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Educating the Next Generation of Music Teachers
By West Music Company
6/21/2017 4:25:00 PM  

West Music & Chairman Steve West Honored for Efforts in Music Education

Since its founding in 1941, West Music has been dedicated to music education. Last month West Music and its Chairman of the Board, Steve West, received The President’s Honor from Kirkwood Community College. The award was given in recognition of both the company’s and Steve West’s own personal dedication to the school in its efforts to train the next generation of music teachers.

40 Year Relationship with Kirkwood Community College

Kirkwood Community College is a long established 2-year college in Eastern Iowa. Headquartered in Cedar Rapids, the college also has several satellite locations across the region. They offer several music-related degrees including Music Theory, Music History and Applied Music. Steve West first became involved with Kirkwood in the 1980’s, while he was the president and CEO of West Music, when the school asked about purchasing a few new instruments. Over the next 40 years the relationship grew from simply transactional to one that was truly collaborative.

Graduating Future Music Teachers Sooner and For Less

In 2006 West Music established an endowed Kirkwood scholarship for students beginning their studies at Kirkwood, then transferring to The University of Iowa or University of Northern Iowa to peruse degrees in music education. Before 2006, music education students transferring from Kirkwood to one of these universities would lose 40 of their 62 college credits. Steve West worked with the schools to pave the way for acceptance of every college credit earned while at Kirkwood. Thanks in part to this collaboration, today future music teachers can graduate sooner and with far less debt than they did in the past.

Community Efforts to Bring Music to More Students

West Music continues to be a key supporter to Kirkwood’s music programs as well as an enthusiastic booster of the Kirkwood Foundation. Steve West has been a tireless volunteer and leader in Foundation campaigns and initiatives to bring more resources to Kirkwood music programs. Additionally, West Music has donated to Kirkwood’s piano practice studios for many years and partners with Kirkwood's K.I.C.K. Summer Camp program, helping to provide a variety of summer music camps to students of all ages and abilities.

Tags: music advocacy, music education, kcc, award, professional
Categories: West Music Cedar Rapids/Marion, Music Advocacy
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How to Hold Your Brass Instrument
By Tianna Streeter
6/21/2017 1:19:00 PM  

Tips and Reminders Before You Start

The road to success as a musician begins with learning how to hold your instrument properly. Always remember that the goal is to support your brass (also called brasswind) instrument, not to strangle it. Keep your hands and arms relaxed. Many music teachers speak of “cradling” the instrument, which is a great word because holding an instrument is not unlike holding a baby. 

For specific finger placement, read our beginners how-to guide below and click on any image to see a larger view.

How to Hold Specific Brass Instruments

holding a trumpet

Trumpet & Cornet

It is particularly important to remember to cradle the trumpet since it is small and would be easy to grab too strongly. Place the large pad of your left thumb against the back of the first valve (the one closest to the mouthpiece). Now wrap your hand around so that your index and middle fingers are cradling the far side of the third valve. Your fourth (ring) finger should be placed, appropriately enough, into the ring beyond the third valve. Your left pinky will then rest nearby, wherever it is comfortable. Now place the tip of your right thumb between the first and second valves and slide it up until it is touching the lead pipe. Rest the pads of your index, middle, and ring fingers on top of the valves, with your index finger closest to the mouthpiece. Finally, rest your right pinky on top of the pinky hook, rather than hooking your finger inside it. Hold the trumpet with the valves vertical to avoid wrist strain.

holding a trombone


Begin by holding the trombone vertically, with the bell pointing downwards. Wrap your left thumb securely but gently over and around the horizontal bar just above the bell. The middle, ring (fourth), and pinky fingers of your left hand should wrap around underneath the bar just below the mouthpiece. The pad of your index finger should rest against the lead pipe, next to the mouthpiece. Now tilt the trombone upward until it is horizontal, with the mouthpiece near your lips. You should find that the weight of the instrument rests primarily on your left palm, especially on the large muscles just below the base of your thumb. Now gently grasp the slide with your right thumb, index, and middle fingers. Curl your right ring and pinky fingers in toward your palm, that way they will be out of the way when you move the slide.

hold a baritone

Euphonium, Baritone & Tuba

The same techniques are used to hold all three of these large brass instruments. Your left arm should wrap around the instrument as if you’re giving it a gentle hug. Your hand can wrap around any pipe(s), as long as you feel comfortable supporting most of the instrument’s weight with your left hand and arm. Now bring the mouthpiece close to your face so that you can start the proper placement of your right hand. You will see that your instrument either has a thumb hook to the left of the valves or a pipe crossing behind the valves. Hook your relaxed right thumb under either the hook or the pipe, whichever you have. Now place the pad of your index finger on the first valve (closest to the mouthpiece) and your middle and ring fingers on the other two valves. Your pinky will simply float nearby.

