pernambuco Blog).  Baroque bows were shaped into a convex curve, which is the opposite of how today's bows are shaped. The bow was arched more extremely, looking more like the bow from a bow-and-arrow. The hair on the bow was bundled, and only half the amount we use today was put on a baroque bow. Lastly, the length of the hair was only about three-quarters of the length of our modern bows.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Colonizaton & Commerce: Pernambuco Wood and the Development of the Modern Bow

Written by Stefan Aune

In 1492 Columbus made his first voyage to what he called the "New World" - a voyage that sparked the European colonization and settlement of what we now know as North and South America. This voyage triggered a rush of settlement and conquest that lasted for hundreds of years, with the great European powers carving up both continents into colonies dedicated to the extraction of resources, the conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity, and the creation of settlements. The profound exploitation of natural resources coupled with the catastrophic loss of life for indigenous peoples made the colonization of the Americas a grim chapter in human history. The politics, economics, and entire social fabric of much of our modern world comes out of this colonial period, and you might be surprised to find that stringed instruments and bows are no exception. The modern bow, as developed by Francois Xavier Tourte and other bow craftsmen in Europe during the 18th century, made use of a wood known as "pau-brasil," "brazil wood," or "pernambuco." This wood would revolutionize the bow-making world, but at great cost to both natural resources and human lives.

A "Brazil Wood" or "Pernambuco" Tree

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hill & Sons Violins. One-offs to Workshop

Written by Andy Fein and Stefan Aune


The Hill family of violin makers reaches deep into the history of violins. You can read our blog on the rise of the Hill firm to get a nice overview.

In the mid 1700's Joseph Hill was working at the Haymarket, in London, "at the sign of the Harp and Flute". He had a small shop at first and was probably working alone. Most of his instruments were made on a high arch model along the lines of Amati and Stainer. Joseph Hill's sons, William, Joseph, Benjamin, and Lockey all became violin makers as well. They continued with the high arched models that were popular at that time.

Lockey Hill's son, Henry Lockey, adopted the Stradivarius model and abandoned the higher arched models. For an individual maker, Henry Lockey is probably the finest maker of the Hill family and his instruments are some of the most valuable English instruments.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bows from W.E. Hill & Sons

Written by: Andy Fein and Angie Newgren

The Hill Violin shop was one of the greatest and largest violin shops in the world from the mid 1800s until the firm's demise in 1992.

W. E Hill violin bow with a fleur-de-lys design in the frog

Hopefully you have read our blog on the history of the firm. Some of the best products of W.E. Hill & Sons were their bows. Beautiful violin, viola and cello bows! Bows made of the finest Pernambuco available.  With fittings (frogs, butons, slides, and tips)  made of silver, gold, ebony, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl, abalone and ivory. Sometimes with elaborate designs. Sometimes very utilitarian looking. But almost always producing a great playing stick! 

Were the bows made by W.E. Hill or any other member of the Hill family? No. Not at all. Alfred Hill became quite the connoisseur of French bows. Alfred imposed on a long succession of bow makers the "Hill" bow style based on a Tourte bow for violins and a Voirin bow for cellos. It was Alfred's expertise and taste, combined with the skill of the bow makers, that produced incredibly consistent, high quality and very recognizable bows.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

If Only They Had Told Me

 Written by: Amy Tobin

I have been a musician for nearly all of my life. I started playing the piano when I was three, and then I added the violin to that when I was ten. In fact, I went to college for music, majoring in violin performance.

I love symphonic music, and I love chamber music. When I was studying at Boston University, the faculty there did a great job preparing me, as well as all of the performance majors, for orchestral careers, but nobody ever talked about any other options. In their defense, however, other outside-the-box types of performance careers were not as plentiful or accepted as they are now, so I definitely can't fault them for that. If I had known then what I know now, however......

Friday, August 12, 2011

W.E. Hill & Sons - The Rise of England's Greatest Violin Firm

Written By Stefan Aune

The Hill family of London is synonymous with high quality instruments, even higher quality bows, and for operating one of the most famous violin shops in the world. Particularly noted for being experts on the identification and restoration of older instruments, the Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers by William Henley calls the Hill guarantee "the most reliable in the entire world." The Hill family's roots go back hundreds of years in the history of English violin making, and they are one of the true institutions of the trade.

Most violin historians trace the family back to Joseph Hill, born in 1715. A well known and respected London maker, Joseph Hill had four violin-making sons, of whom Lockey Hill is considered the most distinguished. His son, Henry Lockey Hill, was the first Hill to adopt the Stradivarius model for his instruments, and to this day his instruments, particularly the cellos, remain some of the most valuable English instruments produced. His adaptation of the Stradivarius model raised the Hill family standard above that of general trade work and further engraved the Hill name into the annals of violin-making history. Henry Lockey Hill had five sons, and his fourth, William Ebsworth Hill, carried the family name even further when he founded the violin firm W.E. Hill & Sons in 1887 in London.

The bridge on the 'Lady Blunt' Stradivarius- W.E. Hill & Sons
(C) Tarisio 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paganini's Violin: Il Cannone

Written by Andy Fein and Angie Newgren, edited by Amy Tobin

There is a triangular relationship between a violinist, their instrument and their bow. Often times, we think of a certain "sound" when we think of a particular player. Much of that sound is defined by the instrument they play.
Niccolo Paganini & his  Guarnerius del Gesu violin,  "Il Cannone"



Paganini and his violin, a Guarnerius del Gesu named "Il Cannone" (the Cannon!), defined each other. Paganini was one of the first soloists to play a del Gesu. Its huge sound and fast response became Paganini's "sound". Made in 1742 (the Hills' attribution, others say 1743), late in del Gesu's life, the violin is preserved, as it was when Paganini played it, by the city of Genoa, Italy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rachel Barton Pine. Violin Soloist. Head Banger.

Written by Angela Newgren and Andy Fein

Rachel Barton Pine. Concert violin soloist. Metal head. Head Banger. Baroque violinist. Electric violinist. The gal does it all.

Rachel Barton Pine


Talented on her instrument, playing solo performances, writing music and traveling across the globe to perform, Rachel Barton Pine's off-stage life remains just as accomplished. Whether she is teaching lessons, working at a summer camp for young musicians, promoting music education, or jammin' back stage with metal junkies, Rachel Barton Pine uses her talents to give back to the community.

Rachel Barton Pine started violin lessons at three years old.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

7/8 Size Violins and Cellos. The Right Size?

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker, Fein Violins, Ltd.

The 7/8 size for violins and cellos is a somewhat rare and odd creature. Not quite a full size and definitely larger than a 3/4 size. If you feel, for any reason, that a full size instrument is too big for you, then you might consider a 7/8 size.

Generally, if you are at about 5 feet tall, you are right in the range of the person that might need a 7/8 size. There are also other factors: your age, the length of your arm, the length of you fingers, arthritis, and muscle or tendon injuries.

This is the right size!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Joshua Bell, Growing Up Normal

 Written by: Amy Tobin

When people think of famous solo violinists, they often picture them as toddlers, with their chosen instrument, doing absolutely nothing but practicing and performing for their entire childhoods. In fact, many people would assume that, if the child isn't devoting absolutely all of their time to music, they will never be successful later on. This may be true for some, but it would also seem that it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.



Joshua Bell

Joshua Bell, arguably one of the brightest stars in the classical music world, actually had a pretty normal childhood.