Saturday, July 21, 2018

Electric *VIOLIN* Shock Treatment!

A five string electric violin.
A five string electric violin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An annoyed grimace spread across my conductor's face upon hearing a Bach concerto played with crunchy distortion in the band room before an orchestra rehearsal.

Expecting to find a headbanger guitarist mocking the establishment by shredding away at a time-honoured classic, his fury slowly melted into a pitying look of concern and sad loss, as if inside his head he was thinking, “Dear God, there goes another one.”

My dad had bought me an electric violin and I was making heads turn with my heavy variations on the classics.

The Zeta Strados Modern violin, with its funky profile, maple flame finish and revolutionary bridge pickup design, has been the height of electric violin technology for some time. Technology aside, this violin made it possible for me to be regarded as cool by my peers, even though I was still playing music by dead guys with wigs.

My model even had five strings, which made it more of a violin/viola hybrid, the low range is perfect for raunchy power chords and guitar-like riffs.

Despite my conductor's fears, the arrival of the Zeta did not mean the end of my classical playing, though it did make me humbly aware of the huge proverbial iceberg of music that lay hidden beneath Beethoven and Mozart.

The electric violin made it possible for me to play in heavily amplified situations free from a fussy microphone and a clumsy mic stand and completely eliminated feedback. Word got out that there was an electric violinist at school and I played in all sorts of bands, from country to heavy metal, jazz to pop and disco to swing.

I soon discovered this violin wasn't limited to playing in loud venues entirely. My Zeta became very useful in studio situations where consistent levels, tone and timbre are required. No microphone is needed here, so engineers don't have to fuss to get the mic in the exact same spot every session and the room doesn't have to have good acoustics. I just plug in my patch cable directly into the main mixer and play, leaving reverb and levels up to the engineer.

Forget the noises of passing trains, cell phones and even the player's breathing into the mic wrecking a good take. This gal stomps to the beat, playing free from headphone or isolation booths, and chatting it up with the engineer between solos. And since Zetas are designed to sound exactly like an acoustic violin rather than a “bowed guitar,” the end result sounds unmistakably like a regular, old-fashioned violin.
Granted, there are things you can do to tweak your violin into sounding quite unlike a violin. I plug into an effects box and play with chorus, reverb and distortion effects. Better yet, Zeta makes the “Synthony,” a synthesizer that converts the violin's analogue signal to MIDI.

Jargon aside, with this tool you can make your Zeta sound like anything from a trumpet to a Chinese gong or any other sound imaginable. With more features than I can list, the Synthony isn't cheap, which explains why I'm still stuck in analogue mode.

Which brings up cost: Even though electric violins have no acoustic body, there is still a vast difference between low and high-end models. Don’t be swindled into buying a cheap $150 “instrument” from anyone, no matter how nice the thing looks in the photo.

Remember that you get what you pay for and electric violins, like any new technology, have become a market for suckers. You wouldn’t buy a $150 stereo system, why’d you buy a $150 instrument and amp? Such “bargains” sound nothing like a violin, feedback terribly when amplified and never last very long due to cheap components. Just like acoustic violins, you’re better off saving up for a good violin rather than throwing good money after bad.

Heck, it’s worth getting a fine electric violin just for the looks you get from other players! I’ve always enjoyed the double and triple-takes I get when I play the Zeta anywhere. I also reserve full bragging rights when speaking to other electric violinists. Denis Letourneau, one of my violin idols in BC, Canada, has a green one-of-a-kind Thompson violin, “Green Dragon.” He’d kill to have a Zeta though, so I’ve always got something to hold over him whenever we talk shop!

As a year-end treat I the Zeta into lessons and teach my violin students about reverb, distortion and the concept of studio recording. Shocked faces, similar to the aforementioned expression of my former conductor, meet the music as concerned parents witness their children creating gruesome variations on their lesson songs.

The kids absolutely love playing on it, especially with distortion and reverb. The shyest of students are rock stars as they bang out a G major scale at full volume. That's the beauty of this instrument: even a scale or arpeggio becomes fun for students.

I usually teach students a pentatonic scale or show them how to pull off power chords in 5ths. This literally keeps them occupied for the entire lesson and they leave only grudgingly. This at the final lesson of the summer when most kids are not at all keen to be indoors or learning scales. They leave the lesson motivated to practice their butts off and prove to their parents they are dedicated enough to deserve one too.

