The FiddleHed Gift-giving Guide
Here’s a big list of stuff I like that people who like my stuff might like. (I get a cut if you buy through the links.)
Dominant with Pirastro E string. These are the main strings I use.
Helicore. I use these on my electric violin.
I recommend FiddlerShop for buying violins and bows online. They make good, affordable instruments and have a generous return policy. The fiddles are made overseas and then “set up” by hand at their workshop in Florida. And they are a family-run business.
Tower Strings Entertainer Violin Outfit. Here’s an entry-level fiddle to get you going.
Fiddlerman Apprentice Violin Outfit. Here’s a more expensive violin. It’s a worthy investment if you can afford to spend a little more.
My general advice for buying a fiddle…
Get something good that is also affordable. If you spend $100 on a violin, you’ll pay for it in frustration. It will be harder to learn. You may even give up and miss out having this gift of music in your life.
On the other hand, too many people obsess over which violin to buy. They miss a big point: you have to play the thing. If you have a $10,000 violin but barely pick it up, then it may as well be a $100 violin.
If you’re on a budget, I recommend something in the $300-400 range. Think of it as an investment. You’re investing in the peace and happiness that comes with music. You also might see some financial return. If you get into fiddling, you won’t waste money on other meaningless stuff.
Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Bow. A good inexpensive option at $68.79.
Holstein Pernambuco Bow. Pernambuco wood is the standard for professional violinists. If you can afford this at $199.99, then I think it would be a worthy investment.
Hindersine. I currently use this classic rosin.
Magic Rosin. Very cool and fun rosins, created to be visually interesting.
Bonmusica. This is a highly supportive shoulder rest. Especially recommended if you have back, neck or shoulder pain after playing.
Practice Mute. This is helpful if you want to play without disturbing your roommates or family. A lot of beginning fiddlers are self-conscious about their sound (even if no one else cares). A mute can ease this anxiety. But I recommend that you don’t use it all the time because it will become a crutch. Your tone won’t develop properly.
Rogue RM-100A A-Style Mandolin Sunburst. This is a good budget option.
You can make better quality audio and video recordings if you use an external microphone. These recordings give you immediate feedback on your playing. If the audio quality is bad, you won’t continue to record. Another benefit of a good mic is that it makes for a better experience when playing with others online, whether it’s taking a one-on-one lesson, or playing with a student group.
Whatever mic you pick, make sure it’s compatible with the device you’ll use for recording. If you’re using a laptop, I recommend a usb mic. See my suggestions below:
Elgato Wave 3. I use this when recording direct to my computer during group lessons and sometimes even for play-along tracks. It comes with a software mixer. It might be more than you need, but I find it useful.
Zoom mic. I this when recording directly to my iPhone. This can be the best solution if I want to use my laptop for something else (like lesson or practice notes) and don’t want to be switching windows on my computer (focus, baby, focus).
Yeti. A few FiddleHeds got this mic and are content with it.
Bow Buddy. This helps with the right-hand position on the bow. It may also be a good tool if you are recovering or dealing with a physical obstacle like carpal tunnel surgery or arthritis.
Bow Right. This trains you to bow parallel to the bridge (perpendicular to the strings).
WonderThumb. This aids your left-hand position and helps you play with less tension.
Snark tuner. Clip this to the scroll to tune the fiddle. Just don’t stare at it while you play!
String Swing. Remove resistance to practicing by keeping your fiddle accessible. Another solution would be a floor stand:
I use this drone box when I need a break from my computer and phone. It’s made in India, a bit weird but also loveable little device.
This protects the violin from shrinkage in dry climates.
Books On Practice
Here are two great books to help you understand how habits work. Establish good ones and stop the bad ones.
The Power of Habit. As you’ve heard me say, daily practice is the single most important thing to learn. This super interesting book by Charles Duhigg goes into why we develop habits, both good and bad. It also offers practical instruction.
Atomic Habits. This popular book by James Clear offers actionable strategies and frameworks for developing and maintaining habits. If you follow my blog, you know that I teach the The Two-Minute Rule, which I learned from this book.
Mindset. This is a great book for anyone sincerely dedicated to learning. The main takeaway: our abilities are not fixed unless we decide to view ourselves that way. If you decide you decide to learn and grow, then will happen. This taught me a lot about learning and about myself. I wrote about the ideas here: Fiddling With A Growth Mindset
Fiddler’s Fakebook. If you buy just one book, this anthology by David Brody is the one to get. I love it..been all around the world with it!
The Fiddle Book. A great book of old-time tunes and stories by Marion Thede. It also is a great resource if you want to play in altered tunings. It was a big inspiration for me when I began my fiddle journey. It’s got a ton of great photos and stories. This was one of the main sources of my Appalachian Fiddle Journeys course.
Old-Time Fiddle Round Peak Style. This book goes deep into the old-time fiddle style of Tommy Jarrell from North Carolina. Tunes are taught in alternate tunings (like ADAD). This was one of the main sources of my Appalachian Fiddle Journeys course.
The Celtic Fiddler. I love this tune selection by Edward Huws Jones. It contains tunes from places you didn’t know had Clectic fiddling, like Brittany in France and Galicia in Spain.
Foinn book series. This book has very simple versions arranged in sets of three tunes. It’s good for getting basic versions of tunes.
Klezmer Collection. Mazeltov! If you like klezmer tunes like Hava Negilah and Berdichiever Khosid, then check out this book by Stacey Phillips. I learned a few great tunes from this that made it into the course.
The Cajun Fiddle Tune Book, by Deborah Greenblatt. Another great book with a nice range of skill levels.
Here’s some apps I use that you might also find useful.
- Strum Machine. This is a great play-along track app.
- Amazing Slow Downer I use this to slow down audio recordings and loop them. You can also transpose to other keys.
- Cleartune I use this phone app to tune up the old fiddle.
- iTabla I use this app for play-along drones. You can change beats, tempos, root notes, scales and more.
- Musescore I use musescore to research sheet music. They also have a free app for creating sheet music. For those of you taking my Note-Reading For Fiddlers course, you can deepen the process by learning to notate music.
- Reason I use Reason to record the play-along tracks on the site.
Other fun instruments
Playing “easy instruments” is a way to stimulate creativity and musicality. I sometimes take breaks from work or focused music practice to have fun and be creative with these instruments.
Q Chord . The Q chord is a great way to learn about chords. You can also use it instead of a drone as a way to back yourself up. I use this a lot when I record music.
Kalimba. I love playing the kalimba. Sometimes I pick it up and play a simple pattern, just enjoying the sound. I’ve also used it for recording.