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.

The Early Years

Thank you guys for all your responses to The Hot Violinist end of 2015 Official Survey! Reading through them has got me reflecting on what a long strange trip it’s been since I started playing violin. Many of the things you said sounded like a letter from my past self.

I started at age 18 when many people said it was too late. I remember sitting on my bed with my violin after an entire year of trying to learn with my first teacher, and truly thinking that there must be something wrong with how my arms were attached to my body. Sure, I could play a collection of Irish fiddle tunes but EVERYTHING SOUNDED LIKE SH*T! (excuse my french, and pardon the yelling, but it was really frustrating…)

I can’t say I was perfectly dedicated to practicing every single day (confession: sometimes I even showed up to my next lesson without having practiced at all), but I was taking lessons each week and making an effort, so I could only think there must be something wrong with me. This thought made me terribly sad because I really wanted to play.

Even though I wasn’t really interested in classical music and no longer considered myself a complete beginner, I ate my humble pie and decided I probably needed to start all over with some classical technique. Over the next six months I tried three different teachers and still felt frustrated and confused! Then I found Bassam Nashwati, who at that time was second chair in the San Antonio symphony and has since taken the first chair.

He started me at the beginning of the Suzuki method and in that next 6 months I improved more than I had in the entire first year and a half. That’s when I discovered all my bad habits from playing without the basic good technique. That was a tough pill to swallow too because I had to realize that my prior 1.5 years of effort had actually made me worse not better in a way.

This era involved a whole bunch of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and other equally annoying and humbling repertoire, but I was having fun because it felt great to make some good sounds and actually track progress even if it seemed slow.

Then I spent a summer in Upstate New York living with my grandparents and studied with the amazing Judy Hyman, a professional performing fiddler with a classical background— perfect!! When I got back the next fall, I finally felt like I could maybe play in public, but I still wasn’t that great. Many thanks to Ren Faire shop owner Bill Vestal, there is actually footage of this stage.

Notice the very conservative tense playing style. And outfit to match.



Since then I took part in building two different bands that played the largest stages at festivals nationwide and released 4 studio albums and 2 live albums (All-in-all I released 4 versions of the Theme from the Last of the Mohicans!! :-P). I’ve become an expert in adult violin learning from my own experience and from teaching over 20 students in the United States, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, and South America.

And all this is in competition with people who had been playing since they were 3 or 7, or whatever beautifully young age, and likely had college degrees in violin. There’s no way I had enough time to catch up to these people who had been playing since they were kids!

I had to figure out how to work on the right things- the things that give the most musical impact for the littlest time and effort.

I’m not trying to brag, but I just want you to know that it’s possible to do what you want on violin no matter when you start. My goal with the Hot Violinist is to distill my trial and error into bite sized helpful info for all of you.

New Year, New Bow Hold!

Happy New Year Hot Violinists!

I decided to avoid the party animals on the highway this year, and had a nice quiet New Years Eve at home with a Bach manuscript Santa brought and nice glass of sparkling rose (not the sweet kind!).

12466059_10208690709293021_6926874255620650748_o

I wrote down a few resolutions and goals. I want to work up to a full body weight pull up (I’ve never been able to do one without assistance), learn the second movement of Bach’s violin concerto in Dm, and be able to balance a shot glass atop my booty. (Not necessarily at the same time!)

Also- I’m committing to post a lot more videos for you this year!

I’m starting out with a very simple quick bow-hold hack. Watch the video to see if you’ve been making this common mistake that’s totally deadly to your tone yet very easy to fix:


Do you have any New Years resolutions or bow-hold secrets?? Please let me know in the comments section below!

11 Hot Violinist Gifts for 2015!

I’m back with a fresh new list of fiddler and violinist gifts! I’ve personally tried and enjoyed everything on this list of my 11 favorite violin gift ideas.

Several of these are from small businesses (Yay! Let’s send some Holiday cash their way!), a few are from right here in The Hot Violinist shop, and some link to Amazon. (A portion of sales from Amazon links comes back to help support thehotviolinist.com! Thanks!)

