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The best part of our work is guiding someone into the amazing world of music. Unfortunately we find a lot of people get off on the wrong foot by buying an instrument that isn’t fit for use.
In our workshop we have a team of people who set up the instruments when they arrive from the factory. They always need adjustments to prepare them for playing. Here’s what it looks like for a violin:
This is how the instrument comes from the factory. If your instrument has plastic or paper wrap around the tailpiece, that usually means it hasn’t been touched since leaving China.
The two most important things to look at, which make the biggest difference in how the instrument performs are the pegs and the bridge. If your pegs don’t go all the way through the pegbox they won’t hold the string properly, making it much harder to tune, harder to keep in tune, and much more likely to snap a string while tuning.
The bridge is the most important adjustment we make. Bridges will be supplied “blank” allowing for adjustment to match the violin’s fingerboard in height and shape. If your bridge looks flat and rough-cut then it’s most likely still a “blank” bridge. This makes it much harder to play, as the strings will too far away from the fingerboard, and will get worse as you play higher.
Unfortunately at this stage a lot of places will ship out the violin without making any adjustments, however for us this is when the instrument goes into our workshop.
The first step is to put the bridge into the correct place, and measure the height of the strings. The exact height changes depending on the size of the violin, but we usually have to take a few millimeters off. We mark the bridge against a template that best fits the shape of the fingerboard and it’s off to the sander!
The bridge is taken down to the correct playing height and rounded and smoothed.
Next we file small notches into the bridge so the strings don’t roll or slip under tension, and add a little graphite (a fantastic dry lubricant!) to prevent the strings pulling and warping the bridge through years of tuning (we can tell if people only tune from one end of the instrument because the bridge will bend toward that end.)
Sometimes the nut will need a little widening, and a bit more graphite is added, and then it’s time to fit the pegs. A reamer widens the hole, to ensure the pegs fits all the way through (this allows a more even fit across the peg.) A little wire wool and peg paste is added to help it turn smoothly. Once the pegs are done it just needs tuning up.
And there you have it: one finished violin. It should play perfectly straight out of the case now. Whoever gets this violin will surely be stepping off on the right foot.
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions please leave a comment or give us a call.
We’re looking at updating the website (it’s been a while now.) Here’s a draft version. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
Starting in 2018 ABRSM are introducing a new format to their music theory exams. Here’s our short guide to help you (or your students) prepare for these changes.
What is being changed?
Grades 1 – 5 only. The grades 6 – 8 will remain unchanged.
What will the differences be?
The examples included are taken from ABRSM’s free practice papers
There will now be multiple choice answers for the musical terms and symbols question:
Cleaning up the time signature questions (grades 1 – 3):
Simplifying the layout of the intervals questions (grades 4 -5):
Simplifying the layout of the cadence question (grade 5)
A few exam questions are being replaced: the rhythm, melody and word writing sections, and the SATB short/open score questions will be replaced with questions focused on specific areas of theory knowledge.
What’s not changing?
The syllabus has not changed, meaning the same knowledge level will be required at each grade. The past papers and theory workbooks remain good resources for training and testing the appropriate theory knowledge, however the past papers will obviously not help students familiarise themselves with the exam format.
To help this ABRSM have produced a free set of downloadable practice papers (2 for each grade) on their website. Printed practice papers will be available to purchase from January 2018. You can also test the difficulty of their multiple choice questions with an interactive quiz here.
What does this all mean?
ABRSM have ruffled a few feathers with this change. The theory exams have been largely the same for the last 25 years, and were probably overdue an update. The rhythm, melody and word setting elements are the more “creative” parts of the exam, so removing them shifts the focus away from applied general musicianship and more towards testing musical knowledge. This makes the exams a bit more user-friendly and easier to mark, as the creative elements often require interpretation from the examiner.
I’m sure ABRSM (and we) are hoping that these new format exams are suitable for a wide range of students, and might encourage more young people to learn about music, and learn an instrument to a high level.
ABRSM stated that as their syllabus has not changed, the current learning material is still valid going into 2018. The full range is available here.
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions please leave a comment,
The quizzing continues this month with a nice gentle look into the most widely recorded composers:
Music technology is moving at a lightning pace. These days you can carry the type of software once only available at a professional music studio in your pocket.