“I've created a monster,” I say to myself, knowing these parents will be inundated with requests for in the car on the way home.

    Check out Zeta at and tell them about my endorsement of their 5-string Strados Modern violin! Maybe they'll sponsor me...

    By Rhiannon Schmitt
    **Rhiannon Schmitt (nee Nachbaur) is a professional violinist and music teacher who has enjoyed creative writing for years. She currently writes columns for two Canadian publications and has been featured in Australia's "Music Teacher Magazine." Writing allows her to teach people that the world of music is as fun as you spin it to be!
    Rhiannon's business, Fiddleheads Violin School & Shop, has won several distinguished young entrepreneur business awards for her commitment to excellence. Her shop offers beginner to professional level instruments, accessories and supplies for very reasonable prices: Visit

Friday, July 20, 2018

Beginning CLARINET: The Very Start


Like starting with any instrument, beginning clarinet is a process of learning that involves both great achievement and the occasional setback. However, if the beginning clarinetist follows a few tips relating to clarinet care and clarinet playing, the success is sure to outweigh the setbacks.

The first thing that a new clarinet player should learn is to put together their instrument properly, and how to hold it. One of the important things when putting a clarinet together is not to force any part into another, and that the side lever is up when the lower and upper parts are put together, otherwise bent keys could be the result.

This type of care should be extended to all parts of the clarinet - while it is inevitable that reeds will eventually split, they will last longer with careful care. The clarinet itself will last longer and have less need for repair if it is looked after properly, which includes cleaning after each time it is played and being put in its case properly.

One of the most difficult things for the beginning clarinetist is getting the embouchure correct. The embouchure is how the lips are shaped to hold the mouthpiece and create the correct vibration of the reed. Make sure that the bottom teeth are covered by the bottom lip and that the top teeth are touching the mouthpiece, but not clamping down too tight. It is normal for beginner clarinet players to have a lot of squeaking! As you continue to learn and practice, this annoying part of beginner clarinet playing should disappear.

    Find hundreds of articles about the clarinet at 1st-clarinet-music

    World copyright Marc Hofkens and Cosblad Publications NV. 
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Thursday, July 19, 2018


English: North Indian hand drum
North Indian hand drum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When one visits an Indian reservation pueblo or village, you can very likely hear the beautiful melodic tones of an Indian drum. Tradition plays a strong part in Native Songs and culture. The instrument that produces the most powerful sound is the Indian drum.

The type of Indian drums varies. Each Indian tribe constructs drums to their particular desire. Drums may be created with carved images of people. Or, other Indian tribes may choose animal designs to adorn their Indian drums. Some use jewels and color in northwest Indian drums. Drums are designed by hand and are particular to each drum maker.

Indian drums are very popular today. Many people of a variety of ethnic backgrounds use Indian drums in drumming groups and as rustic home décor. It is no longer difficult to find authentic Indian drum because of the use of the internet. And, in many locations and regions of the country, Indians drummers have businesses, offering their Native hand drums and handcrafts. In the western United States, and southwest, Indian drum is common in stores as well.  A large number of Indian tribes inhabit New Mexico and Arizona.

If you do not live close to Indian reservations, locating an authentic drum is not as easy, but can be accomplished easily online. Indian drums are come in many sizes and styles from small hand drums to large ceremonial drums.

When ordering an Indian drum, you can choose between shaman drums which are one-sided hand drums like the Plains Indians use or Tarahumara Indian hoop drums which are double-sided. Most drums may be played with the hand or by using a drum beater or tom-tom like. For ceremonies and drum circles pow wow drums are most desired for their deep low tones. Good powwow drums also have a base to hold the drum during use. Unlike frame drums or handdrums, ceremonial pow wow drums are always played with a beater. Some of the nicest Northwest Indian drums and most unique drums are created with cedar for a rich red and blond color.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What You Need To Know About Drums

Bass Drum Wing Nut Grand Rapids Montessori Open House September 16, 201012
Bass Drum - Photo by stevendepolo 
What would music be without drums? Drums are responsible for providing the backbone of the song. The drummer holds the rest of the song together by providing the other musicians with a beat to follow. Even if a song doesn’t specifically include drums, more than likely they do include other percussion instruments.