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #1 – 5 Minute Journal

Okay, so this one is not violin-specific, but it’s about being happy and happy is HOT! There’s a page for each day, and it really does just take five minutes, and it really does make me a happier person. I use mine every day! (Almost…)

Violinist Gifts 5-minute-journal

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA # 2 – Zafu

I love this small company and their meditation cushions! Practicing meditation helps me develop patience and observation skills which apply directly to my violin practice.

Violinist Gifts zafu-cushion

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #3 – Bridge and Cross Bows T-Shirt

By violin maker Andrew Caruthers. I’m so geeked about his entire line! Andy is a violin maker based in Santa Rosa CA, and he has started this fun line of violin related shirts. He cuts the designs into linoleum blocks using violin carving tools and hand prints each shirt. So cool…

Violinist Gifts bridge-crossed-bows-tee

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA # 4 – Boscia Charcoal Skin Care Kit

I make a lot of my skin care from stuff found in the kitchen, but this is one commercial product I really like. I totally believe in the magic powers of charcoal. It’s great for men or women because it smells good, not girly. My favorite is the cleanser, but the kit makes a fun gift.

Violinist Gifts boscia-charcoal-skincareViolinist Gifts boscia-charcoal-skincare

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #5 – Bernadel Rosin

Okay, this is a repeat from last years list, but I had to post again because this rosin is the bees knees! A stocking stuffer for smooth full tone- yes!

Violinist Gifts bernadel-rosinViolinist Gifts bernadel-rosin

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #6 – The Hotter Fiddle

I’m featuring this violin because one of my students, Gabs, recently traded in her “Hot Fiddle” beginner model as an upgrade for this one and it reminded me how sweet it is. She is an advancing student and within a couple weeks of getting her new violin, she just happened to land her first professional public gig. Part of it is because the great tone of this fiddle gives a huge confidence boost. This fiddle is equivalent to the violin I am playing in the original “Hot Violinist” video. The Hot Fiddle has a solid good tone, but this one takes it to the level of artistry.

Violinist Gifts hotter-fiddle

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #7 – JonPaul Bravo Carbon Fiber Bow

I’ve always followed my teacher’s advice to have one wood bow and one carbon fiber bow always in your case. Carbon fiber acts the same no matter what the weather and sounds really good for the price. I was amazed when I first learned that the bow choice is just as important to the sound as the violin and sometimes more! I’ve had this exact bow in my case since around 2006 and sometimes I even choose it over my German-made wood bow that cost me $1600. This one sounds really darn good for under $300!

Violinist Gifts jonpaul-bravo-carbon-fiber-bowViolinist Gifts jonpaul-bravo-carbon-fiber-bow

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #8 – Evah Pirazzi String Set

A luxurious treat! I don’t always use these strings because they are a little more pricey, but I treat myself to them every few string changes, and definitely go to them when it’s time to record. If you put these in your loved one’s stocking they will enjoy about 6 months or more of buttery smooth feel on their violin.

Violinist Gifts evah-pirazzi-string-setViolinist Gifts evah-pirazzi-string-set

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #9 – D’Addario Helicore String Set

A nicely priced set of great strings! They are bright and responsive, especially good for fiddle music.

Violinist Gifts d_addario-helicore-string-setViolinist Gifts d_addario-helicore-string-set

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #10 – First Learn to Practice

I consider this a must read for any musician! My mom plays guitar and sings (Janet Darlene Drew, check her out!) and she brought a copy when she came to visit a couple months ago. It has a lot of nuts and bolts tips for happy, fun, productive practicing.

Violinist Gifts first-learn-to-practiceViolinist Gifts first-learn-to-practice

HOT VIOLINIST GIFTS: IDEA #11 – Hot Violinist Lessons

And don’t forget Hot Violinist lesson packages are completely giftable! Purchase any of the lesson packages in the Shop and I’ll send you a printable giftable voucher.

Violinist Gifts hot-violinist-lessons

What are your ideas for gifts for violinists and fiddlers? Share them in the comments below!

