Welcome!

My name is Jenny, and I'm glad you're here.

I'm guessing that you found me for one of two reasons:

  • 1 ~ You enjoy the music of my band, Circa Paleo and want to know more about it.
  • 2 ~ You have a Hot Violinist within and are seeking some tips on how to do all of this yourself.

I'm mostly focusing on the instructional stuff here, but this is also a great place to hang out if you want more behind the scenes info and unreleased previews of my music projects.

If you're just here to listen and watch, that's cool, but now a few words for you fiddlers and fiddlers to be:

I'm not claiming to be an expert of the violin, but I do know a LOT about starting violin "late" since I myself began my fiddle journey at age 18. I've also learned a lot about unique world music styles over the past several years of traveling all over the place.

Now I want to share all the quirky tips and music that I've learned. In other words…

I'm here to make YOU into a Hot Violinist.

Before we go further, lets define hot, shall we? Because the hot I’m talking about reaches far beyond smokin’ fiddle riffs and gym bodies. Check out my first blog post, "The Hot Violinist Manifesto," to read about what "hot" really means to me.

3 Ways to Deal with Nerves While Playing Violin in Front of People

I’ve been performing on tour with Circa Paleo for 20 weeks now, and have gotten waaay behind on answering emails and messages. I just got a Facebook message today with a juicy question that made me really miss interacting with all you fiddlers out there- it’s been so long that I’ve been on tour I can’t wait to get back to making videos!

Here’s the question from Michael Cannain that I can totally relate to:

“Hi Jenny. I have a question. What kind of advice do you have for those of us who play, but get nervous in front of crowds? Nervous up to and including shaking..sounds horrible on a violin…just wondering.”

And here’s what I said:

Dear Michael,

This is a great question!

I used to get nervous and shake as well. I know- it makes it completely impossible to play the dang thing.

There are a few personal tricks and warm ups that I could demonstrate better in a video. I will add this to my list of videos to make in the new year. But for now, I still wanted to share the three most basic helpful tips for managing nerves while playing in front of people:

1) Be Prepared.

It helps if you have practiced the tune a LOT on your own time. Try this confidence building exercise:

Give yourself a challenge to play the piece or sections of the piece 10 times in a row with no mistakes. If you make a mistake, play only that section 10 times in a row. Once you have the section down consistently, then go back to playing the whole piece. Once you’ve achieved the 10 times all the way through with no mistakes, celebrate and take a break.

2) Keep doing it!

Playing in front of people is a separate skill that has to be practiced. It’s sometimes difficult being a capable adult to accept that other people will watch us learn, or in other words… see us while we still suck at something.

Seek out every opportunity to play in front of people even though it’s scary. Start with one or two of your best most prepared tunes. Play for an individual friend, or small groups of family- just anyone you can get to listen. Tell them that playing in front of people makes you nervous, but that you are trying to overcome it. When you are ready you can step it up to playing for strangers. Many hospitals and nursing homes have programs for volunteer musicians, and you will find very appreciative small audiences.

3) Breathe

Holding your breath is a common unconscious reaction to playing in front of people, and it makes things infinitely worse. If you can remember to breath, you might find that helps your body stay more relaxed. Thinking about breathing also gives you something to distract you from the fact that there are people watching you. Try practicing at home with designated spots to breathe in rhythm with the tune.

And stay tuned on youtube, because I will be very interested to answer this in more depth when I get back to making videos next year.

Keep playing!
Jenny

If anyone else has a tip for Michael, or experience with getting over nerves, please leave your ideas in the comments section below!

How to find time to practice as an adult in a hectic world!

I could totally relate to this question sent in by Rodrigo in Mexico city:

“I’m 32 years old, and I am very busy most of my day. I have a sales franchise and work in a consulting firm here in Mexico and most of my day is spent on my work. However I’m very enthusiastic about learning to play the violin. Could you please give me some advice on how I can learn despite my hectic schedule?
-Rodrigo”

It can feel damned near impossible to find time to practice as a busy adult, and I believe this is one of the top reasons that adults think they can not learn. Some slight adjustments to how we think about practice can go a long way in violin progress!

1) You can progress on the violin with a very SMALL amount of practice each day. As a beginner, focus on frequency rather than duration. In other words, it is much better to practice for five minutes a day, than to have longer less frequent practices. Five minutes a day IS enough to progress through the first stages. Five minutes twice a day is even better. Most of the actual progress and learning happens in between practice sessions when your subconscious mind can chew on what you’ve done.

