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Reed Strength Chart
By Dan Jacobi
4/7/2013 11:37:00 AM  

Reed Strength Comparison Chart

Clarinet Reed Strength Comparison

Brand, Model < --- softer             Strength             harder --- >
LaVoz  
S
 
MS
 
M
 
MH
 
H
               
Mitchell Lurie  
1.5
 
2
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
4
 
4.5
5
         
Rico  
1.5
 
2
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
4
               
Rico Reserve            
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
 
4.5
     
Rico Royal
1
1.5
 
2
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
4
   
5
         
Vandoren Traditional  
1
 
1.5
 
2
 
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
 
4.5
 
5
Vandoren V12            
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
 
4.5
 
5
 

Saxophone Reed Strength Comparison

Brand, Model < --- softer             Strength             harder --- >
Frederick L. Hemke        
2
 
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
         
LaVoz      
S
MS
 
M
 
MH
     
H
         
Rico  
1.5
 
2
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
             
Rico Reserve          
2
 
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
 
4.5
   
Rico Royal
1
1.5
 
2
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
 
5
         
Vandoren Traditional  
1
 
1.5
 
2
 
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
 
4.5
 
5
Vandoren Java  
1.5
 
2
 
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
           
Vandoren Jazz  
1.5
 
2
 
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
           
Vandoren V16    
1.5
 
2
 
2.5
 
3
 
3.5
 
4
   
5
   

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Tags: Reeds, Reed Chart, Reed Guide, Reed Strength, Reed Tips, Woodwind Guide, Woodwind Chart, Woodwind Tips
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Reed Buyer's Guide
By Dan Jacobi
3/7/2013 11:40:00 AM  

Reed Measuring Systems
Reeds are measured using numbers, words, or a combination of both. Each brand has its own reed measuring system. Reeds measured in numbers are usually done so starting with the number 2 (indicating a softer reed) and ending with number 5 (harder reed). Manufacturers may also measure their reeds by indicating Soft, Medium Soft, Medium, Medium Hard, Hard, or S, MS, M, MH, H for short. And others combine the two systems into a numbering system such as 2S, 2M, 2H, 3S, 3M, 3H, etc. Please refer to our reed strength chart for more details.

Hardness
The main difference from one reed to another is how soft or hard they feel. Reeds are often classified with numbers, e.g., from 2 to 4 in half strengths. The higher the number, the harder or more resistant the reed plays.

Harder Reeds
Harder reeds allow for a louder, heavier, darker, or fuller sound, but they require support and a developed embouchure (mouth muscles). These reeds allow the performer to project more in upper registers of the instrument without sacrificing tone and texture. While these reeds perform well at louder dynamic levels, they often produce a stuffy, less desirable tone when used by students who have not developed a strong supportive embouchure.

Softer Reeds
With a softer reed, playing softly is easier. A soft reed speaks more easily and gives a bright, transparent sound. If it’s too soft, the sound may get very thin or buzzy. Soft reeds may be more difficult to play in tune. Playing on soft reeds may also lead to “biting” and other improper practices. This is the result of the performer overcompensating to bring the pitch up because of the softer reed. A softer reed will also tend to speak too easily. This can be a problem when trying to execute soft entrances in the upper register.

Thickness Does Not Equal Strength
Contrary to common belief, a 2-strength reed is not thinner than a 4-strength of the same brand or model. It is simply made of a softer, less resistant piece of cane. Softer reeds have a shorter play life. Eventually, most saxophonists choose a 3, 3.5, or an even harder reed.

Hardness Is Not Created Equal
Because cane is a natural product, each piece of cane will vary slightly in resistance despite being cut identically. As a result, ten reeds of the same strength from inside the same box will not be equally hard.

Choosing Reed Strengths
For beginners the best choice often is a medium-soft reed, such as a 2 or a 2.5 on a mouthpiece with a small to medium tip opening.

Reeds and Mouthpieces
Which reeds strength and model to choose depends on various factors, your mouthpiece being one of them. For example, a mouthpiece with a smaller tip opening requires a heavier reed. A reed that is too soft will close up and not respond at all. Conversely, a mouthpiece with a large tip opening will play easier with a lighter reed.

