Shoulder Rests

If you want to get strong opinions out of violinists/violists/fiddlers, talk about shoulder rests.  Some believe you don’t need them, some swear by only one brand, some make their own at home.   The purpose of a shoulder rest is to help support the violin which helps take some of the strain off of the left hand.

I believe that when learning the violin, you have to strike a balance between ideals and being able to progress on your instrument with some level of comfort.  Here are a few of my favorite options.  Note: When purchasing a shoulder rest, make sure it is the appropriate size (4/4, 3/4 , 1/2, etc.)

Kun Collapsible 4/4 Violin Shoulder Rest  This is a classic and my personal favorite.  There are models with foldable and adjustable legs.  I don’t need a really tall shoulder rest and this one lowers down to a minimal height.  Similar to the Kun is the Everest Collapsible Violin Shoulder Rest, and it’s a bit cheaper.  I find that I can adjust the Kun to a lower height, which suits me. Both are excellent options.

Some people don’t care for the stiffness and rigidity of a shoulder rest and opt for a sponge.   There are ones that are shaped like shoulder rests, such as the Zaret, however, many people opt to use a regular sponge or foam from the fabric store, cut it to the size they want, and attach with a rubber band. If you don’t need any type of cushioning at all, you can also use a piece of leather or suede and place it over the chin rest so that it does not slip when playing.

I have experimented with different types of shoulder rests and sponges over the years and it has taken me a long time to find out what I like.  It’s best to go to a music store that specializes in strings and try out the different types of shoulder rests.  You can also experiment with different thicknesses of sponges at home before you buy something.

How To Hold The Violin Bow

Learning how to hold the violin bow doesn’t have to be difficult or daunting. Here are the steps to a proper bow hold:

  1. Make a “bunny” with your right hand.  Touch your thumb to the middle and ring fingers and the pointer and pinky are the “ears” of the bunny.  Remember to keep the thumb round, not straight.
  2. Place the thumb on the inside bump of the frog. (you can also start out with it on the outside silver piece, which is called the ferrule).
  3. The pinky perches on top with a curve.
  4. The pointer finger rests on the silver winding of the stick at an angle.
  5. The middle and ring finger touch the frog.


West Philly Square Dance

The West Philly Square Dance happens monthly on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  Live old-time music, all dances are called, and everyone is welcome.  My friends Mark Kilianski and Amy Alvey of Hoot and Holler were the band this past Friday along with dance caller Donna Hunt, so I decided to do a short interview with them about square dancing and their musical travels.

I’ll be playing the October 20th dance with my pals as the False Hearted Chickens (John Salmon, Chris Dalnodar, Michael Foster and Jeff McLeod).  See you there!

Folk Dance in Budapest

“Táncház, which translates as “dance house” is “a “casual” Hungarian folk dance event (as opposed to stage performances). It is an aspect of the Hungarian roots revival of traditional culture which began in the early 1970s, and remains an active part of the national culture across the country, especially in cities like Budapest. The term is derived from a Transylvanian tradition of holding dances at individual’s homes.”  (áncház)

Táncház events are all over Budapest and every evening of my trip this past March was spent dancing and listening to folk music.   I had the good fortune of having local musician friends point me towards places to go and I want to pass this information on to other travelers headed to Hungary.

The best online resource to find Hungarian folk music and dance events is  Thanks to sites like Google translate, you can put in the web address and it will give you a decent translation of the event calendar.  Another English language site is that has a huge list of bars and music clubs.  Venues are always changing, so please, always check ahead of time. 

To give you an idea of what you will see and hear, below are some videos I took at the events I attended.  Enjoy!

This video turned out very blurry, but I love the effect:



Jason Hathaway Plays Folk’N’Blues


Indianapolis based Jason Hathaway describes his music as Folk’n’Blues and I think that description is just about right.  His acoustic and electric performances are full of energy, fun, and a bit of music history about the songs as well.  I’m happy to say Jason and I go way back as college buddies in Terre Haute, IN and I have loved seeing his music evolve since then.  I stopped in the Upland Tasting Room to see him playing with his long-time mentor, Rev. Charlie Edmonds.

