3 choices...maybe more...

May 28, 2012 at 08:06 AM · I guess I am what you might call a serious neophyte. I began playing violin two years ago when I accepted a strings position in a few states away from home. Having been a band teacher in my previous years, I could not imagine trying to teach something that I could not play. Thus I purchased a Samuel Shen SV800 violin from a local music shop and began learning it. I basically spent the next year learning violin, viola, cello, and bass. Yes, I am that guy. I try to play everything and do well enough to stay beyond most of my students.

I have upgraded my viola recently, about two months ago. I changed from a 16.5" Klaus Mueller Etude Viola to a 16" Rudoulf Doetsch. It was a significant upgrade in terms of tone and playability. I thoroughly love the new viola.

Recently, I was helping my top violinist at one of my schools tune her instrument. Normally I tune it while she plays if she has trouble, but I decided to play it myself. My first thought was, "Boy this is pretty junky!" Then I got to thinking, I have never played a really decent violin. What might I be missing?

Even though I'm not a great, or even a good violinist yet, I still practice for a few hours a day typically. My viola is dark and rich in tone, and my current violin is bright and projects well.

Given the fact that I teach in some "rough" schools, the idea of having school instruments and home instruments are becoming more appealing. So, I'm thinking my old 16.5" viola and my current violin could fit that bill pretty nicely.

Lately I've been poking around of the internet, local shops, and asking advice. My current price range is between $2000-$3000ish. Currently I have four main options: 1. Be cheap. Use my 16.5" viola for school only and get top notch strings for my Shen violin. 2. Purchase a Rudoulf Doetsch violin from my local shop (also my school's repair man and a very nice guy) 3. I recently contacted a shop near my hometown that has a 1937 Oskar Meinel and a John Juzek Master Art for both around $3500. The seller tells me that they are both worth $6000-$8000. 4. Research anything that you may tell me.

So, any advice is appreciated! By the way, I do not believe that I will ever return to being a band teacher. I love strings way too much!!!

Thank you,

Pete the Relentless

Replies (22)

May 28, 2012 at 11:30 AM · My first violin teacher went through a well-known conservatory on clarinet, and in his earliest days teaching strings/orchestra the story goes he was taking lessons at Eastman and staying a step or two ahead of the high-schoolers. There are good shops near you, but if you are close to DC, there's a possibility of an "urban uptick" in the prices. You could talk to the folks at my local luthier, String House of Kanack" here in Rochester, NY. They have a very wide range or instruments. Others on v.com have had instrument sent, even across country. Or take a field trip. Sue

May 28, 2012 at 02:14 PM · I would question if it is good teaching and good for the pupils to be only a step or two ahead of them?

May 28, 2012 at 03:10 PM · Peter, you should then start a thread on that.

As to the original question: I suggest you keep your current instruments for teaching purposes. Go ahead and uppgrade the strings and have the set-up checked to see if that improves the sound quality/playability for you.

Then save up for a 'better' instrument for your own pleasure, and to practice with at home.

Then you have more time to explore your options, save up more money if you wish to purchase a more expensive instrument, etc., but still have your teaching material at hand.

May 28, 2012 at 03:14 PM · I agree with Peter Charles.

Cheers Carlo

May 28, 2012 at 03:21 PM · Then we have the beginnings of a potentially great (heated even!)...thread...;)

May 28, 2012 at 03:30 PM · If you shop around, you can get a quite decent violin for $2-$3K. When I bought mine last year, my budget was $3-$4K but I ended up finding a 100 year old non-trade non-workshop instrument for only $2.2K. Remember that using the rule-of-thumb that you'll also need to budget about $750 for a bow.

Another v.commie blogged about upgrading her violin a few years ago. She got a previous year's model Carlo Lamberti from Shar for a very good price. Although this in itself might not be unique, I mention it because she also upgraded her viola to a Rudolf Doetsch.

May 29, 2012 at 12:31 AM · Peter C., et al., if he's in a typical public school string program, staying a couple of steps ahead is as good as it gets at first. Sounds like this guy will be a few steps further ahead each subsequent year.

Peter P., you might look at Eastman, Snow, and Jay Haide violins too. All are made in China, all have good reputations for putting out well-made violins, especially in the price range you're talking about. For 2 to 3K you will have some nice choices. Don't forget to look at upgrading your bow, too. That will make as much or more difference.

May 29, 2012 at 01:41 AM · There are many shops in the DC area. For student fiddles, Lashof in Gaithersburg has a pretty good selection. I have a second fiddle in the 2-3K price range and I am pretty happy with it. It is a Kono. If you contact Bill Weaver in Bethesda, he can tell you where you can get your hands on one. Potters might have some, but they put a different label in them. Johnson Strings will ship instruments to you on trial. Try out as many as you have the patience for and find something that speaks to you. Good luck!

May 29, 2012 at 07:00 AM · @Lisa. In addition to private schools and pupils, I have also taught in public school's music programs.

Nine years of training at universities including four years postgraduate with top teachers. Playing in professional orchestras and teaching for twenty years whist doing all this. That's what you need to teach violin.

Teaching violin "one step ahead" is doing no one any favours. Would you go to a Doctor or Lawyer who was untrained?

Cheers Carlo

May 29, 2012 at 01:43 PM · Carlo...the option isn't between having a highly educated violin teacher teaching kids in most schools...

It's having ANY teacher willing/able to teach the kids.

Doing it your way would mean that many kids would have NO chance to even try a stringed instrument.