how to hold a french horn

French Horn

The French horn is known as the “backward” brass instrument, because it is the one instrument in the family that is traditionally supported by the right hand, while the left hand operates the valves. Begin by resting the horn on your lap with the mouthpiece on your left, pointing straight upward. Place your left pinky under the hook below the valves. The pads of your left index, middle, and ring fingers should rest on the valve levers, with your index finger closest to the mouthpiece. If you have a single-wrap horn, you will place your thumb inside the ring above the valves. Double-wrap horns have a thumb trigger, and you will rest your thumb there. The other odd thing about the French horn is that your right hand goes inside the bell. Don’t stuff your hand in there—its purpose is to hold up the horn, not block the airflow. You should feel like the hand is on the verge of “falling out” of the bell. The knuckles at the base of your thumb and index finger, along with the next knuckle up on your index finger, will bear most of the instrument’s weight as you bring it to your mouth and prepare to play.

Proper Holding Technique Matters!

Remember, using good technique when holding your instrument will make it more fun to play, and will also protect you from injuries. Make sure you’re well supplied with brass accessories so you can give your instrument the loving care it deserves!

Tags: brass, brasswind, band, beginner, how-to, tianna streeter
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Extraordinary Associate of the Month May 2017: Accent - Operations
By West Music Company
6/21/2017 10:15:00 AM  
accent operations
We are pleased to announce the May 2017 Associates of the Month!

This team outlined supply chain strategies six weeks in advance preparing for the delivery of FIVE container-loads of Accent instruments. The instruments had to be unload by hand from the containers (Kudos to the FC group!) and immediately prepared on pallets to ship out to dealers across the country.

The Accent team pre-planned strategies for receiving, inventory pallet staging, sales order preparation, and communication with our logistics providers. When this inventory hit, we were ready for action! In ONE WEEK, Allan, Meagan, and Joel organized the receipt and shipment of 4,260 instruments on 108 PALLETS. It was a lot of stacking / shrink-wrapping and preparing pallets for freight shipping! Nearly 50,000 pounds of instruments were shipped to 12 different states and Canada inside of a week! You all did an AMAZING job. It was “Operational Excellence” at its best - take a bow!

Robin chimed in and noted that this Accent team and their Operational Excellence work has really started producing dividends.

Congratulations, Meagan, Joel, and Allan and thanks for all you do!

As told by Mike Riley,
Vice President

Tags: accent, operations, warehouse, fulfillment
Categories: Extraordinary Associate of the Month
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Choosing Rosin for Your String Instrument
By West Music Company
6/8/2017 7:07:00 AM  

Choosing Rosin for Your String Instrument

Rosin plays a significant role in orchestra playing, but it has been given little attention compared to the bow and the instrument. Many players choose to purchase better quality rosin that suits their instrument. Below is valuable information about rosin and tips on how to choose the best for your instrument.

Student rosins are often less expensive and produce more powder when used, and is often preferred by for fiddlers, too. Most classical players prefer professional grade rosins, as they usually produce a smoother and more controlled tone. The color of the rosin, light or dark, and is occasionally known as summer (light) or winter (dark). For violin or viola, light colored rosins are preferred, as they tend to be harder, denser, and less sticky than their darker counterpart. Dark rosins, being much softer, are used to activate thicker strings — especially bass, and are used more in cool, dry climates, as they will tend to stick in hot and humid conditions.

Prefer a paper copy of this information? Download and print this handy PDF version of the article and keep it with you in your music folder case for reference!

Jade rosin JADE ROSIN

Jade rosin is a famous synthetic rosin made in France. It comes wrapped in a cloth inside of a hard plastic container. The rosin provides a great grip, and hardly produces any dust which is great for players with airborne sensitivities or allergies.

dark and light rosinHILL DARK AND LIGHT ROSIN

Used for violin, viola, and cello, the amber (light) is slightly harder and has moderate powder. The dark (green) is slightly softer and grips better than the amber.


