To rosin or not to rosin?

I love rosin, and lots of it, so you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little sappy here. But folks often have lots of questions about this topic: When should you rosin? How much is too much? What’s the point of rosin, anyway?

Never fear! I’m here to answer all your rosin-related questions and help you avoid any sticky situations. Oh, yeah: this is also just a great excuse for me to make lots of puns. I hope that resin-ates with you.

What is rosin and what does it do? Let’s start with the basics: rosin is a sticky substance made from tree resin. It most commonly comes in cake form, although you’ll occasionally see it as a powder, and it’s the magic ingredient that makes the tone of the bow on the strings sound so good. When you draw the hair of the bow over the string, the rosin on the hair heats up and melts momentarily, allowing the bow to create more friction and thus more vibration with the string. And voila: sound comes out! Without rosin, your bow will sound quiet and won’t grip the strings. Because of this, rosin (and frequent applications of it!) is a must.

What kind of rosin is right for me? Rosin comes in light and dark varieties. The darkness of the rosin relates to how “grippy” it will feel on the bow. While many classical musicians prefer light rosin, fiddlers often gravitate toward darker rosin for the big, beefy tone it produces. It’s okay to experiment with different rosins until you find one you really like, but you can also find our rosin recommendations in the Fiddle Lounge.

How do I rosin? First, tighten your bow enough that the stick won’t rub the rosin when you apply pressure on the bow. Using a good, steady bow grip, hold your bow in your right hand and your rosin in the palm of your left hand. Start at the frog and use short, firm strokes to work your way up to the tip of the bow. Don’t be too ginger here: your bow can withstand some pressure and you’ll get a much better coat of rosin when you put some oomph into it. You can work up and down the bow with these short, firm strokes a couple times; then finish with a few smooth strokes along the entire bow. Ta-da! That’s all it takes.

How often should I rosin? Every day or every other day is a good rule of thumb. Most people don’t use enough rosin; don’t be one of them. And this brings us to our next question…

How much is too much rosin? If you have too much rosin on your bow, you might notice heavy rosin buildup on your fiddle and strings or a kind of gritty sound. If this is the case, no big deal: just wait a couple days and let the excess wear off with playing. No harm, no foul.

A well-rosined bow makes your playing easier and more enjoyable to listen to, so tree-t yourself to some good rosin! Last pun, I promise. After reading this, I hope you’re well on your way to becoming a rosin fanatic like I am. Now break out your fiddle, rosin up your bow, and get playing!

4 things to know when you’re thinking of hosting a jam

Jam sessions are one of the best perks of being a fiddler. Whether you’re a seasoned jam veteran or you’ve never experienced a jam, there’s always something to be gained from a jam session, even if you don’t play in it yourself.

How do you find a jam session to attend? It always helps to get more plugged in to your local musical community, but even if you’re well-connected, jams are sometimes still hard to come by. That’s why we encourage you to set up your own jam session! Here are a few things to know when you start your own jam:

1. It doesn’t have to be big. A great jam can happen with as few as two people! In fact, many of the recordings you’ll find in the Fiddle Lounge are of jams just like this. In Texas style, jams always remain pretty small (usually a fiddler and a few accompanists at most). This way, the fiddle and the rhythm instruments can stay very attuned to each other. In other styles, the sizes of jams vary. If you don’t know a lot of other musicians to jam with yet, rest assured that you can have a great jam with just one other person and the tunes you know from Fiddle School.

2. Instruments may vary. You can almost always bet on seeing fiddles and guitars at a standard jam session, but you might sometimes find some more unusual instruments joining the jam. Upright bass is a great complement, as is piano. You can hear some recordings with the great piano accompanist Betty Solomon in the Fiddle Lounge. Every once in a while, a tenor banjo or even a mandolin will join in the rhythm section too.In Texas style, only the fiddler plays melody and there are no solos. In other styles, you’ll notice players pass the tune among themselves in different ways. One last instrument that’s fun to include: your voice! Singing songs can be a fun way to add variety, and many of the Fiddle School tunes have lyrics.

