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  1. I think my journey with the dulcimer is best summed up in a description I heard at a workshop: "The mountain dulcimer is the last best hope to play a musical instrument." 😂 I'd tried to learn a few instruments over the years including violin, ukulele, and guitar. With guitar and ukulele I felt like I was doing contortions to get chord shapes and never became comfortable with them. Violin was a little better in that it was only one note at a time, but I had a lot of trouble hearing if I was on pitch. My teacher was always having me move my finger a little bit and I couldn't hear the difference. I learned some songs and a bit of music theory, but I never felt comfortable playing the instrument or that I was doing well. One day, a friend asked me if I'd heard of the dulcimer. I hadn't. She told me it was easy to play and I could probably do it. I was skeptical to say the least, but I watched some Youtube videos. I wasn't familiar with a lot of the songs, but I liked listening to them and they reminded me of my grandparents and their country roots. I searched for some workshops and found one not too far from me in September 2017. In a couple hours the instructor took a class of complete beginners who'd never touched the instrument from Boil 'em Cabbage to Ode to Joy and Southwind. Playing on one string, with drones? I can do this! I had to get a dulcimer. Someone at the workshop mentioned the old EverythingDulcimer. I joined, got some great advice and ended up buying my first dulcimer. There aren't too many instructors / workshops near me, but I was able to teach myself drone melody style from tabs and videos. Eventually I got a little adventurous an played a few chords. 😁 I found I enjoyed learning songs and finally felt some success in learning to play an instrument. I took a bit of a break for the second half of 2018 to move and focus on some other things, but I still enjoyed sitting and playing. In 2019 I decided to go to a festival and signed up for Kentucky Music week. I didn't really know any of the instructors so I signed up for classes based on descriptions alone. As it was a few months before KMW, I looked for other festivals and found the Crooked Road Dulcimer Festival that was not too far from me in Virginia, so i signed up for that too. Crooked Road was great! I met a lot of great people and dulcimer players are a very welcoming community. Everyone was just there to learn, participate, and enjoy themselves. Don Pedi gave a history class one morning on his journey with the dulcimer and playing in the drone-melody style. That really spoke to me and just by chance I'd signed up for one of his classes at KMW. That class was the first time I left DAD tuning, and things like major and minor scales suddenly clicked. I was hooked and I loved the old songs, especially fiddle tunes. I took some other classes for flat picking, rhythm, and chord-melody and enjoyed learning about them, but I still need a lot of practice. 😁 At the end of the day it's a lot of fun and very relaxing to sit down and be able to play a couple songs. If it weren't for the mountain dulcimer (and the amazing diatonic fretboard) I don't think I would ever have learned an instrument. Now I can't imagine not playing one! I would love to hear how others got started!
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  2. How To Become A Better Dulcimer Player.pdf How To Become A Better Dulcimer Player – Part 1 This is the first of three articles that I have written on how to become a better dulcimer player. Please bear in mind that the opinions expressed are just that – my personal opinions based on 20 years of playing the mountain dulcimer. If you find the thoughts helpful and applicable to your playing, then I have achieved my goals. If you disagree, our dulcimer community would welcome your thoughts. It has been said that you can learn to play a song on the dulcimer in five minutes and take the rest of your life to master that instrument. What follows are my thoughts about effective playing. They have worked for me and perhaps they will work for you. When given a new piece of dulcimer tablature, most players jump right in and start playing. This is neither right or wrong; however, you may want to consider one or more of the following to improve your playing. Audio It is easier to learn a new song if you are familiar with its melody. The Internet holds tens of thousands of free songs for the listener. I find most of my melodies by using a MIDI search. Which ever Internet search engine you use, type in: “MIDI (name of song)”. You can do the same thing by using: “MP3 (name of song)” Your search results will be voluminus; listing many MIDI/MP3 sites and YouTube links. It does not matter if the song is in a key that cannot be played on the dulcimer. What you are listening for is the melody and timing of a particular song. Download and play the song until you can hear it in your head. Hand Positioning The most effective hand position will be in the form of your hand dropping a ball. The wrist is bent downward in a relaxed position and all five fingers are pointing down. Many players flatten the wrist and fingers while playing. This limits your range of motion and will often dampen your middle and bass strings. Very few players use their pinky. If you incorporate its use into your playing, you will be able to extend your range of motion with your other fingers. There is no right or wrong way to finger a chord. It boils down to whatever works. There are; however, effective finger positions. Those positions are determined by the chord changes. Before jumping into a piece of music, review the chord changes and determine how you will finger those chords. Practice those changes before you start playing. Your ultimate goal is as little finger movement as possible. This is called economy of motion. The dulcimer is not a loud instrument. Some have better sustain than other, but in the end, there is not a whole lot of sustain. One way to improve your sustain is to keep, where possible, one or two fingers down on a chord or melody note when moving to the next chord or melody note. What we have here is both improvement of sustain and economy of finger motion. Timing We cannot play a song effectively if we do not know its timing and note value. Each piece of music should contain its key, number of notes and type of notes,i.e. 4/4 = four quarter notes; 6/8 = six eighth notes, etc. Before playing a song, look for the different type of notes, including dotted notes. Many players blow through the dotted notes and play them all as either quarter notes or eighth notes. The author of the song put those dotted notes in there for a reason. Rests in the song are just that. If a measure contains a rest, you need to know its value. Just like notes, the rests have the same values. One way to emphasize a rest is to dampen the string/s with either your left or right hand. This will stop the sound during the rest. Other wise you will have a sustain from the previous note and have sound instead of a rest. Use of a Metronome Have you noticed when in solo or group play, the music gets faster and faster? Fast playing has its place when required. Playing fast usually covers up a multitude of mistakes. It is best to learn a song playing it very slowly, playing each note and chord correctly and gradually building up your speed. A metronome is suitable for both solo and group playing. Once you determine and set the beats per minute, you can correctly keep the proper timing. Chords I am a firm believer that a piece of music should not contain a chord for every melody note. The sounds seem to run together. How do you determine how many chords to play? Try playing the song as written by the author. Does it have too many chords? Not enough chords? Your ear will tell you the correct amount of chords and connecting melody notes. Having a chord with each melody note complicates playing and requires a lot of fingering. Your goal is to achieve the correct balance. When I am arranging a piece of music from a melody, the timing usually tells me how to place my chords. In 4/4 time, I use a chord on the first note of a measure and then, perhaps on the third note of that measure. In ¾ timing, I usually place my chord on the first note of each measure and play single notes for the second and third notes. In 6/8 timing, I will place a chord on the first and fourth notes of each measure. It boils down to whatever sounds good for that particular song. Less is usually more. Reading Music When I first started playing the dulcimer, I was told by one of my mentors that I should learn as much about music that I could. The result would be that I would be a better player. Over the years, I have found that to be true. Should you learn to read music? Perhaps. Learning to read music is not all that difficult. As children we learned the 26 letters of our alphabet. The musical alphabet only contains 12 notes. Why learn music? Is it necessary to learn to read music in order to play the dulcimer? Definitely not; however it will improve your playing. Very few dulcimer players, play a song solely by reading the standardized musical notation. We all play by fret numbers. If you learn which notes are on each fret of all three strings of our instruments, you can more often than not find alternate positions to play the same note/s.and chords. You will learn which notes harmonize with one another and which don't. If you plan on writing songs/and or arrangements, reading music, I believe, is a necessity. Hopefully, this article will help you in improving your playing. It is but a start.
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