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mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play

VirginiaTam 18 May 08 - 06:54 AM
Jack Campin 18 May 08 - 07:42 AM
JohnInKansas 18 May 08 - 07:58 AM
GUEST,Arkie 18 May 08 - 08:42 AM
VirginiaTam 18 May 08 - 09:39 AM
maeve 18 May 08 - 11:10 AM
katlaughing 18 May 08 - 11:50 AM
VirginiaTam 18 May 08 - 04:09 PM
JohnInKansas 18 May 08 - 08:24 PM
Leadfingers 18 May 08 - 09:35 PM
Dan Schatz 18 May 08 - 09:56 PM
GUEST,Arkie 18 May 08 - 10:11 PM
katlaughing 19 May 08 - 12:22 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 19 May 08 - 01:40 AM
Dave the Gnome 19 May 08 - 03:24 AM
JohnInKansas 19 May 08 - 03:46 AM
Jack Blandiver 19 May 08 - 04:16 AM
GUEST 19 May 08 - 04:46 AM
JohnInKansas 19 May 08 - 07:15 AM
BanjoRay 19 May 08 - 08:06 AM
GUEST,leeneia 19 May 08 - 10:43 AM
Grab 19 May 08 - 10:44 AM
GUEST,Arkie 19 May 08 - 11:26 AM
katlaughing 19 May 08 - 12:12 PM
VirginiaTam 19 May 08 - 12:43 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 19 May 08 - 03:43 PM
GUEST,Arkie 19 May 08 - 04:17 PM
VirginiaTam 20 May 08 - 05:18 AM
Highlandman 20 May 08 - 09:11 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 20 May 08 - 04:40 PM
Jeri 20 May 08 - 05:44 PM
Gurney 20 May 08 - 05:51 PM
JohnInKansas 20 May 08 - 07:01 PM
The Fooles Troupe 21 May 08 - 01:20 AM
The Fooles Troupe 21 May 08 - 01:38 AM
VirginiaTam 21 May 08 - 05:15 AM
The Fooles Troupe 21 May 08 - 05:42 AM
VirginiaTam 21 May 08 - 10:10 AM
katlaughing 21 May 08 - 10:51 AM
VirginiaTam 21 May 08 - 10:51 AM
GUEST,Guest 21 May 08 - 11:48 AM
VirginiaTam 21 May 08 - 12:22 PM
GUEST,Guest 21 May 08 - 03:08 PM
Jack Blandiver 21 May 08 - 03:38 PM
JohnInKansas 21 May 08 - 07:01 PM
GUEST,leeneia 22 May 08 - 06:05 PM
Jack Blandiver 23 May 08 - 07:52 AM
VirginiaTam 11 Oct 08 - 08:35 AM
Arkie 11 Oct 08 - 10:08 AM
JohnInKansas 11 Oct 08 - 12:07 PM
Suegorgeous 11 Oct 08 - 01:53 PM
Will Fly 11 Oct 08 - 06:10 PM
VirginiaTam 12 Oct 08 - 06:58 AM
VirginiaTam 09 Nov 08 - 03:15 AM
GUEST,leeneia 09 Nov 08 - 09:53 PM
GUEST,Philippa 10 Nov 08 - 08:00 AM
GUEST,Philippa 10 Nov 08 - 08:13 AM
fretless 10 Nov 08 - 12:15 PM
VirginiaTam 10 Nov 08 - 03:59 PM
fretless 10 Nov 08 - 10:40 PM
The Fooles Troupe 11 Nov 08 - 01:31 AM
katlaughing 09 Feb 09 - 12:24 AM
GUEST,Virginia HIckox 25 Jun 10 - 12:36 AM
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Subject: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 18 May 08 - 06:54 AM

Very painful RA in my left wrist prevents me playing guitar any more or learning mandolin as I had hoped. I am thinking about learning to play mountiain dulcimer as there is no need to curl my left hand around to fret it.

