Tag Archives: practice space

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


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Find Somewhere Quiet

Find Somewhere Quiet

by Linda Ratcliff

It is in that quiet place at our center that we hear the whispers of our soul.
– Sue Krebs

Find somewhere quiet. This almost seems too obvious to really need to say. But it’s important.  Many of you probably have a special room, or your own corner of the living room for practicing your dulcimer. When you have a designated quiet place to practice, you will be less likely to cave in to distractions.

In addition, going to your special practice area helps prepare you mentally for getting something accomplished on your dulcimer. When preparing to perform, mindful intention at practice time is paramount, and having the ritual of going to the same place every time can help set that intention.

This is my quiet place in the RV.  Right now I’m facing a forest owned by the Corps of Engineers, and it is refreshing to look out at the beauty.  But soon my view will change, when we move to Tennessee.  I’ve Photoshopped what my view will be out the same window at sunset.  Either view is peaceful and inspiring.

Notice, my dog is always with me when I practice.  But I would rather be “home alone” without any humans around when I practice. This probably goes back to my childhood, because my father always asked me to hold off on practicing until he got out of the house. He would find something to do in his workshop when I wanted to practice the piano. Understanding this, my husband is very good about finding something to do outside when I practice.

Do you have a quiet place to practice? Is it a space where you can keep your instruments and all your accessories within easy reach?  If not, look over your home and carve one out.  If I can make a space for music in an RV that has less than 400 square feet, you can find a place too.

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

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