Dan Evans, English-dulcimer.com, recently explored this question from his own experience, and posed the question to (3) other professional musicians/scholars of his acquaintance and shared their responses and his conclusions in his blog.
Dan is both a fingerstyle guitarist and a fingerstyle mountain dulcimer player.
As you can see here, this is an important question because his instruments do not have a 6+ fret. The only way for him to play the “major” (Ionian Mode) scale is to play between 3-10 on the melody string. When he starts at “0” and plays to “7”, he’ll hear the Mixolydian Mode (which has a flatted 7th step.) Sometimes this note is called the “Old Joe Clark” note because that tune requires that interval and note.
As Dan concludes, the binary, either-or, categories of Major or Minor simply are NOT descriptive enough when talking about songs, scales, modes or music. We must have (or “get to have”) a broader frame of reference in order to experience the music we love to play in its delicious complexity and beauty.
Click on the links above to read Dan’s blog post and then let us know what YOU think.
Are you bored of being bored, because being bored is BORING?
Say NO To Boring
Have you ever been to a jam session and wondered how many times they’re going to repeat the same tune?
Have you ever gone to the nursing home to share your music, and watched your audience nodding off to sleep – bored by your performance?
Just as “gorgeous” is the ultimate compliment for a woman, “boring” is the most dreaded description of a performance a musician can hear.
So let’s say “NO” to boring, and spice up our playing with variations and ornamentations.
When playing a tune, try to think outside the box to create something that’s all yours and totally fresh. As a matter of fact, why don’t you just throw away the box? Keep your audience (and yourself) on their toes. If you’re playing through the tune three times, don’t feed them the same arrangement each time.
Here’s some suggestions on how to do this.
Play the melody an octave higher.
Play the melody an octave lower.
Change up the rhythm. Add syncopation.
For one verse, change the melody to a minor key if it was written in a major key. Or turn the minor key melody into a major key melody.
Add chords, instead of just playing the melody line alone.
Add a drone. On the hammered dulcimer, this can be a high octave drone, a low octave drone, or a 5th drone.
Play chords as arpeggios, especially where there is a half or whole note.
Listen to fiddlers playing the tune on YouTube. Note how they go over-under-and around the melody line. See if you can duplicate that sound.
If you know it, use it. Take a trick you learned for another tune and apply it to the song you’re arranging.
Challenge yourself to turn a well-known song into something completely different that represents your own musical influences and tastes better. At Dulcimer Crossing, we offer two lessons for our hammered dulcimer players on how to arrange and embellish a tune.
Keep in mind, if you’re playing with others … play WITH the others. Don’t use any variations you created that might clash with what the group is doing. Save those ideas for when you’re playing solo.
And here’s one final piece of advice. Arranging should be fun, so don’t get bogged down with trying to make your arrangement too difficult. Stretch your abilities so you will grow technically, but also know your limits and play within them.
If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.
How Many Dulcimers is TOO Many Dulcimers? I recently watched a video in which Vince Gill talked about his collection of antique Martin guitars. He has still quite an impressive array of guitars, although he lost 50 in the Nashville flood of 2010. But, of all the rare and valuable guitars in his collection, he said the guitar he treasures the most is his father’s guitar (shown in the photo). >
Watching the video reminded me of my own obsession with instruments. It’s an addiction … I’m always wanting one more. It’s difficult to look at the posts put up on the dulcimer groups’ FB pages that show photos of another dulcimer up for sale, or one that someone just finished building. They just fan that flame of desire and I find myself mentally checking my finances and the space left in my home.
But how many dulcimers is too many dulcimers? I already own a 1995 Master Works hammered dulcimer, a beautiful mountain dulcimer and picking stick – both built byJerry Wright, a Yamaha guitar, two harmonicas, and a ukulele. What more could a girl want?
Well, I think I really need a resonator dulcimer (dulci-bro) and a baritone mountain dulcimer. We offer lessons at DulcimerCrossing for both of these, so I could learn to play them! I would like to have a backpack hammered dulcimer that would be easier to carry around. And I’ve been without a keyboard for 10 years now, ever since we started living full-time in an RV. We’re back in a home finally, so there’s space for one now.
Here’s what I think.
If I’m content to just mess around with a variety of instruments for fun, the only limit I might have would be my finances. But I need to be careful that I don’t personify that old phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Now you won’t ever hear me say, “I’ve mastered the hammered dulcimer.” I can always see where I need to work more on certain techniques. But the spirit behind the words holds true. If I have too many things on my plate, i.e. too many instruments hanging on my wall, then I might not actually get anywhere with any of them.
I’d love to hear from you! What do you think? How many dulcimers or instruments do you own? Do you actually play them, or are they just a good conversation starter when folks come over to visit?
Vi Wickam has provided us with a new lesson on DulcimerCrossing.com for the Fiddle Series. He and Steve play the tune at the Swingfingers studio above while recording for their duo, Fiddle Whamdiddle’s debut CD Old School Old-Time
Cold Frosty Morning is a wonderful old tune in a minor mode. Take a look at Vi’s Demonstration here.
Subscribe to DulcimerCrossing to have complete access to this and all of our lessons!
We see the trophies, not the sweat. We see the diplomas, not the years of study and homework. We see outstanding performances, not the hours and hours of practice.
by Linda Ratcliff
The Iceberg Illusion I came across this illustration and it really resonated in my heart. There is this glamour around success that seems to appear when you have “made it.” Although I work behind the scenes – writing newsletters, uploading lessons, and answering student inquiries, the rest of our Dulcimer Crossing teachers are “out there” in the public eye – teaching workshops, leading jams at festivals, or performing in concerts. We all look up to them, admire their skill, and dream of the day we can play as well as they do.
Our teachers performing at the Colorado Dulcimer Festival The iceberg illusion would have you believe our teachers never went through failure, never struggled, never felt discouraged. They seem to play with ease, flying through sections of tunes we STILL haven’t mastered at top speed. And they appear to be totally relaxed, not at all nervous, actually very comfortable when playing in front of a crowd.
How do they do that???
The truth is, their success has probably only come after challenges, days of discouragement, and even failures. They have learned the hard way that there are no short cuts, and there is no such thing as an overnight success. Our teachers have spent years developing their skills, practicing for hours, staying up nights developing material for workshops or private lessons. They have put in a lot of time and hard work, with dedication and self-discipline. This is the glue that holds it all together.
If you’re struggling, feeling discouraged, perhaps thinking you’re never going to succeed in playing through a tune without mistakes, don’t give up. Think of the iceberg! And keep building your repertoire – one tune at a time.
We are excited to announce that we have a new Fiddle Lesson posted on DulcimerCrossing.com. The 8th of January is a tune that was written to celebrate and commemorate Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
This tune appears on Steve & Vi’s Fiddle Whamdiddle recording Not My Monkey. (The mountain dulcimer lesson is on the production list for recording.)
In the 1936 Jimmy Driftwood was teaching high school in the Ozark mountains of his home state of Arkansas and he wrote lyrics and set them to this tune in order to interest his students in learning history. The Battle of New Orleans won the 1960 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.
Jimmy Driftwood’s commercial success helped to bring resources to the northeast corner of the state of Arkansas and established the Ozark Folk Center with its Ozark Opry Stage in Mountain View, AR. (Steve has performed on that stage and taught for several festivals there.)
Watch Vi’s introduction above and subscribe to DulcimerCrossing.com to have access to all of the episodes in this lesson set.