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How to Choose a Fiddle Camp
A huge part of fiddle tune culture is attending a camp, making like-listening friends and learning tunes together. There are so many camps to choose from, so with a little sleuthing you can find the ideal environment for your learning style.
Lauren and Natalie MacMaster
Let’s start out by asking a few questions: Do you want to be in a class with a very specific teacher? Care only about learning a particular style of music or would you like to be exposed to new techniques? How about playing in an ensemble? Performing opportunities? What’s the vibe? Is it hunker down and get practicing, lots and lots of late night jamming, or easy breasy-hey-let’s-float-down-the-river-after-this-next-class atmosphere? And location, location, location.
Chances are quite a few of your favorite fiddlers will be traveling the camp circuit this summer between festivals. If you’re keen on working with one or more of them, check out their websites to see where they’ll be teaching. Besides having classes with them, chatting up your heroes can be very inspiring and reaffirming. I remember having a lesson with Natalie MacMaster and asking her if I could ‘be a fiddler’ even though I didn’t grow up playing tunes and I didn’t have the heritage. Her ‘permission’ was what this classical violinist from Maine needed to dive into lots of different styles and discover that my heart lies somewhere between Appalachia and Scotland.
Speaking of styles, you might really only be hip to Bluegrass and want to immerse yourself in the high and lonesome sound. That’s cool. Quite a few BGFesters host a camp prior to their event- head the the festival grounds early to work with some of the stars on their lineup. Or maybe you want to sit in lots of Irish sessions but you’ve always been curious about jazz and would like to dip your toes into the improvising waters. Finding a camp that has a more musically diverse faculty allows you to have comfort in your preferred stylistic jams while taking risks in new territories.
Jonny Frigo, Matt Glaser, Lauren, Claude Williams
Some camps are all about classes, which is great, because you’ll most likely go home with a whole lotta tunes. Others focus on playing in an ensemble and then performing with your compadres at a camper concert. While this might seem terrifying to some, it is an excellent way to hone your fundamental skills as a musician. Learning how to stay in time, find a groove, remember an arrangement, work around a mic and talk on stage are all great lessons to try out in an ultra loving environment like fiddle camp.
Tell me more about the love, you ask. Well, love sets the tone, or the vibe of the camp. There is a time and a place for a very focused energy of dedicated practice and accelerated learning. An intense summer of camps and festivals can improve your playing in as much as nine months of diligent practice while at school or work or just going about your daily routine. There’s just as much to be said for the laid back and fun approach to learning that validates your status as a weekend-warrior and hones in on the fact that you’re playing this devil’s box because you love the sound you create when you’re playing, and the feeling that you get when you create that sound. It’s all good.
Darol Anger, Lauren, Bruce Molsky, Gilles Apap, Tracy Silverman
Then of course, there’s proximity to where you lay your burden down on a regular basis. Sometimes the camp in your home territory is just what you need as a quick get-away, and sometimes you need to find a fiddle camp on the beach FAR far away from your status-quo. Or in the rockies. Or in the redwoods. Go where you can be inspired, relax, revive, and fall in love with music.
Bottom line, your ideal fiddle camp is a feel-good event, one that will rekindle your enthusiasm for playing your instrument, and inspire you long after the hot summer nights turn into frosty winter mornings.
Lauren and Brittany Haas
Happy December, Folks!
It is truly winter here in Maine, and I’m writing you bundled up in my quilt with a cup of tea to stay cozy. One of the many things I love about the holidays is catching up and checking in with loved ones. Music has given me a huge network of friends and I’m so grateful for you. In the spirit of the season, I have gifts for you!
First: If you’re a current member of Jam With Lauren, you’ll find a FREE DOWNLOAD of a track I just recorded with my husband Sten, our friend Amanda, and two of my students on the downloads page. We performed a beautiful 4-part vocal round and then we bust into a great old time tune called Breaking Up Christmas. I hope you enjoy warming up your hearts with this track- it was so fun to record!
