Orchestra Applications

Mike Lawson • Technology • January 1, 2002

Share This:

The World of String Technology

Of all the areas of music education today, string education is perhaps the underachiever when it comes to new, exciting technology innovations. Most string teachers don’t go much beyond the electric tuner when they consider technology. Fortunately, the music scene today is less constricted and open to change and expansion. Contemporary popular music has helped enrich repertory and performance practices with improvisation, sound synthesis, MIDI performance techniques and much more. Home and school recording studios are springing up. Burning CDs and DVDs is now economical, and computers continue to be productive in promoting technology applications for string educators. And then there is the Internet.

In this article, we’ll explore the use of string technology in several instructional venues. Technology instructional materials have become more valuable as more band directors are also teaching strings as part of their assignment. String technology advances are influencing students and teachers alike with more authentic references to sound production, bowing techniques, maintenance, care and more.


While there may be relatively few software options for string educators to use with their students, the software products published are outstanding and an asset for any string program. Virtual Virtuoso specializes in software products that aid string practicing. They offer a revolutionary series of software applications for violin, viola, cello and bass. Its Practice Assistant series is the fastest way to master etudes, scales and technical exercises. This play-along accompaniment series can be digitally controlled for tempo and key. The etude repertory is very impressive, including Flesch, Kreutzer, Sevcik, Sitt, Wohlfahrt for a start, plus Paganini, Rode and Gavinies for violin and viola, and Simandl for double bass.

In addition to the Practice Assistant software, the Virtual Virtuoso has started to offer recordings of the important etudes on audio CDs. The first offering in this new product line is “Slow Kreutzer,” a set of four CDs containing all 42 etudes, most of them recorded at two different tempos. Now you can play along with a correct performance, at a reasonable tempo, when you can’t practice with a PC. The Scale Master with MIDI Metronome will play along as you practice scales and arpeggios in any key in one, two or three octaves at any tempo from 40 to 160 beats per minute. PC system requirements: Windows 3.1 or later, a 386 or higher processor, 4 MB RAM, a sound card or external MIDI module. For more information, visit www.virtvirt.com.

If you are looking for a fingering program for each of the orchestral string instruments, visit www.xmission.com/~pswan. Swan Software is the only software source that teaches and reinforces fingering skills for all band and orchestra instruments. The company’s String Teacher’s Assistant offers a comprehensive set of programs that cover violin, viola, cello and bass fingerings in first position through fifth position. Students can be tested with printed results on their ability to recognize notes on the staff and to finger an instrument.

Looking for intonation software that can make a difference in your string ensembles? Music Lab by Town4Kids can provide in-depth development of correct pitch intonation on band and orchestra instruments. Visitwww.town4kids.com.


Classical Music:
There are several string methods that contain correlated audio components such as cassettes or CDs. Samuel Applebaum’s “String Builder Books One, Two and Three” and the “Third and Fifth Position” books have two different kinds of accompaniments on their audio component recordings. Most of the exercises have fully harmonized accompaniments that include the melody. These accompaniments, featuring a variety of musical styles, are recorded in stereo with the melody recorded on the left channel. If your playback equipment has a balance control, you can eliminate the melody by turning the balance control all the way to the right. A second feature of this recording is what is called “Rote ‘n’ Read Rhythms,” which consist of a drummer playing a variety of rhythmic styles without harmonic restrictions. The “Rote ‘n’ Read Rhythms” can be used to practice the rote projects found throughout the Belwin String Builder Method.

Contemporary Music:
“Strictly Strings Series, Volumes 1, 2 and 3,” by Jacquelyn Dillon, James Kjellan and John O’Reilly (Alfred Publishing) is an easy-to-teach string method designed to promote success in beginning string players through the joy of ensemble playing. Repertory is drawn from international folk songs, famous classical melodies, familiar symphonic themes and new, original compositions. There are four different methods in this series: “The Strictly Strings Method,” “Strictly Strings Christmas and Chanukah Ensembles”, “Strictly Strings Orchestra Series” and “Strictly Classics.” The play-along accompaniments will improve intonation and rhythm while providing more fun at practice sessions.

“Jazz Philharmonic” by Randy Sabien and Bob Phillips (Alfred Publishing) is designed to introduce jazz concepts in the string orchestra. The collection is filled with fresh, original tunes. Each unit of instruction contains a tune with written-out solos, backgrounds, bass lines and parts for piano and percussion. The CD provides rhythm sections featuring Randy Sabien and his band as a performance accompaniment. There are aural echoes on the CD to developgood ear-training skills. Though improvisation is recommended in this method, it is not required for a successful performance.