All natural ingredients are combined in a very special process make D’Addario Natural Rosin. This rosin is perfect for either horsehair or synthetic hair bows. The streamline packaging fits nicely in cases and the unique plastic channel provides an easy grip for students. Designed and manufactured in the USA.

magic rosinMAGIC ROSIN

Used by top soloists, professionals, teachers and students, Magic Rosin™ is a premium rosin for violin, viola, cello, and bass. Invented by a professional cellist and teacher, Magic Rosin™ provides excellent resistance and allowance for a clear, complex tone. Formulated from only pine resins and no other ingredients, its appearance is almost clear, presenting a whole new generation of visually appealing rosin.


For advanced and professional players, this hypo-allergenic rosin is made from a synthetic hydrocarbon resin compound that substantially improves the properties of rosin producing a clear string response.


Hidersine is a premium rosin formulated for cello players and made in the UK. This rosin is intended for advanced bowing techniques. Rosin comes in light or dark and can be ordered for violin players, as well.


Pops is the most recommended rosin for beginner to experienced professional bass players. This rosin comes as a large, soft cake for easy storage and application. You can’t go wrong with Pops.


A nice rosin in a nice case, this premium rosin is for violin and viola players. Kaplan rosin produces less dust keeping your instrument and case cleaner.

West Music has a 75-year tradition of helping beginner, intermediate and advanced musicians play their best. Find rosin and other orchestral string accessories designed for beginner and intermediate musicians on our website or at our stores. Professional musicians, orchestra directors and student are encouraged to contact West Music Orchestra directly for the best selection and bulk pricing.

Tags: string, orchestra, rosin
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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History of the Ukulele
By West Music Company
6/7/2017 1:43:00 PM  

History of the Ukulele

The ukulele is a small stringed instrument that has seen a huge increase in popularity in recent years. Whether you are familiar with the ukulele from songs like “Over the Rainbow,” or more recently with Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” there is no doubt that this instrument is a great option for children, beginners and experienced players alike. While learning the ukulele can be relatively simple, its history is anything but!

Origins of the Ukulele

queen liluokalani
The ukulele is a member of the lute family of instruments and was originally developed in the 1880s. It was adapted from the Portuguese small guitar-like instrument, the machete, and introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants, specifically Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias. These three Madeiran cabinet makers are commonly credited as making the standardized version of the ukulele as we know it today. While the people of Hawaii enjoyed the nightly street concerts these islanders brought with them, the most important factor of the instrument becoming established in the music culture there was King Kalakaua. A huge supporter and lover of the arts, King Kalakaua promoted the use of the ukulele and ensured it was part of all performances at royal gatherings.

How Did the Ukulele Get Its Name?

According to the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani, the name ukulele means “the gift that came here.” The word was derived from the Hawaiian words uku, which means "gift," and lele, which means "to come."

Ukulele Popularity in the United States

ukulele newspaper ad The ukulele became popular stateside in 1915 at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Local musicians were featured at the Hawaiian Pavilion, which included a guitar and ukulele ensemble. This soon launched a fad for Hawaiian-themed songs among top songwriters and musicians. Some of the most popular ukulele players of this period were Roy Smeck and Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. Due to its portability and reasonable cost, the ukulele quickly became an icon of the Jazz Age.

History of the Ukulele from the 1940s Through the 1980s

mario maccaferri ukulele inventorAfter World War II, the ukulele would see another large increase in popularity as servicemen brought them home after being stationed in Hawaii. New technology brought an all-plastic model from Mario Maccaferri in the 1950s, making it a must-have for children in every household. In the late 1960s, Tiny Tim became closely associated with the instrument after he played it on his song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."

The Rise of the Ukulele from 1990s Through the Present

taylor swift playing ukulele While the interest in the ukulele would fade after the 1960s, it only took one huge hit to bring it back to the forefront and encourage millions of new musicians. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, the all-time best-selling Hawaiian musician, released a reggae medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” in 1993, and it instantly took off as a top track of the time. Soon appearing in films, television shows, and commercials, this Billboard topping song made the instrument popular once again.

Thanks to the creation of YouTube, and later television voice and talent shows, the ukulele picked up a completely new fanbase and audience. There are many popular musicians that are known for playing the ukulele at concerts and on their albums, including Taylor Swift, Jason Mraz, Train, and Vance Joy. As more students are interested in taking up the instrument, its popularity continues to rise. Read about famous celebrities you didn’t know played the ukulele.

West Music is an excellent resource for ukuleles of any type or size, as well as ukulele accessories such as strings, cases, racks, and tuners. Explore our site to learn more about the ukulele, sign up for lessons, or browse our wide selection of ukuleles.