By having an interested teacher...willing to stay a step or two ahead of them (and bravo to Peter for taking that on) they have the opportunity to learn (no matter how little that might be - it's still worth the experience).

I'm sure if one child shows extraordinary prowess or talent, other arrangements could perhaps be made for that child.

Band teachers - who do have a music education...need to be able to play all the band instruments...but obviously they're not adept at ALL of them (nor can they be)...yet they teach - and very successfully in many instances.

And my final point. I'd guess some 99% of kids have their music exposure in school...and then move on to the next school experience...most have no interest or desire to stick it out forever...they don't need Maxim Vengerov at the helm...

May 29, 2012 at 01:48 PM · BTW...as far as doctors and lawyers go:

Most people can do basic first aid and write up a will...you don't neccessarily require a professional for that...

Now, if you need surgery or you're trying for a corporate take-over...that's a whole 'nother ball game...

May 29, 2012 at 02:14 PM · I believe both Peter and Carlo are in the UK, so they probably are not aware that in the US public schools, it is common for one teacher to be hired for band and/or orchestra regardless of their personal instrumental background.

May 29, 2012 at 02:48 PM · @M L Scott. I didn't know that. Here in the UK nobody would be hired to teach an instrument unless they were a specialist on that instrument, even in Public (state) school music programs. The minimum requirement would be to have a performance degree on their instrument. The same applies in New Zealand and Italy. I assumed the rest of the world was the same.

Is it really so poorly funded in the US that specialist teachers for each instrument cannot be hired?

Cheers Carlo

May 29, 2012 at 03:27 PM · Yes.

May 29, 2012 at 04:33 PM · This is way off topic, but my son doesn't bother with the music program at his public school because he is way more advanced on violin than the teacher who specializes in french horn. Even if the teacher was a string player, they would have to teach a group of kids, many of which are beginners, so the pace of the group as a whole would be way too slow.

I'm not bragging or anything, just pointing out that the music program in the public schools is not very well suited for more advanced musicians. I am hoping that will improve in the higher grades. I know there are some phenomenal musicians at the local high school. There are several violinists (ages 12-16) I have heard in masterclasses that sound better than most pros. This might be an interesting topic for another thread.

May 29, 2012 at 07:49 PM · Smiley, I know kids in my children's public school programs who were very good violinists and who used the school music program to explore other instruments. As you noted, the school pace is slow, so they didn't worry about practice time on their new instrument cutting into practice time on the violin.

May 29, 2012 at 08:40 PM · We really can't compare the two:

A school program, which is one class in the curriculum...and almost always optional (at least in my neck of Canada)...with the purpose of introducing children to music, playing an instrument, playing in a group...


A private music education.

And a private music education has various facets as well - you can take it to learn the instrument (and hopefully play it!), to eventually teach that instrument, or to become a professional perfomer...

Where we live, there just isn't enough of a population base to do much more than what we're doing...which is exposure to music in school (and some schools have no music program whatsoever). For children seriously interested in music, they need a private education.

There will always be a few children, who have the public school experience and who continue on with music at some level (*ahem* I'd be an example). How far they get depends on their circumstances and on how much effort their parents are willing to put into their musical interests.

Our local public school'band' program was fine for my older son. It didn't work for my daughter (hence her private piano and oboe education) and was a total fail for my youngest son...but at least he was still exposed to it all...

In that regard having a general program is of value because at least all kids get exposure...if their school division offers music as an option.

May 29, 2012 at 08:53 PM · Quote:

"BTW...as far as doctors and lawyers go:

Most people can do basic first aid and write up a will...you don't neccessarily require a professional for that...

Now, if you need surgery or you're trying for a corporate take-over...that's a whole 'nother ball game..."

Mr. Mohr, that's not only perceptive and funny, but can apply just as easily to the fiddle making and dealing trade.

No need to pay more than you need to. But there can be consequences for paying less than you need to. Depends on the details of the situation. It's really helpful to know the difference. I know that from getting it wrong most of the time. :-)

June 1, 2012 at 01:24 AM · Thank you all for the input! I did not mean to start an educational thread by any stretch.

Public education is in serious condition, if not critical condition as far as music is concerned. I have a limited budget to say the least, kids playing on instruments that are "violin shaped" though I'm not certain to call them violins. Oh, and various colors as well! To top it off we don't have a regular classroom either, I teach in a trailer that cannot comfortably fit my students. Mind you this is a small complaint, I am grateful to have a job doing what I enjoy!

June 1, 2012 at 01:39 AM · @Peter P. Apologies for any offence caused. The media here portrays American school life quite differently to your reality. Don't your kids all drive to school in the latest convertible that Daddy bought for them...

Cheers Carlo

June 2, 2012 at 12:04 AM · @Carlo. No worries friend. As a general rule I avoid television unless watching the weather or Bugs Bunny while drinking coffee in the morning. Having originally come from upstate NY, I can clearly say the music part of public education is more like trying to water a garden, you hit as much as you can for as many as you can! I cannot even pretend to imagine trying to teach band down here in a classroom setup rather that small group lessons. It boggles the mind.



June 6, 2012 at 03:24 PM · While it appears clear that for the dedicated student the model of private classes only (as championed in UK schools) is great, I think the opportunity for group work is so good.

When I started high school, and the form came round for peripatetic classes, I saw the price and said (because it was HIGH) that I didn't want to continue violin. Of course, I now regret that.

Intra-curricular music classes were a bit of a joke really, and you weren't allowed to join orchestra unless you were taking lessons.

I think I'd have benefitted a lot from the 'band class' model.

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