The Bontragers Favorite Violin Books

I get asked from time to time about what violin books I use and recommend. Although I have used a large variety of books over the years, there are some that I keep coming back to. Today I am going to share with you the favorite violin books of the Bontrager violinists. These are books that I played from and used to teach my siblings and other students.

I have found that practice is more fun when you have a variety of music that is interesting, fun and challenging. I never want my students to be playing all super-hard classical pieces, but neither do I have them play only fun + light pieces at any given time.

My typical recipe for picking pieces for my violin students includes:

  1. Technique
  2. Classical
  3. Hymns
  4. Fiddle

I find that these four components not only give a violinist a well-rounded repertoire, but keep even young students interested and engaged. The last thing I want is for them to get discouraged or overwhelmed with too many difficult pieces, or bored with not enough variety.

The first book I am going to tell you about is one that I started playing from when I began taking violin lessons 18 years ago.

Fairfield Farm Beginners Fiddle Book

Even as a little 5 year old girl, I loved the fun and upbeat style of fiddle music! This sweet fiddle book is one I learned from with my very first, very fun teacher. She was enthusiastic and eclectic as a teacher, and although she primarily taught the Suzuki method, she made sure all her students were well-rounded with a variety of music, including fiddle. This books has basic + popular fiddle songs, such as “Boil Dem Cabbage Down”, “Cripple Creek”, “Old Joe Clark”, “Ragtime Annie”, and many more.

Fairfield Farm Fiddle Book II

I highly recommend this one for intermediate violinists. I just bought it for Hudson and Rebecca since they have finished all the songs in the Beginners book. This second one has alot more double stops (playing on two strings at once) and such that will challenge them a bit more than the basic, simple style of the Beginner’s book.

Mel Bay Advanced Fiddling

This is a fantastic fiddle book for advanced fiddling. The version of Orange Blossom Special that I learned and based off is in here, along with other classics like “Sally Goodin”, a very difficult but very cool fiddle piece that my sister Liz is learning right now. Even if you’ve been playing violin for a long time, you will be challenged with this book.

Essential Techniques for Strings

If you want to learn some new techniques in violin but aren’t sure where to start, this book is for you! It has exercises and little songs for third and second position, majors + minor + chromatic scales, vibrato, spiccato, and more.

I am using the Essential Techniques book with Rebecca and Hudson right now, and it is fantastic. Specifically, I love the way it teaches 3rd position- breaking it down into very small little pieces and lines to learn, gradually getting more difficult. After a few months of doing the 3rd position exercises, and learning the position and how of it, they are ready for songs with 3rd position. I like this method so much better than one day saying “let’s learn to play in 3rd position”!

(For those of you wondering what 3rd position is, it is when you move your 1st finger to where your 3rd finger would normally be. In violin, after learning the basics, you want to learn different positions to play in, as it opens up so many possibilities with more advanced pieces and playing higher up on the violin.)

Solos for Young Violinist Volume 1

This book is so fun! I am using it with Liz, Huds, and Rebecca currently and the pieces are just so great. The variety is tremendous, as well, which I love. I mean, how fun is “Mosquito Dance”?! Other titles include: “Elves Dance”, “Donkey Doodle”, “Scotch Folk Song: A Lullaby”, “Russian Folk Song: Caterpillar! Caterpillar!”, and “French Folk Song (Playing Ball on the Stairs)”

You can even learn some of the piano notes on the violin for a second violin part, which is very fun. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for the fantastic selection of fun and beautiful pieces.

Solos for Young Violinist Volume 2

Solos for Young Violinists Volume 3

These books have more advanced solos.

Suzuki Book 1

I started with the Suzuki books and played them for many years (learning almost the entirety of the first 8 books), going on to use them with every one of my students. The pieces are excellent, and younger students can listen to the cd and learn the songs without even reading music. The songs get progressively harder, starting with very easy little songs to more and more difficult.