What if you’re not a current member and you’d like the track? You can still get it! Two ways: Renew your membership (that would be a good choice) or head on over to onelongfellowsquare.com/yulegrass and you can download from there.
Second: NEW LESSONS have been posted! This month’s tune is in Cross A, where you tune your G + D strings up a step, so your fiddle is a giant A chord. I’ll teach you how tune your fiddle up, and to play Breaking Up Christmas in this new tuning. Just in time for you to break up the 12 days of Christmas by jamming, singing, and dancing the nights away. Watch for more lessons in the new year.
Third: We’re offering GIFT CERTIFICATES. Because, well, that’s just the thing to do these days. Here’s the cool part: Gift certificates are $25 for a month’s subscription to JamWithLauren.com (save $5) and if current members give gift certificates to friends, they’ll receive $5 off their next month’s subscription. Example: Cosmos is signed up for JamWithLauren and wants to give two people the gift of lessons with Lauren (GREAT idea, BTW). He buys two gift certificates, and for the next two months, he’ll get $5 off his own subscription. Pretty cool, right? Gift certificates to JamWithLauren would also be a great idea for YOURSELVES. Go ahead and drop some big hints to your family.
Stay warm! Keep music in your hearts, and remember that I’m Thankful for You.
It's the start of school year and a new season is here, so I’m thinking of ways to remind students of why they love this instrument. We need to harness that love and let it guide our daily practice. This can be difficult coming off of summer camps and informal schedules. Let me help!
1. Remind yourself why you like the fiddle
I’m sure all of you have a story—maybe your parents picked the instrument and it stuck, or your child abandoned it and you decided to give it a try, or you heard someone play around a campfire or on stage. But often all these stories can be boiled down to this: you love the sound of the instrument, and the feeling you get when you make the sound. That is what needs to stay in focus.
2. Listen to your faves
Make a playlist of all your favorite tunes and songs that have a fiddler. Actually, make lots of fiddle playlists—styles, tempos, tunes you want to learn, however you like to lump your favorites together. Listen all the time. Sing the fiddle parts. Figure out why you love that track. Is it the tone, the fills, the back up, the break that you love? In order to emulate your heroes, you need to know what you enjoy about their playing.
3. PLAY your faves!
My college professor told me to practice what I can’t do. I agree. If you’re making the best use of your time, practice something that you can’t do yet—challenge yourself. But don’t forget to stay in touch with the tunes you already love playing. If you’re trying to get back into the groove of practicing, I think you should start by playing your favorite tunes. It’s good to give your hands and ears some love by playing tunes that you don’t need to work too hard for.
4. Be a good friend to yourself
It’s never too late to start an instrument. You have a creative voice inside you that you’re learning to express, even if it takes time. Each time you practice, point out at least one aspect of your musicianship that’s improving. Remind yourself of what you’re working towards. Music is an art form and a gift that allows us to express what we can’t articulate. I’m proud of you for learning to make music!
When you don’t have much time to practice, it’s important to use every moment efficiently. With a practice plan, you'll start to hear your progress even when you can’t spend as much time with your fiddle as you'd like.
Here’s one possible way to break down of 30 minutes of practice:
5 minutes: warm up by playing your 2 favorite tunes with a jam track
10 minutes: technique prep: work on your left hand and right hand goals that pertain to the new tune you’re going to learn.
Here’s an example:
Left Hand: you’re going to work/learn a tune in D major so, play your D major maps, scales, say your note names out loud, review your 1, 4, and 5 chords in the key.
Right Hand: you’re working your tone so you focus on keeping your bow parallel to the bridge on open strings and then add your D major scale to the mix so you can COMBINE both left and right hand goals.
12 minutes: learn your new tune: maybe it’s just one phrase, but learn it really well and play it every time it comes around the tune. You don’t have to learn an entire tune in one day!