New Last of the Mohicans Video

Hiya Folks!

Kelly and I have been playing around with new arrangement ideas for LOTM! I’ve added a shift into 3rd position (High notes!! Wee!) and the quiet living room setting is perfect for Kelly to play some more delicate picking patterns on guitar. Some of this is reminiscent of the track Promentory on the Tideland recording we did with Circa Paleo, but it’s put together a little differently.

By the way…. Happy Thanksgiving! I’m really grateful to you guys for helping me connect and share the music I love. Tonight we are going to brave the grocery store and hope that they still have a few yams left!

During this holiday week Kelly and I are working on a new medley. Hint. Two words:

STAR

WARS!!!

Stay tuned….


Gear For Your Next Classical-Music-Rave

I got an email this week from David, an electrical engineering student at Clarkson University, who is developing an illuminated electric violin. I’ve always been a bit of a traditionalist fuddy-duddy when it comes to electric violins, so you can imagine how my old-fashioned eyebrows went up when I saw a violin that actually puts on its own light show while you play it! I’ve never seen anything like this before and am impressed by the truly beautiful sound (and the fact that he plays Ashokan Farewell on the video!), so I thought some of you Hot Violinists out there might wanna check it out.

If that tickled your fancy and you want to support the project, check out David’s Kickstarter page. If he gets enough support, he’ll be able to bring the violin into production.

Q&A – Beginner Violin Shopping Guide

Q:

If I decide to get a violin and mess around with it…

My first thought was to check local pawn shops, but I’m not sure what signs of “quality” or brands to look for – I might end up with something shoddy or discouraging in some other way.

Do you have suggestions regarding where I might get a decent quality violin for not a whole lot of money? (Especially if I later end up wanting to plug it into some electronics.)

Or should I just go dirt-cheap at first, see how it works for me, and then upgrade later?

Money isn’t super-tight at the moment, but I don’t want to spend more than necessary.

– Ben S

A:

Hey Ben,

The instrument you choose is going to make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your first steps toward playing. A lot of people have come to me saying that they’ve tried violin and just couldn’t get anywhere. They were ready to give up, feeling like there was something wrong with them, when in reality they were working with a violin that was nearly impossible to create a pleasant sound with. Many violins at the entry level price range are literally unplayable even though they may look like a violin. The availability of these online has sadly turned into a widespread phenomenon, and these types of “instruments” have been nicknamed “VSO”s which stands for Violin Shaped Object. Looks like a violin, but it really isn’t!

I don’t say this to be discouraging. Rather, I want to encourage you to take your time and be careful choosing instrument. To aid you in your quest, I’ve put together this Beginner Violin Shopping Guide. Hope it helps!

Price Range

Resist the urge to “go dirt-cheap at first” — your hunch is right that a cheap violin could easily be discouraging.

That said, you shouldn’t have to break the bank for your first violin. I’ve found that $450 for a violin outfit complete with bow and case is the realistic entry level price for something that is good enough to learn on. Any less than that is highly suspect (unless it’s some kind of great deal from a friend).

I found the best thing I could recommend for a quality beginner violin and put it for sale on my website.

This is a great sounding violin for the price, sold by my favorite violin shop, Terra Nova Violins in San Antonio, TX. Many of my students have ordered these, and love them. I recommend this shop because my friends there will test drive it for you. My first few violins were chosen with a lot of help from my teacher, because it’s just really hard to tell what’s good when you don’t know how to play yet.

If your budget isn’t in the $450 range, your best alternative is renting. It costs $15-$20 per month to rent a violin of comparable quality, and a portion of the rental fee goes toward your future purchase. It’s a fantastic way to give things a try without a huge investment. That said, you still have to make sure the rental violin is a good quality instrument.

Go to a dedicated violin shop, because general music stores that sell guitars and/or high school band instruments tend to have very poor violins to rent. Once again I recommend calling Terra Nova Violins at 210-239-4700. Tell them Jenny sent you! They will get you set up with a great violin for about $20/month and will ship it to you for free. They take excellent care of their customers.