Tip Openings
Tip openings are usually stated in thousandth of an inch. Most popular alto sax mouthpieces have a tip opening between 70 and 100. Popular tenor sax mouthpieces typically have a tip opening between 90 and 120.

Reeds and the Environment
Pick harder-playing reeds when humidity is very high, or when you play in resonant or large venues. A lighter-playing reed works better in dry air, dry acoustics, and small rooms. The reed that sounds great in a small, insulated practice studio may not be the best reed for your next concert.

Cuts
There are two styles of reeds: French cut and American cut. French cut reeds, mainly used by classical woodwind players, have a thinner tip and are a bit thicker in the heart area. Reeds with an American cut usually feature a slightly thicker tip and less heart, producing a fuller, focused sound.

French Filed Cut
Reeds with a file cut or “double cut” have an extra strip or the bark removed in a straight line, just below the vamp area. This allows for extra flexibility and a fast response.

American Un-filed Cut
A “regular” or unfilled cut, sometimes referred to as “single cut,” helps produce a powerful tone.

Premium Cane
The quality of cane is important for a reed’s longevity and a consistent response and playability. Premium reeds offer a higher yield of playable reeds because the cane is more carefully selected.

Several Models to Choose From
Most reed manufacturers offer several models of reeds. The best way to find the right reed for your sound, playing style, and mouthpiece is by trying each. Reed makers provide useful information on the characteristics of their reeds.


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Tags: Reed Guide, Reed Tips, Buying Reeds, Buying Reeds Guide, Buying Reeds Tip, Woodwind Tips, Woodwind Guide
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Selecting A Band Instrument
By Dan Jacobi
3/6/2013 1:03:00 AM  

Congratulations on your decision to join the school band! By now you have undoubtedly given much thought as to which instrument you wish to play. This is an important decision that will be discussed in further detail with your parents and band director. Important considerations are taken into account when students join their school band. These are not only for your benefit as an individual but are some of the fist steps to a quality band that all students and members of the band community can take pride in.

Important Considerations

Physical Characteristics
Facial, lip and hand structure of the beginning student can lend to positive success or frustrating challenges on his or her instrument.

Past Music Experience
The challenge of various wind and percussion instruments may require that students have previous musical training on piano or guitar. Please consult with your band director for more details.

Access to Quality Instruments
Willingness to purchase or rent a director-recommended instrument is a must. Unfortunately, there are some instruments on the market whose poor design and craftsmanship make it next to impossible for a young instrumentalist to succeed. West Music can help you avoid this pitfall.

Balance of the Whole Program
Quality programs strive for balance in all instrumental areas. Not everyone will be able to play saxophone or the drums or the flute. The school band director has the training and knowledge to understand the instrumentation needs of the entire band. Just because you “want” to play a particular instrument, does not necessarily mean that you will be able to play that instrument in your school band.

FLUTE

The flute is the smallest of the beginner instruments. Flute tones are produced by being able to focus an extremely small air stream to an exact location on the tone hole.

Physical Characteristics
Flute players should have a slight “frown” to the upper lip with no tear drop shape in the middle. The tear-drop shaped lip will make it necessary to offset the embouchure slightly. Flute players should also have agile fingers for moving this multi-keyed instrument through fast musical passages.

Other Considerations
Students with double-jointed fingers can adversely affect the agility of flute players.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Care Kit
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

OBOE

The oboe is similar in its appearance to a clarinet but is played using a double reed instead of a single reed and mouthpiece.

Physical Characteristics
Students with profound overbites or underbites would have extreme difficulties producing a proper sound on the oboe since the embouchure (mouth and lip position) require equal pressure on both sides of the reed at the same placement.

Other Considerations
Because the oboe is such an important voice in a balanced ensemble, students with high academic performance are often the first to be considered as prospective oboists. Oboe students are usually required to have 3 to 4 high quality reeds at all times.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Care Kit
  • Reeds
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

CLARINET

Unlike the oboe, the clarinet uses a single reed and a mouthpiece to produce the sound. Some clarinet students may be chosen to play the larger bass clarinet after success on the clarinet.

Physical Characteristics
One necessity of clarinet tone production is the ability to make the chin flat. If a student has an extremely rounded bottom row of teeth, the mouthpiece will be more difficult to place in the proper position for tone production.

Other Considerations
Instruction in clarinet can be meticulous. Students who are able to focus on and perform a detailed series of instructions would do well on clarinet. Clarinet players are also responsible for maintaining a working stock of 4-6 quality reeds. Most reed brands can be purchased in boxes of 10.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Reeds
  • Care Kit
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

BASSOON

The bassoon, like the oboe, is a double reed instrument. Students often begin on clarinet or bass clarinet before switching to bassoon.

Physical Characteristics
A slight overbite is acceptable for students wishing to play bassoon, however, a student with an underbite may be advised to play another instrument. Agile thumbs are a necessity for playing bassoon as well as a medium or greater hand span.

Other Considerations
The bassoon is a challenging instrument to master. Band directors will very often encourage their bassoonists to study with a private teacher and maintain a supply of 3-4 high quality reeds at all times.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Reeds
  • Swab
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

SAXOPHONE

The alto saxophone looks like a brass instrument and woodwind instrument. The alto saxophone is played with a single reed like a clarinet, making it a member of the woodwind family. It is played in a variety of ensembles but is rarely played in the symphony orchestra.

Physical Characteristics
Since the balance of the saxophone is maintained by the use of a neck strap, it is extremely important that students be able to sit up straight with proper body posture.

Other Considerations
Saxophone players are responsible for maintaining a working stock of 4-6 quality reeds. Most reeds are sold in boxes of 10. Due to the popularity of the saxophone, many band instructors will limit the number of saxophonists in the band in order to maintain proper balance of instrumentation throughout the ensemble. This is an important lesson in team work and cooperation.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Reeds
  • Care Kit
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

TRUMPET

The trumpet is the smallest member of the brass family. The trumpet sound is produced by buzzing your lips into a small mouthpiece. Most school instrumental ensembles include the trumpet.

Physical Characteristics
While orthodontia is somewhat troublesome to a trumpet player, it is not impossible to make a proper sound with braces. A slight overbite is acceptable, but an underbite can severely hinder progress on trumpet.

Other Considerations
Trumpet music parts often include the melody, therefore it is important that students who play trumpet exhibit confidence and a high level of self-motivation.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Care Kit
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

FRENCH HORN

The French Horn is also a member of the brass family. Its sound is produced by buzzing into a small mouthpiece similar to a trumpet. Students with good musical ears should consider French Horn.

Physical Characteristics
While braces are somewhat troublesome to a French Horn player, it is not impossible to make a good sound. A slight overbite is acceptable, but an underbite can severely hinder progress on French Horn. Because the bell of the French Horn rests on the knee while in a seated playing position it is imperative that a student’s upper torso be long enough to accommodate the size of the French Horn to produce a good sound.

Other Considerations
Due to the extensive playing range on the French Horn, students should exhibit a remarkable ability to match pitch. This is a good choice for students with an accomplished background in piano or choir.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Care Kit
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

TROMBONE

The trombone is played by buzzing into a cup-shaped mouthpiece, but uses a slide instead of valves. Players rely on their memory and hearing skills to recognize if they are in the correct slide position. Students with good musical ears should consider the trombone.

Physical Characteristics
While some might think that trombone players must have long arms, there are actually a number of accommodations that make it possible for students of all shapes and sizes to play. A slight overbite is acceptable, while an extreme underbite may hinder success.

Other Considerations
Great trombone playing takes exceptional concentration and study. Many scholars have excelled at trombone.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Care Kit
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

EUPHONIUM

The euphonium (you-FOE-knee-yum) and its relative, the baritone, is a member of the brass family and looks like a small tuba. It is a valve instrument similar to a trumpet but sounds lower than a trombone.

