Choosing the right accessories for your ensemble can be tricky, especially on a budget. Some accessories can greatly affect the overall sound and efficacy of an ensemble. As a teacher, anything you provide that helps your ensemble sound more mature will give them a leg up when it comes to performances and festivals. Using the right products is also important for instrument care and can help keep your instruments in tip-top shape all year round.
With so many options on the market, it can take hours to sift through item descriptions to find the right products at the right price. And we know, as a teacher, time is one thing you don’t have enough of. To help save you time, we have made a list of our most recommended accessories – based on your players’ level and your budget – to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck.
With so many different variations of strings, navigating them can be time consuming. Differences in string core, string wrapping, tension or gauge, and loop versus ball ends create a variety of outcomes to consider. Let’s break down the best options for students and see what goes into making these strings so popular.
First, let’s consider the core of the string. There are four main types: gut, solid steel, stranded steel, and synthetic. Although each type of string core offers its benefits, there are two types we recommend for students: solid steel and synthetic.
Solid-steel core strings are recommended most for beginning student musicians for durability and focused sound. Solid-steel core strings are resistant to changes in temperature and humidity, and therefore last longer than strings with other cores. In addition, steel core strings are easy to manufacture, making them the most economically friendly type of string.
Synthetic core strings may be considered for intermediate players due to their richer tonal qualities and better bow response. Synthetic core strings are made to reflect the sound and feel of gut core strings but offer more stability in that they are less affected by temperature and humidity changes. In comparison to steel core strings, synthetic strings stretch more and therefore require greater changes in string length in order to change their pitch. Therefore, using the wooden pegs to tune, rather than fine tuners, is a skill students must have if using synthetic strings on their instruments. Although synthetic strings are pricier than steel strings, the depth in tone offers a more mature sound and can take your student’s tonality to the next level.
The second factor to consider is how the strings are wound. Typically, strings are wound with metals such as aluminum, steel, nickel, silver, titanium, and tungsten. Denser, heavier metals are used on the lower strings of the instrument. Accordingly, tungsten is typically used for the C and G strings of a cello, and silver for the D and G strings of a violin.
Aluminum is one of the most widely used winding materials. Strings for students are often manufactured using aluminum because it is less expensive than other materials. However, in contrast to noncorrosive materials such as steel and titanium, aluminum can corrode in reaction to oils from the skin and therefore may not last as long as other winding materials.
Tension and Gauge
Next, let’s take into consideration the tension and gauge of a string. Although these two terms go hand in hand, gauge refers to a string’s thickness, and tension is the force it takes to stretch the string to the desired pitch. Tension is important to consider because it affects the sound of the instrument and the string’s responsiveness to the bow. Strings come in either light (weich), medium (mittel), or heavy (stark).
Most string players start out using medium-tension strings. Many players eventually switch depending on personal preference. Heavier tension strings produce more power and sound, whereas lighter tension strings have an easier bow response but less sound. Medium-tension strings are recommended because they have a balanced tone, and usually produce the best outcome for the majority of instruments. However, it is important to note that string tension and gauge are not standardized between manufacturers, so one brand’s idea of “medium” may be different than another’s.
The last element to consider is if you need your string to have either a ball end or a loop end. This mainly pertains only to the E string of a violin and is determined by the setup of the instrument. Ball-end strings attach to fine tuners that have two prongs. Loop-end strings attach to single-prong tuners. If the string doesn’t specify the type of end, it is most likely a ball end. Most student instruments are outfitted with two-prong fine tuners, and therefore ball-end strings are the most popular choice.
Recommendation for beginning students: D’Addario Prelude
D’Addario’s line of Prelude strings are recommended for first- and second-year students. They come in a variety of sizes for all instruments, are perfect for developing student musicians, and can be bought individually or in sets. Prelude strings have a solid-steel core, making them extremely durable and resistant to temperature changes. They are noted for their warm tone and good bow response. Designed with medium tension, they are comfortable for the majority of young players. They are often favored by educators for their affordability and stability.
Recommendation for intermediate students: Thomastik Dominant
Dominant strings, manufactured by the Viennese company Thomastik, are widely regarded as the industry standard for intermediate to advanced players. They offer strings in three different tensions, giving players more options when choosing their sound. Dominant strings have a synthetic core and are available with different string windings to allow students to customize their sound. They are noted for having rich overtones and replicate the feeling of gut strings, all while being more durable, longer lasting, and more stable intonation-wise.
Although there are fewer variations of rosin, understanding the differences is important to ensure you select the type that is best for your instruments.
Generally, there are two kinds of rosin: light and dark. Lighter rosins are designed for upper strings: violins and violas. Typically, light rosin is harder and produces a finer dust that is less sticky. Dark rosin, which is usually softer and stickier, is designed for basses and cellos. Bass and cello strings are thicker and require more grip to produce sound. Thus, dark, stickier rosin is needed to move their strings.
Although it is safe to use light rosin on any type of instrument, rosin that is specified as “bass rosin” should only be used for bass instruments, mainly because it is significantly softer, and not suitable for other instruments. More experienced string players often use premium rosin since it produces less dust. However, we recommend a more economically friendly variety that serves the needs of most teachers’ string players.
Recommendation: Super-Sensitive Original Rosin
Super-Sensitive’s Original Rosin comes in both light and dark varieties. Super-Sensitive rosin is affordably priced while still being a quality product for student instruments. Super Sensitive rosin comes in a wooden box rather than a cloth-wrapped cake, making it less messy and more convenient to store. The wooden box also serves to protect the product, adding to its longevity.
There are two main kinds of mutes: those used for orchestral playing and those for practice. Practice mutes are designed to significantly reduce the amount of sound the instrument produces, making practicing less audible to those around you. Orchestral mutes, which are smaller and more concealable, are designed to dampen the sound produced by the instrument or create a change in timbre. As a teacher, you will probably be investing in orchestral mutes, since these are often notated in repertoire by the composer as a crucial part of the piece’s balance and overall texture.
Recommendation: Tourte Mutes
Tourte mutes are an industry standard while also being extremely affordable. Tourte mutes are made of a flexible yet durable rubber and are easy for students to attach during performance. Their texture and malleability reduce the noise that can be created when attaching and detaching a mute to the bridge, making them inconspicuous. Tourte mutes are readily available to your players since they are designed to remain attached to the instrument when not in use.
Although instrument accessories can be highly individualized due to personal preferences of each player, our recommendations are based on industry standards and best practices for developing student musicians. Knowing what qualities to look for in string accessories will reduce the time you spend shopping, and give you confidence that your selections are the right products for your students!