Are there any thoughts out there on this. I have watched some videos and mimicked the fingering on table top and found it not too painful. What I'd like to know is if anyone else has picked this instrument up in their later years and how easy or difficult is was for them to learn.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Jack Campin
Date: 18 May 08 - 07:42 AM

You need less left arm movement with a steel guitar, and it would be closer to what you know already.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 18 May 08 - 07:58 AM

I'm not exactly the voice of experience you're looking for, although I've built a couple of lap dulcies and have "fooled with them" a bit.

I can think of at least a half dozen "casual friends" who were known for always showing up with a different instrument every time you saw them, who eventually settled on the mountain dulcimer and became reasonably decent players. We'd whisper behind their backs that it was 'cause they were too lazy to learn any of the other instruments they tried so they picked the one that looked easy.

The dulcimer is fairly easy to play, for most people, - up to a point, but takes at least as much study and practice as any other instrument to advance beyond the basics.

With a guitar, although the wrist may be in an awkward twist, the pressure to fret the strings comes mostly from the grip within the hand. With a dulcimer, as commonly fretted, the whole arm/wrist/finger has to push down on the strings. Whether that may require different muscles more or less suited to your condition is something you'll probably have to try out to know. There likely would be a bit more "movin' around" of the whole forearm and wrist than for a guitar, which might make it more user-friendly in your case.

Since dulcimers are usually only fretted for diatonic scales, learning the "modalities" is generally part of learning the instrument, and for "less than well-advanced" players, the absence of all those in-between frets may dictate that you play "different kinds" of music than what you've learned on the guitar - until you get past the stage most of the above cited friends ever reached. The full range of music certainly is within reach of the instrument; but few of the campground players I've known have gotten much past "Irish." (Not intended as a denigration of the kind, but it does tend to a more diatonic/modal structure than rockabilly.)

The "other alternative" that a few friends have gone with when the wrists went were lap steels and/or dobro, using a slide from the top to keep the kinks out of the wrist. I can't say that I really prefer one choice over the other, dulcie or steel, as either can be good instruments, and either can be instruments of torture if you don't work with the one you pick.

John


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 18 May 08 - 08:42 AM

If you already play guitar, you should have no trouble learning to play a mountain dulcimer. If pain in your wrist is your main issue you will not know until you try whether you can deal with that. The angles of attack on the dulcimer are different than on guitar. There would probably be less twisting of the hand and wrist and if you chose to use a noter to press on the melody string there should be only lateral movement. By using the fingers to press on the strings you can play some simple and complicated chords and very intricate arrangements. The dulcimer works nicely as an accompaniment for singing or for instrumentals. It does not have the volume of a guitar and using with mics can be tricky if you want to get a good, clean, pure sound.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 18 May 08 - 09:39 AM

I really want to play an instrument again. I picked up guitar very quickly when I was young and even after many years laying it aside in favour of motherhood, formal education and career, it came back so easily.

It is really only the twisting of my hand that hurts the wrist. I was half tempted to reverse the strings on my guitar and learn to play wrong handed, but I can't get my brain around it. Besides the RA is creeing to right hand as well. The motions used to play keyboard present no problem for my wrist.

I don't fancy steel guitar or dobro. The dulcimer sounds so sweet and I know it's not all in the name but in the hands playing. Also I would like some accompniament to my singing at sing around sessions.

I live in UK now and I miss the music of central Virginia (where I spent most of my adulthood) and West Virginia and Pennsylvania (where my grandparents were from).   Maybe I can bring a tiny bit of Blue Ridge to Essex UK.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: maeve
Date: 18 May 08 - 11:10 AM

Try it! It is a pleasure to fool around on a dulcimer, and if it's a good match for you you'll want to work hard to reach a level of really playing it well. There are ways of playing that are less stressful in terms of repetative motion and tense muscles; look for them.

Best of luck to you.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: katlaughing
Date: 18 May 08 - 11:50 AM

I picked one up for the first time a few years ago and love it. It came very easily to me, but I had piano and violin/fiddle very early on. It can be quite like playing a keyboard, so it may just be the instrument for you. I found using a noter to be awkward, so I just slide my finger along the frets. I can get a lot of volume out of it, depending on what pick I use. It is a Black Mountain No.56 which I bought from Elderly Instruments, for less than they are listed now by Black Mountain.:-) They also have some less expensive student ones.

