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posts that are designed specifically for hammered dulcimer players

Ukrainian Tsimbaly Busker

Ukrainian Tsimbaly Busker

by Steve Eulberg

Hammered Dulcimer Sighting!

Albrecht-Thietmar Schweidnitz-Schäßburg posted this video of a busker in Ukraine playing the Tsimbaly (the Ukrainian hammered Dulcimer) on the Hammered Dulcimer Players Page on Facebook.

Busking (playing music on the street for tips) happens the world over, AND, people are playing their dulcimers the world over as well!

 

 

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“Try to Make ANYthing that happens…

“Try to Make ANYthing that happens…

by Steve Eulberg

…into something of Value.”

–Herbie Hancock

Jazz Pianist Herbie Hancock tells a story of something that happened when he played

a “wrong” chord during Miles Davis’ solo.

This video is from Herbie’s MasterClass.

This is some GOOD advice for more than just jazz music.  It is for ALL music.

And for life.

(Thanks to Lois Hornbostel for sharing this on Facebook!)

 

 

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Learn More from Mistakes

Learn More from Mistakes

by Linda Ratcliff

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
– John Powell


I Learn More from My Mistakes Than Successes.
Do You?

 
I love to play through a tune perfectly, time after time, but lets get real – in my world, that simply doesn’t happen.  I fail to play a tune perfectly more often than I succeed. But mistakes can be good. In every mistake, there is the potential for growth. They can help me, if I will just take time to do the work.  For example …

Mistakes help me to think laterally.  There may be a skip and a jump with my hammers that just isn’t working.  Repeating the same mistake over and over is just teaching my muscles to follow the wrong path.  So I usually try to think of another approach for playing the same run or chord.

Mistakes reveal my weak areas.  If we’re honest, we have to admit that we all have weak areas.  I still can’t do a smooth “multiple bounce roll” with my left hammer.  And I’ve tried.  I always have to plan my arrangements so that technique lands on the right hammer.  Wouldn’t it be better if I started developing that skill with my left hammer too?

Successfully correcting a recurring mistake builds confidence.  When I finally begin to play through a section correctly, and without slowing down through the part that was giving me a headache, I feel ready to give myself a new challenge.  I am encouraged by knowing my desired outcome is one measure or one section closer.

Mistakes build character. When we’ve “messed up” enough times, a musician can go one of two ways! We can choose to throw in the towel, pack up our instrument, and lean it in the corner. Or we can learn from the experience, gain confidence, build character, and become more of the musician that we ideally wish to be. 

I choose to keep on keepin’ on, until I can play through successfully.  How about you?

If you have any questions, always feel free to ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,
Linda

 

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Learn Something New

Learn Something New

by Linda Ratcliff

You will learn something new everyday if you pay attention.
– Ray LeBlond

Learn Something New

 

Sometimes the process of learning a new tune is sabotaged before you even begin. You allow a spirit of doom to hang over your head, because you think the piece is too difficult. You might say …

  • Part B seems complicated, and I’m looking for something easier to learn.
  • This piece is in an odd tuning (like D-G-d), and it’s a nightmare to retune.
  • This tune has hammer-ons and hammer-offs. I never did get those.
  • This song goes too fast. I’d rather learn one that’s nice and slow.
  • The rhythm is really tricky. I’ll just keep practicing songs I already know.

If you recognize any of these thinking patterns, we need to clean up your stinkin’ thinkin’.

Preconceptions can make you or break you when learning a new tune.
What if, instead of thinking the new tune is too hard, tricky, difficult, or a total nightmare … you saw the new tune as easy or a breeze to learn, and you said to yourself, “No problem!”
Learn Something New

Here are some new and TRUE preconceptions to get in your head whenever you begin a new piece.

    • All tunes are riddled with what I call “Easy Bits,” no matter how tough they might appear at first glance. Go find all the easy bits right away. Maybe even highlight them on your tablature, and see how much “yellow” paper there is.
    • Find melody or chord patterns you’ve played before, and say, “Oh, I’ve seen this before!” Call on your experience, and build on what you already know.
  • Play to your strengths. I love to learn slow tunes with long arpeggios, so I find myself choosing old-time hymns or love songs to learn. Identify your strengths and choose music that will highlight that.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

And to keep progressing musically, you must keep moving forward as well.
Be intentional in choosing music with a tricky section.
Don’t just stick with the easy tunes. 
Challenge yourself. 
One day you’ll look back and say, “I can’t believe how far I’ve come in such a short time.” 

