I have been practicing a lot lately, trying to get the Mozart Violin Concerto in A Major ready to record. I have not been happy with my sound, and I kept working harder and harder, trying to energize my vibrato and digging in with my bow….but I just wasn’t getting the resonant sound I wanted.
My hands were hurting and getting tired quickly. I started wondering if my technique had slipped—maybe I was squeezing the violin or something.
Then I bought a new set of strings. I got them so that I could put them on my instrument and get them all broken in by the time I have to record the concerto.
OMG! I can’t believe I didn’t realize that my strings were the problem all along! They were DEAD as a DOORNAIL (whatever that means).
As soon as I put them on and played my first scale, I felt so stupid. My instrument sounded resonant, loud, ringy, responsive, the soft notes were clear, the loud notes were rich. My vibrato is finally doing what I want it to do. Eureka!
The moral of the story? New strings can transform your playing! But how do we know when it’s time to get new ones? There are several things to consider. Are you a professional or amateur? Beginner or advanced player? How much are you playing daily? What brand of strings do you use, because different strings have different durability.
You know how Jiffy Lube recommends you change your oil every 3,000 miles or every 3 months, whichever comes first? Same goes for violin strings. When I’m putting in A LOT of miles, I have to change my strings very frequently. For instance, when I’m performing in an orchestra pit EVERY DAY, plus practicing at home, I will change my strings every month, at a minimum.
Yes, it’s expensive, but so is tendonitis. New strings help you work less to get the sound out. When I’m not doing a lot of high-pressure performing, and I’m just practicing an hour or two a day, I will change my strings every 3-4 months. Honestly, this last set of strings was on my instrument for about 8 months, and that was WAY TOO LONG from a professional standpoint.
If you are an amateur, and you would call yourself a beginner, I would say you need a new set of strings on your instrument every 9 months to a year. No if’s and’s or but’s. It is a necessity. If you are intermediate or advanced, change your strings every 9 months at least. If you have a recital or important performance coming up, put new strings on a week before your performance, and save the old ones as spares.
It’s a very good idea to keep a half decent set of STRETCHED strings on hand, in case of a broken string during a concert, or the day of a concert or something like that. (it’s happened to me twice and I was prepared both times!)
Should you change just one string, or all of them? Change all of them. I know it’s expensive, but let’s go back to the automobile analogy. Would you put a brand new tire on your car with 3 worn tires? Most people agree this is not a good idea. I hate spending a ton of money on strings too, so here are three good compromises:
- When you buy your strings, buy an extra A and E string. When it’s time to change your strings, put on the new A and E. They tend to wear out the worst.
- Keep a brand new, full set of spare strings available at all times. When one string starts to unravel or go “false”, replace it with your spare, then get another spare. You’ll notice you will be replacing your A and E most often.
- When you have a big performance coming up, SPLURGE and get a FULL new set, and take the old ones off as emergency, stretched spares.
How do you change a violin string? There are many tutorials online showing this process, including my own:
The topic of what strings to use is way too involved to attempt to cover it here. But string suppliers have gotten very good about describing the tonal qualities of their strings. Read up on the different brands, and try a few!
I love Dominant strings because they are affordable, consistent, and of professional quality. They are still very expensive, though, at about $45 per set.
A student of mine recently showed up with a new set of D’addario Prelude strings and I was quite impressed with them for beginning to intermediate players. I think the whole set cost him $15!
Finally, the best prices I found recently on violin strings was at www.gostrings.com.
Life is too short to play on old strings!