Physical Characteristics
A slight overbite is acceptable, but an underbite may hinder good sound production. The euphonium requires a medium-sized hand span to reach the valves.

Other Considerations
Prospective euphonium players will greatly benefit from being able to match pitch.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Valve Oil
  • Polish Cloth
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

TUBA

While many believe the tuba is the largest instrument in the band, making it hard to physically manage, some schools use ¾ size instruments for beginners. The smaller size makes them easier to handle. Students can then grow into full size instruments.

Physical Characteristics
Tuba players need to have a large lung capacity. While the size of the student does not matter, a long upper body can help a student reach the mouthpiece of the tuba while resting the bottom of the tuba on the edge of their chair or across their lap.

Other Considerations
The tuba provides the musical foundation of the band. Therefore, prospective players who are reliable and self-motivated are likely to be considered for this instrument.

Accessories to help you succeed

  • Valve Oil
  • Polish Cloth
  • Director-approved Method Book
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

PERCUSSION

Just because you are always tapping on things does not mean you are a natural percussionist. Students with background in piano and who exhibit high gross and fine motor skills may be considered for percussion.

Physical Characteristics
Students should exhibit a high level of coordination in gross and fine motor skills in the hands and feet.

Other Considerations
The study of percussion includes mallet percussion (bells, xylophone, marimba), snare drum, timpani, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, drum set, among many other instruments. Time management and organizational skills are very helpful to multi-faceted percussionists.

Accessories to Help You Succeed

  • Drum Sticks
  • Mallets
  • Stick Bag
  • Practice Pad
  • Director-approved Method Books
  • Metronome
  • Folding Music Stand

Adapted and used with permission from Holze Music Co., Lewisville, Texas.


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Tags: Instrument Guide, Selecting an Instrument, Selecting an Instrument Guide, Band Guide, Band Instruments, Beginning Band
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Tips for the Care of Your String Instrument
By Dan Jacobi
3/2/2013 10:33:00 AM  

Caring for your string instrument is not difficult if you understand a few basics. Remember that it is made of wood and can easily be damaged if not handled with care. Bumping the instrument against another object may damage the wood, cause the bridge to slide out of alignment or cause the sound post inside to fall down. Bridges and sound posts are not glued in place, but are held in place by the pressure of the strings, which allows them to be replaced and adjusted as needed. If an accident should occur, bring your instrument to a West Music Repair Shop for repair.

The Wood

Wood may expand in humid weather and contract as it dries which can affect how your instrument functions.

Do not leave your instrument in a car during extreme hot or cold weather as this can damage the instrument and the finish.

The Pegs

Pegs may stick in humid weather and not hold well in dry conditions.

Pegs that will not hold may need to be pushed in gently while tuning to the proper pitch. Pegs may slightly back out and loosen if turned without applying this gentle inward pressure.

Too much pressure could break the peg, damage the peg box or cause the holes in the peg box to enlarge and wear out prematurely.

Be careful when using some fine tuners so they do not push against and damage the top.

The Strings

Every time you play and sometimes during practices and performances your instrument may need to be tuned. As the instrument warms up while playing the tuning may be slightly altered.

Over time the strings will stretch, wear out and sometimes break.

Strings have a limited lifespan and need to be replaced when they get frayed, damaged, corroded or have become old and lost their tone.

Keeping your hands clean before and during use will help the strings last longer.

The Bow

Rosin should be applied to the bow to create drag on the strings. This is what makes the strings vibrate.

The bow hair should not be touched because rosin will not stick if oils from your skin get on it.

Not having enough rosin on the bow will result in faint and squeaky sounds.

If too much rosin is used it will come off the bow and stick to the instrument.

Wipe excess rosin off the instrument with a soft cloth.

When putting the bow away, loosen the hair a little so it is not as tight as when you are playing. Leave slight tension to help keep the hair from getting caught on something, but not warp the bow.

Keeping your hands clean before and after use will help the bow hair last longer.

The Case

Do not force the case lid shut.