3 minutes: play your favorite tune again. Whatever is easy, as a reward!
The next day warm up by playing one tune in two minutes instead of two tunes in five. Give those three remaining minutes to your new tune so you have time to review the phrase you learned yesterday and still have plenty of time to learn a new phrase.
Of course, you don't want to skimp on longer practices, but a short practice is always better than nothing. Making a plan can help you get the most out of your time. You'll make progress a little bit at a time, and you may discover new ideas and tunes you want to explore later. Good luck and happy fiddling!
Practicing your fiddle regularly is a sure-fire way of building your skills. But how do you keep practicing on a schedule, especially when things get busy? Here are a few tips to make a regular practice schedule easy.
1. Keep your fiddle case open
Obviously, find a safe place in your home for your fiddle to live. But keep your instrument unpacked so you’re more likely to pick it up when you walk by and play a tune. It’s also one less step when it comes time to practice. Which leads me to....
2. Make an appointment with your fiddle
Chances are, if you have an appointment with someone, you’ll show up. Practice can often be pushed off to the next day and then the next too easily. Establish a routine.
My dad likes to practice in the morning for 15 minutes while the coffee is brewing and he’s toasting breakfast. His practice is taken care of for the day if he can’t get back to his fiddle, but chances are he’ll be motivated to pick it up after work because he’s still inspired from the morning.
And if you’re not a morning person, that’s okay, just pick a time each day that works for you. Set an alert on your phone so you know it’s time. It’s better to get your hands on your instrument every day for a shorter amount of time than binge practicing for hours every weekend.
3. Set goals
Goals can be anything! Like, “I want to learn a new tune a week.” Or, “I need to learn chords to tunes I only know the melodies for.” And “I want to be able to jam this tune with my friends the next time I see them.” Often a social situation is a great motivator. No jam in your town? You could start one! Suggest JamWithLauren.com to a friend so you can play together. Search out fiddle camps and festivals and put them on your calendar a year in advance so you can make sure to plan and look forward to an event!
I’m really overwhelmed. With excitement. And exhaustion. It’s ﬁnally here! The site is launching and I can share this idea that has become a reality with YOU. It’s been quite the experience: creating this curriculum, ﬁlming the videos, recording the audio tracks, writing the copy, working on design and branding, laying out the site so users will have a good experience, becoming a corporation (Oak & Laurel, Inc.!), and publicizing the site all while maintaining my studio of 35 students, performing, and being a newlywed.
It’s time to give thanks to my incredible team. These people are movers and shakers and I’m so lucky they believed in this project, cheering me on through the exhaustion.
So thank you to.....
My students. You continue to inspire me with your enthusiasm for learning. Your trust is an incredible gift and I am humbled that you have asked me to be a part of your musical stories. Thank you for allowing me to experiment and grow with you. Our studio is an exceptional educational laboratory and I am beyond proud of your accomplishments.
My father and my best friend. David Rioux and Asha Mevlana believed in this concept of online learning long before it existed, and both of them pushed me to join the wave of the future years ago. My dad was my inspiration to start playing the violin, when I was six! He had attempted to learn to play the violin when he was in med school with a newborn. Didn’t work out that time, but a few years ago I convinced him to start ﬁddling.
The problem is that we live about 4 hours apart. We’d cram lessons into family visits or over the phone. But he’d say, “Can’t you ﬁlm some lessons for me? Other people would like that, too.” So Asha, the amazing woman that she is, convinced me to let her ﬁlm some lessons and post them on YouTube. We couldn’t believe the response we received.
With Asha’s kind and gentle guidance, I worked an online version of the curriculum I created in my studio. Since Asha is a professional musician AND skilled in producing and editing ﬁlms, her quality control of the videos on this site is unmatched. If I wasn’t clear in an explanation, we’d work through it, making sure an online learner could grasp the concepts. I should mention that we ﬁlmed these videos in 9 eight-hour days. We started the process the day after Asha ofﬁciated my marriage. She edited the videos while on tour as the solo violinist for the Trans Siberian Orchestra. I couldn’t DREAM up a better collaborator.