The Suzuki books all have piano accompaniment and cd’s available as well.

Suzuki Book 2

Suzuki Book 3

Suzuki Book 4

Erich Boruff Books

These books are all excellent. Eric has beautiful hymn arrangements (with piano accompaniment) for beginner through advanced violinists.

Ever In Joyful Song

I absolutely love the beautiful hymn arrangements by Tracy Ann Collins! I started with these quite a few years ago, and am teaching them to Elizabeth now (and soon Hudson and Rebecca). I would recommend this book for intermediate to advanced students that have been playing probably 5+ years (unless you are older and advanced very quickly).

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

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Living a Life that’s Not About Stuff

“No one is going to stand up at your funeral and say,

‘She had a really expensive couch and great shoes.’

Don’t make life about stuff.”

I am convinced that we don’t need as much money as we think to live. The problem is, there is a certain “standard of living” that we, as Americans, can easily start thinking we “deserve”.

Let’s start living a life that’s not about stuff.

“It’s not what we take up in life, but what we give up, that makes us rich.”

Today I want to challenge you to start living a little simpler.

We all have different weaknesses, but we all have them. Whatever yours is, learn to do without. Say NO to yourself.

Watch out for the following pitfalls!

Internet Shopping

This one can be oh so hard in our Amazon age! And the internet is amazingly helpful for conveniently getting things that legitimately need. The only problem is, it can also be conveniently helpful for getting things we don’t need at all!

Personally, I need to not shop for clothing online unless there is a specific item I need and am looking for. Otherwise, I could literally buy a different dress every single month. Any of you girls identifying? For some of you, it’s those sites with those amazing “only for one day” deals, or buying books or movies, and the list could go on. Whatever it is, even your online shopping needs to be strategic and not impulsive!

Use online shopping to your advantage, but be careful with it. I personally love shopping online, I just try to be careful to stay within budget and not buy impulsively, especially “deals.” There is nothing wrong with thinking about a purchase overnight and waiting to click the “purchase” button. You may decide not to get it, or you may be more convinced than ever that you really do want to make the purchase!

Thrift Stores

Just don’t go to them every time you feel like it. It’s ok. Someone else needs the “amazing finds” worse than you do. When you do need something, go with a list, and a friend or sister if you need accountability.

Going out to Eat

Choose your eating out carefully and sparingly. It really adds up! I grew up hardly ever going out to eat, so it’s always been something I viewed as a rare and special treat. I want it to always be that way. Food made at home is so much healthier and more affordable, and when you only go out to eat every once in a great while, it is that much more special!

Buying Clothes and Shoes

I have seen that this one can be a biggie for girls and guys alike. Set a budget amount and stick to it.

Also, SIMPLIFY your wardrobe and you will need to spend a whole lot less. 30 pairs of shoes and 50 outfits will complicate your life and ruin your budget.

Getting coffee

As mentioned earlier, this can be a big money drain! Two lattes per week (@ $4.50 each) adds up to almost $500 PER YEAR! Now, I am not saying it’s sinful to buy coffee drinks. I just want you to count the cost and decided how much you should really be spending on it. Again, if you greatly limit yourself, that latte once per month will seem pretty luxurious!


For some of my brothers, they can easily spend a whole lotta money at Scheels! They are avid hunters, and as any hunter knows, it isn’t a cheap sport. My hunter brothers have an actual “hunting category” in their budget every month, and enjoy it to the fullest!

Others may like buying a ticket to a football game, or going golfing, and the list goes on. Be careful about these expenses and make sure that what you are spending on hobbies is in line with your life priorities and financial goals.


With 50 million US subscribers (at a minimum of $96 per year for a subscription), Netflix has found a niche in a society that is crazy about entertainment. While entertainment is not wrong in and of itself, the message of the entertainment and the price at which it comes can have serious spiritual and financial implications.

Even if you don’t have Netflix, be careful about spending money on entertainment. Amusement parks, dvd’s, iTunes, etc add up incredibly.

