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Slipping Dulcimer?

Slipping Dulcimer?

by Linda Ratcliff

Either you let your life slip away without doing the things you want to do, 
(like learning to play the dulcimer) or you just get up and do them.
– Roger von Oech 

Slipping Dulcimer?

Do you feel like you’re constantly chasing your dulcimer? I’ve heard and read comments from several people who can’t seem to get the dulcimer to stay put on their laps when playing. As a matter of fact, I am sure most of us experienced this problem when we first began to learn to play.

I have several suggestions for you that might help, if you’re having this issue.

  • The solution that I’ve seen most often is to attach a strap to the dulcimer and wrap the strap around your back.
  • Another trick that many folks do is to put a piece of non-slip shelf paper on their lap, and then set the dulcimer on top of that.
  • Some people raise their knees by resting their feet on a footstool. There are several varieties of footstools availabile online. But with a footstool or not, sitting in a chair that is at the right height is also a must.
  • I saw a performance by one dulcimer player who put his dulcimer case on his lap, and then put the dulcimer right back in his case and played that way. That looked awkward to me, but he did an excellent job.
  • On YouTube, you will see professional dulcimer performers standing up, with their dulcimer set on a dulcimer stand.
  • I’ve also seen people sitting on the floor cross-legged while playing. Now I can already feel my back aching, thinking about that idea – but look at Steve enjoying nature on the beach, and how his knee keeps the dulcimer in place.

If you’re having this problem … choose a solution. But whatever you do, don’t give up and put your dulcimer back in the case … just because it won’t stay put.

As always, 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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Sam Edelston in Concert

Sam Edelston in Concert

by Linda Ratcliff

Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can.
– Arthur Ashe

Upcoming Live Concert
Sam Edelston
July 9th
8:30 p.m. EDT | 7:30 CDT | 6:30 MDT | 5:30 PDT

Sam Edelston

DulcimerCrossing.com will be presenting a FREE concert for all Premium Members streaming live via Concert Window. Sam Edelston is an entertainer with many facets. In recent years, he has been pushing the creative boundaries of the mountain dulcimer. He also performs on guitar, banjo, and occasionally hammered dulcimer, and sings. He does songs that span the rock & roll era and decades before that, plus folk, original songs, funny songs, shout-alongs, and more.

Sam Edelston is on a mission to make dulcimers as widely known as flutes and fiddles. His videos have been viewed half a million times, including his performance of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, which is one of YouTube’s most watched mountain dulcimer videos.

Sam likes to show how much a mountain dulcimer can do beyond its folk roots, so expect to hear some “old standards,” pop, rock, country, maybe some originals, and a few surprises – including many songs that he hasn’t previously posted online.
For more information about Sam, visit www.SamTheMusicMan.com.

Join Dulcimer Crossing as a Premium Member to receive the link!

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

Happy dulcimering,
Linda
 

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

NotMyMonkeyCoverArt

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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Training Your Auto-Pilot

Training Your Auto-Pilot

by Linda Ratcliff

Don’t practice until you get it right!
Practice until your auto-pilot takes over and you can’t get it wrong.
– Linda Ratcliff

Training Your Auto-Pilot

 

There is something we all have in common.

Once we were ALL beginners. And do you remember when you went to a jam session for the very first time? You might have purchased a brand new dulcimer, or maybe you were given a hand-me-down that you cleaned up and polished. Maybe you had a teacher that guided you through some basics and taught you a few tunes. Or maybe you simply watched YouTube or DulcimerCrossing.com videos, and learned a few things.

You thought you were ready for the jam. You sat down, made sure you were in tune, and met some other duci-fanatics. But then, the leader started off with “Boil Dem Cabbage”, and the entire group took off like a bunch of race horses bursting out of the starting gate.

You didn’t know they were going to play THAT fast! Worse yet, the harder you tried to play faster, the more your arms and hands seemed to stiffen up. You gripped your pick, you clenched your teeth, you tightened your arm muscles … and you tried to hammer faster or push your pointer finger up and down that fretboard faster. But you actually began to get farther and farther behind.

AAAARRRRGH! What just happened?

What just happened?

Physically, what happened is, the more you stiffened up, the more mistakes you made and the slower you actually played. The faster you want to play, the more relaxed you need to be. And to be relaxed when you play with or for others, you need to train your “Auto-Pilot.”

    1. First choose a passage to practice where you find yourself slowing down EVERY time.
    1. Play that passage in slow motion, taking the time to press or hammer the string for each note in exactly the right place. Relax as much as you can … both mentally and physically. Think of it as a slow-motion replay (but in advance!) of the beautiful performance you would love to give. When you practice in slow motion like this, you won’t trip over notes, or deliver badly-controlled rhythms.
    1. Auto-Pilot ButtonNow close your eyes or turn off the lights, and see if you can play the correct strings by feel, still in slow motion, using MUSCLE MEMORY. Try that until the passage almost floats from your arms. This is training your auto-pilot, teaching your muscles the way to go without intense focus and physical effort.
  1. Next begin to gradually speed up the passage. Picking up the tempo, just a little at a time, will work better because you aren’t trying to closely supervise every single note.

Your conscious mind may be telling you, “Yeah, this is all fine and good, playing at half speed in the sanctuary of my home.” But your auto-pilot doesn’t work as analytically as your mind does. When you join others (back in the real world), muscle memory will kick in and the notes will flow. Tapping into your auto-pilot, you will be able to deliver every note – smoothly, effortlessly, and accurately.

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

Happy dulcimering,
Linda
 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 25, 2018 in lessons, subscriber news

 

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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!

SteveWinfield2000

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.

FlashMDBrigadeCrippleCreek2010 copy

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!  

2ndTrophy2006ErinMae

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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