Tags: ukulele, history, music history, folk music
Categories: Guitars & Folk
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How to Hold Your Woodwind Instrument
By Tianna Streeter
6/7/2017 10:19:00 AM  

How to Hold Your Woodwind Instrument

One of the reasons it’s so fun to watch great musicians perform is that they have such a beautiful connection with their instruments. Developing that special relationship with your flute, piccolo, clarinet or oboe begins with learning to hold it the right way. Read our beginners how-to guide below and click on any image to see a larger view.

What Every Woodwind Musician Needs to Know to Hold Their Instrument Properly

You want to hold your instrument, not grab or squeeze it. Keep your hands and arms relaxed, gently supporting the instrument’s weight. Don’t worry—never in the history of music has a flute tried to run away! Place the pads of your fingers on the keys, not your fingertips. This is very important, because you will usually be placing your finger on a key with a hole, and you need to seal that hole. Even if you have a flute with solid keys, imagine there is a hole so you develop good technique.

hold fluteFlute

It is easiest to begin by holding the flute vertically, standing it on a table with the lip piece at the top and the keys facing forward (away from you). Place your left thumb on the B key—the long, narrow key facing you near the top of the flute. Counting downward from the top, place the pads of your left index, middle and fourth (ring) fingers on the second, fourth and fifth round keys on the front of the flute. Your left pinky will “float” off the instrument. Now locate the lowest three round keys on the front of the instrument (not the larger ones farther down that are tilted toward the sides). Place your right index, middle and fourth fingers on those three keys. Let your right pinky rest on the “teardrop” shaped key below your fourth finger. Your right thumb should rest on the back of the flute, opposite your middle finger. Now swing both your arms up and to the right, so that the flute is horizontal, and bring the lip piece to your lower lip. Your right thumb will support most of the instrument’s weight. Pro tip: If keeping track of which key is which is confusing at first, simply pretend your cleaning rod is a flute and hold it up in playing position to get a feel for the basic hand positions.


You hold a piccolo exactly the same way as you hold a flute! The only difference is that a piccolo does not have a foot joint, so your right hand will be at the end of the instrument.

hold the clarinetClarinet

Stand your clarinet up on a table with the keys facing forward (away from you). You will see a thumb hook facing you. Place your right thumb under the hook. On the back of the clarinet near the top, you will see an elongated key, and just below it, a round key. Place the pad of your left thumb on that round key. On the front of the clarinet, counting down from the top, place your index, middle, and fourth fingers on the second, fourth and fifth keys. Your left pinky can either rest on the instrument or hover just off of it. Now place your right index, middle and fourth fingers on the lowest three round keys on the front of the clarinet. Your pinky will eventually be used on the two elongated keys just below your fourth finger, so for now, just let it rest lightly on one of them.

hold the oboeOboe

Start the same way as you would with the clarinet, with the keys facing forward (away from you) and your thumb under the thumb hook. Near the top of the oboe, you will see three round keys with holes, with smaller, solid keys between them. Place the index, middle and fourth fingers of your left hand on the three keys with holes, skipping over the solid ones. Your left thumb should rest on the body of the instrument in back (facing you), tilted upward. Your pinky can rest on any of the three elongated keys below your fourth finger. Farther down, you’ll see another set of three round keys with holes, just like the ones where you placed your left fingers. Place your right index, middle and fourth fingers on those three keys. Let your pinky rest on the lowest of the three elongated keys below your fourth finger. Now simply keep the vertical orientation of your clarinet or oboe and bring it to your mouth.

hold the saxaphone

First, attach your neck strap to the instrument and adjust it so that you will be able to easily bring the instrument to your mouth without hunching over or tilting your head. Locate the thumb hook near the bottom of the instrument and place your right thumb under it. Around the front of the sax, you should see three round keys in the area where you’ve placed your thumb. Rest the pads of your right index, middle, and ring (fourth) fingers on those three keys, with your index finger highest. Your pinky can rest on any of the elongated keys below your ring finger. Now locate the round left thumb pad on the back of the sax, just below the octave key. On many saxophones, it will be black. Place the pad of your left thumb there. Around the front of the sax, find the uppermost round key and place the pad of your left index finger on it. Skip the very small round key and place your middle finger on the next full-sized key, then your ring finger on the round key below that. As with your right hand, your pinky can rest on any of the narrow keys below your ring finger.

Back-to-School Warm Up

If you have been playing a woodwind for a year or two but are reviewing these basics to get ready for school, you may also be interested in our collection of sheet music for woodwinds. For more tips and tricks about band instruments or to see student spotlights, keep reading the West Music blog.