“Fiddlers Philharmonic” by Andrew H. Dabczynski and Bob Phillips (Alfred Publishing) introduces the string orchestra to traditional folk fiddling. There are 16 cross-cultural fiddle tunes presented in the best key for each string instrument, then a three-part arrangement using the best key for group performance. Each arrangement includes the tune, a variant of the tune called the “break” and backup/bass parts that can be combined in any way you choose for performance. Chord symbols are included for improvisation. “Fiddlers Philharmonic Encore!” by Andrew H. Dabczynski and Bob Phillips (Alfred Publishing) is similar to “Fiddlers Philharmonic” with 18 cross-cultural fiddle tunes. Each of these books has compact discs that contain complete performances of all contents.

For more information, visit www.alfred.com.

Looking for string books that cover contemporary string performance practices? Check out the publications by Julie Lyonn Lieberman for a definitive source of instruction. “The Contemporary Violinist” is written for violinists who long to improvise without the restrictions of printed music. It is a comprehensive guide to the art of violin improvisation in 16 different styles: jazz, blues, swing, folk, rock and New Age. Included is a rich collection of exercises, riffs, stylistic techniques, patterns, chord charts, tunes, photos, quotes and anecdotes from two dozen jazz greats, such as Claude Williams, Jean-Luc Ponty, and others. “Planet Musician” is a world music sourcebook for musicians with more than 150 world scales and modes, mental and technical exercises and a fresh approach. Included is a 74-minute practice CD. “Blues Fiddle” is a 111-page book that is devoted to playing the blues on violin with more than 30 tunes and solos, biographical information, theory and a comprehensive discography. “Rockin’ Out with Blues Fiddle” is a 64-page book with a supportive practice CD to motivate your imagination to improvise the blues. You’ll discover a dozen tunes, blues introductions, endings, back-up, playing over the blues structure, biographical information and more. For more information, visit www.JulieLyonn.com.

Classical Music:
Knowing that many string classes are taught by band directors, video resources can be an absolute must for instructional materials. “Ultimate Beginner Series for Violin, Viola and Cello” by Warner Bros. Publications is a video series for beginning students that presents how to care for and maintain your instrument, plus step-by-step instruction and hints for holding the instrument and the bow in developing a rich, full tone. It also covers the basics of finger patterns when playing major scales. The duration is 30 minutes each. For more information, visit www.warnerbrospub.com.

Music Video Products’ “Maestro Series” is designed to give beginners the best possible start in learning to playany of , using 10 individual videos for orchestral musical instruments, including violin, viola and cello. Each lesson covers posture, notes, hand position, reading music, playing the instrument and a free instructional booklet. Each tape is 45 minutes. For more information, visit www.mvphomevideo.com.

“The Violin in Motion” by Julie Lyonn Lieberman is a 60-minute private lesson providing an ergonomic approach to violin playing in many musical styles. The premise of instruction is a physiological basis for building effortless, fluid technique based on individual body type. A sample of sections includes holding the bow and violin based on ergonomics, bridging from a static relationship to one that constantly breathes, and an exercise program designed for violinists and violists. “The Instrumentalist’s Guide to Fitness, Health and Musicianship” by Julie Lyonn Lieberman is a very informative 90-minute video for understanding how your mind and body work together when you create music with exercises to relax and center you, breathing and stretching techniques, self-massage and warm-ups.

Looking for an introduction series of concerti repertory on video? SH Productions distributed by Alfred Publishing (www.alfred.com) presents a new video series with the soloist and conductor reviewing the score, discussing their interpretive approach and describing the how-tos for creating more exciting classical music.

Contemporary Music Techniques:
“Techniques for the Contemporary String Player, Parts 1 and 2″ by Julie Lyonn Lieberman are two videos that incorporate scales, rhythms, ornaments, and textural ideas from a variety of world music. Over 18 string styles have surged in popularity, including blues, swing, rock, old time, Celtic, Cajun, Cape Breton, Flamenco, Gypsy and Latin.

“Contest Fiddling Championship Style” by Mark O’Connor is a great study tool for learning intermediate and advanced fiddle techniques, including pre-contest workouts with Mark O’Connor. The video teaches three championship-winning tunes. The latest instructional video by Mark O’Connor is “Caprices.” While it’s not strictly an instructional video, it is a tremendous learning tool for violin virtuosity. Its wide variety of techniques are akin to Paganini-like etudes. Sheet music of the video is also available from Mark O’Connor. For more information for both the video and sheet music, visitwww.markoconnor.com.