Most instrument cases are only large enough to hold the instrument, bow, rosin, and small accessories such as a mute or pitch pipe.

Objects such as pens and pencils will damage the instrument when the case is closed.

Shoulder rests are best carried separately unless there is ample room in the case or the case has a compartment to hold it.

Papers or music stored in the case may squeeze against the instrument causing the bridge to break or the instrument to crack.

If you should notice a problem with your instrument, bring it to a West Music string repair technician as soon as possible to be serviced. Repairs to string instruments can take just a few minutes, several hours or sometimes several weeks, so don’t wait until it is too late to get it repaired.


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Tags: String Guide, String Care, String Maintenace, String Care Guide, String Maintenace Guide, Instrument Care, Instrument Guide, Instrument Care Guide, String Care Guide, Instrument Maintenace Guide, Stringed Instruments
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Brass Mutes - An Overview
By Dan Jacobi
2/21/2013 9:52:00 AM  

Brass mutes are asked for in a variety of situations when the music calls for a change in sound or to a lesser extent to soften the tone. Students should take great care in selecting both their mouthpieces and mutes, as these two items together will make a student or step-up model instrument sound better. Listed below is a brief overview of mutes commonly used within the brass family.

Three commonly used mutes:

Straight Mute

  • Description: Cone insert with three pieces of cork to hold it in the bell.
  • Uses: General all-purpose mute often called for in a variety of music.
  • Materials: “stone-lined”, aluminum, copper, brass, wood.
  • Manufacturers: Humes & Berg, Denis Wick, Tom Crown, Jo-Ral.
  • Sound Produced: Most straight mutes play sharp - adjust main tuning slide when playing a straight mute.
  • Other Considerations: Aluminum is most common. Humes & Berg “Stone-Lined” is popular among younger players.

Cup Mute

  • Description: Cone insert with cup bottom that covers bell of instrument.
  • Uses: The Humes & Berg Stone-Lined is the cup mute sound many prefer.
  • Materials: “stone-lined”, aluminum, copper, brass.
  • Manufacturers: Humes & Berg, Denis Wick, Tom Crown, Jo-Ral.
  • Sound Produced: Muted sound, commonly associated with Humes & Berg. A small piece of fabric may be inserted into the cup to vary the sound.
  • Other Considerations: Filing or shaving cork may be required on the Humes & Berg models to achieve the required distance between the bell flair and the mute cup. Corks will naturally compress over time, so wetting the cork and inserting the mute into the bell overnight will compress the corks before filing. Denis Wick cup mutes have an adjustable sliding cup that negates the need to file any cork

Harmon (Wah-Wah) Mute

  • Description: Also referred to as a “wah-wah” mute that includes a removable stem.
  • Uses: Mostly used in jazz and becoming common in wind ensemble literature.
  • Materials: Stone-lined, aluminum, copper, brass.
  • Manufacturers: Harmon, Humes & Berg, Denis Wick, Tom Crown, Jo-Ral
  • Sound Produced: Nasal or buzz sound depending on stem in or out.
  • Other Considerations: Harmon mutes have a tendency to raise pitch substantially. Remember to pull out the main tuning slide and adjust pitch when using this mute

Other mutes (and devices doubling as mutes):

  • Bucket Mute
  • Bubble Harmon Mute
  • Derby Hat
  • Lyric Mute
  • Pixie Mute
  • Plunger
  • Practice Mute
  • Solo Tone Mute
  • Tri-Tone Cup Mute
  • Cloth or Handkerchief in the Bell
  • Player’s hand covering Bell or in the Bell
  • Playing into the Stand

Adapted for use with permission from Guide to Trumpet Mutes. Copyright, Michael Huff, DMA; Assistant Professor of Music, Mississippi State University.


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Tags: brass mutes, straight mute, cup mute, harmon mute
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Selecting a Woodwind Mouthpiece
By Dan Jacobi
2/15/2013 2:34:00 AM  

At first glance, the woodwind mouthpiece looks simple in shape and design. The mouthpiece is actually complex and crucial to getting good results. The poor sound of an instrument can improve with the selection of a quality mouthpiece suited for the instrument, the music being played, and the musician.

