Category Archives: history

The Perfect Wrong Note

The Perfect Wrong Note

by Linda Ratcliff

If you ever strum the wrong note, or strike the wrong string with your
hammers …  just tell them you were playing the jazz version.
– Linda Ratcliff

The Perfect Wrong Note

My 16-year-old grandson plays the saxophone in his band at school, and he was telling me about trying out last week for the school jazz band. All the kids waiting for their turn were troubled by one note in the arrangement – an Eb. They thought if they could just play that note 1/2 step higher, it would sound perfect. But it was the wrong note.  

I could relate. I’ve been working on a new arrangement for “God Bless the USA” on my hammered dulcimer, to share around the 4th of July. I usually work out my arrangements by ear, rather than reading printed material, and there have been times that I had to test several different chords in a measure before I found the right one.

But now and then, the wrong chord actually sounds pretty good. If possible, I’ll include it in the arrangement, and play that chord as an arpeggio (with a series of “wrong notes”) before progressing to the chord with the notes you expected to hear. It makes a beautiful variation, and the audience enjoys hearing a familiar tune with a new slant.

If you’re playing with a group, or with others at a jam session, you’ll need to stick with the correct notes. But when you’re playing by yourself, be adventuresome. Learn to trust your musical side, and test alternate notes, chords, and rhythms for the old familiar tunes. Sometimes the wrong note can be just perfect.

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

Happy dulcimering,


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“Music Confounds the Machines”

“Music Confounds the Machines”

tboneburnettby Steve Eulberg

Focusing on the challenges that artists face in the current digital and mechanistic day and age, T Bone Burnett gave the keynote address at the AmericanFest in September of this year.

I found these words echoing in my soul:

“Music is to the United States as wine is to France. We have spread our culture all over the world with the soft power of American music.  We both have regions- France has Champagne, we have the Mississippi Delta.  France has Bordeaux, we have the Appalachian Mountains. France has Epernay, we have Nashville. Recorded music has been our best good will ambassador. The actual reason the Iron Curtain fell, is because the Russian kids wanted Beatles records. Louis Armstrong did more to spread our message of freedom and innovation than any single person in the last hundred years.  Our history, our language, and our soul are recorded in our music. There is no deeper expression of the soul of this country than the profound archive of music we have recorded over the last century.”

This is my experience of the power of music to bring people together across the divides of background, experience, age, culture, gender.

I see it six days a week in my Music Together classes with preschool children and families who speak languages from Korea, Russia, Greece, China, Serbian, Japan, Israel, India, Pakistan, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, Germany, Australia, England, Canada and the USA (and probably several more that I can’t even identify!)

But what confounds the machines and the census takers is what T Bone said, which is the reason for what we pursue in music:

“Art is a holy pursuit.

Beneath the subatomic particle level, there are fibers that vibrate at different intensities. Different frequencies. Like violin strings. The physicists say that the particles we are able to see are the notes of the strings vibrating beneath them.

If string theory is correct, then music is not only the way our brains work, as the neuroscientists have shown, but also, it is what we are made of, what everything is made of. These are the stakes musicians are playing for.”  (read the entire address here: keynote address)

These are certainly the stakes that I am playing for.

What experiences do you have to share which relate to these descriptions?


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Posted by on November 8, 2016 in history, lessons, subscriber news


Historical Music Printing

Historical Music Printing

renaissancemusictypesetby Steve Eulberg

Now, for a taste of History!

Luís Henriques has posted a terrific video that illustrates and describes the challenge and results of printing music using a printing press in the Renaissance.

Understanding the challenges of musical notation in the printing process can help us better appreciate the tools that are available to us today as we produce original music, arrange music for playing with friends and create tablature to translate our ideas for playing on dulcimers.

Stay tuned for more explorations!

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Posted by on November 3, 2016 in history, music theory


Introducing a New Instructor!

Introducing a New Instructor!

DulcimerCrossing is excited to welcome Aubrey Atwater AubreyPoster_sm(of Atwater-Donnelly) to the instructional team.

Aubrey teaches mountain dulcimer, from the Jean Ritchie family tradition.

Visit the Teacher Page and watch her introduction video.

Or, visit the Live Events page and watch the highlight video of her recent Premium Concert Window Show.

Subscribe here, to have access to all of her lessons!



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Neal Hellman Featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Neal Hellman Featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Episode #014 The Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast features DulcimerCrossing teacher Neal Hellman


Wayne Jiang and Patricia Delich host this informative conversation with players of the mountain dulcimer across the country and across genres.  This edition features samples of music from several of Steve’s recordings:

Neal Hellman has played the mountain dulcimer for more than 40 years and is the founder, director, and one of the primary artists on the Gourd Music record label. Gourd Music recordings are known for lush arrangements often pairing the dulcimer with folk and classical instruments. With music by Gourd Music artists.