Now that I’ve (hopefully!) convinced you that your first violin should not be the “bargain basement” variety, let’s talk about how to get the most bang for your moderate buck.

How To Know You’re Looking at a VSO

Ah, the dreaded “Violin Shaped Object.” Looks like a violin. Might even smell like a violin. Certainly doesn’t sound like a violin. Here are a few dead giveaways:

Bridge Feet

Look at the photo below (the VSO is on the right). The feet of the bridge of the VSO are thick and rectangular. Also notice that the curve of the bridge is symmetrical. This is a blank bridge that has not been set up. The chunky rectangular feet do not efficiently transfer the vibration to the top of the violin so it will be easier to squeak and the sound you produce will generally be thin. The even curve will make it hard to play the E string without hitting the A unintentionally, which is very frustrating, and playing on D and G strings will be weird too. Not to mention, if a violin is sold with a bridge that looks like this, there is a good chance the rest of the violin is junk.

beginner violin shopping guide Violin_bridge_comparisonIn contrast, the bridge on the left has been carved and customized by an experienced luthier. Notice the feet are curved and very thin. These have been masterfully customized by a luthier to fit the specific violin. The curve has been artfully shaped to allow easy string changes, including a steeper slope down toward the E string. There is a good chance that you are looking at a decent instrument if this kind of attention has been given to the bridge set up.

Fingerboard

The VSO fingerboard can be made of a soft wood and painted black to imitate ebony. Look under the fingerboard for gaps in the paint. A real violin will be solid black underneath because it is solid ebony.

Purfling

“Purfling” is a fancy word for the very thin strip of inlaid wood around the edge of the body of the violin. Purfling protects the violin body from temperature changes and is a sign of good craftsmanship. VSOs do not have purfling, but rather might have a thin strip of paint to imitate purfling.

Tuning Pegs

A VSO’s tuning pegs can be made of a softer wood and often are not fitted properly to the instrument. This makes it very easy for them to slip. If your violin, or the one you are looking at, goes constantly out of tune, there’s a good chance it’s a VSO.

Strings

Cheap strings sound tinny and harsh. The good quality strings that come with a good violin cost $25-$50 per set and this is part of the value you get when buying something good.

BSO

Only thing as frustrating as a VSO is a BSO: “Bow Shaped Object.” Ironically, BSOs often are not bowed enough and will appear somewhat straight. Or it will bow in the wrong direction curving side to side. You can also sometimes notice sloppy connections where the hair meets the bow. It’s amazing, but a bow is just as important as the violin! If you encounter one of these objects I suggest using it for backyard baseball or as a backscratcher, but minimize trying to use it to learn violin!

Location, Location, Location

The store you buy from makes a difference. I haven’t found any online dealers I can recommend wholeheartedly. To be fair, I don’t have extensive experience here. I had a $1500 violin from “reputable online dealer” Shar before I found my trusty local shop, Terra Nova Violins. The one imported by Terra Nova sounded worlds better and cost only $1000. Plus the one from Shar strangely had this tacky finish that never fully dried. After that experience I’ve gone local and never looked back. (The Shar one was good, not a VSO, but just not nearly as good as the less expensive one imported by Terra Nova.) My theory about why quality standards for online violin shops are inconsistent is that they know they can get away with selling the less desirable instruments of the bunch without having repercussions in their local community.

Also avoid music stores that specialize in guitars or school band instruments – their violin selection is likely to be a gorgeous array of VSOs.

Signs of Quality and “Good Brands”

Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect answer for you here. It’s not like a guitar where you can buy a good brand and know what you’re getting. This is because it’s relatively easy to mass produce a good quality guitar. Not so for violin! You can’t tell what you will get based on brand name alone until you get into the very high price ranges of makers.

It’s easy to give a checklist for spotting a VSO (what not to buy), but the only way I know to get the very best for your money is to use a personal connection. Shop extensively with an experienced violinist or find a dedicated violin shop that you trust. I trust my friends at Terra Nova Violins the most, so I send people there. Another good way to find the best violin shop local to you is to call your nearest symphony and ask where the symphony members go.

