I was recently asked to weigh on a debate that has been ongoing in the strings world: do I prefer a wood bow or a carbon fiber bow?
The answer is more than a simple yes or no. Each has a purpose, so I do have and use both.
When I was a young violin student, carbon fiber bows were not the bow of choice. For anyone. They were poor quality. But they have come a long way in 20 years. High quality carbon fiber bows on the market now have the same weight, bounce, and flexibility as a traditional wood bow.
As I discussed in an earlier post, bow selection is and should be tailored to your instrument. So it follows that some instruments may prefer a carbon fiber bow over a wood bow.
I have a Coda Bow Diamond GX carbon fiber violin bow, and a Fiddler Man carbon fiber violin bow. I use the Fiddler Man carbon fiber bow as a teaching tool, particularly for young violinists. I can show them proper bow technique, demonstrate what not to do, and allow them to work with the bow without fear of damage. I use the Coda Bow for playing outdoors or less-than-ideal temperature conditions where my wood bow will have a poor response. The Coda Bow gives me a similar expressive response as my wood bow. I also like to play “rougher” pieces (more contemporary, double-stop filled) where I would otherwise worry about damaging my wood bow. The Coda Bow also handles particularly well on my electric instruments.
For more classical playing, I prefer my pernambuco bow. I prefer the balance, weight, and the feel in my hand. With the pernambuco bow, I feel that I have more of an expressive range. The bow truly feels like an extension of my hand. But it can be a bit temperamental.
If you’re searching for a bow, try and selection of both pernambuco and carbon fiber. See how your instrument responds and what feels best for you.
Practice is frequently a solo endeavor. Our musical success stands or falls on our shoulders. We block out time in our schedules, fight for motivation, and hear our teacher’s voice in our heads to correct our mistakes. Alone, it can be difficult to measure our musical progress.
Performing with a group breaks that cycle. Whether with a partner or with an ensemble, you process music differently and become more aware. Rests you may have skipped during solitary practice are now important. You have to count and properly follow the tempo to fit all parts together. You focus more on musical phrasing. Ensemble practice is also a good way to check your intonation- you’ll hear right away when you’re out of tune! Ultimately, you’ll notice a great improvement in your musical abilities. While solitary practice is a must, ensemble practice is just as important to your musical development.
Have a multi-part piece you’d like to start learning? Interested in performing with a local ensemble? Let me know!
...Or how to protect your instrument!!
As is common for this time of year in Pittsburgh, it seems like we are in an eternal winter. This past week, temperatures have been single digits or below. And while it's no fun to be a person in this weather, it's even less fun to be a stringed instrument.
Yes, this is the obligatory lecture from your teacher about maintaining your instrument in the winter months.
What's the big deal? My violin/viola/cello's in its case so it's fine, right? WRONG! (and I'm not going to just Let It Go). The case, alone, is not enough. The cold temperature and the dryness in the air are the villains here. You instrument is made of wood, which expands and contracts in reaction to both of these. So in the summer, or during a Little April Shower, your instrument is happy. You'll notice your pegs turn with relative ease (though, if it gets too hot and humid, they will stick!), and your strings will hold tune. This time of year, however, you may have noticed that your pegs slip. Your strings are either out of tune, continue to go out of tune, are slack, or they have completely unwound from the peg. Your bow hair is dry and falling out, or breaks easily! In a worst-case scenario, you may develop cracks in your instrument or bow! So what do we do? How can we keep our instruments and bows happy? Other than waiting like Olaf for Summer...
Remember that stringed instruments are Princesses. They are high maintenance and need continuous attention. Treat them like the royalty that they are. The solution? Get a humidification system. This is a device, placed either in the instrument itself or in your case, that will release water vapor while your instrument is securely stored in its case. This will keep the humidity levels within the case regulated, which means that your instrument will remain happy and in tune.
Some humidifiers that I have tried and liked (not an endorsement, not being paid- just have used and had good experiences with):
- Dampit. This is the original humidifier. When you're finished playing and going to put your instrument away, use the Dampit. Soak the green tubey-thing (technical name) for 30 seconds in cold filtered water, withdraw and remove excess water, and place in the f-holes of your instrument. You can play with the Dampit in; it won't change your instrument's sound. Water vapor will release when the case is closed.
- Oasis. This humidifier works on the same principle as the Dampit, but instead of going inside of your instrument, it clips with a magnet to the inside of your case.
- Boveda. This is a new humidification system. The paper pouch goes inside of the felt envelope, which goes in your case... and you do NOTHING. The compound react to the humidity in the air, and will either release vapor to protect your instrument, or absorb moisture to keep your instrument happy in the summer. This is my favorite system, because 1) it does work!! and 2) you don't have to remember to refill anything.
- Humiditrack. This nifty device from D'Addario connects via bluetooth to your phone (download the app) so that you can monitor internal case temperatures and humidity on the go! The biggest problem though, is that it only works when your instrument is with you. A note: you won't need this if you have a thermometer and hygrometer built into your case already.
You should be putting your instrument away in its case after each practice for storage. Even if you have not yet experienced loose pegs and bow hair, it is extremely important that you are proactive in caring for your instrument. One rule to follow: if it isn't good for your skin, it isn't good for your violin (or viola or cello)! In short, if you find yourself constantly in need of chapstick or hand lotion, you need to make sure your instrument is taken care of, as well.
Some other things you can do to keep your instrument happy:
- Don't store your instrument against an outer wall. Even within its case, the cold temperature of the wall against the case can cause internal case conditions to change and negatively affect your instrument. This is also true if you store your instrument in a room that tends to run colder than others in your house. Change your instrument storage location temporarily.
- Practice. Tune your instrument each time. Tuning and playing your instrument help it to acclimate to the air conditions.
- Keep an eye on your instrument. Check for cracks along the top and back plates, as well as the seams. Also check your bow and remember to properly tighten/loosen as you play. Remember to not over-extend your strings when tuning. If a string snaps, or if you notice anything unusual with your instrument or bow, your teacher can help you!
The winter months here are unavoidable. With a proper humidification system in your case, your instrument will continue to sound lovely all year round.
The cold never bothered me anyway.
Lisa C. Brunner
Violinist, strings teacher, and product-junkie! This is the place for Lisa's thoughts about music, performance, teaching, helpful study tips, and favorite accessories!