Neal Hellman

• Durango from the CD Oktober County Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Kim Robertson, celtic harp; Bruce Abrams, guitar; Joe Weed, mandocello

• Slumber My Darling from the CD Dulcimer in the Mix (available as download only in iTunes) Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Kim Robertson, celtic harp; Barry Phillips, cello

• Ninety Pound Catfish from the CD Autumn in the Valley Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Paul Hostetter, banjo; Carl Rey, harmonica; Shira Kammen, violin; Todd Phillips, bass

• Come Life, Shaker Life from the CD Dulcimer in the Mix (available as download only in iTunes) Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Shelley Phillips, oboe; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; William Coulter, guitar; Barry Phillips, cello and shaker

• La Mort De Coucy from the CD Oktober County Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Kim Robertson, celtic harp; Shelley Mathewson Phillips, English horn; Marti Kendall, cello

• Canarios from the CD Autumn in the Valley Neal Hellman, dulcimer; William Coulter, guitar; Shelley Phillips, recorders; Barry Phillips, percussion

• Pleasant Hill from the CD Emma’s Waltz Neal Hellman, dulcimer; William Coulter, guitar; Barry Phillips, cello; Shelley Phillips, English horn; Robin Petrie, hammer dulcimer; Susan French, violin

• Mountain Medley (June Apple) from the CD Autumn in the Valley Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Paul Hostetter, banjo; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; Todd Phillips, bass; Joe Weed, violin

• Robertson’s Unreel from the CD Oktober County Neal Hellman, dulcimer; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; Danny Carnahan, fiddle, mandola, and guitar

• Mountain Medley (The Last of Smith) from the CD Autumn in the Valley Paul Hostetter, banjo; Robin Petrie, hammered dulcimer; Todd Phillips, bass; Joe Weed, violin


Gourd Music
Neal’s YouTube Channel  
Gourd Music books
Pleasant Hill

Click on the image above (or


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Erin Mae Lewis featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Erin Mae Lewis featured in Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast

Here is another resource for mountain dulcimer players!

HeartsofDulcimerDVDcoverWayne Jiang and Patricia Delich, the producers of the Hearts of the Dulcimer DVD, have created a regular Podcast, called Hearts of the Dulcimer.

The most recent episode (#007) features our own DulcimerCrossing teacher,  Erin Mae Lewis, not as a Bond girl, but as the Secret Agent of Dulcimer herself! ErinMaeHeartsofDulcimerPodcast

Each episode features several explorations of the dulcimer, its history, its players, its past and its future.

This episode features the playing of Erin Mae, together with her sister, Amber (from their duo Scenic Roots) and a surprise jam session with Steve Eulberg at the Kindred XL Gathering in Jughandle, California August 2014.

How can you listen and subscribe to this podcast?

1. Click the photo of Erin playing, or follow this link to the Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast page.

2.  Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes

3.  Listen to the Podcast on

Subscribe to to explore Erin Mae’s lessons!


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Don Pedi featured in an article

Don Pedi featured in an article

DulcimerCrossing Instructor, Don Pedi is featured in this article on the facebook page:See Again Sunday:  (From Humans of Central Appalachia)

“When I moved back into the mountains, I moved back in with people who had lived there for generations. My neighbors to this day still plow with mules and horses.”

Don Pedi, Renowned Old Time Mountain Dulcimer Player; Born in Boston, rambled around until he found his home in the mountains; Marshall, North Carolina:

“I got interested in traditional music through the folk revival in the sixties, Bob Dylan and all that stuff. There was a big festival in Newport, Rhode Island. I went to see Bob Dylan and all these kind of folks and ended up seeing these tradition musicians from out of the mountains. (After that) I just rambled around for a while. Met some fellows in Colorado and moved back to Asheville (NC) with them to play.

I’ve lived most of my life in Appalachia. When we came in to North Carolina from Tennessee, across them mountains my whole energy shifted, like something settled in my soul. I felt like I was home for the first time in my life. That was 1973.

Learning to play the mountain dulcimer, I saw somebody do it, Richard Farina and his wife Mimi Farina, Joan Baez’s sister. They told me about Jean Ritchie. He had gotten his dulcimer from her. I went down to that Newport festival and saw her (Jean Ritchie) and these other traditional players and got real interested in that kind of music.

When I moved back into the mountains, I moved back in with people who had lived there for generations. My neighbors to this day still plow with mules and horses.

I just play the dulcimer. I don’t read a lick of music. I just play the dulcimer.

(Music in the mountains) is a source of pride, a source of self-betterment. It’s a history. These old songs talk of actual events. These songs are about real events that took place. That’s how they documented and kept the stories alive. A lot of the older music that came over from the British Isles, they kept that going and then it changed and developed into our music. (Mountain Folk) kinda shed the ornaments of that music and added the rhythms of African American music and Native American music. That’s how we got our version.

The importance of it is and the differences of it, after World War II is when I see that it really changed. I realize the Bristol Sessions were 1927 but people were still playing pretty much traditional stuff. Some of the old time traditional musicians are still around but most of them are dying off now. There are pockets of people preserving the music the way they learned it from earlier generations. By this time, once bluegrass started, after World War II and the beginning of the folk revival it began to change. Musicians started to get themselves out of the way of the piece. My innovation is that I play them on the dulcimer, these fiddle tunes and such, but I’m not changing the tunes. Jean Ritchie for example, her innovation was to play counter melody to her voice because that just suited her.

For the most part, the ballads and the old fiddle tunes people played them like they had learned from previous generations, often times family members. What changed with the folks revival and with bluegrass is that it now became ‘my performance of this piece, what can I do to change this and make it different?’. To me, the older way is what I cherish and preserve.

I’ve carpentered, cooked, whatever it took to support my art habits. I do visual art and things but music is pretty much my livelihood.

I think culture has to do a lot with your positioning, like class. I came up kinda poor, working people and when I moved down here I moved in with people who worked the land and got by. A lot of my neighbors were tenant farmers when they were younger. I have nothing against having money. I wouldn’t mind having more but it becomes a different way of looking at the world.

The word hillbilly? It depends on how you take it, how it’s presented. I’m proud that somebody calls me a hillbilly. It’s a lifestyle that I embrace.”

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Posted by on December 8, 2015 in history, subscriber news


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