“Stephane Grappelli Trio: Live at Warsaw Jazz Festival” is a must video for aspiring jazz string players. It’s an inspiration to view and hear a legendary string player in concert. McCoy Tyner is also on piano on tracks 18 and 19. For more information, visitwww.musicvideodistributors.com.

“Barrage: The World On Stage” is a stunning video that presents the fusion of music, dance, theater and song centered on the violin. Twelve acoustic violins are featured in multiplicity of cultures, styles and vitality. It’s amazing to see violins perform in such a variety of music genres along with their dancing simultaneously. For more information, visit www.barrage.org.

“The Electronic Violin” with Drew Tretick is a must video for demonstrating what a MIDI string instrument can accomplish. Musical styles featured include New Age, ballads, blues, jazz/fusions, rock, country and classical. For more information, visit www.zetamusic.com.

“Welcome to Wood Violins” is a good introduction to rock electric violin playing techniques, featuring “live” footage of Mark Wood and Celine Dion.

Zeta Music has the only MIDI patent for string MIDI synthesis, so all MIDI string instruments incorporate Zeta Music MIDI parts. Zeta’s Synthony II offers 480 sounds and 11 drum kits that are General MIDI compatible with 11 reverbs, 11 choruses and 42 variations that can be freely combined and simultaneously performed. What I like about Zeta MIDI violins is that you can mix analog and MIDI sound synthesis together for amazing results. With MIDI, you can also input to any MIDI software program, which makes computer music engraving, sequencing, music theory and improvisation application very simple to use without piano chops. For more information, visit www.zetamusic.com.

Several things make electric string instruments a credible vehicle for public string education applications. There is a wealth of contemporary music that aspiring string players can perform as a string ensemble that is exciting to hear and play, especially when performed on electric string instruments. I’ve posted over 200 published charts on my Web site at:
www.kuzmich.com/handouts/String_Publishers.aspx. Professional libraries are available from the Turtle Island String Quartet, RESQ String Quartet, Modern String Quartet and others that really swing.

Performing this music acoustically is a good first step to get involved in this exciting music. Becoming aware and then involved in the electrified strings movement is an exhilarating process of discovery and creative expression. While the amplification may be misunderstood, the process is simple: you can balance a string quartet to sound like a full string orchestra without fuss and with clarity and power to spare. And if that isn’t enough, the magic of electric string instruments is that they sound awesome, look modern and bring a new degree of ownership to string players with sounds that are clear and creative. Leading electronic string instrument manufacturers are Zeta Music and Yamaha.

Another interesting consideration for electronic string instruments is the option of incorporating special effect processors with electrified strings. Guitar players have long dominated this area of musical expression with noise generators, phrase-looping harmonizers, Straight EQ, octave warp fifths, phase delay, wailing lead, shimmer, phase comp, reverb pool, Quasars and more. But string players have the same options to make their music even more magical. Consider using a Boomerang Phrase Sampler and compose original, real-time compositions with multiple-track, foot-operation with ease. Visit Boomerang Music at www.boomerangmusic.com. For a quick introduction to the rainbow of musical applications via special effect applications, visit www.mer-ka-ba.com/violinexamples/ for some excellent examples of electric violin sound bites “live” online. Entry-level equipment could include the Zoom GFX797 and PX3. Intermediate-level equipment might be the Boss GT3, Boss GT5, Digitech RP7 or Digitech RP 14. For more insight on how this kind of equipment can be modified and customized with some hot contemporary sounds, please visitwww.kuzmich.com/handouts/do.aspx and www.kuzmich.com/handouts/Special_Effects.aspx.

Electric Pickups for Acoustic String Instruments

Electronic string pickups can easily transform an acoustical instrument to an electrical instrument. My favorite is made by Fishman Electronics and available in a variety of pickups. When incorporated with a pre-amp, sound quality and power of the Fishman electric pickup has no distortion and is amazing for the price. What helps to make the Fishman pickups more desirable is their amazing sturdiness, which can be a serious concern for public school applications. For more information, visit www.fishman.com. Barcus-Berry (www.barcusberry.com) offers the most inexpensive pickups for easy public school applications on a modest budget for all string, brass and woodwind instruments. Barbera Transducer (www.barberatransducers.com) is a professional level pickup for all string instruments.