The mouthpiece structure made up of the chamber, baffle, bore, facing length and tip opening subtly affects musical and acoustical characteristics – sonority, fullness, volume accuracy of pitch, and response. Any structural variation will produce different results.

A mouthpiece varies as each musician varies: selecting the right one depends on the desired musical results, the player’s embouchure, and the instrument. An inferior combination of mouthpiece bore and instrument bore can have an adverse affect on pitch accuracy, tone quality, and response.

Easier-playing mouthpieces are not always ideal. A better choice is one that allows total control of reed vibrations while offering some resistance.

Once the mouthpiece has been selected, the next task is choosing a reed. Always try to adapt a reed to the new mouthpiece’s features; a reed may not produce positive results on two different mouthpieces. See our Reed Buyers Guide for more information on reed selection.

Text and diagram adapted from 2006 Accessory Showbook. Copyright, Conn-Selmer, Inc.


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Tags: Mouthpiece Guide, Mouthpiece Tips, Product Guide, Woodwind Mouthpieces, Mouthpieces
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Selecting A Brass Mouthpiece
By Dan Jacobi
1/22/2013 2:45:00 AM  

A carefully selected mouthpiece can help improve a player’s embouchure, attack, tonguing and endurance.  Learn more about the features of brass mouthpieces and how to pick the one that's right for you.

A carefully selected mouthpiece can help improve a player’s embouchure, attack, tonguing and endurance. Brass mouthpieces consist of the rim, cup, throat, and backbone. Mouthpieces are produced in various combinations of these features to produce a sound that matches the player lip muscle and tooth structure, musical needs, and the instrument being played.

Professional musicians and advanced students prefer the musical results of large mouthpieces which provide a maximum volume of tone with the least amount of effort. The large cup diameter also allows a greater portion of the lip to vibrate, producing a larger volume of tone, and keeps a player from forcing high tones by encouraging the correct function of the lip muscles. Medium-sized mouthpieces are more suited for student musicians.

Younger musicians should consult with their teacher as to specific mouthpiece choice.  Models commonly played by younger players include the 3C, 5C, and 7C models.  Performers, teachers and students will often refer to Bach mouthpiece models for comparison purposes.  The Trumpet Mouthpiece Comparison Chart compares these and other commonly-played brands. 

Diagram of a Brass Mouthpiece

Parts of the Brass Mouthpiece

Rim

  • Wide: Increases endurance
  • Narrow: Improves flexibility, range
  • Round: Improves comfort
  • Sharp: Increases brilliance, precision of attack

Cup

  • Large: Increases volume, control
  • Small: Relieves fatigue, weakness
  • Deep: Darkens tone, especially in low register
  • Shallow: Brightens tone, improves response, especially in high register

Throat

  • Large: Increases blowing freedom, volume, tone; sharpens high register (largest sizes also sharpen low register)
  • Small: Increases resistance, endurance, brilliance; flattens high register

Backbore

Except in general terms, it isn’t possible to identify backbores by size because they also vary in shape. Various combinations of size and shape make the tone darker or more brilliant, raise or lower the pitch in one or more registers, increase or decrease volume. In each instance, the effect depends in part on the throat and cup used in combination with the backbore.

Click here to view all brass mouthpieces!

Text and diagram adapted from Vincent Bach Mouthpiece Manual. Copyright, Conn-Selmer, Inc.


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Categories: Band & Orchestra
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Eleven Tips to Buying a Better Violin
By Dan Jacobi
1/19/2013 11:49:00 AM  

1. Set aside time
Allow 1 or 2 hours in a week for the process of looking at instruments and/or bows. The process will be more enjoyable and educational without time pressure. The process has three elements: 1) Discovery - involves learning how a better violin can enable you to develop your sound - its quality, tone colors, expression and response; 2) Defining your taste and needs - requires you to ask yourself several questions: what kind of instrument suits your needs best, whether it be for playing in orchestra, doing solos or playing for your own enjoyment? 3) Learning to communicate what you hear to the professionals so they can determine whether changes can be made that will help in finding the "right" violin. Sound will be affected by a change in strings or bridge and a soundpost adjustment. If you like certain things about an instrument or bow, but not others, talk about this with whomever is helping you. It will help you get what you want in the most efficient way.


