Beginning with no musical experience

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Beginning with no musical experience

Postby hjones22 » Wed Mar 22, 2017 5:09 pm

Hello!

I would really like to learn to play the hammered dulcimer, but have absolutely no previous experience playing a musical instrument. I'm trying to decide whether it would be better for me to "cut my teeth" on another instrument before purchasing a hammered dulcimer (which, as a student, would be a huge financial commitment).

What do you think: would it help to soften the learning curve if I learn the general basics of music (scales, chords, major and minor keys, etc.) elsewhere first, or would it be more helpful in the long run to learn everything through the instrument I ultimately want to play? And if you think I should learn the basics with another instrument, which do you think would be most useful for moving on to a hammered dulcimer?
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Re: Beginning with no musical experience

Postby kwl » Wed Mar 22, 2017 7:44 pm

My suggestion is to go with the instrument you intend to play. That way you get to learn the intricacies of the instrument as you learn music.

Ken
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Re: Beginning with no musical experience

Postby geonix » Thu Mar 23, 2017 8:57 am

i agree, especially with the dulcimer. once you understand how the hammered dulcimer is laid out, you literally have music theory laid out right in front of you. everything from chords, scales, key signatures is all right there. as far as purchasing a instrument goes check out the classified ads on this site. you might be able to find a better instrument for less money.
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Re: Beginning with no musical experience

Postby asterhunter » Thu Mar 23, 2017 2:02 pm

I agree with the above, except:
Do you have a piano or keyboard, or have easy access to one? I might recommend learning the piano from a qualified teacher for six months or so, as you will quickly learn basic music theory that way. There's no reason why you can't start learning HD after you get started in piano as most everything you learn on the piano (other than the playing technique) can be transferred to the HD. The HD is a rather unique animal, with no other commonly played instrument matching its oddities. Whether you have musical background or not there will be a steep learning curve at the beginning as, all at once, you try to master hammering techniques, basic music theory, and the "bass akward" layout of the instrument. If you already have basic music theory tucked under your belt, the other two are actually much easier to master. Just my thoughts, YMMV.

David E
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Re: Beginning with no musical experience

Postby hjones22 » Sat Mar 25, 2017 8:23 pm

Thanks you all for the great advice!

To answer your question, David -- no, unfortunately I don't have access to a piano or keyboard; any instrument I decide to play I'd have to buy for myself. Because of that, I think I'd prefer to go straight to the dulcimer to avoid the extra expense of an additional instrument and an additional set of lessons -- that is, unless it would be prohibitively difficult to learn the basics on the dulcimer. I know that what is "prohibitively difficult" would vary from person to person, but would you say, in general, that learning music theory is significantly easier on the piano than the hammered dulcimer? I appreciate, too, your assessment of the unique challenges of playing the dulcimer (hammering techniques and the odd layout) -- but wouldn't I, as an absolute neophyte, encounter the same challenges in the piano as well? I don't understand the layout of a piano any more than a dulcimer, for example!

Thank you all, again, for your help!

Hannah
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Re: Beginning with no musical experience

Postby asterhunter » Mon Mar 27, 2017 9:16 pm

Learning the HD totally from a novice standpoint, with no prior musical experience, is not prohibitively difficult, no. But there are several leaning curves you will have to master mostly at once. The piano is more intuitive as you are learning in one lineal direction- left to right, with the higher notes going all to the right. With the HD, you are playing in two axes simultaneously - up and down, and right to left (notice I said right to left, not left to right...) A standard 16/15 HD has some chromatic notes but unlike on the piano, they appear in "odd" places. So you will need to learn: hammering technique (relatively easy, you'll catch on quick); playing melody, then scales, and later chords (somewhat of a steep learning curve here but once you get over the hump, getting the patterns in your muscle memory, the instrument becomes much easier to play); learning to control dynamics, soft and loud (somewhat easy really but many people forget or ignore this crucial aspect of playing the HD); learning to tune and keeping the instrument in tune. That last one is probably the most intimidating for the novice but again, with a bit of practice you'll get the hang of it. Whatever brand you buy, get the "package" deal as it will come complete with the case, hammers, stand, tuning wrench, beginners instruction book with DVD and/or CD, and a small but effective electronic tuner to help you with that last hurdle. Remember that you won't be alone. Not only will you have help from several experienced players here, but also from the instruction book, and there are many youtube beginners courses to be found with a little bit of searching. And keep your nose out for hammered dulcimer workshops (for starters see the Events tab at the top of this page). Some HD workshops are expensive, but many are not if you can also manage the travel expenses. BTW the hammered dulcimer does have one advantage over learning the piano or guitar: there are no hand muscles or finger flexibility or callouses to develop over time, you just grab the hammers and start playing with little physical impact to the body. :D

David E.
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Re: Beginning with no musical experience

Postby spineloccio » Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:37 am

Hannah,

I have come to the HD with little or no instrumental experience. My formal training has been in voice and choral singing. I was a mediocre violinist starting in the fourth grade; I left that behind to join my High School chorus. I do have the advantage of having learned the notes in both treble and bass clef, and I read music well because I have a good ear (not because I started with the music theory). Any theory I know I have picked up along the way.

I agree with David that there are a number of things you would need to learn to understand the HD, and I think you may be just as well to start out with the instrument. You may actually find that you don't have to unlearn some things where there are differences between the truly chromatic instruments (like the piano) and the diatonic layout of the HD. Jess Dickinson's videos and Christopher Foss's video on "demystifying the hammered dulcimer" spring to mind immediately as great places to start - maybe even before you decide which hammered dulcimer to buy.

I would also encourage you to go ahead and get a package. In the beginning it's much easier to let someone else make decisions about the stand and hammers and tuning. If you have a chance to go somewhere like Song of the Wood and try out different instruments, you might be able to let them help you with a "package." Jo Ann and her staff are a joy to work with, and you can't beat the opportunity to play so many different instruments. If you don't have that chance, I can recommend Chris Foss and his Phoebe package (www.songbirdhd.com); it was my first HD, and Chris is incredibly easy to work with.

This is a great site, and you won't meet more helpful and wonderful folks than those of us who play the Hammered Dulcimer. There are also a couple of Facebook sites that you might want to ask to join, since there a any number of helpful posts about such things as lessons, workshops, and used instruments on those pages. One is "Got Hammered Dulcimer?" and the other is "Hammered Dulcimer Players."

Good luck and welcome!
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Re: Beginning with no musical experience

Postby hjones22 » Sat Apr 01, 2017 10:33 pm

Wow, thank you both for all the great advice! I can already tell that the HD community will be really supportive :D
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