Growing up in Paris, Illinois Jason mostly listened to rock until his father gave him a Howlin’ Wolf tape in middle school- a gift he describes as a turning point for him musically.  I think his dad deserves a good parenting award for that present:

Jason taught himself to play on his Epiphone guitar starting in 8th grade and then took lessons in Terre Haute with Brett Cantrell (of Indy based band Phyllis).  He learned a lot of rock, including, of course, Stairway To Heaven, but he remembers distinctly asking Brett to teach him some Howlin’ Wolf.  He’s never looked back and his powerful voice belts out some of the best blues I’ve heard.  You should absolutely check out his music whenever possible.   Click here for Jason’s Website, his electric band The Bastard Hounds, and like his Facebook profile.


Joe Dawson, Master Fiddler from Bloomington, Indiana


I’ve been meaning for a long time to write a post about my favorite fiddle player.  Joe Dawson was a master fiddler, carpenter, farmer, and a man of numerous other talents.  Joe’s repertoire of old-time fiddle tunes is totally unique, 100% Indiana and he taught them to a lucky circle of people who visited him at his weekly living room jam in Bloomington, Indiana.  I was one of these lucky folks and had the pleasure of jamming with Joe for over a decade.  Many of his tunes would be considered “crooked” (not in equal amount of measures or beats for each phrase) and could be very tricky to catch.   Here is a set of Joe’s tunes of played by Grey Larsen and Cindy Kallet:

Joe passed away May 11, 2012 and he and his music are missed greatly.  Grey Larsen and Cindy Kallet, Joe’s adopted family who spent countless hours playing music with Joe and recording his tunes and memories, wrote this lovely tribute:

Joe Dawson, master carpenter and fiddler, and long-time resident of Prospect Hill, passed away at Hospice House in Bloomington on May 11, 2012 at the age of 84. In his last days he was surrounded by his dearest friends.  He was predeceased by his beloved wife Lela (Pate) Dawson, his sister Mildred Wells and his parents Cletus Dawson and Myrtle Dawson Walker.  Joe was born in Bedford, Indiana on April 22, 1928. When Joe was ten his father died in an accident, and his mother moved to Bloomington to find employment. Joe’s sister lived with his mother while Joe went to live with his mother’s parents, Jasper and Ida Chambers, on their 140 acre farm on the Monroe/Brown Country line.Though money was extremely scarce, Joe and his grandparents were able to provide for almost all their needs by growing their own food, raising livestock, bartering eggs for supplies and by hewing and selling railroad ties. Years later, most of the farm was submerged by the formation of Lake Monroe. Due to the responsibilities of helping his disabled grandfather on the farm, Joe did not have to serve in World War II, but he was drafted to fight in the Korean War and saw heavy combat. Early in life Joe picked up carpentry skills from his father, and after the war he worked for a time at Showers Brothers Furniture. He soon moved on to work for Superior Lumber, Pritchett Brothers Construction and CFC Incorporated. As a master carpenter he was indispensable in the building of hundreds of important structures in Bloomington and beyond, including Beck Chapel, Fountain Square Mall, and the Graham Plaza Hotel. On the side, for a time, he raised hogs on his farm near Adel in Owen County.  As a masterful fiddler, Joe kept alive a beautiful and important repertoire of traditional music from Monroe and Brown Counties, music that has many of its deeper roots in Kentucky and the larger Appalachian mountain region. He learned this music from the fiddle playing of his grandfather, Jasper Chambers, as well as from other relatives and neighbors, while living on the family farm. He passed that music along to many younger musicians who continue to play it today. The Thursday night music sharing sessions that he convened in his living room for many years were a joy for those who were lucky enough to gather there to learn the tunes and all the stories and lore that went with them. Recordings of Joe’s fiddling and anecdotes will soon be deposited in the IU Archives of Traditional Music in Bloomington.

The recordings of Joe have been submitted to the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music in Bloomington, Indiana and will be available online through there website in the near future.  What a treasure!  I love playing and teaching Joe’s tunes to other people and I recorded three of them on my new CD, Kitchen Fiddle.  I hope many people listen to, learn and treasure Joe’s music for years to come.