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,
Linda
 

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Fiddle-Tune-A-Day

Fiddle-Tune-A-Day

by Steve Eulberg

In 2012, my buddy, Vi Wickam began a year-long project of recording a Fiddle Tune every day of the year.  An awesome goal…AND in a leap year!

I was privileged to play with him for several of these days.

Here is a gallery of those videos.

Vi has collected the audio of each of these tunes, and is in the process of transcribing them as well.

We have collected and recorded several of these on our FiddleWhamdiddle Recordings:

OSOTCoverOld School Old-Time (2012)  CD, Download and Book (hard copy and downloadable)

and

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Not My Monkey (2017)  CD and download (Book is presently under construction).

 

 

Dulcified & Amplified

Dulcified & Amplified

by Linda Ratcliff

Your success in learning to play the dulcimer is not something new.
It merely amplifies what was already inside you.
– Linda Ratcliff

Dulcified & Amplified
You’ve been playing your dulcimer for a while now, and you’ve learned how to play several tunes. Your friends have told you that you sound pretty good. So you decided to play at the local nursing home. Afterwards, you thought the mini concert went very well until the seniors gathered around. They thanked you for coming, but they also asked if you could play a little louder next time because they couldn’t hear a thing.

Oops. With a gentle-sounding instrument like the mountain dulcimer, being heard is sometimes a challenge. Unplugged mountain dulcimers don’t put out a lot of volume and seniors are often hard of hearing. That’s not a good combination for the first time you dipped your toe in the performance arena.

But there’s a solution. You just need some kind of input device to capture the sound, as well as an output device to amplify that sound … make it louder.

Input Devices

    • Microphones are by far the most common input device. They work by sensing the vibrations of the air around your instrument and turning that into an electrical signal that an amplifier can use.
    • Pickups work by directly sensing the vibrations in the instrument itself, and converting those vibrations into electricity. An “under-bridge pickup” is built directly into the bridge of your instrument. A “surface mounted pickup,” can be attached to the wood quite easily with a bit of removable adhesive, and can be moved from instrument to instrument.
  • The Direct Box is a device used to send the instrument’s signal through long lengths of cable. This device has many additional features, but can be confusing for a newbie.

Output Devices

    • The Electric Guitar Amp might be your easiest option if you know someone who already has one that you can borrow. You simply plug in and start playing. The biggest problem is that these amps are designed to also modify the sound of the instrument as well as make it louder. If you want a more natural sound, this won’t be your best choice.
    • The Acoustic Amplifier gives a very realistic sound, and there are even battery-powered models that are very handy for playing outdoors.
  • The Public Address System is recommended for a musician who plays in many different locations and needs to amplify a number of instruments. Most dulcimer players won’t need to go this route.

But that’s not all – you will also need cable, and plan to bring a little more cable than you think you’ll need. Cheap cables are a short path to disaster, so take the plunge and buy a better quality of cable right from the start. In addition, purchase a high quality extension cord to reach the power outlet.

One of the best things you can do to prepare for a public appearance is to practice at home with the sound system you have selected before going public with it. Don’t expect to be an expert right away. Ask someone to listen to you from different places in the room, to find out if you are getting static feedback or if you’ve turned up the system too high. Don’t be surprised if you have to move your mic around to get the best result. Many like the sound of their mic best somewhere in the middle of the instrument.

At DulcimerCrossing.com, Steve Eulberg offers a number of videos on the issue of sound reinforcement in a series called “So You Want to Be Heard.” He examines and demonstrates specific products and models of input devices that he has personally used. Sign up here to become a member and have access to this series and many others.  

 

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,
Linda
 

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Winning at Winfield

Winning at Winfield

by Steve Eulberg

Defining what “winning” means to you is the first step!

For some people the notion of combining “competition” and “dulcimer” is oxymoronic.  They just don’t go together! 

I see music competitions as an opportunity to prepare some music to share with appreciative listeners.  (Where else can you buy such an attentive audience for $.075 a head?—$15 entry fee/200 people) 

And, the process of preparing tunes for this kind of presentation is an intensive artistic endeavor!

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Steve competing at Winfield 2000.

I’ve competed in both National Mountain and National Hammered Dulcimer and the National Fingerstyle Guitar Contests at Winfield and have been disappointed in the prize category a great many times.  True, I’ve also been blessed to return home with a trophy or plaque, some cash and a new instrument on several occasions.  I’ve also performed on Winfield’s stage and even have judged national and regional Championships.