Try to create a habit of practicing for five minutes just before your lunch break, and again before you end work for the day. By lumping your practice time together with your work day, it may feel less like you are sacrificing precious down time. And you can use the momentum and focus of your work day to assist your violin playing. This can be easier than trying to get focused back on the violin after beginning your evening relaxation.

2) Take lessons via video Skype for 30 minutes once a week. This is a big one. The violin has many technique tricks that are hard to figure out on your own, but very easy if you have someone show you. A good teacher can keep you on track and help to avoid frustration and bad habits. By using the video Skype, you can cut out the time of traveling back and forth to lessons. Having a weekly check point gives your practice sessions focus throughout the week. If you have a great practice week you have someone to show off for at the end of the week, and if you have a busy week and can’t practice at all, you can have a chance to refocus and recommit yourself for the next week.

It is a big motivator to have put some money on the line. By paying for lessons you can make a clear statement to yourself that says, “this is important to me!” I’m amazed once I’ve paid for lessons, I will step up to get what I’ve paid for and put in the practice time. My Skype teacher is Corrin Evans and I highly recommend her: www.rosincloudschool.com.

3) Keep your violin outside of the case. Use a violin stand or shelf to display your violin so that it’s easy to pick it up without having to go through the whole process of unzipping the case. This saves time and keeps the violin on your mind. Try keeping it at the office so you can pick it up to practice before leaving, or put it in a prominent area so that it’s the first thing you see when you get home.

4) Practice your bow hold with all sorts of objects. Learning a comfortable bow hold is the first and most important thing to learn. To practice this you don’t even need to hold the violin or bow. You can learn to have a comfortable and relaxed bow hold by taking 20 seconds to stop work, think about your right hand, and try a simple relaxed bow hold with your pen or pencil.

If you can remember to this a few times each day you will exercise the “bow hold creation passages” in your brain much more effectively than by beating yourself up for 30 minutes straight some evening in an official practice session. When I was first beginning I would think of the bow hold very often and try it on all sorts of objects including my steering wheel when stuck in traffic.

Does anyone else have time saving tips for busy adults? Has anyone tried these? Do they work? Please let me know in the comments section below!

Happy brief and frequent practicing, everyone.

Love,
Jenny

Hot Beginner Tip #1: How to Hold the Bow

The bow hold can vary and still be “good” just depending on the style, but here is a basic starting point that is good for any style of music. Please let me know if it makes sense or not and send along any questions that come up when you try it. If you don’t have a violin or a bow, you can use a pencil just to see how awesome you are at this.

Original “Hot Violinist” Video Reposted

My heart skipped a beat when I heard that “The Hot Violinist” which features the full length performance of The Kiss and just passed 900,000 views was removed from YouTube. But now it’s back! It was a little sad to see it go (so close to a million!), but I can’t complain because Contragear, the original poster, has been so super supportive of me! Apparently he wanted to clean up the ending of the video so here it is in it’s new and improved form:

I’m glad it’s back, because without the reference of the original popular YouTube video I appear to be a crazy girl seemingly going around calling myself Hot all the time! Please share this video with your friends if you feel inclined to help me rebuild the groovy momentum that the original video had going for it. Thanks guys!

How to Play Last of The Mohicans Theme!

Attention fiddlers! This will get you started on the ornamentation needed to play this tune:

I will soon be posting the follow up Parts 2-4 as well as some beginner tips, so hop on over to the YouTube channel to subscribe if you don’t wanna miss one. If you still need the sheet music, just click that green link in the sidebar to sign up for the FREE sheet music.

Soon we will have a worldwide orchestra playing this tune~ Muah-hahaha!

Oh! If you get a chance to try this technique, please leave me a comment and let us all know how it’s going for you.

How to let music flow through you

Jordi Wave, thank you for the kind and thoughtful comment:

“From inside, this is the secret
It is clear that the music flows in you.”

I wanted to respond because I feel like I am on to a little secret of how to connect with music in a way that will help listeners to respond emotionally.  I actually didn’t realize what I was doing until a recent experience in an acting class in which the topic was “Inner Imagery.”  Actors use this technique to help performances be honest and real by holding specific mental images.

So, here’s the secret: When I play these songs, I think about stories and moments in my life and others that I’ve heard or could imagine.

An Armenian Harvest Dance, for example, could inspire me with the image of a tribal woman from 100 years ago working to prepare grain just brought in from the field.  I imagine a pain in her back and the colors and smells of spices on her shelf. Or maybe I would think of a personal experience that goes with the feel of the song.  No one in the audience has to know what you’re thinking.  It creates a circle where the thoughts make the notes come out a bit differently, and the notes coming out in rhythm conjure new emotions or thoughts.