History of Drums

Percussion instruments have been used since ancient times. Drums especially were popular because they could be made using easily obtainable materials. Generally speaking, drums include a hollowed out body which could be made of wood, clay, gourds, and other materials with some kind of animal skin or membrane stretched over the top. Ancient drums have been found in archaeological dig sites and can be viewed in museums.

Drums Throughout the Cultures

Different cultures have different kinds of percussion instruments. In the west, the drum set is popular. In Latin music, the drum kit includes other items such as shakers and cowbells. In Africa, the djembe and congo are popular drums. Other cultures use steel drums and other drums that are made from different materials such as gourds and animal skins.

Using Drums from other Countries

In today’s society, the media and internet have opened us up to different types of music. As a result of this, more western artists are starting to embrace other percussion instruments. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a song to include different hand drums borrowed from the African or Middle Eastern cultures.

If you are interested in using drums from other countries, your best bet is to expose yourself to the traditional music to get a feel for how the drums are traditionally played. It is fine to borrow an instrument from another tradition, but to get the most out of the experience it is worth it to learn the traditional playing styles.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are three collections of bagatelles by Beethoven: "Seven Bagatelles, Opus 33", "Eleven new bagatelles, Opus 119" and "Six bagatelles, Opus 126". They originate from his time in Bonn, were probably originally intended as middle movements for sonatas but presumably considered by Beethoven in the course of the work on those compositions as too light in character.

To determine the origin and the dating of the Bagatelles are not altogether easy. As with many works of Beethoven the opus numbers themselves do not lead to a secure dating of the composition. Beethoven set the opus number only on the occasion of a publication. But even with extensive works the publication followed by no means immediately after the completion. For example, the big string quartets Opus 130, 131, 132 in A minor: Opus 132 the oldest, with Opus 130 following.

Besides, between the first design and the completion of single works with Beethoven often years lay, and the composer was known as very economical in regards to ideas, which he now and again after long breaks took up again, an exact dating especially of the smaller pieces, who filled the breaks between larger works, is especially difficult.

The bagatelles Opus 33 were published in 1803. The autograph carries the label "par Louis van Beethoven in 1782", therefore, one could presume, the whole work still belongs to the early years, Bonn. However, the authenticity of the label is questionable, sketches are found for the first and sixth part next to sketches of the oratorio "Christ on the Mount of Olives" (composed in 1801, first performance 1803) and to the Symphony No. 2 in D major (composed in 1801/02, first performance 1803).

Thus, even without a critical review, it can be supposed that the bagatelles of Opus 33 belong mostly to the years of 1801 and 1802, nevertheless, single parts appeared or were sketched before.

The contemporary criticism did not receive the collection particularly benevolently. The only preserved report refers to the name "Bagatelle", with contemptuous poignancy: "Do earn this title in the farthest sense of the word".

More difficult still is the exact dating of Opus 119. Already Hans von Bulow, to whom still no reliable research material was available, doubts in his Beethoven edition the statement of Schindler that these bagatelles were written around the time of the Missa Solemnis in 1822.

"We are not able to believe to this insurance so absolutely: to us these sketches seem to come from a different era, even if the majority, this some special peculiarities leads one to believe, belong seem to belong to the so-called last period." Bulows assumption has proven right.

Single sketches of Opus 119 are already found in 1801, mixed with some of Opus 33. The whole collection is made up of two different groups: No. 7-11 appeared first in 1821 as a contribution to the "Viennese Pianoforte School" compiled by Friedrich Starke, further sketches are found together with sketches of the Sonata in E major, Opus 109, of the Benedictus and the credo for the Missa, belong to 1820. No. 1-6 were finished two years later. The remaining parts are probably treatments of sketches from 1800-1804.

The history of the "Six bagatelle Opus 126" and their origin are indisputable. The sketches are from the year 1823 and are found besides those to the Quartet in A minor, Opus 132, and to the final choir of the Symphony No. 9. Bülow wrote: "Bezüglich dieses letzten Heftes glaubt der Herausgeber auf Grund der darin ersichtlichen charakteristischen Stileigentumlichkeiten versichern zu konnen, dass sie sämtlich aus der spätestens Schaffensperiode des Meisters stammen, was bei dem vorangehenden Hefte Opus 119 in Abrede gestellt werden musste." (Regarding this last collection, the publisher believes on grounds of the style characteristics to be able to affirm that it originates from the last period of the master, something that cannot be said for the preceding collection Opus 119."