Strumming/rhythm help

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Strumming/rhythm help

Postby DulciBob81 » Thu May 18, 2017 6:36 pm

I've been playing the dulcimer for several months now, and there is one particular area I continue to struggle with. I can't seem to get a handle on my strumming for rhythm and fill ins. I do great on droning out just straight melody, but my overall sound is so lacking because I am missing the fullness that the rhythm part adds. Can anyone offer me any tips or advice? This is the big thing that I feel is standing in the way of me becoming a truly goood dulcimer player.
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Re: Strumming/rhythm help

Postby Banjimer » Thu May 18, 2017 8:18 pm

It may sound like an over-simplification, but you can only strum in two directions.

1. Your first step should be to decide if you will be an out-strummer or an in-strummer. Out-strummers usually come from previous experience with a guitar or mandolin type instrument. The out-strum most closely imitates the down strum of the guitar. The in-strum is the traditional dulcimer strum. Both work, so which becomes your primary strum is a matter of choice. Strum across the strings in one direction and bring the pick back to the original position without hitting the strings. Think of this strum as the "Bum" Strum and use it on the first beat of each measure. It gets one count.

2. The second strum is the "Dit-ty" Strum. It consists of a back and forth strum. In other words, strum across all the strings and then strum across all the strings on the return strum as well. This also receives one count. By strumming in both directions, you get two strums in the same amount of time as one.

3. Combine the two strums above to create interesting rhythms to match the time signature.

For example, 4/4 time can be accompanied by "Bum-ditty-Bum ditty" (1-2and-3-4and), Bum-Bum-Bum-ditty" (1-2-3-4and), Bum-ditty-ditty-ditty" (1-2and-3and-4and), etc.

And 3/4 time can be accompanied by "Bum-ditty-ditty" (1-2and-3and), "Bum-ditty-Bum" (1-2and-3), etc.

In its simplest form, the "Bum" Strum is used for quarter notes, and the "Ditty" Strum is used for eighth notes.

You can practice a steady rhythm while watching TV. Just practice a variety of "Bum" and "Ditty" combinations while resting your left hand across the strings to mute them.

The "Bum-Ditty" Strum has a negative reputation because some beginners repeat that pattern endlessly without variation. The key is to think of the "Bum" Strum and the "Ditty" Strum as two distinct strums. Play them in various combinations to make your rhythm playing more interesting. A good way to make all of this automatic is to let someone else play (or sing) the melody while you accompany with a compatible rhythm created from various combinations of "Bum" and "Ditty" Strums.
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Re: Strumming/rhythm help

Postby strumelia » Thu May 18, 2017 8:59 pm

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Re: Strumming/rhythm help

Postby DulciBob81 » Sat May 20, 2017 5:08 pm

Thanks Banjimer and Strumelia for your advice and, Strumelia, I really enjoyed your videos. Very helpful and much appreciated. I'll definitely be practicing on these things. So far, I only play dulcimer for personal enjoyment, and have only performed in front of my family. But I do desire to learn how to effectively ornament my melodies. Thanks for the great tips.
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Re: Strumming/rhythm help

Postby Robin the Busker » Sun May 21, 2017 6:06 am

DulciBob81 wrote:I've been playing the dulcimer for several months now, and there is one particular area I continue to struggle with. I can't seem to get a handle on my strumming for rhythm and fill ins. I do great on droning out just straight melody, but my overall sound is so lacking because I am missing the fullness that the rhythm part adds. Can anyone offer me any tips or advice? This is the big thing that I feel is standing in the way of me becoming a truly goood dulcimer player.


The good news is that you've recognised how vital your right hand work is when playing - in fact, it is the strumming/picking hand that produces your music. The perhaps not so good news is that it will take more than just a few months of playing to get good right hand technique. Banjimmer and Strumelia have pointed you towards some specific practices so I thought I'd just add something of my philosophy of approach to playing the dulcimer.

When tackling any new tune I always start with the rhythm before concentrating on learning the melody. I work out what's the feel of the piece?, how does it flow?, what's unique about it? I'll perhaps hum the tune and clap along as this will allow me to play around with the rhythm and develop the 'feel' I'm after - it will give me an end goal to aim at with my playing. My clapping gives me something to translate into my strumming.

Strumming is not an easy physical skill to learn as it requires relaxed precision and it is too fast and complex to be cognitive - you must drive the skill into your non-conscious. A good practice can be to put on your favourite CD, mute your strings with your left hand and then strum along to your favourite tunes! This means you are having to listen as well as play - a vital skill to develop.

Use a metronome - Only two types of players use metronomes beginners, because they are told to, and good players, because they know how effective they are at honing playing skills.

...I do great on droning out just straight melody, but my overall sound is so lacking because I am missing the fullness that the rhythm part adds...


On this specific point, it is quite often poor timing and phrasing that will 'weaken' the way a piece feels rather than that lack of fill in strums. In fact, fill in strums can make a tune sound poorer. Sometimes you need them and sometimes you don't - don't be afraid of having some 'space' in your playing. In this example I've used both 'space' and fill-in strums to build the tune on each round. I practiced it through many times with a metronome, just to get the timing correct, before switching on my digital sound recorder and recording it.


Sussex Carol - 14 nov 13a.mp3
[ 2.27 MiB | Viewed 713 times ]


The key to the Sussex Carol is its underlying 6/8 jig rhythm - it will not fit 'bum, ditty' strumming no matter how hard you try! And it highlights why I think that starting with the rhythm of any tune is a good policy to lead you to your final right hand playing style.

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Re: Strumming/rhythm help

Postby DulciBob81 » Fri Jun 23, 2017 9:33 pm

Thanks for all the great advice Robin. I understand what you mean about not overdoing it with rhythm strums and fill ins. I have learned an arrangement of Amazing Grace that's just melody and it sounds great. I will defintely apply your advice to my practicing and keep at it. Thanks.
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