Good luck!

Keep me posted,

Jenny

p.s. If you want to read an in-depth discussion about the pitfalls of less expensive instruments, complete with photos, here’s a very thorough article I’ve found on the topic.

11 Hottest Gifts for Violinists and Fiddlers

Are you scouting gifts for violinists and fiddlers? To help you with your search, here are some of my favorite things that will inspire and delight the violinists, fiddlers and music lovers on your holiday gift list.  I just love the idea of channeling some of the season’s shopping mania to support local musicians, or to help create some new ones!

A couple of these come directly from my site, but the rest are available on Amazon.com. (A portion of each purchase made after following the links below will support thehotviolinist.com!)

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #1 – THE HOT FIDDLE

If you know a violinist who is struggling to scrape by with a cheap fiddle and bow, this violin will change their life or at least totally alter the course of their violin learning. Several of my students have upgraded to these from eBay fiddles, and everyone loves them! The sound is pure and clear, it comes with a good bow, and the set-up from my friends at Terra Nova Violins of the bridge and strings is primo.

gifts for violinists - The Hot Fiddle

The Hot Fiddle

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #2 – MUSIC STAND

I’ve done my fair share of propping up sheet music against stacks of books or inside a desk drawer. Once I got one of these foldable stands, I thought, oh my gosh… why didn’t I get one of these sooner?? Such a simple tool, but it totally changes the comfort of playing from a sheet of music. Adjusts from sitting to standing. Learning violin can be frustrating at times, so you might as well not have to worry about catching a book as it goes sliding off your desk. The little carrying bag is convenient and the different colors are fun for gift giving. If you’re brainstorming gifts for violinists, this should definitely be on the list!

Guardian Portable Music Stand – Pink
Guardian Portable Music Stand – Blue
Guardian Portable Music Stand – Red
Guardian Portable Music Stand – Yellow
Guardian Portable Music Stand – Purple
Guardian Portable Music Stand – Black

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #3 – TUNER

I’m offering two ideas for tuners, basic or fancy:

Basic: Snark

Clips onto the scroll so you can tune even with background noise at all the fancy gigs you’ll be booking. It’s fine for getting the strings generally in tune for fiddle music, but not as accurate or versatile as the Korg.

Fancy: Korg Orchestral Tuner

This is a super-advanced tuner with settings for different “temperaments,” or systems of intonation, that are available on violin. If you ever want to use a tuner to test your intonation on scales or double stops, a fancy tuner like this is a must. Relying on your ear is best, but these are still fun and enlightening to play with.

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #4 – BERNADEL ROSIN

My favorite stuff for smooth playing! And it comes in a fancy velvety pouch!

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #5 – STRINGS

Basic: D’Addario Helicore

Clear, bright, and great for fiddle playing styles.

Fancy: Pirastro Evah Pirazzi

Oooh la la, the luxury… I usually reserve these for recording because the price matches how rich they sound.

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #6 – BAGGS BRIDGE

This pickup will turn any acoustic violin into an acoustic/electric with very natural sound. Great for the violinist on your list who wants to start performing soon. Must be installed by a trusted violin luthier.

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #7 – JENNY’S DISCOGRAPHY

Listening to recorded violin music is very beneficial for learning the instrument and progressing in different styles. Plus, I won’t lie! I would love it if you would give my music to violin lovers on your list this Holiday season! The combo pack is a killer deal and it shows the progress along my own path of learning violin as an adult.

http://www.thehotviolinist.com/store/products/my-discography/

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #8 – JOSHUA BELL ALBUM

I had to balance out the offerings of my fiddle discography with some work by a true virtuoso! He got together in his living room to record “At Home With Friends” with other musical bums like Sting, Regina Spektor, Josh Groban and more… It’s really good!!

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #9 – SUZUKI BOOK 1 WITH CD

I studied fiddle for two years before I finally broke down and decided to study the Suzuki method. I credit this method as the foundation for every pretty sound I make no matter what the style. I recommend buying it with the CD because listening is really important.

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #10 – MARK O’CONNOR FIDDLE METHOD

This is a well organized fiddle method using traditional folk music written by the famous fiddler, Mark O’Connor. No relation to me that I know of, but I do love how the books are titled, “The O’Connor Method”.

 

GIFTS FOR VIOLINISTS IDEA #11 – HOT VIOLINIST LESSON PACKAGES!!

I teach a combo of classical technique and world fiddle styles with an emphasis on training the body to play beautifully with ease. If you purchase one of my lesson packages as a gift, I will email you a printable voucher for wrapping as a scroll or stuffing into a card.

http://www.thehotviolinist.com/lessons/

 

What are your ideas for gifts for violinists and fiddlers? Share them in the comments below! 

Q&A – Song Choices for Beginners

Q:

I want to learn to play some songs that are cool and sound great but are simple enough for a beginner. I don’t like the songs beginner books offer —  things like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or worse, songs I’ve never heard of! Can you recommend a good book or specific songs to look for?

– Robert K., age 51

A:

I know exactly what you mean; it is neither fun nor productive to learn songs that you’re unfamiliar with. Because of the fretless nature of violin, you really have to know what you are going for before you can try to play the notes in tune.

I have searched high and low for a replacement to Twinkle as a first violin tune. I planned to proudly stamp my teaching materials with a big circle with an X through it saying “NO Twinkle Taught here!”.

But… as I’ve gone through the options, I can’t find anything that is as beneficial or accessible as a first tune on violin as good ol’ Twinkle.

I’ve looked through beginner fiddle tune books and beginner gypsy violin books, and it’s the worst of both worlds: the tunes are completely obscure so you don’t know how they are supposed to sound AND they still don’t sound very good or fun to play. On top of all that they are also sometimes still too complex for a beginner to tackle without incorporating some bad habits along the way.

Here’s my “beginner story”: 

I had no interest in playing classical music, so I studied with an Irish fiddle teacher for the first year and learned about 30 tunes. I didn’t know how they were supposed to sound, and my technique was all over the place. I was just kind of winging it to get the tunes out to the best of my ability, but after a year they all still sounded terrible. That’s when I went on my quest for a classical teacher to help me sort out these techniques. I went through about 3 teachers over the course of that next year but it all still felt very aimless. I remember sitting on my bed thinking, “Is there just something wrong with me? Maybe my arms just aren’t attached right to play violin…” 

Then I found a new teacher who started me on the Suzuki method. At that point I was so desperate to play a single thing with good tone that I didn’t care if it was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. After about four months of going through the simple initial steps of the Suzuki method, I was able to go back to some of those Irish fiddle tunes I knew and play them well. After a year and a half of combining Suzuki method with my interest in world fiddle music, I had a few very simple Irish fiddle tunes under my belt that I could play for an audience and people would actually enjoy listening and maybe even dance. At the five year mark I was jamming many styles of world music, but I don’t think I would have gotten there without the Suzuki method.

Part of the process of learning violin is developing muscle memory for particular movements: bowing, left hand intonation, certain string crossing patterns, etc… This muscle memory has to be in place before you can put it all together to play nice tunes. If you try to go the other way around, it just makes the whole process take longer and many people quit before they get there because it feels convoluted and frustrating. It’s different from guitar or piano where you really can learn great sounding tunes right off the bat just by hitting certain keys or using a certain pattern of frets and strings.

I think the Suzuki method is the BEST for training your body to do those basic techniques. Each piece only introduces one or two new techniques while most tunes that actually sound good combine many techniques. Many of the pieces are recognizable melodies, and it comes with a CD so that you can listen to all the pieces and get them in your head. (I know… yawn….) But it works! And it doesn’t take forever. After about 6 months of going through the methodical process of the well designed method, you would be opened up to playing a wide variety of good sounding fiddle tunes.

