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What's The Difference Between Student And Professional Grade Strings

Strings, like shoes, are designed with a particular purpose in mind. So, while students require strings that yield an easy response and consistent tuning, professionals often prefer strings that offer more nuanced musical expression. Your preferred musical style also affects string selection, thus classical players may opt for gut-core strings while non-classical players typically stick with steel or synthetic core strings.

Also, it's important for students to remember that your instrument's strings work in partnership with the bow. When you are a beginning string player, the bow can be the most difficult component to master, so it is important to choose the right strings for your proficiency - strings that are forgiving enough to create an easy bow response.

Stable vs. Finicky & Direct vs. Nuanced

As a student, the best strings choice will be steel or, if budget allows, synthetic core options. Both of these string types allow for that easy bow response and sound production important as you develop your musical ear and playing technique. Steel and student-specific synthetic core strings maintain stable pitch and tuning, and they settle quickly.

Steel core strings have a more direct, but likely less rich, sound than synthetic core strings. This is why they're the ideal strings for beginners or non-classical professionals who desire a brighter sound. Once you've progressed a bit, mastering bow technique and strokes, it will be time to experiment with the tone richness of synthetic core strings and explore how to manage higher/lower tension strings based on preference between projection and richness of sound.  

When it comes to string instruments, tone production is all about nuances. Check out Thomastik-Infeld Sound Charts – for Violin, Viola and Cello.  This chart can help you find your sound by identifying where a string set’s qualities fall on the spectrum – measuring broad versus focused and warm versus brilliant attributes. 

Things to Evaluate Before Progressing to Professional Grade Strings

If we revisit the shoe analogy, it makes no sense to buy hiking shoes if the aim is to walk on sidewalks. Similarly, the decision for intermediate and more advanced students, regarding which string-grade to select, should be driven by:

  • Bow technique. Higher tension strings offered to professionals would be a poor investment without properly mastering all bow strokes and understanding of how to “make” one’s sound by controlling the bow contact point.
  • Playing style. Orchestral versus chamber music playing, blending sound versus projecting sound, classical versus alternative style, amplified versus acoustic sound - all of these will also drive your preferred string grade.
  • Tone preference. Fast bow response strings, usually with steel core and medium tension, will offer a direct and brilliant sound. Gut and synthetic core strings may offer a darker, warmer sound, while tension variation offers better direction or a denser tone.
  • Your instrument voice, your tone preference. Strings may allow you to reinforce your instrument’s voice or push it in a different direction. This is all subjective, which is why there are so many string choices on the market. Just make sure to get feedback from a fellow player, your teacher, or a music store specialist regarding which tone can be expected, from rich to brilliant, from one brand to another.

When to change strings

It's difficult to set a rule regarding when to replace your strings, as the string approach varies from one musician to the other. When re-strung properly, quality strings rarely break, but their tone will eventually fade. Within the same brand, some professional musicians will choose to change strings every three weeks, while others will get six-months out of them. 

If you play your instrument an average of 30-minutes per day, change your strings at least once a year. If you play an average of one-hour a day, it's better to change your strings every three- to six- months.

Thinking about changing the strings on your instrument? Watch, The Short Story of Changing Strings, and then How to Have Your String Instrument Stay in Tune.

Alphayue Strings by ThomasTik-Infeld offer synthetic string options for students

The string manufacturing industry is not immune to innovation. Thomastik-Infeld has been the leader in string innovation and recently developed Alphayue strings - designed specifically with students in mind to allow for greater sound and playability – a synthetic core string at a fantastic, affordable cost.

These synthetic core strings have the right tension and easy bow response to allow students to explore tone, while benefiting from ease of playing.

Peter Infeld Strings or Vision Solo for violin or viola

Once you feel you understand how to partner with it in producing a beautiful sound, Peter Infeld Strings (p) will offer a brilliant tone, great stability and longevity for a professional tension set, while Vision Solo will provide you with a warmer, denser sound. Your teacher can help you determine when you're ready to take this important step.

Ultimately, the decision regarding whether or not to use student or professional grade strings comes down to experience level, bowing technique and the quality of tone you want to create. The choice is yours.

Sponsored by Thomastik-Infeld.

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