Lessons and Teaching

What should I bring to the first lesson?

In addition to whatever questions you have, I recommend bringing a notebook to keep track of your assignments and an audio recorder of some kind. Whether it’s an app on your smart phone or an older model that uses magnetic tape is up to you.

There are number of tunebooks and fiddle and mandolin “method” books that I use. Before your first lesson, we’ll talk a bit about what your goals and musical interests are. Then I’ll usually recommend some books, and if you’re able to get them in time, you can bring those, too.

Where do you teach?

My studio is 701 Randolph Avenue in Saint Paul. That’s near the intersection of West 7th and Randolph Avenue, near the Schmidt Brewery Artist Lofts. For more info on my teaching studio, click here.

In all the photos of you, I see you’re wearing a suit — do you always dress like that, and do you have a dress code at your lesson studio?

I almost always wear a suit when I perform. It’s what Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, did and I find that it puts me in a certain frame of mind…a professional frame of mind, let’s say. But I don’t wear a suit when I teach and don’t expect you to dress any particular way for your lesson.

On the other hand, if dressing to the nines helps you play your best, please don’t dress down for my sake. And if you’d like to discuss the merits of the four-in-hand knot or whether black or brown shoes go best with a navy suit, I’m game.

Instruments and Gear

What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

Wouldn’t you know that I’ve written a blog post about that very subject. You can read that here.

I’d like to take a lessons, but I don’t have a fiddle/violin/mandolin yet? Do you any suggestions on where to find a starter instrument?

The following are my recommendations (and they’re just that — I don’t accept payment to endorse any brands or stores to students), depending on what instrument you play.

For beginning fiddle and violin students, I recommend renting before buying.

There are a lot of violin shops and music stores with rental programs, so by all means shop around. I like Quinn Violins in Northeast Minneapolis. Their basic rental packages are nice, economical and the instruments are set up well. They also have a good prices on strings, rosin, tuners and other accesories.

If you’re looking to buy — especially if you’re a fiddle player — I would suggest talking to Gary Bartig at G. Edward Lutherie. Gary is a fixture on the bluegrass scene and knows fiddlers well. He understands what most fiddle players, as opposed to classical violinists, are looking for in an instrument — namely, a flatter bridge, lower action and darker tone.

If you’re a more advanced player and  looking for something more specific in an instrument, just let me know and I’d be happy to make some recommendations.

What kind of instrument(s) you play?

My main fiddle was made in 2007 by Bob Kogut, a contemporary luthier in Lenoir, North Carolina. It’s a fiddle, properly speaking; this isn’t an instrument you’d use to play classical music.

What kind of strings should I use?

I’ve written some blog posts on this very topic. If you’re a fiddle player, click here. If you’re a violinist, click here.

If you’re a bluegrass or old-time fiddle player, I’d recommend using steel strings. They have the right tone and the fast response that you need for this music.

I always tell fiddle students to start with D’Addario Helicores in medium tension. They’re pretty much the standard string in bluegrass music — most everyone uses them. They’re fairly cheap, they don’t take long to “play in,” and they hold up well.