I’ve dreamed about creating my own beginner method using simplifications of the cool fiddle tunes I know. Once I started looking closely at the tunes to see what techniques they require, and tried to analyze the sequence in the Suzuki method books, it gave me a much deeper appreciation for how genius Suzuki was. Even if it was possible to create a beginner book just as beneficial only with hipper tunes, I’m frankly not sure I’d have the patience! I’m pretty patient generally, but not like him! This method was his life work:

I have just ordered a new book in the hopes of finding something good: Mark O’Connors Beginner Fiddle Method. I will let you know what I think of it.

All that being said, here is a well organized website with a few beginner violin tunes (including audio so you can hear them): http://www.fiddlestudio.com/search/label/Beginning%20Tunes

Be warned, though: the offerings on this site have many of the common problems I talked about above. The first tune is legitimately a beginner level piece and it doesn’t really sound like much more than a bowing exercise. The second piece sounds very nice, but is a HUGE jump in difficulty level.

Good luck and keep me posted!

How To Amplify The Violin

Last September I was performing at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Festival and someone asked me, “How do you amplify your violin to get such a natural sound?”

I get that question a lot online, but this time, I had everything set up in position to shoot a quick video showing you exactly what I use.  It’s actually quite a simple set-up.

The video explains how everything works together, and you can also follow links to the exact equipment I use along with some alternative options depending on your situation.

It all begins with the pick-up on my violin which is the Baggs Bridge made by LR Baggs:

LR Baggs 4/4 V10 Transducer Mounted Bridge With Side Mount Jack Vwws

It’s a transducer style pickup that is embedded in the wood of a high quality violin bridge with a side mounted 1/4 inch jack, also known as a carpenter jack.  This all needs to be installed by an experienced violin luthier, because the bridge will replace your old bridge and needs to be custom carved to fit your violin.

The Baggs Bridge has no on-board pre-amp so you’ll need a piece of gear to boost the signal a bit before going to your PA mixing board.  I explain two options here:

Option 1 (which I use when playing at outdoor festivals)
A wireless transmitter which boosts the signal and sends it magically through the air to the corresponding receiver:

Audio-Technica AEW-4315aC Wireless Dynamic Handheld Microphone System – Band C (541.500 – 566.375 MHz)

For some reason on Amazon it is only available with the additional hand held mic.  Unless having the mic as another option looks like fun, I recommend getting a better price for just the Audio-Technica 4000 Unipak transmitter and receiver by calling these guys: http://www.northernsound.net/

And this is the unique cable that will plug into your violin and into the unique jack on the Audio-Technica transmitter pack:

Audio-Technica Guitar Input Cable for Wireless Systems

Option 2
Staying with an entirely cabled system.  If you don’t really need to hide cables (as in a Renaissance Faire setting), you can save a lot of money and get a slightly better sound this way.  When I’m playing indoors on a small stage and don’t plan to run out into the audience and dance on tables while playing, I use a 1/4 inch instrument cable like this:

Rapco Horizon SEGL-10 StageMASTER 10-Feet Instrument 1/4-Inch Straight Connector to Right Angle 1/4-Inch Connector Low Noise Shielded Cable

I like having the “right angle” connector to plug into my violin because it’s less visible and hugs the side of the violin instead of sticking straight out of the violin under my left ear.

Then simply plug the other end into a DI box or preamp.  I use this one, also made by Baggs:

LR Baggs Para Acoustic D.I.

Whether you send your signal to a wireless receiver, or plug right into a DI box, you will use an XLR cable to take the signal to the mixing board or amp:

Rapco Horizon SMM-15 Club Series Microphone Cable 15-Feet

This covers everything to get you from violin to the board.  If you’re putting together an entire PA system, and are curious about the rest of the PA gear that I use with my band Circa Paleo, here ya go.

We use this board:

Allen & Heath AH-ZED-22FX 22-Channel Mixer with USB Interface and Onboard EFX

JBL powered front speakers:

JBL EON 515XT Lightweight 2 Way 15″ 625W Self Powered Speaker (Each)

And a sub woofer for the drums and bass:

JBL EON 518S Portable 18-inch 500-Watt Self-Powered Subwoofer

For new players, I hope this helps you to get out there and start performing!

If you already amplify your violin, please let us know your fave gear in the comments below.

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!