Instruments, Accessories & Learning Aids

Buying or renting an instrument

If you need a fiddle, my advice is to rent one initially. Buying a violin is big undertaking, and expensive: I'd estimate $500 minimum for a decent violin, bow and case, and you’ll get a better-sounding instrument if you spend $1000. You can always resell with no depreciation; buying a violin is like putting money in the bank. To purchase a fiddle, try the places listed below. I am no expert at repair or appraisal but am happy to give my humble opinion on violins you are thinking of buying or restoring. Just bring them to your lesson and I'll try them out. If your violin needs work, please take it to a reputable shop. An inexperienced repair-person can make a fiddle unplayable or even wreck it.

Violin Shops


Accessories

Much as I love to support Ithaca's local music stores Hickey's and Guitar Works, their prices do tend to be quite a bit higher than online sources for strings and accessories. The String Centre website has inexpensive strings, fiberglass and carbon-fiber bows, tuners, metronomes, shoulder rests, etc.
Rosin: Any kind of violin rosin will do, but it lasts a very long time so you can splurge on a medium- or high-quality cake if you like.
Electronic Tuner: Get a chromatic tuner that works for violin, not one marked for bass or guitar, and not one where you have to tell it which string you are tuning.
Shoulder Rest: Most everybody eventually decides they want something to raise up the fiddle. You can get foam pads from Ithaca Talent, or the Resonans rest or the nicer Wolf adjustable rest from the String Centre. Try them at your lesson first.
Chin Rest: Most people seem to prefer a chin rest that extends over the tailpiece and doesn't have a high ridge. The best way to find one that is comfortable is to go to a violin shop and try them out. You may even be able to swap yours for one you like better for little or no money.
Fine Tuners: You'll find that a tailpiece with 4 fine tuners is a god-send; less time fussing with pegs and more time playing with an instrument that is in perfect tune. You can buy the fine tuners and install them yourself (or with my help) but a better solution is a tailpiece with the tuners built-in. Another solution is planetary pegs, which I now have on my fiddle instead of fine-tuners. Either a tailpiece or planetary pegs needs to be installed at a violin shop.
Strings: I recommend Dr. Thomastik Dominant strings. The cheaper Pirastro Piranito strings are more metallic sounding, but acceptable. Make sure to specify ball or loop end depending on what they attach to on your tailpiece. Always keep a full extra set on hand in case you break a string. I can teach you how to change strings.

Books

These fiddle books can be found (or ordered if not in stock) at local music stores or over the internet. However, I teach mostly by ear. Only buy a book if you like learning from books and want me to teach you how to read music.
  • Beginning Country Fiddle by Marilyn Bos (Oak Publ.) is good for beginners.
  • The Irish Fiddle Book by Matt Cranitch (Ossian Publ.) is good for beginners and beyond.
  • Fiddler's Fakebook (Oak Pub.) is good general tune collection for fiddlers at any level. It includes tunes from many American and Celtic styles.
  • Danse ce soir! is my own tunebook of Quebec tunes.
My nyckelharpa class at Ashokan Northern Week

What to bring to your lesson

Fiddle, bow, rosin, extra strings, electronic tuner, shoulder rest or pad if you use one, cloth to clean rosin off fiddle and strings

Staff paper or other notebook, notes and music from previous lessons, up-to-date repertoire list

Keep your equipment and material organized, and bring it to every lesson. If your tuner, notebook, and/or shoulder rest don't fit in your case, attach a drawstring bag to your case handle.

Audio technology in our lessons

I can record tunes for you on my computer, up to speed and slowly, and give you mp3s via email, my podcast, or CD so you can listen and play along at home. I like to be flexible and responsive to your interests in what tunes you learn. I have a lot of tunes in different styles already recorded which you can check out, and I’m happy to add more. Or you may want to bring your own laptop, digital recorder, video camera or portable hard-drive. I highly recommend iPod and iTunes for listening to and organizing your fiddle recordings. Read more here on how to use recordings in your learning.

Amazing Slow Downer

This is a wonderfully helpful app for Windows and Mac which allows you to slow down any tune on your computer or on a CD. You can independently change pitch, to tune the recording to your fiddle or change the key. You can gradually increase the speed as you gain proficiency. You can also loop just part of the tune or the whole tune for endless practicing fun.

Music Notation and Theory

Music Ace is a high-quality yet light-hearted and fun app for learning the fundamentals of music. It's for all ages and many levels of ability. It covers rhythm, melody, treble and bass clef, scales, syncopation, key signatures, intervals, ear training, sight reading, rhythmic dictation, distinguishing melodies and harmonies, etc., and has lessons, games and a doodle pad where you can create and hear your own compositions. Give it a try!