2. Determine the appropriate quality or price range of the instrument
Discuss with your child's teacher what level of instrument they would like to see your child playing. The teacher knows what progress your child is making and how the present instrument may be holding him or her back. They also can gauge future needs. The teacher may also be aware of price vs. value and be able to give guidance as to what price range of instrument you should be considering for purchase.


3. Plan ahead

Have a price range in mind when you call to make an appointment to see instruments. That way the shop you are dealing with can get instruments in that range ready for you to consider. If you don't want to spend more than a certain dollar amount make sure to tell this to the seller. For the education of your ear or for your curiosity, you may want to ask to hear instruments in the next range up or down.


4. Determine the shop's policies for trying instruments
Ask the shop if they have a "trial policy", i.e. if you really like a violin, can you take it out of the shop for a set length of time to show it to your teacher, play it in orchestra or a concert hall? Whatever factors are important to your decision-making, determine whether they will fit into your "trial period". For example: Will your teacher be in town to give you feedback; can you get into a hall if projection of sound is important?


5. Trade-in policy
Ask about the trade-in policy of the shop. If in the future your child needs a better quality instrument or a larger size, what value will your present purchase be given in a trade situation? Also try to determine what selection the shop has available in the range or size that might be the next step-up if trading is important to you.


6. Build a long-term relationship with the seller
Buying a violin is not like buying a pair of shoes. You don't make your purchase, use it until it wears out and then get a new one. Fine stringed instruments are designed to last hundreds of years and, in a sense, you are just a custodian of that instrument for a number of years. During that time, you will need a repairperson to make certain your instrument is healthy and sounding its best. It is in your best interest if the seller provides this service, especially if the seller offers 100% trade in value. In that way the seller will have an interest in the upkeep of your instrument and will keep you advised of whatever is necessary to maintain its value.


7. Purchase good value
Buy a fine violin from someone who has something at stake in being honest and providing good value, such as a good reputation in the community, a business relationship with your teacher or a personal relationship. Value of fine instruments is based on four things: origin, quality of craftsmanship, condition and sound. In most instances, the buyer is quite dependent on the seller's expertise and perspective on the market place to price instruments and bows accordingly. Unfortunately, there is no Blue Book or Consumer's Report for violin values.


8. Include your teacher in the process
Your teacher wants your child to do his or her best, not only technically - in learning the instrument - but also in being able to musically express him or herself. Having the right tools, i.e. violin and bow, is crucial to this process. The wrong instrument may result in injury, frustration and lack of motivation. Most teachers will give guidance in this process of choosing an instrument, as having an appropriate instrument and bow plays an important part in their success. Please pay your teacher for any time outside of lesson time that they spend helping you. Some shops pay teacher commissions. If a teacher is advising you and getting paid by the seller, you (the buyer) should know this in advance and it should be discussed openly so that you get the best possible guidance and advice.


9. Planning payment for a fine violin

Check to see whether the shop has any financing or can refer you to a bank that understands violin purchases. By the time you have made your decision, be ready to tell the shop how you wish to pay for the instrument. If you wait until you fall in love with one, you may be left trying to beg, borrow or steal the purchase price and considerable heartache will ensue if your plans don't materialize.


10. The bow

A bow makes a big difference in the way a stringed instrument sounds and responds. Once you've decided on an instrument, play through bows to find the one that sounds the best on the instrument and responds the best for the player.


11. Don't forget a protective case
The value of your new instrument and bow is only as secure as the case. Determine how much risk you need to guard against and choose carefully. Be sure to ask about what materials it is made of, suspension features and warranties.

Used with permission from Claire Givens Violins, Inc.


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Tags: violin buying guide, violin buying tips, buying a violin, purchasing a violin
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