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Category Archives: music theory

posts that relate to general music theory

Busted & Rusted

Busted & Rusted

by Linda Ratcliff

Practice will clean up the rust and put the shine back in your playing.
– Linda Ratcliff


Busted & Rusted

Call me old-fashioned, but I love old things with a bit of rust on them. Sometimes we wander into antique stores, and I always gravitate to the instrument section. I wonder about who owned the instruments, how they ended up in the store in such bad condition, and whether or not I could restore one of them.

Some of you may recognize the guitar below – its name is Trigger and it belongs to Willie Nelson. The frets are so worn it’s a wonder any tone emerges at all. The face is covered in scars, cuts, and autographs scraped into the wood. Next to the bridge is a giant hole that looks like someone took a hammer to it.

 

Is restoration possible? I don’t think Willie would want to. When asked about his guitar, Willie said, “Trigger’s like me, old and beat-up.” Willie knows every square centimeter of Trigger, and even though Willie has had carpal tunnel surgery on his left hand, a torn rotator cuff, and a ruptured bicep – he still plays like a pro. Trigger may be old and busted, but Willie’s musical skills have not rusted.

What about yours? Have you set your dulcimer aside, to grow old all by itself in the corner? Instead of giving it the cold shoulder, you should pick up your instrument and start practicing again. I think about 90% of playing an instrument is mental – you just need to get your fingers moving again. You will be able work the rust out and put the shine back in your playing – sooner than you imagine.


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

Subscribe to DulcimerCrossing.com to get access to all of the lessons, from the convenience of your own computer or tablet in the comfort of your own home at the time of your choosing!

 

Beginner to Expert

Beginner to Expert

by Linda Ratcliff

The expert in anything was once a beginner.
– Helen Hayes


Beginner to Expert

The opening quote for this page, “Every expert was once beginner,” is attributed to Helen Hayes (1900-1993). She was an actress who is one of the few in her career to win an Emmy, a Grammy, and an Oscar and a Tony. If anyone became an expert in her craft, it was Helen Hayes.

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author born in 1949 who writes novels and short stories. He said, “If everyone waited to become an expert before starting, no one would become an expert. To become an EXPERT, you must have EXPERIENCE. To get EXPERIENCE, you must EXPERIMENT! Stop waiting. Start stuff.”

 

Lailah Gifty Akita is from Ghana and the founder of Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation. She said, “Every beginner possesses a great potential to be an expert in his or her chosen field.” And, “All great men had simple beginnings.”

Are you a beginner, just now learning to play the dulcimer?  Do you wonder how you’ll ever be able to keep up in a jam session? I remember the first day I picked up the hammers to play my hammered dulcimer. I’ve got to admit – all those strings … it was intimidating. But I’ve been hammering ever since.

It’s up to you … practice consistently and you’ll soon keep up with the best! “Stop waiting. Start stuff!”


If you have any questions, always feel free to ask
Steve or myself.
Happy dulcimering,
Linda
Subscribe to DulcimerCrossing.com to get access to all of the lessons, from the convenience of your own computer or tablet in the comfort of your own home at the time of your choosing!
 

Ask Questions

Ask Questions

by Linda Ratcliff

A truly wise man always has more questions than answers.
– Wilson from Home Improvements


Ask Questions

Your sub-conscious works day and night to answer any questions you ask. So asking yourself open-ended questions puts the sub-conscious to work. Answers often come “out of the blue”, as ideas or notions that you might not have had otherwise. When practicing, why don’t you put your subconscious mind to work by asking questions about your progress?  

 

Below is a series of questions you could ask yourself when practicing. You don’t need to ask them all. Just pick a few that seem relevant to you. Listen to yourself closely – maybe even record yourself – and see what answers you get.

1. How steady and even can I make my tempo?
2. Am I playing this up to speed yet?
3. Can I connect my notes better, make it smoother?
4. Can I play all the way through without any mistakes?
5. Do I find the suggested fingering easy or is there a better way for me?
6. Am I standing or sitting correctly when I play? Is my posture correct?
7. Do I know the background for this tune so I can tell the story?
8. Am I enjoying myself?