The most fun is to look out into the audience, and see a facial expression that reminds me of something I’ve felt before.  So then I focus on that experience. 

This way of responding to the audience personally feeds the moment and makes the performance feel fresh and different each time.  And helps immensely with nerves and stage fright.

I’ve played that Last of the Mohicans song literally thousands of times, and without this technique I’d probably have gone crazy. Do you guys do this when you play? Anyone care to share a song that brings up images for you?

Original Tune in a Gypsy Scale

I wanted to share some music from our recent performances in Ohio:

This is an original tune, written by me and Mark Varelas, in a Gypsy style. We used an exotic scale that was introduced to me as the Greek Hitzaz scale.  Here are the notes of the scale in A:

A, Bb, C#, D, E, F, G, A

The G can also be sharped while improvising, which sounds especially good while going up the scale.

Sorry the camera is kinda shakey.  I handed my flip cam to a fan in the crowd who couldn’t seem to stop dancing.  Next time I’ll pick someone who seems to like the music less ;-)

The inspiration to yell “hela!”  came from a very old recording I heard that sounded like it was in an actual hash den in Turkey.  You could hear the background noise of the room. There was a sparse instrumental intro but when the singer yells “hela” a cacophony symphony of flutes, drums, plucked strings and violins comes in.  The next time I heard that word was it was being shouted in the distance of a Ren Faire campground.  I followed it to investigate and found the whole crew of the Greek gyro booth trying to push a truck out of the mud.

I’ve since been told that it means “come on!” or “bring it!”

Would you guys like sheet music for this?  If I have enough interest I will write it out.

“The song from the Last of the Mohicans”

Some questions have been rolling in regarding the tune I’m playing in this video. The lilting main riff comes from a tune called The Gael written by Dougie MacLean, the Scottish fiddler. Trevor Jones adapted it for use in The Last of the Mohicans, adding those long slow notes that fit so sweetly over the riff when the two are played together, hence the soundtrack titles, Promontory or The Kiss.

Since I’m just one fiddle, I fancy imagining the sound of one part when I’m playing the other. You shouldn’t be able to hear that, but maybe it makes me dig in a little differently…

The Hot Violinist Manifesto

This YouTube video, entitled The Hot Violinist, was posted in 2008 and since then has gotten over 350,000 views!

I don’t think that ever would have happened with a video entitled, Jenny plays the Gael, so I’ve decided that there is some power in that silly name and I’m gonna fly with it! Come join me for the ride…

I never would have thought to call myself “The Hot Violinist,” and this new website is not about me! I get a bunch of emails each week from all over the world asking me for sheet music or tips on how to play the Gael like I do in that video. This has inspired me to create an online home where I can share some of what I’ve learned about folk fiddle styles over the years while hoping to learn some more things from you.

I also incidentally get some questions about what I eat or how many sit-ups I do each day. One astute commenter on the Hot Violinist video observed, “I don’t think she eats McDonalds.” That’s pretty much true except for a few times a year after driving all night when those Golden Arches are like a bacon, I mean, beacon and unwrapping an Egg McMuffin seems like the most comforting thing in the universe.

Following my passion for fiddle, food and fitness has brought me satisfaction, peace, energy, happiness and a six pack.

And I hate sit-ups!

Eating healthy and finding time to work out while traveling all over the place sometimes feels like an uphill battle, and I’d be lying to say, “I’m not a health nut.” But I generally find that when I’m happy and actively pursuing my passions, musically or otherwise, I naturally eat better quality foods, and I don’t pig out. As much.

The biggest reward of traveling this country pretty much nonstop for my entire adult life, has been all of the incredible and inspiring people I have met. From artists, to dancers, to puppeteers, to activists, to elves, to writers, to yoga teachers, to Lou Ferrigno, to Jim, to violinists, to fiddle-in-sts, to carpenters, to little kids, to moms and dads, to smilers, to LISTENERS. YOU enrich my life and make it worth living!

The Manifesto:

  • Being a Hot Violinist is a state of mind.
  • When we pursue what we love, whether it’s pumping iron, playing music, or completing the loop by listening, we enrich the lives of others!
  • Hotness starts on the inside and works it’s way out.
  • We smile a lot.
  • We will unify these like-minds all around the world on one online porch where we can sit around and jam and share ideas.
  • Together we will create an army of passionate Hot Violinists that will change the WORLD! (insert dramatic echo effect here)
  • There will be recitals.