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My Musical Journey

My Musical Journey

by Linda Ratcliff

You can tell a lot about my moods from my music. So instead of
asking how I’m doing, ask what songs I’ve been practicing lately.


Music has always been an integral part of my life. My grandmother was a concert pianist, and traveled all over Europe giving concerts. She was even invited to play for kings and queens at their castles. And so I was told, from an early age, that music was in my blood, and I was going to be a musician too when I grew up.

Until I was 12 years old, I was coached at home by my mother on the piano. And we did pretty well too. I remember practicing on a church organ in town where my babysitter was the cleaning lady, and playing a melody with the bells that rang up in the bell tower outside. I bet the townspeople were glad when the church cleaning was over for that day.

St. Teresa's Academy Auditorium
Auditorium Today at St. Teresa’s Academy, Kansas City MO
I started high school when I was only 12, and finally had my first formal piano lessons at school. There were practice rooms all around the perimeter of the school auditorium, and I escaped to those rooms every chance I got. I continued as a piano major in college, and was granted a 50% scholarship for high grades. To pay the rest of my tuition, I taught piano at the college, accompanied voice lessons, and played for choral classes both at my all-girls’ Catholic college and the neighboring all boys’ Catholic college. (Life was good then!)

Over the years, I’ve learned to play a number of other instruments – such as guitar, bass guitar, harmonica, organ, autoharp – but none of those have caught my heart like the dulcimer. I didn’t begin to play the dulcimer until I was 50+ years old, but today I do everything I can to promote dulcimer music and assist dulcimer players through Dulcimer Crossing.

Linda Ratcliff
Performing at the Butterfly Palace in Branson, MO
Now we live full time in an RV, and my Steinway piano just wouldn’t fit through the door. So instead we brought along my hammered dulcimer and set it up in a corner. I may not give concerts abroad like my grandmother did. And I may not be a full-time professional musician like my mother had planned. But music feeds my soul, and I will continue to play my dulcimer for as long as I can hold on to my hammers. 

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

Happy dulcimering,
Linda

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in hammered dulcimer, subscriber news

 

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How to Practice Smarter, Not Longer

How to Practice Smarter, Not Longer

Seek to accomplish more in less time – and have fun doing it.
– Linda Ratcliff


We’ve all heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” Actually, I’ve been trying to do that all my life – succeeding and making good money with some ideas and losing money in others. But I have never given up. I keep on trying to think up new ways to work smarter.

Work smarter, not harder!

Could we apply this mantra to our music. Most of us don’t need to practice harder – we are already practicing hard enough. But are we making any progress? Learning an instrument isn’t easy. If we don’t feel like we’re gaining ground, maybe we need to examine ways to practice smarter. Here are a few that came to my mind.

    • Get a teacher, or sign up for lessons with Dulcimer Crossing. Three months with a good teacher (or our good teachers at Dulcimer Crossing) is worth a year of fumbling on your own and creating bad habits.

 

    • Practice consistently. Practicing music is like going to the gym. When you skip a day at the gym, you don’t feel it so much. But skip a week, or even a month, and your muscles are trembling – it feels like you’ve backtracked a year. It’s the same with playing your instrument. When you skip a week or two or three, you have to catch up again.

 

    • Be patient. Most of us have been older when we first picked up the dulcimer. And a major difference between older beginners compared to children is that the older beginner is impatient. We want to learn reading tabs overnight. We want faster fingers (when some of us already have arthritis!). We want a magic formula to learn those songs they play at jam sessions in short order. But like good cooking, good playing takes time.

 

  • Practice playing by ear. Try playing melodies from the songs you sing at church. Many church tunes have simple melodies that repeat several times, and are relatively easy to recreate. You’ll be able to transition this skill over to a jam session, when they start playing a tune you don’t know.

Did I miss any ideas. Let’s open up the floor to the dulcimer community. What is your secret for practicing smarter? And, as always, if you have any questions, always feel free to ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,
Linda
 

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Joy to the World

Joy to the World

by Linda Ratcliff

A holiday season favorite (sometimes listed as an Advent tune, and often as a Christmas tune), Linda leads us through an arrangement for playing on the Hammered Dulcimer.

Subscribe to dulcimercrossing.com and you can learn to play this tune from Linda step-by-step in the full lesson series.

 

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Practicing in the Dark

Practicing in the Dark

by Linda Ratcliff

I’m spending the winter in sunny California, but I know many of you have been getting hit with some pretty cold weather. Brrrr.

That reminds me of the way I used to practice piano.

I usually arrived at school, during both my high school and college years, at about 6:30 in the morning, and I always went straight to the practice rooms. Now the school didn’t turn on the heaters full blast until about 7:30 a.m., so to challenge myself (and because no one was looking), I would start with my finger exercises – in the dark and wearing gloves.

That style of practice actually greatly increased my accuracy. After all, by the time you can play arpeggios correctly with gloves on – you’ve pretty well mastered that skill.

I applied the same system to my hammered dulcimer practicing – by working in the dark in the evenings. When I do this, I am working on muscle memory. I want my hands and arms to know the distance from one string to the next, one bridge to another, without looking. I don’t know if Steve has this problem, but when I set up in a new location to perform – the lighting always bothers me. I simply can’t see my strings the way I do at home. So learning to play in the dark has enabled me to not be so dependent on visual clues. And it has increased my confidence in playing for others.

What do you think? Could mountain dulcimer players also benefit from muscle memory practice in the dark? Have you ever tried it?

Tell Steve or myself what you think, and we’ll let everyone else know in the next newsletter.

(This post was originally an article in the DulcimerCrossing Subscriber Newsletter)

 

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