3. Jams are low pressure. Especially if you’re not used to playing with others, it can feel intimidating to participate in a jam. But jams should be a low-stress, non-judgmental space, and you can help create this kind of atmosphere when you host your own jam session. Encourage your fellow musicians, talk about what you’ve been practicing and listening to lately, and share your musical motivation with each other! Jams are first and foremost a space for us to lift each other and the music up. When you look at it this way instead of as some kind of performance or test, you’ll fall in love with jams just like we have.

4. Jams will help you practice better. Jam sessions are the perfect place to try playing the tunes you’ve worked on so hard with other people. This can feel so rewarding after hours of practice. Even more energizing is the feeling that you get after a jam session. You might feel inspired to learn a new tune you heard that night or practice a spot in one of your songs that needs a little TLC. Jamming is like a shot of motivation that can really help break you out of a practice rut or send you to the next level.

By now, I hope you’re convinced that you should find or start a jam session. It’s easy to pull together a couple friends and make it happen, and once it does, you won’t regret it. Let us know how it goes, and happy jamming!

How can I play better at my lessons?

“I swear I could play this at home when I was practicing by myself! I don’t know why I can’t do it in my lesson.”

Sound familiar? It’s common to practice hard all week, play well at home, and then fall apart at lessons. But you can avoid this pitfall! Read through these tips to help keep your cool in unfamiliar settings.

1. Establish solid muscle memory. Often, students practice a piece until they feel like they understand it mentally. Maybe they’ll play through it until they can “get it,” or make it through without mistakes. At that point, many people stop practicing for the day, assuming their work is done. But when you finally “get it”—make it through your tune the way that you want to—that’s when you should keep repeating it. Practice it over and over until you don’t have to think your way through it so much as feel it. I bet you didn’t expect to read a Bruce Lee quote here, but it was too relevant to pass up: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

2. Slow your roll. When you play somewhere you’re unaccustomed to, whether it’s a lesson, a jam, or a contest, take as much time as you need to gather your thoughts. Give yourself time to find a comfortable position, tune, and settle down before you play. As you’re fiddling, keep this slowness and intention in everything you do, from placing your fingers to moving your bow to following the tune in your mind. By slowing your entire playing process down, from the time you pick up the instrument to when you put it down, you start from a place of calm and give yourself the best chance of success.

3. Use deep breaths. Breathing exercises are an old standby for focus and calm. My personal favorite is a technique called “box breathing:” breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for four, breathe out for four, and hold the exhale for four. Repeat this, increasing the count if it feels comfortable for you.

4. One at a time. It’s hard to focus all at once on the many elements of technique that you may be working on in your practice, especially when you’re in a different setting. It’s okay to narrow your focus to one or two things while you’re playing; in fact, you’ll probably play better that way than if you tried to keep everything in your mind at once.

5. Clear your head. When you go to a lesson or a performance, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts. “Did I practice enough? Is she judging me? Oh man, here comes that spot I always mess up.” But these kinds of inner voices are only harmful. Instead, embrace positive thoughts and let go of perceived judgment. “I have worked really hard. I’m proud of myself. I love the music that I’m making!” These kinds of uplifting thoughts will bolster you and you’ll be amazed how much better you feel and play.

Next time you go to a lesson or get onstage, take these tips to heart and remember why you play in the first place: to enjoy it!

Fiddle School Mountain Retreat Student Review

I want to thank you for your amazing Fiddle Retreat this weekend!! I have been trying to process my learning experience and reflect on our time together!!