Apps are available for musicians of all types, from learning to play, tuning your instrument, to recording and mixing songs. Many of the following examples are free to download, and offer great utility without spending a penny.
Here’s our rundown on the best musician’s apps out there today:
1) Yousician (Free – iOS/Android)
We always recommend finding a teacher (especially when you’re starting out) but if you’re not sure if you want to get started on Piano or Guitar, Yousician might be a good way to test the waters.
It offers a lot of free content to introduce you to these instruments, and starting to learn to read music notation. The app listens to you and gives you feedback based on what you played.
They offer a subscription service if you want to unlock all the content, but at €9.99 a month we’d recommend getting guided instruction over the premium subscription
2) Soundcheck/Match My Sound (Free – iOS/Desktop)
This is a similar program currently in development with several publishers in the UK. The app is only available on iOS or desktop at the moment, with an Android app in development.
The idea is that you can play along to your favourite music on a huge range of instruments:
Piano, Keyboard, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Ukulele, Voice, Clarinet, Flute, Saxophone, Recorder, Oboe, Bassoon, Trumpet, Trombone, French Horn, Tuba, Violin, Cello, Double Bass and Drums
Hundreds of books are available, including the popular “Really Easy Piano” and “Absolute Beginners” series. The app gives you backing tracks to play along and gives you a star rating for each track, based on your accuracy and timing.
Because the content is included with the books this is a great addition to those wanting a bit of extra feedback in between lessons.
3) iReal Pro ($12.99 – iOS)
If you play chord charts/lead sheets this is the app for you. It’s a bit more expensive than most apps but it has a huge range of features aimed a practice, as well as a library of high quality accompaniments that you can easily customise.
The app comes with over 1300 jazz standards included and can transpose them to any key, and play in dozens of different styles.
As a composing tool it’s easy to create and modify your own charts, as well as features aimed at practicing difficult passages.
For musicians in the Jazz/Pop tradition this app is an invaluable companion.
4) NotateMe Now (Free – iOS/Android)
The NotateMe app takes your handwriting (finger or stylus) and turns it into music.
In the free version you get one stave and you can export as a midi for use in sequencing software like Garageband or Cubase or XML for import into other notation software such as Finale or Sibelius.
There is a full version available for £37.99 so if you really like the interface but would like the full set of features (such as PDF printing, extra staves/instruments and full score photo import) then there is an option to upgrade.
5) Guitar Tuna / Guitar Tuner Free (Free – iOS/Android)
Tuning instruments can be a pain. Especially when you want to do it quickly, so in the shop we use digital tuners to speed up the process. The clip-on ones are really good for noisy environments but you’re in a quiet space there are a plethora of apps out there to help you tune.
Guitar Tuner Free is made by the same people that made Yousician and it features the same clean and simple layout and usability.
Although it’s called Guitar Tuner it’s fully chromatic so it can tune a wide range of instruments, including Bass, Violin, Ukulele, Cello etc.
It also has a handy metronome with a tap tempo function, as well as chord libraries in-built.
6 & 7) Garageband (Free – iOS) and Walk Band (Free -Android)
These little apps pack a lot of punch, working as a basic recording and sequencing studio on your phone.
They both have a range of sampled instruments with easy to use interfaces to play your music on the screen, as well as audio mixing and recording if you’re playing live.
Walk Band has a range of extra plug-in sounds available to download from Google Play to give more variability, however these vary in quality quite a bit.
Garageband is only available on iOS but has a wider range of features and instruments. It includes preset loops for chords on each instrument, and a “live” drummers that play a range of different styles: a great way to streamline your writing.
8) Audipo – Audio Speed Changer (Free – iOS/Android)
If you’re practicing a particularly difficult passage, this app has a range of features to help you . It can slow music down to 0.25 speed (going too much below 0.5 speed does impact the audio quality though.) and you can loop sections to help you perfect those 2 bars.
The interface however is quite compact and it might take a little while to get used to how it works.
It has a pro version for £4.59 which gives you even more features, but the free app does speed shifting and looping quite well once you’ve got used to the controls.
As you can see there is a plethora of free apps (and some fantastic paid ones) available, and we’ve just touched the surface here. If you use a must-have musician app please let us know by leaving a comment.