Thank you all for joining me for another Money Monday! Which one of the above pitfalls struck a chord with you?

I am excited to be back on here next Monday talking about investing! If you have questions you want me to answer, leave a comment or shoot me an email.



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10 Free Activities to Do With Little People this Fall

Some of you may have read my recent post here about loving the littles in your life.

Today I am sharing 10 Free Activities to Do With Little People This Fall. The reason I say “little people” instead of “little siblings” is that some of you don’t have siblings, or are one of the youngest in the family, or no one in your family is “little” anymore! But even if you don’t have little siblings, you have little people in your life- nieces and nephews, or kiddos at church, or maybe neighbor children, etc.

Make it one of your fall goals to invest in the little people in your life- you won’t regret it!

Here are some ideas for spending time with littles:

1. Do a picnic at the park.

What kid doesn’t love going to the park?! I know my younger siblings do! This spring I went with my little siblings to meet up with my brother’s fiance (now sister in law!) and her little siblings at our favorite local park. We took picnicky foods to share, and had a fantastic time! A few recommendations for an awesome park time: pack plenty of water and yummy but simple food (we did sloppy joes, hummis and chips, veggies, cheese, and fruit), plan adequate time (a few hours is good), and make sure you play with the kids at least part of the time!

2. Go on a walk to the creek.

Little people that visit our farm always love to walk up the road to our bridge where we can throw stones down into the water. On the way back, we might stop in the orchard for an apple.:) If you live near a creek, this is a fun way to get the kids outside and enjoy the beautiful day!

3. Do a baking project.

There are so many delicious things to bake in the fall! Pick something that isn’t too complicated, and make it a party! Apple crisp, chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, apple cake, pumpkin custard, and the list goes on! Fall calls for baking, and little ones are always up for baking something sweet.

4. Pick up leaves and do a craft project.

You could press the leaves and use them to make cards, or go on pinterest and search “fall craft with leaves”. Leaves are free, and they are so beautiful!

5. Create fall decorations.

This is especially good for a big “older littles”. My sister Liz went all out last fall decorating on our porch with cornstalks, a chalkboard sign, and more. It was amazing. 10-13 year old girls seem to love decorating, and there are lots of fun options in the fall.

6. Rake leaves for the elderly.

This is a great way to teach children to love serving others. Especially if you live in town, this would be a wonderful opportunity to get to know neighbors, and show some lonely elderly person love!

7. Arrange fall bouquets.

If you have flower beds, use some end-of-season blooms. Even if you don’t have your own flowers, scour the ditches for wild blossoms, or simply find some longs twigs with leaves, grasses, weeds and such to create a pretty arrangement.

8. Can or freeze vegetables for winter.

Especially if you have a garden, this is a great project to do together. My siblings canned with my mother while the tomatoes were in season, and they did a great job!

9. Eat lunch in the yard.

Fall days can be so perfect! The air is just a little crisp, without being to hot or cold.

10. Make them hot chocolate on a chilly morning or evening.

It’s hard to believe that chilly mornings are already here (at least in the Midwest)! Even though the days are warm, evenings and mornings are beginning to be chilly, and nothing hits the spot for little ones like hot chocolate. While you might rather have coffee or tea (or maybe not:), making a pot of hot chocolate for the littles is sure to make them smile and feel extra loved. They can even help you make it, or you can deliver it as a special treat while they are studying (if they’re homeschooled). If you are on a farm like us, this can be perfect for an after-chores treat on a chilly morning.

Which of these would you like to try? What are some favorite fall activities you do with your little people?

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5 Ways to Love the Little People

1. Treat Them Like Adults.

Obviously not all the time, ok? But really, get down on their level and ask them about their day, find out what’s going on in their head, and don’t talk down to them. Treat them like their opinions matter. They can tell if you are bothered by them or if you think they’re the greatest thing ever. Don’t talk down to them. Let them know you believe in them! We tend to rise to the expectations placed upon us; therefore, it stands to reason that if you treat your little siblings like little pests, they will be little pests. But if you treat them as valued friends true best buds, they will tend to confide in you and return the respect.