Pótkulcs, 1067 Budapest, Csengery utca 65b, Hungary

If you love folk music, the question is not “Should I go to Budapest?” but rather “Have I checked the airfares today?”.   I was introduced to Hungarian folk music through folklorist friend David Stanley while visiting him in Budapest.  On any night of the week there is an amazing number of concerts and events going on in the city.  Dave knew the best things to see and do and, even better, spoke way more Hungarian than me.  I saw a concert of the beloved band Muszikas and went to a táncház (literally “dance house”) which is a traditional dance event that features live music and folk dances.  I loved it!

I went back to Budapest in 2013 and wanted to find more music on my own.  Never mind that I spoke 3 Hungarian words at the time (its not really a language you can fake your way through).  Why didn’t I do research beforehand?  Most of the sites I found were in Hungarian and made no sense when I Google translated them.  But I don’t think that’s a reason to stay home and went anyway.

I stayed at the Homemade Hostel, which is nothing short of fabulous, and the staff pointed me in the right direction. I walked to Potkulcs, one of Budapest’s many romkocma, or “ruin pubs”, that features folk music.  Here’s what I found:

I  sat with a beer for all of 5 minutes before a group invited me to sit with their table and soon after we all joined in the dance.  Some of these dances are much easier to learn than others so you have to be your own best judge.  A person I spoke with suggested I go to a dance the next night at Gondozó Kert with music by Jam de Strune and I saw some familiar faces from the night before.  I’m sure it could have continued after that with more recommendations as it seems you can be out for music 7 nights a week if you so choose.

Upland Tasting Room, 4842 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN ‎ (317) 602-3931

Looking in on New Augusta Bluegrass Band from College Ave.

The Upland Tasting Room, an extension of the brewery in Bloomington, IN, serves excellent beer, welcomes dogs, and best of all (besides the beer!) they support local acoustic/folk music.  There is a traditional Irish session every Sunday, 6-9:30 p.m., and most Fridays and Saturdays feature songwriters and bluegrass.  New Augusta Bluegrass Band  is a regular on the calendar and they were tearing it up this past Friday when I visited.  Upland doesn’t serve food aside from pretzels, but you are welcome to take in from the places around.  This is an easy place to lose track of time, chit-chat, try several types of beer.  There’s no cover so be generous when tipping musicians and bar staff if we want to see this kind of music supported for a long time to come.  Once again, Folkfestfinder highly rates the Upland Tasting Room for its choice to support music and conversation over television. If you want to get a feel for what the place is like, here is a short video (note: FolkFestFinder is working on her video skills!):

Irish Session at Fergie’s Pub, Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA

I love Philadelphia, and when in Philly, I go to Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom St., on Saturday from 4-7 p.m. In the corner of the downstairs bar is the best traditional Irish music around. The mood at Fergie’s is beyond cozy and the jigs, reels, and banter are fierce and energetic.

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Philadelphia has loads of fantastic Irish musicians and this is a regular spot for some of the best.  The session has been held down by guitarist Darin Kelly since it began 11 years ago.  It’s best to get there early as it can get crowded; some days are standing room only.  The exchange of tunes between the musicians never dominates over patrons conversations; this is an unamplified affair.  Kudos to the proprietors as there is not 1 TV in the whole place-a rarity in this day and age.  Another pint? Of course!

Irish Session @ The Golden Ace Inn, 2533 E Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46201

The Golden Ace Inn, Indianapolis, IN  This eastside bar has been owned by the McGinley family since 1934.  The weekly Irish session, begun in 1999 by Doug Lammer, is hosted by Jim and Kate Smith and Jenny Thompson, and has been strongly supported by the McGinleys throughout the years.  A group of dedicated sessioneers ensure a lively evening with high quality musicianship each Tuesday from 8-10p.m. (often later).

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The decor is nostalgic and homey, the music always lively, and the budget-friendly burgers ($3.75, including chips) are fantastic and rated as “One of Indy’s Tastiest Burgers” by the Indianapolis Star.  You will be met with classic Midwestern friendliness and will feel welcome at this bar (I may be a little biased hailing from Indiana myself!).

The session focuses on traditional Irish dance tunes: jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, and slides with the odd song thrown in.  Make no mistake, this isn’t an open “jam” but a traditional Irish session that is friendly to listeners and newcomers who understand (or are willing to learn about) the tradition.

Here are a couple of YouTube videos that feature the session as well as the owner of the bar talking about its history: