Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

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Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby mlsa » Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:16 am

Good Morning Everyone

I've decided it's time for me to move beyond simple strumming my dulcimer. I've been playing basically since about December of 2011. I'm satisfied where I'm at in my playing as far as being able to read the tab at speed while learning a new song, memorizing the tab, strumming, playing chords (although I'm still learning this but it does add so much to the sound)...BUT....I hear all these people take the same song I'm playing and they start flatpicking and adding embelishments and it blows mine away. An example is Bing Futch playing "Rosin The Bow." I know he's one of the dulcimer elite players but gotta shoot for something and I love that song and I love his playing. And then of course is Stephen Seifert playing Black Mountain Rag. ...you don't get much better than that.

I really want to learn how to flat pick and learn how to embellish my playing. I know it takes practice...practice...practice. Does anybody have any suggestions? Any great books out there? I've saved a couple of websites that talk about flatpicking and I'm starting there. How did you start?


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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby KenH » Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:39 am

Gene, you'll probably find some good flatpicking instruction under Guitar Lessons. The principle's the same although the instrument is held differently.

I'm not a flatpicker, so this bits probably all wrong. But my understanding is that you set up a picking pattern, like melody-bass-middle, melody-bass-middle and then start noting with the left hand, starting each measure with that pattern.
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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby zanetti » Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:28 pm

Some possibilities that might help:

- If you can, maybe consider attending some workshops taught by folks who do a lot of flatpicking in a style that you like. Or, you might try some of the online lessons available (I think both Bing and Steve do those).
- There might be some tab books with hints on technique. For example, Bill Collins has a book of Carolan tunes, and there is some introductory material on adding embellishments (it might be his jigs book that has this, but you could contact him to find out).
- Larry Conger also does some nice flatpicking, but I don't recall any of his tab books having instructions. But, they might be worth getting, just to see how flatpicking patterns work: I think if you just read the tab for some of this style, you'll get the idea and then can start adding it to arrangements that you already play.
- Books of fingerpicking style will also usually work pretty well for flatpicking.

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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby rendesvous1840 » Wed Jun 13, 2012 5:23 pm

I don't know of any string patterns used in flat picking, either on guitar or dulcimer. If the melody note isn't on the string you are "supposed" to play next, what do you do? In some cases, melody notes are embellished with added grace notes by striking the wrong note and immediately sliding, hammering or pulling off to the correct note. Sometimes extra Harmony notes are added as double stops, or by actually changing the melody with other chord or scale notes in place of the expected melody notes. This really comes from bluegrass guitar and mandolin playing, and is highly based on the chords in the song, but it can also work well over drones. When you have a longer melody note, brush the drones for part of the time the melody note is ringing. Also, things like "pedal points" can be used. This is where a certain note is repeated at intervals with other notes in between. The repeated note is the pedal point, and the other notes usually kinda swirl around it, perhaps in an ascending or descending pattern. The bass string can be the pedal point for the I chord, while chord notes from the other strings are used in between. If you are not on the one chord, use the root of the chord indicated for this part of the tune. From all this, it can be seen that at least a certain understanding of chords and melody are required. To start, just embellish the melody and listen to how it works against the chords. Notes that are held more than a single beat should be chord notes, but shorter notes can be from anywhere in the scale.
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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby folkfan » Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:59 pm

Mel Bay publishes a book on finger picking for the dulcimer, but I don't know of one done for flat picking. Maybe you could use some of the finger picking techniques for the flat pick.
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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby Judy K » Wed Jun 13, 2012 8:32 pm

Gene, it seems like most of the books on finger-picking could be applied to flat-picking. Sue Carpenter has a very nice instruction book called "Patchwork and Patterns". Another option could be Nina Zanetti's free tab, or one of her tab books. (I love her " The Softer Side of Dulcimer" -- great book!) Larry Conger's books are also good. Like Nina said, there is not a lot of instruction but the tab is self-explanatory. ("Hymns of Faith" & "September on the Mississippi" are my favorites.) Larry also has a "Tune-of-the-Month" CD that does work through a song with instructions.

I started flatpicking by simply playing the chords as individual notes (ie a half-note chord played as eighth notes instead of holding) totally by accident. I liked the sound but didn't have a clue what the picking style was called (or that it even had a name!) until someone complimented my flat-picking.

**Warning -- advice from an ordinary, less than talented player. Take at your own risk ... ;)
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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby Dusty Turtle » Thu Jun 14, 2012 3:52 am


There are a few different questions embedded in your post. One is about the technique involved. But the other is just about musical ideas. It is easier, I think, to learn the techniques involved in intricate flatpicking and crosspicking, but where to come up with ideas is a different matter altogether.