Tags: woodwind, band, orchestra, beginner, how-to, tianna streeter
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Do You and Your Coworkers Rock? West Music Sponsors CBJ’s Battle of the Bands
By West Music Company
6/6/2017 3:56:00 PM  
Corporate Battle of the BandsIs your office mate a rock star in disguise? You might be surprised!

West Music is proud to be sponsoring CBJ’s 2nd Annual Corporate Battle of the Bands. This contest showcases the musical talents of employees in Eastern Iowa. Businesses are encouraged to form their own bands and compete for the title of Best Corporate Band!

This is West Music’s second year sponsoring CBJ’s event. While West Music employees are not eligible to participate (too many pros at our company), the event fits with our larger mission to encourage people of all ages and occupations to “Play now. Play for life.”

CBJ will be accepting band nominations through Monday, June 26, 2017. Then, six bands will be chosen to compete at a live competition from 6-9 p.m. on August 24, 2017 at Big Grove Brewery & Taproom in Iowa City.

$1000 grand prize Similar to American Idol, the bands perform and then receive feedback from a distinguished panel of judges. West Music’s own Alex Beamer will be one of the judges, along with Rob Cline of Hancher and Tim Hankewich of Orchestra Iowa.

The winning band will receive $1,000 credit to spend at West Music, $1,000 to give to their favorite charity, a traveling trophy and bragging rights! They will also be invited to headline CBJ’s Coolest Places to Work event in September.

The CBJ’s competition has a few simple requirements: at least half of the band’s members must work at the company the band represents, and the lead singer must work at the company. All music styles are encouraged. Last year music styles ranged from pop and country to alt rock and reggae!

To nominate your band or buy tickets to the event, go to corridorbusiness.com/events and click on Corporate Battle of the Bands.

Photos and video courtesy of Corridor Business Journal (CJB). Additional sponsors of this event include Shive Hattery Architecture and Engineering and Big Grove Brewing & Taproom.

Tags: contest, iowa, cbj, battle of the bands
Categories: West Music Cedar Rapids/Marion, West Music Cedar Falls, West Music Coralville, Contests
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Cedar Falls June 2017 Musician of the Month: Ryan Lothrop
By West Music Company
6/1/2017 8:00:00 AM  
Ryan 6 years old piano
Ryan is a dedicated and enthusiastic learner at the age of just five years old. He started with Virginia Lee seven months ago when his feet still dangled off the bench.

Ryan rarely misses his weekly assignments. He practices daily and enjoys his music. In a short period of time, he learned to be able to read music, which allowed him to learn more music quickly.

Virginia appreciates Ryan’s effort to learn and dedication to practice, and also his parents for encouraging him to do well.

Congratulations, Ryan! Great Job!

Tags: piano, lessons, virginia lee
Categories: Conservatory, West Music Cedar Falls
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Des Moines Teacher Feature: Barbara Wenger
By West Music Company
6/1/2017 8:00:00 AM  
barbara wenger piano lessonsBarbara Wenger grew up on a dairy farm in Northeast Iowa. Music was a huge part of her upbringing. She played piano for church during high school. She also played the baritone in band and was in the girls’ chorus, mixed chorus, and show choir. After marrying in 1983, Barbara and her husband moved 12 times throughout the U.S. and Canada with her husband’s career in the U.S. Navy.

Barbara Wenger has been teaching piano since 1997, and has been a Licensed Kindermusik Educator, church organist, and children's choir director. She has also held positions as an administrative assistant, insurance biller, and worked in sales. While in Virginia, Barbara operated her own Kindermusik Studio and taught piano. She also substituted as a pianist and organist for local churches, as well as a local children’s choir director. During her stay in Canada, Barbara established her own classes in a retirement home and daycare settings. Moving to Tennessee, Barbara established a piano program for students looking for private lessons. She taught students in grades kindergarten through middle school.

Barbara is comfortable working with various aged students and encourages them to perform in the yearly recitals. Barbara has a passion for introducing music into the lives of children, helping them develop an appreciation for the arts. She also enjoys reading, walking, watching her sons play sports (lacrosse, baseball, and football), volunteering at school, and most recently spending time with her five grandchildren. 

Taking lessons with Barbara or any of our music instructors. Call West Music at 800-373-2000, or learn more at Looking4Lesson.com and schedule your first class online! 

Tags: Barbara Wenger, des moines, urbandale, lesson, piano, gallery
Categories: Conservatory, West Music Des Moines Piano Gallery
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