I have never been to any type of fiddle/music camp experience that was as impactful, focused, supportive, and fun as your Fiddle School Mountain Retreat! To have so much individual attention, fabulous teachers and support in a warm, fun and very focused learning experience is a tribute to you and your skills as both an incredible teacher and talented performer!! I had no real idea about the style of bowing and how, when, and where to use it! I really thought is that the genre of music would dictate the style of bowing but at camp, Chad really explained the history and all of your instructors and staff demonstrated how to use the techniques of long bowing, short bowing in a consistent, smooth and thoughtful purposeful manner. When you use the smooth bowing and add the swing pulse, it makes swing music sound danceable, jazz becomes interesting and smooth, old-time fiddle music becomes more interesting and enjoyable!  If I understand it correctly, the smooth and longbow method, Texas Swing style, will enhance any piece of music for me, and will clean up my playing, making it more enjoyable and correct! I have already improved so much that my friends have noticed and approved!

Your instructors are all outstanding and are able to reinforce and instruct us in their own individual ways, taking each of us as an individual and sharing their expertise fitted to our own needs and skill levels! We were really blessed to have only 12 students with 3 teachers and 2 staff support that were all amazing!! That is almost a 2 student to 1 teacher ratio!!! That is really a gift!!! All of the staff are on the same page and are able to communicate with each other and all of the fiddle students!

The cabin in Estes Park was terrific, the weather couldn’t be better, and the food cooked an served by Brian and Linnea Kenney was superb!! The atmosphere was warm, friendly, fun and all were so driven to learn and experience as much as we could! I loved the staff performances during Happy Hour!  You are all so talented!!

I was very glad to be given the music and videos in advance!!! We were able to learn from it rather than struggle slowly to learn each piece cold. It also showed which students really wanted to learn and were dedicated enough to get something from each other and the staff!

Jeff and I had so much fun and I look forward to growing and learning, expanding my skills and just sound better and better, play with friends and in jams, fiddle away my days!

Thank you, and I am planning on Retreat #2!!

Peggy and Jeff Waller



Habit Hack #5: Break It Up

Breaking up is hard to do, in the famously catchy words of Neil Sedaka. With that haircut, I’m sure he would know.

But here’s the good news: when it comes to habits, the opposite is true! Breaking up your good habits into smaller chunks will make your life so much easier.

In this habit hack, we’re sharing the best time management strategies to make new habits stick.

Try working toward the goals you set for yourself in smaller chunks throughout the day instead of one large one. For example, if your new goal is to play 45 minutes each day, try three 15-minute chunks. I’ll bet you find yourself more engaged, efficient, and effective.

Anyone incorporating new habits is doing some major neural trailblazing by developing insulation (myelin) around their new neural pathways. The more they use a certain pathway, the more insulated it becomes and the easier the new habit is to maintain. (For more on this, check out the book The Talent Code.)

But even though we need to practice many repetitions to cement new habits, research shows that practicing longer is not the best way to go. Instead, short bursts of practice usually work better for the brain. They allow you to stay engaged and focused much better. So take a break or three! 

Practice while you’re sharp so you can make real progress. When you start to fade, put your fiddle down and come back to it when you have the brainpower to make real improvements.

Habit Hack #4: Talk About It!

We need to talk. 

Oh, lighten up. It’s time for our fourth post in the habit hack series–that’s all we had to say. And today we’re talking about talking, because if you want to stick with a new habit, one of the best things to do is tell others about it!

What habit goals have you set for yourself lately? Shout ’em from the rooftop! No, really, that’s the fourth habit challenge: let someone know about your new habit. It could be the Fiddle School community, a close friend, your mailman…

Actually, maybe not the mailman. Depends on how close you guys are. But you get the idea.

Getting motivated to change your routine is one thing, but staying motivated is a whole ‘nother question. When you let other people know your intentions, you’re more likely to stay accountable once the newness wears off.

What’s more, letting people know about your new good habits is a great way to set yourself up for celebration down the road! A month from now, when your friend checks back in with you about “that thing you were doing,” you can proudly tell them that you’ve stuck with it. That’s a great feeling.

Remember that good habits snowball. When you let others know about the changes you’re making in your own life, you share your positivity and momentum. Spread the love and tell a friend what you’re working towards! You may just give them the push they need to chase one of their own aspirations.

What new good habits are you making part of your routine? Tell us in the comments!

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