I don't want to function as an advertisement, but Stephen Seifert recently put a lesson on the Dulcimer School about crosspicking exercises. They would be really helpful. Each one is a pattern along the lines of what Ken H suggests. They are good to practice to get your picking hand up to speed. But of course, when you actually play a song, you will not follow a pattern but vary your picking enormously. I think if you join the Dulcimer School (it's only $15 a month) you'll find a lot there for you. In addition to that lesson on crosspicking exercises, Stephen has a lot of lessons where he teaches a song from a simple beginner version to more advanced versions. Paying attention to how you "fancify" a song will give you ideas you can import into all your playing. And Stephen even has that Black Mountain Rag available in a super-slow video so you can watch his hands really closely, although I have yet to attempt that song.

My first advice is to work on your right hand picking. You say you are satisfied with your strumming right now. I assume that means that you have developed a very steady in-out or out-in strumming pattern. If that is the case, you have the basics down. Next try to skip a beat, accent a beat, or mute a beat, all as ways to add rhythmic complexity to your strumming. And there is no rule that says you have to strum all the strings. Hit a single string instead of strumming them all. Play a series of single notes while playing a chord with your left hand and you will be basically playing an arpeggio. If you do that in the same rhythm you would use strumming, then you are really flatpicking, especially if you can do so while strill stressing the melody line.

Now that advice starts with the assumption that you are proficient strumming chords. But another approach would be to start with scales instead of chords and to develop a flatpicking proficiency that way. The simplest scale would be the D major scale beginning on the open bass string and ending on the third fret of the middle string. Play that scale in eighth notes, alternating your picking direction so that you go out-in or in-out consistently. Then you will want to work on other scales up and down the neck. (Now that I think about it, Stephen Seifert recently posted a scale exercise on the Dulcimer School and there is an older one on arpeggios by Aaron O'rourke).

And while playing scales will definitely help your technique, it also provides you with pieces of music you can fit into songs. "Arkansas Traveler" is a classic song that can be jazzed up with simple pieces of scales. Once you are proficient playing those scales and you see how a piece of one can fit into one song, you'll start to see those places in lots of songs.

Now for the disclaimer: I am not the dulcimer player you might think I am based on this post. I learned to flatpick playing the guitar. I worked on scales and arpeggions on the guitar, not the dulcimer. I do plan on taking the dulcimer more seriously and working on my technique--and perhaps learning Stephen Seifert's version of Black Mountain Rag--but I am not there yet.

I know a lot of people suggest not working on exercises, for they are not as fun as "just playing," but it appears you are at a point in your dulcimer playing where you want to develop a different technique, and that technique does demand some focused practice.

Good luck and happy picking!
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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby mlsa » Thu Jun 14, 2012 8:10 am

Good Morning Everybody

Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I'm looking into all of your suggestions and researching the net for any info I can find on flatpicking or any other type of embellishment. I'm not getting bored by any means strumming but I don't want to get into the habit of never improving my playing by NOT learning new styles.

I'm checking out Stephen's Dulcimer School since I want to learn how to fancy up Black Mountain Rag and since I have the video of Bing's Rosin The Bow I think I'm going to take those two songs and start working on those two and see what I can come up with.

Who knows.....I might even get good enough that the cat will stay in the same room with me while I'm playing. Being retired now, learning new things helps to keep me young....now if I could just figure out how to keep from losing the rest of my hair.

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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby dulciken » Thu Jun 14, 2012 10:16 am

Two resources to recomend:
1. Gary Gallier's website http://dulcimercentral.com/ has some instructional sections on cross picking and several of his tabs are really cross picking practice exercuses. Also many of the rest of his tab are written with the idea of cross piciking so any of these would be worth looking at. His tab are available in tabledit and pdf.

2. Mike Casey's book "Hands on Dulcimer" is a wonderful primer on almost any dulcimer technique you want to learn about and it has a nice section on crosspicking. Here is a link to his Mel Bay site: http://www.melbay.com/authors.asp?author=1557
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Re: Flatpicking-Embelishment Instruction??????

Postby Bonnie in Houston » Thu Jun 14, 2012 11:43 am

I'll second dulciken's post. I've taken a couple of Gallier's workshops and his flatpicking technique is great. The dulcimer's double melody strings, tuned in unison, are perfect for crosspicking. Most definitely takes some dedicated practice, though, to get your playing up to speed. To that end I also recommend Casey's book, which is very helpful. Good luck!
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