My web gurus. Alden Robinson and Abraham Stimson are da bomb. Childhood best friends, these dudes are REALLY good ﬁddlers. Actually, Abe’s mom taught them both! They are the most patient, talented, funny and smartest web designers and developers you’ll meet. When I met with them in the fall of 2013 with the site concept, they were totally game to build the site from square one, so we could establish a new style of online learning- one that feels authentic and is easy to use. They continue to amaze me with all their skillz.
My branding team. NASHBOX illustrated ﬂexible logos for my sites and I love them! Scott and Nancy have been loyal supporters of my music for years, coming to shows at a favorite hometown venue One Longfellow Square (hey guess what! Alden designed OLS’ site too!). NASHBOX really captured who I am and what I want to convey with my brand. Scott plays the ﬁddle and amused by my spider race challenge. ;)
My photographer. Amanda Kowalski plays a mean bass. You can hear her when you download the JwL practice tracks. Her photographic eye sees more depth and beauty than I know to look for. Playing or posing with Amanda is always something I look forward to.
My manager/publicist. Heidi Ludiker of Going Places Music has been playing her ﬁddle and entering contests since she was 10. Her understanding of a musician’s life makes her all around the best lady for me to work with. She books my gigs, writes press releases, offers advice and even reminds me to tweet. She and her husband are expecting their ﬁrst child soon. I’m so excited for them.
My husband. Because he’s just the.best.partner. He makes really beautiful furniture, if you’re interested.
Did you notice that my team is made up of ﬁddlers?? Everyone on board really understood my goals for this site, and my dreams for ﬁddle education. It’s what’s overwhelming me- that I could build a team of such incredible individuals who would give this site and this project their all. The love they’ve shown me through out this process makes me shed a few happy tears.
And most importantly, THANK YOU for visiting this site, for being the biggest piece of my dream. This site is for you! I hope you’ll enjoy jamming with me.
I’ve never written a blog before! Growing up, my mom always begged me to keep a journal and I couldn’t stick with it. She’ll be happy to know that I’ll be writing on a regular basis. Actually my mom (probably like your mom), suggested a lot of things she thought I’d enjoy that I brushed off. You might laugh to know that she really wanted me to be a fiddler, and I had no interest in playing my violin in a non-classical way. Instead I chose to grow up with a healthy dose of Suzuki, scales and etudes, unaccompanied Bach, standard concertos, string quartets and orchestra rehearsals before heading to college to pursue a career in violin performance and music education.
Fortunately for me, I went to a string teacher’s convention my junior year in college and watched kids from Michigan enjoying themselves performing fiddle tunes on stage for hundreds of educators and was blown away by their poise and talent. A day later I heard Bruce Molsky and Brittany Haas jamming old time tunes in a stairwell and stood frozen above them as their groove carved open my heart. I skipped the class on teaching spiccato I was headed to and instead sat on the top of the stairs so I could listen to them entertain themselves with a music I heard as melodic and trance-like. I was smitten.
I came home from the conference and called my mom. “I want to be a fiddler. I have to go to a fiddle camp. All the fiddlers go to fiddle camp and it’s all they talk about.” My mom has totally perfected the oh-so-sweet/slightly sarcastic tone and she delivered her response in true motherly fashion, “Oh what a good idea, my love!”
I’m so grateful I found this music to embrace and learn from. I guess I had to find it on my own terms. I think my delay (moms might refer to this as dragging feet) made me appreciate this community and it’s people all the more. My degree in music education wasn’t a side-step: instead it guided me in creating this curriculum you’re working with now.
If only we listened to our moms the first time. Or the second. Thankfully, they love us even when we’re taking our sweet time to come around to a really good idea.