2. Write Notes.

Kids LOVE getting a sweet little note at random times! I like to write about something notable I see them doing, or tell them how happy I am that they’re my sibling (or friend), or just tell em they’re special! Doing an act of service (like completing a chore for them or making their bed) and leaving a note behind will totally make their day!

3. Plan Fun Activities.

Some of my best memories with the little people in my life have been fun outings I have been able to take them on. There are so many things I love to do with them!

4. Make Yummy Treats.

Oh, how they love this! Just this evening, I happened to be home with my four youngest siblings. Liz asked if we could have these little chocolate things from the cupboard. “No, but don’t brush your teeth, because we’re having dessert later!” I said. After a competitive word search together, I made chocolate chip milkshakes for them as a fun surprise. They were thrilled! It was an easy way to add an extra-special touch to our evening together.

5. Give the Gift of Time.

Younger siblings and little friends need the thing that is in scarcest demand in our world- T.I.M.E. I know it isn’t easy, but stopping to listen when we’re “busy”, or taking time out of our jam-packed schedule to plan something fun to do together….these things speak love to them like almost none other.

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5 Ways to Cure Financial Butterfingers

Whether you area teenager making a few dollars a week on household chores and babysitting, or a 20-something pulling in regular payckeck, you should be saving money and giving generously. The only way to do it is by not spending all you make.

When I was a teenager making money babysitting, teaching a handful of violin students, and doing seasonal landscaping, I started saving money. I saved a nice little pile, although it could have been more had I started budgeting sooner!

It is so easy to just earn it, then spend it. I mean, it’s fun, right? It’s enjoying the fruit of our labors! But there are some things even more fun than spending money on ourselves:

Giving Money to Others and Saving Money.

If you have ever struggled with overspending, and had trouble keeping your finances- even small amounts of cash- in line, I know the feeling! It is way to easy to let the money slip through our fingers instead of strategically placing it where it needs to go.

Today I want to share with you 5 Tips to Cure Financial Butterfingers:

  1. Track it! You must track every single dollar you earn and spend. This way you can look back and see where your money is actually going, and change your gameplan if need be.
  2. Watch the little expenses. Coffee is a big one for me. It is way too easy to stop by the coffee shop and grab a scrumptious drink. But the truth is, I can make my own delicious coffee at home. I choose to never buy coffee out unless I am meeting up with a friend, taking out a family member, or going for work (even that is limited, as the library also has free wifi and quiet.)
  3. Always pack lunch. When shopping, my mother taught me to always pack food. The RARE times we would actually get frosties at Wendy’s or lunch at Chik Fil A or a yogurt at the health food store were so much more special because they were not a regular occurrance! And we saved hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars as a family by nearly always packing food for traveling, shopping, and other outings. When I started working away from home as a teenager, I didn’t even entertain the idea of going to Subway for lunch like my employer sometimes did. I automatically packed lunch. Now, in my 8 years of working away (landscaping and hotel) I have never once bought lunch. I pack every single time. I would rather save my money to be able to take my mother out to a fancy restaurant for lunch, or give extra money to a missionary, or send a package to a friend, or put more money in investing.
  4. Create free experiences, outings, and gifts. Not every gift or special time has to cost money. You can give coupons for birthday gifts, etc. I am going to do an entire post on this next week, so stay tuned!
  5. If you are tempted, don’t go there! I absolutely love a certain consignment shop in the city near us. I used to go there often, but now I rarely go unless I have a specific item or list of items I need. It eliminates the temptation to buy un-needed things.

Well, I’m signing off for now, friends! What would you like me to write about next? I have posts on investing and giving coming up, but I am open to other ideas, as well!


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