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Upgrading Your Instrument Can Make You a Better Student Musician
So many people say that a better instrument will not make you a better student musician. I say, “Poppycock!” LOL
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Mouse
February 27, 2020 - 11:20 am
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So many times when someone says they are getting a new instrument, upgrading their instrument, they are told it will not make you a better player. That kind of makes someone who has done that or asking questions about doing that, be hesitant to speak up about it. 

I completely disagree with that statement for a few reasons.

First, that is an opinion and not really fact, unless you are just thinking that an instrument is what is playing the instrument. We all know the person is playing the instrument and the instrument is only as good as the person playing, technically. The person who has upgraded, or trying to get information on an instrument upgrade knows that, too. Why is that person discouraged because that person wants to upgrade and is still a student? If that person is asking for advice, we should just give our thoughts and whatever information we know about the instrument the person is inquiring about.

An instrument upgrade, or lateral change, will not make you a better student or musician. I disagree. If you are not happy with the sound, feel, or even look of an instrument, you will not be happy playing her. You will not be proud to own her, you will not like the sound. Will this hinder your playing and practicing? You bet it will.

If you like the sound, look, feel of an instrument, in all likelihood, you will pick her up and spend more time playing and practicing her. The opposite is true of an instrument you do not like the sound, look and feel of. You will not be encouraged to play and practice her. 

How many times do you get a new cell phone simply because a new and improved model is out, and your current phone still does what it is supposed to? How many times do people trade cars in simply because there is a new model they like the looks of better, may be a little more comfortable, but yet the current car is just fine. Will either of these make you text better, talk better, drive better, in most cases, no. So, why is it assumed that when a student wants to upgrade, statements like “People think that getting a better instrument will make the a better player”, or in a response to someone asking they are told, “Getting an upgraded instrument will not make you play better” are made? It is not exactly true, and I do not think they believe that. It is something that will make them happier with their instrument and as a result will play and practice more often, and that leads to better playing.

Also, why does it matter if a student is using a good quality instrument, or an instrument above student level if that person wants to? I think that people should be able to use whatever level or quality instrument they want, should be able to ask questions about upgrading, and should not be discouraged(can’t think of a good word here), when asking about a new instrument, or providing information about a new instrument they find as a good quality and want to share it. Why do you have to be a professional to have a better quality instrument in order not to be told, “A better instrument will not make you a better player”? 

I have read responses like that here, but more-so on other sites. It always baffles me why some people cannot see the benefits of a student using an instrument that sounds better to them, is much more comfortable for them, and is more pleasing all around to them. When these points line up, or even just the better sound, it makes the playing more enjoyable and therefore done more often.

No the instrument itself does not make you play better, and we all know that, but it does promote more quality play and practice time, and that makes you a happier, better player. Isn’t being happy when playing the point?

How much a person spends on an instrument is up to that person, and when that person is trying to get advice, being told that it “won’t make you a better player”, is not what that person is asking. We all know it won’t solve all problems. But it will help.

No, there was no particular post that prompted this. It is just something I think about every time I read the statements about the instrument not making you a better player and just wanted to see what others think. I am going to see about upgrading my viola next week, and that statement about it not making you a better player does haunt me and does add a little guilt, for lack of a better word, to my decision to do so because I am just a student. 

Just something to ponder during this slow time on the site.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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Irv
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February 27, 2020 - 11:36 am
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@Mouse and others.  I completely agree with you.  All means of encouragement should be used toward a young (regardless of age) student on an instrument.  I shudder at the condition (and therefore burden) that most endure.

I also dislike when an instrument is purchased based on the playing of a third party.  The playing style of everyone is different.  

The mind expands quickly when adjustments need to be made to adapt to different fiddles.  I find improvement quickens when I play an acoustic and electric violin on alternate days.  

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.         —Frank Zappa

The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed. —William Gibson

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Peter
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February 27, 2020 - 11:48 am
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I wholeheartedly agree, cid.

When I learned telegraphy, I was advised by my mentor to get the best key I could afford or else my sending fist (the characteristic sound of one's transmitted code signals) would suffer. Old Eric was right, as I found out. What has this to do with learning violin? It's all about a complete system learning to perform a task: whether it's a telegraphy key pumped by a radio operator, or a bow being used to draw music from a violin, the process is hauntingly similar.

I started with a fair-quality instrument, which I found intimidating to play (loud / crisp) and so I sought a quieter alternative. I've grown out of the 'cheaper' option and back into using the antique, and this is because I need to feel that powerful sound and the clarity the shiny old thing affords.

If you begin your fiddling life on a steamed & pressed cheapie from Amazon, it may suit your pocket but not your needs as a nascent musician. Buy the best you can afford, and fall in love.

Peter

"It is vain to do with more that which can be done with less"  - William of Ockham

"A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in" - Frederick the Great

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Gordon Shumway
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February 27, 2020 - 12:23 pm
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There is a big difference between the best morse key you can afford and the best violin some people can afford. My aunt plays table tennis. The best bat money can buy costs the same as some brands of violin string, then it quickly becomes up to you.

Realising that it's up to you can be a slow and expensive business in our game. My violin, in other words my violin playing, changes its sound every 6 months. If you change your violin every 6 months, you'll never know what any violin can sound like. I pause when someone talks of the sound of their violin as though they were able to extract from it everything it is capable of giving.

Cid uses the word guilt. Certainly one can be impatient. Learning the violin requires a lot of patience.

Andrew

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GregW
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February 27, 2020 - 12:46 pm
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A beginner has to have a solid well built instrument to learn on.  There of course is a budget concern and I think there is a price point where the quality is good enough to enable learning without the instrument getting in the way.   All that out of the way..anything past that is a plus.  I don't feel guilty for trading/selling off something to get what I think is better.  Once you have something to play the upgrades and additions can help to inspire even allow different things.  your cello for instance..or for me a different guitar with different tone woods or size...I'll post a song in the break room about that search! 

For myself the violin is trickier.  There's so many variables and Im slowly figuring out how everything pieces together.  Bows are my weakness at the moment.  I have this voice saying..this or that bow may help or inspire me.  when and if I make the plunge to buy another I ain't gonna feel guilty about it.  BUT..Im trying to decide what it is I think I'll gain.  with fiddle I'm more cautious about changing things and expectations of upgrades since its already such a finniky instrument.  every freakin little thing seems to change tone or sound.  humidity..temperature..rosin..angle of the bow pressure on the bow..so I've kept telling myself..do I need to keep something the same for a while.  at least until when I hear something I know what caused it and how to do it on purpose if I want.  I'll cave though..I know me..theres a new bow in my future... 🙂  just trying to hold off a little longer.  as far as your search just make sure to post some playing when you get it! and  don't feel guilty by all means. 

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Mouse
February 27, 2020 - 12:50 pm
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I really love my Doetsch 15 1/2” viola but my intonation on my viola has gotten pretty good. The notes sound rather hollow when I am spot on and the reward for hitting that F sharp, G or C is not there in the form of a round full sound. It does not have enough depth, making it lackluster now. The sound is mellow, but hollow, not as hollow as a $300 beginner student level, but just no reward of a nice full sound. It bothers me a lot. 

It is not a hollow sound that strings would change, been there, tried that, it is the viola. I guess my picky ears are picking that sound up now that my intonation in first position is becoming more exact. My ears are extremely picky to sound, I mentioned that in my recent post in the Viola Talk section of the forum about going viola tasting, which prompted this thread. I was actually feeling guilty about upgrading my viola after I thought about posts I have read with replies stating, “Everyone thinks a better instrument will make you play better and it won’t”. These thoughts were going through my mind, “Am I sounding like a prima dona”, “Am I giving the impression that I think a better viola will make me play better?” Those things ran through my mind as I posted that in Viola Talk this morning. In reality, I am looking for responses from others about their viola buying adventures, not trying to sound like a prima dona or expert violist. 

Do I expect my viola playing to vastly improve simply because I might find a better viola in a different price range with a fuller sound? No. I know that. I just want to be able to enjoy and hear a reward for good intonation. It is a driving forward mechanism. Because it is driving me forward, that will make me a better student of viola.

So, if you are a parent of a student instrumentalist, and your child is doing really well but has lost interest, ask how your child feels about that instrument, ask if it is a lack of interest in playing music in general, or if your child is not getting what (s)he wants from the instrument as far as the quality of sound considering how spot on (s)he is. Is (s)he being rewarded by accurate playing with good quality sound? Maybe, renting an upgrade and seeing if that will help keep him/her encouraged to continue. The child might assume (s)he is not progressing because that student sound is still coming out of the instrument, even though (s)he has progressed or his or her ears are just progressed to where (s)he needs a better sound in general to be encouraged and feel proud of his/her progress and hard work. Again, it all works together.

I cringe every time I hear, “Everyone thinks that getting a better instrument will make them play better. It is not the instrument, it is work playing and practicing.” That last section after the comma is the true part. The rest of that statement is poppycock. 😁

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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Peter
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February 27, 2020 - 1:27 pm
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Gordon Shumway said
...If you change your violin every 6 months, you'll never know what any violin can sound like..

  

I'm inclined to agree. My home-made electric fiddle has been taken to work for early morning practice; I'm not ready to put it aside since it remains a very useable and distinctive instrument. I'm proud of it, and to date it's the violin I feel happiest with. The other violin is like an unexplored country, and from my perspective it looks expansive and exotic. I'm in no hurry to replace either of them, in the same way I have for some years now not exchanged guitars, but I have grown a small collection. They are all highly individual, and I defend their place in my life even if of late they've been neglected. If my teacher tells me that the antique violin is unsuitable for me, then I may either save for a fair-quality student violin, or get a second opinion (and perhaps another tutor). I respect authority, but not unquestioningly.

I may have given up on amateur radio, but my key collection is going nowhere. None are particularly valuable, but they all represent a part of my radio journey. Coincidentally with the sphere of the violin, the most beautiful and sought-after telegraphy keys are Italian: Begali keys and paddles

Peter

"It is vain to do with more that which can be done with less"  - William of Ockham

"A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in" - Frederick the Great

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AndrewH
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February 27, 2020 - 1:37 pm
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One of the most important reasons a better instrument can make you a better student hasn't been mentioned.

A better instrument may not make you a better player immediately, but it will make it easier to learn good technique. A good instrument is more responsive to small changes in technique, which means you can hear more easily when you're on the right or wrong track and adjust accordingly. 

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Mouse
February 27, 2020 - 3:43 pm
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I agree with that point, AndrewH.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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Gordon Shumway
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February 27, 2020 - 4:22 pm
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For any point to be a good point, prices need to be discussed, whereas the entire thread has been abstract so far, and could be used to justify a beginner's trading in a $20 000 violin for a $40 000 one, both of which will sound terrible.

Peter said

the most beautiful and sought-after telegraphy keys are Italian: Begali keys and paddles

  33 different ones, really?

Andrew

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Mouse
February 27, 2020 - 4:45 pm
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I think price is relative to the person doing the buying. I was not concerned with how much people buy, that is a personal matter. It was just the comment that is made when someone shares their new instrument info, or is asking about upgrading, the comment, “Everybody thinks that buying a new instrument will make them play better”, inevitably pops up. I do not agree that that is what “everyone” or even most people think. And quite frankly, if it makes them more likely to play more, hear the nuances they could not pick up on with the other instrument, get more enjoyment, then it does help them play better in the long run because of more playing and more awareness when playing.

I don’t particularly care if it is a millionaire with a lot of money or the regular Joe who just gets enjoyment playing the viola/violin/cello, or any instrument. I don’t think that everyone, or a majority, do it thinking all their problems will be solved and they will all of a sudden be a wonderful instrumentalist. 

Off to get dinner ready.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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Peter
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February 27, 2020 - 5:24 pm
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Gordon Shumway said
For any point to be a good point, prices need to be discussed, whereas the entire thread has been abstract so far, and could be used to justify a beginner's trading in a $20 000 violin for a $40 000 one, both of which will sound terrible.

Peter said

the most beautiful and sought-after telegraphy keys are Italian: Begali keys and paddles

  33 different ones, really?

  

Peter Begali (ably supported by his daughter Bruna) supplies keys and paddles for all tastes and styles. I've never bought any of his products because I was a telegraphist much in the same way I have become a fiddler. A mixture of passion, opportunity, innovation, cheapskating and hubris. I made many of the keys I possess, and I've also made electronic keyers, built-in to iambic paddles. On the receiving end, a project for my undergraduate studies was a haptic code transducer for hearing-impaired telegraphists. I can receive Morse code at 12 words per minute through the tip of my left middle finger (the right hand is reserved for copying the material into the log and operating the key / paddles).

Telegraphy is a language like any other, with accents and each telegraphist has a unique 'fist'; many operators decry the use of electronic keyers because although they produce accurately timed code, they have no personality. I can still recall the last transmissions of one particular old amateur (famous for his contributions to the RSGB Bulletin / RadCom), his fist had changed, arthritis had set in.

To the unaccustomed ear it must sound like a stream of monotone staccato, but the rhythm is infectious once the words become apparent. There are training exercises which exploit this: enter "best bent wire" into an online Morse > sound encoder.

I had to check above that this thread is in the Breakroom: this has become a rant.

Peter

"It is vain to do with more that which can be done with less"  - William of Ockham

"A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in" - Frederick the Great

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Mouse
February 27, 2020 - 5:46 pm
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Not really a rant. Just interesting conversation. The forum was kind of in a lull. Thought I would ask about something that puzzled me.

I do have a question that is a swerve, though. The telegraphy you guys brought up. Is that reading Morse Code? I don’t understand where personality comes in to play. Don’t you take the code and translate it to the letters? I know it is more difficult than what I said, but where does the personality come in? 

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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GregW
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February 27, 2020 - 6:03 pm
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good chat...always a busy topic! 

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Irv
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February 27, 2020 - 8:25 pm
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I tend to be a tinkerer on all things, but I would like to put another bull in the shop.  It may be ok to experiment with accessories, but there reaches a point when you must “row the rig.”

I like my chin rest placed over the tailpiece and I have long arms (and why children, women with small arms, and all violists do not play with this accommodation is beyond me).  I like black bow hair.  The tertis style viola is a hoot (and would like to try a five string tertis styled violin and a 3/4 tertis style cello).  I fail to see why fiberglass bows have a place in decent society.  Whatever.

Having found what I like, I have reached a point where I am sticking to them.  If you have found sound equipment and your technique is not likely to cause injury, effort should be concentrated on taking what you have and achieve with it.  

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.         —Frank Zappa

The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed. —William Gibson

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AndrewH
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February 27, 2020 - 9:10 pm
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Irv said 

I like my chin rest placed over the tailpiece and I have long arms (and why children, women with small arms, and all violists do not play with this accommodation is beyond me). 

  

 

I don't because I can't -- a centered chinrest requires a relatively long neck. For me, the chinrest needs to be lower than the tailpiece. I have a custom made ultra-low chinrest on my viola because literally nothing on the market allows me to fit the viola between my jaw and collarbone. However, my chinrest is cut so that it can be placed closer to center than typical side-mounted chinrests.

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Mouse
February 27, 2020 - 9:16 pm
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@Irv said

I fail to see why fiberglass bows have a place in decent society.  Whatever.

I prefer wood bows. I do, however, love my carbon fiber weave cello bow. It is the best carbon fiber I have ever used. It works best on my Schroetter cello. My pernambuco works best with my Goronok cello. There is a definite difference in each if I swap them around. So, I guess the material a bow is made from makes a difference?

I prefer the chin rest over the tailpiece. I have a nice chin rest on my Concert Deluxe that is on the side, but it is enough over the tailpiece that I can shift to the over the tailpiece section if I feel like it that day. It is the best of both worlds. I hate the Guarneri style chin rest.

Cello and Viola Time! 

(Former Username - cid)

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AndrewH
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February 27, 2020 - 9:24 pm
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@Mouse, fiberglass and carbon fiber are two different things.

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Irv
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@AndrewH and others.  I actually have a chin rest that is configured as part of the tailpiece (I could not resist the purchase of a mutant that interesting).   No idea regarding the sonic consequences of that combination, but it is likely a great way for a child to start.  

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.         —Frank Zappa

The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed. —William Gibson

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AndrewH
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February 27, 2020 - 10:20 pm
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Irv said
@AndrewH and others.  I actually have a chin rest that is configured as part of the tailpiece (I could not resist the purchase of a mutant that interesting).   No idea regarding the sonic consequences of that combination, but it is likely a great way for a child to start.  

  

It might be workable for playing fiddle tunes in first position, but it's really a terrible idea when you get into shifting and vibrato and need to put head weight on the chinrest. (And I recall you posting it -- it's still too high for me.)

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