Improvisation Materials Appropriate for String Instruction

JIME is a company that specializes in string improvisation books for violin, viola and cello with companion play-along CDs or cassette tapes. They have two successful string improv methods currently available: “Improvise” by Jody Harmon and “Jazz Improvisation Made Easy” by John Blake and Jody Harmon. The first book works on the premise that any string musician can learn to improvise in a step-by-step, easy manner and creatively learn basic music theory. String instrumental performance prerequisite is Suzuki Book 2 or equivalent with teacher help and Book 3 or equivalent without teacher assistance. Advance players will learn five different approaches to melodic improvisation. “Improvise” is a true play-along method as the book is not intended to be read separately from the play-along CD. Each step should be tried on your instrument with the play-along recording. “Jazz Improvisation Made Easy” offers a unique methodology that is based on a repertory of tunes for melodic improvisation instruction using major scale patterns. Minimum recommended playing level are first and third positions and two-octave major scales or Suzuki Book IV level. There are separate individual books for violin, viola, and cello. For more information, visit www.stringimprov.com.

“Jazz Fiddle Wizard” by Martin Norgaard (Mel Bay) is a practical guide to jazz improvising for string players. It is a workbook for string players who want to learn to improvise within the jazz tradition. It teaches the player how to improvise by using tunes and chord structures from the standard jazz repertoire. Completing the 25 lessons will enable the novice player to sit in on a jam session. This is a very personal book with excellent insight about string improvisation. The CD accompaniment offers 18 tracks. I like how solo transcriptions are included in this method. For interactive string improvisation instruction, converse with the author at www.jazzfiddlewizard.com.

For more information about improvisation materials, I have reviewed over 1,000 improvisation methods and supplemental instructional materials in my “Survey of New Teaching Materials” column in the Jazz Educators Journal since 1975. For back issues, contact the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) at www.iaje.org.

A good resource of what’s available in teaching improvisation is Jamey Aebersold’s online jazz catalog with summations of improvisation materials, play-along recordings, hard to find jazz recordings and videos product descriptions at: www.jazzbooks.com.

Recommended Jazz String Discography for Technology Applications

It is puzzling how few music teachers regularly use jazz recordings and videos to motivate their students to emulate the “jazz masters.” With jazz strings, this is amplified because so few instrumental music educators and their students actually know what even constitutes jazz strings. Fortunately, there are many good recordings/videos to stimulate jazz string instruction. For a quick synopsis of prominent jazz string artists, go to:www.kuzmich.com/handouts/String_Discography.aspx. In addition, go to Zeta Music (www.zetamusic.com) for resources of jazz artists and their audio and video recordings. “The Talking Violin” is the only audio document of its kind in the world hosting a definitive discography of the history of jazz violin playing. It consists of five cassette tapes with over 50 improvising violinists covering more than seven decades of music. It is hosted by Billy Taylor. For more information, visit http://www.JulieLyonn.com.

Matt Glaser has produced an excellent source of early jazz violin recordings called “Texas and Swing Fiddle,” published by Homespun Tapes (www.homespuntapes.com). You can get into some heavy swing concepts with these tapes. Matt’s latest video is “Swingin’ Jazz Violin” which gets you playing along with him on some simple swinging ideas, trading four-bar phrases as you imitate his riffs in a call-and-response session.

Recommended Web Sites featuring String Technology

I can’t recommend a more comprehensive, unbiased Web site than www.lightbubble.com/bowed/manuf.htm for information about electronic strings, including electronic instruments, electronic effects, electronic violinists, violin makers, classifieds, recording equipment, performance equipment, and much more.

Play-Along Accompaniments

The two giants in the industry that provide outstanding play-along accompaniments in a cassette tape or compact disc format are Music Minus One or MMO (since 1950) and Jamey Aebersold (since 1965). The MMO (www.musicminusone.com) offers classical accompaniment for all string instruments for just about all of the standard concerti repertory with either piano or orchestral and jazz rhythm section accompaniments. Jamey Aebersold’s play-along library of jazz accompaniments (www.jazzbooks.com) is the definitive standard for aspiring jazz artists with nearly 100 volumes spotlighting dozens of legendary jazz artists. Conveniently, jazz accompaniment parts for C, Bb, Eb and bass clef are included in every volume; however, viola parts would need to be transposed.

Closing Comments

To continue your growth and discovery of string applications, visit the following Web sites for more in-depth information: www.iaje.org/article.asp?ArticleID=44 and www.kuzmich.com/handouts/strings3.aspx. There is an impressive library of published music available on audio and video recordings by prominent jazz artists plus innovative string pickups, electronic string instruments, MIDI string instruments and special effects processors that can bring string instruments into a new world of musicality. You are welcomed to view electric string clinics with technology applications that my daughter, Reva Kuzmich, and I have presented across the country, and our step-by-step clinic handouts.

String music education stands on the threshold of some amazing creativity in today’s public school education market. Students are naturally eager to expand the traditional string repertory into the 21st century with improvisation and composition far beyond the MENC National Teaching Standards.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!