Which question do you think is the most important?

As for me, “Am I having fun? Am I enjoying myself?” is the deal-breaker.

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

Happy dulcimering,
Linda
Subscribe to DulcimerCrossing.com to get access to all of the lessons, from the convenience of your own computer or tablet in the comfort of your own home at the time of your choosing!
 

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

 

Quantity vs. Quality

Quantity vs. Quality

by Steve Eulberg

Which is more important in art:

Quantity or Quality?

Very often in the artistic world some believe we have settled this classic debate by choosing the benefits of quality over the benefits of quantity.

ok_signWe want to have qualities of timbre and phrasing in music, quality of graceful movement in dance, qualities of taste and smell in cooking, qualities of joy and cleverness in humor, qualities of color, depth and placement in visual art.

So, choosing the end goal of this discussion as the most important can lead us into the mistaken of mixing up the ends and the means.

Because, as this story by David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book Art & Fear:  Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking illustrates, the quality of the result may rest upon the quantity of production that precedes it.

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple:  on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group:  50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one— to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged:  the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes—they “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

 

In my experience in learning, performing and teaching music, I have found the same to be true.

The only way I can perfect a phrase that I can never play perfectly once, is to try and play it 20 times….only to discover that out of twenty times I can play it perfectly three times; and then eight times, then fourteen times….all of which demonstrates the quantity needed to produce the quality I desire.

 

 

“Sweet Harmonies”

“Sweet Harmonies”

honeyimageby Steve Eulberg

We play dulcimers, whose name incorporates the Latin word for “sweet” (dulce).  So when I talk about sweet harmonies, in a broad sense, they are the beautiful tunes that we play on our lovely instruments.

However, in a more specific way, there are harmonies that reflect the intervals between notes that, at least to Western ears, trained to expect Western harmonies, that are “sweet.”

The space between two notes that are played simultaneously, or one after the other, is called an interval.

In the diatonic scale (the 7-step, or “white-key” scale around which both mountain and hammered dulcimers are organized) the intervals are a series of whole and half steps between each note in the scale.

The Ionian (or major) scale can be written like this:  1-2-34-5-6-78, or whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.  (See this related post or this one)

The interval between do and mi in this mode is a Major 3rd. It is composed of 2 whole steps. It is this interval which determines that the scale or mode is considered a Major scale or mode.    In the scale of D, a Major 3rd from Do=D is F#, two whole steps away.  This can be called a 3rd harmony.  And this is in close voicing.

If we play these same notes further apart from each other, for example, playing F# and then the D above that one, the interval between the two notes is a 6th and can be called a 6th harmony.  The notes have the same name and same sweet feel, but their relationship to each other is separated and so their is some more space between the notes.

If we play that first D and then skip and octave and play the F# in the next octave, then we have a 10th interval.

When I talk about “sweet harmonies” then I’m talking about harmonies that utilize this interval.

Which songs do you use that feature these sweet harmonies?  Do you tend to prefer the closer 3rds or the more distant 6ths?

Which harmony are you “sweet on?”

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming Lesson: Playing with a Backing Track

Upcoming Lesson: Playing with a Backing Track

Coming soon from the DulcimerCrossing editing bay:

A new lesson series with coaching and suggestions for playing along with a Blues Backing Track.

Using the example from the Backing Track Library in our Premium Membership section, Steve Eulberg demonstrates the power of the Pentatonic Minor Scale as a strategy for playing along with recorded music (without any written tablature!)

PlayingBluesCoversFrontIf you really want to dig in deep and understand what is going on inside the blues and how the mountain dulcimer is particularly well-suited for playing blues, you might be interested in Steve’s book/CD:  Playing the Blues on the Mountain Dulcimer

This book/CD is available as an interactive PDF (useable on your iPad or tablet) available as a  download or as a hard-copy in spiral binding (the traditional way!)

All of these resources are designed to help you play your blues into the corner for awhile!