But my definition of what wins at Winfield stems back to my disappointment at my own poor performance, my frustration of judging that didn’t favor me, and the re-defining of my expectations by the wisdom of my dulci-mentor, Esther Kreek.  She said,

“For me the point isn’t winning a prize.  I always try to play beautiful music for the people.”    

Truly, that advice completely reframed my focus and then I began to have fun with the process.  In fact, the one time I competed I thought I’d given up chasing that brass ring, only to discover in the summer some tunes and arrangements that I just couldn’t wait to share with people at Winfield (Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle and Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo, in this case.)

Observation:

The addition of a Contestant’s Tent, in which the drawing is held before each contest and beneath which most contestants tune-up and warm up, has helped to create a community feeling among the players that surely wasn’t present back when each contestant was looking for a “quiet” nook or cranny to prepare to compete (and in some cases duck out of the rain!) 

I’ve delighted in the chance to meet players whose names I’ve known and people about whom I’d never heard; and begin the treasured exchanges that can develop into collegiality and friendship.  (As Larry Conger says, “We’re not in this business to make money, but to make friends….and boy, I am rich!”)

Extra Contestual Interjections:

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2nd Set Concert at Winfield, following the National Championship 2003.

The disappointment of having two “orphaned” tunes when one does NOT advance to the second round led to the establishment of the annual Second Set Concert hosted with my camp-mates at JimJim and the FatBoys in the Pecan Grove on Friday nights for many years.  Each Mountain Dulcimer contestant was invited to share the second two tunes of the four they prepared before all in attendance are finally invited to join in a marvelous jam.

The Flash Mountain Dulcimer Brigade was a response to a lack of mountain dulcimer workshops and performers.  As General (I got my commission the old-fashioned way—by mustering my own Brigade) I put out a call for mountain dulcimer players to appear at successive posted times and locations throughout the festival grounds to play a few tunes and then melt into the crowd.  The goal of this fun was to help raise the profile of mountain dulcimers and help players recognize and find each other throughout the festival.

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Flash Mountain Dulcimer Brigade at the Cripple Creek Dulcimer Booth in the Vendors area 2010.

Back to the Contest:

The Rules which guide the judging are important to consider when choosing what to play. 

40% of the points are for arrangement in which difficulty and originality are considered.  I’ve heard some hot players dealing out a David Schnaufer arrangement, very cleanly played, who were dumbfounded to discover they didn’t advance in the contest.  On the flip side I’ve heard (and played) some original arrangements that were not played cleanly which also did not net an award.

The real temptation, when trying to warm up beneath the Contestant’s Tent, is to try and substitute what one is prepared to play after hearing the other contestants warm up.  A cloud of self-doubt can hover above one’s head like in a Peanuts cartoon.  To banish it, I have to keep repeating this refrain to myself, “Even though I don’t play like that (and I wish I did) I’m not here to play like him or her, I’m here to play like me.”

Beyond this, I have also found that some of the most important moments in the National Championship at Winfield have come off stage. 

One year, as I was tuning and warming up on my hammered dulcimer an older gentlemen who identified himself as a retired Kansas farmer came and sat beside me in the Contestant’s Tent.  When I stopped playing to look over at him, he insisted, with tears in his eyes,

“Oh, no!  Please don’t stop!  That is the most beautiful sound I have heard since my grandfather used to play his dulcimer years ago.”  

I quickly realized that I had not come to Winfield to win a prize in the contest that year—I had come to help this man connect with the memories of his grandfather’s playing of the “sweet music” that has drawn us all to the dulcimer!  For me, that was a new definition of winning that year.

That memory calls many more to mind: 

meeting the player from Edmonton, Canada who drove many, many hours to play his 5-string-course instrument in the Ukrainian style;

having someone bump into me in the dark—while I was walking in a late-night funk because, once again, I didn’t take home a trophy—having this person stop me to thank me for the beautiful music that I had played on stage that afternoon;

these and others make me realize that while I haven’t always brought home a trophy,

every year that I’ve participated in the competition

I’ve come home a winner from Winfield!  

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Receiving the 2nd Place Trophy from National Champion Erin Mae. 2006

(This article was composed in response to a request by Butch Ross for a piece he wrote for Dulcimer Player’s News some years ago.)

 

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