If you want to try one without too much expense, you could buy a cardboard kit for about $35 US at MusicMakers. My sister left one of these behind when she moved. We are getting ready to put it together for my grandson. It has a wood keyboard and is quite sturdy. There is a sound sample on that page linked.

As was done for me here, by Catspaw49, who used to make them, and others, I would highly recommend Larkin's Dulcimer book and our own Jean Ritchie's Dulcimer book (scroll down), too. (Jean posts as kytrad.) Jean, as you may know, is the force behind introducing the modern world to the Appalachian dulcimer.

I don't get into the fancy chords and all as some folks do, but I play almost anything I can think of and most folks seem to think it sounds good. For the first time in my life, I was able to improv my own tunes using the dulcimer. Prior to that I used dots or played by ear on the fiddle, but didn't improv my own. Now that I have been able to do so on the dulci, i find it quite easy to do on the fiddle, too.

Above all, I find it a FUN instrument to play and it is so sweet and haunting it even makes me sound good.:-)

kat


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 18 May 08 - 04:09 PM

Thank you all for the encouragement. I am quite excited to get started. I have been surfing for all things dulcimer and have found many useful sites and some books I plan to order.

Yes Kat, I have been reading about Jean Ritchie, as well as different styles of playing, the history of dulcimers, etc. All fascinating.

I hope to try my hand at every style, after I get the rudimentary bits down and getting comfortable with the simple accompniament play. I want to learn to use the instrument to its fullest capacity. To play appealing with no vocal. I plan to find and even make some noters. I read that traditionally cane (American type of bamboo) and turkey feathers were used.

I understand I will eventually need a capo, but cannot find a supplier in the UK. Will I need to take the instrument (when I get one) to a luthier to have one made specifically for it?


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 18 May 08 - 08:24 PM

Dulcimer Capos should be easily ordered, although unless you've got a shop owner who really likes the instrument you may not find them in stock in local shops.

Most of the "commercial" instruments use a fingerboard width that's pretty close to the same as everyone else's, so fitting something to an individual instrument would only be necessary if your instrument has an unusually narrow, or very wide, board.

John


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Leadfingers
Date: 18 May 08 - 09:35 PM

PM sent


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 18 May 08 - 09:56 PM

Dulcimers are inexpensive enough that it should be easy enough to give one a try. Oddly enough, I find my wrists - having been broken a few times when I was a kid - can't take the dulcimer for very long. On the other hand, I'm mostly doing chording, which puts a lot of pressure on the hand in a certain way. With a noter it's probably not as big an issue. And I don't have that trouble with guitar or banjo, so it's likely a different issue.

Try one - it's a fun instrument to learn!

Dan


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 18 May 08 - 10:11 PM

You will most likely be playing tunes on the dulcimer in a very short time with the help of a book or two. Two good ones have been mentioned already. If you want to get some personal instruction Dan Evans is a fine dulcimer player who lives somewhere in England and has a website where he can be contacted. If the distance between you is too great he could possibly recommend someone closer. I know quite a few folk who play dulcimer quite well without any lessons. Though in the USA many people are going to workshops.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: katlaughing
Date: 19 May 08 - 12:22 AM

I have a bunch of feathers which have been dyed bright, primary colours. When I play the dulcimer at my grandson's preschool, each child gets a feather and a chance to strum the dulci with it. They love it.

I have some very nice noters, several of which were made for me by a couple of great Mudcatters. I find the position awkward for my left wrist, so my finger works well.

If I were really going to do something professional or full-time with it, I'd probably have a custom one or two built. Kim McKee of Wilson and McKee, has at least two, a baritone and regular, both built to her specs. They both have wider necks than the usual, which accommodates her fingers really well for chording and individual noting.

Sounds as if you are really committed to this. It should be fun and I'd love to hear how you are doing from time to time.:-)

kat


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 19 May 08 - 01:40 AM

LafKat -

WHY?

Feathers are natural.

Feathers are good.

Feathers are pure.

Why desesicrate, the pure, natural goodness of feather...and give the children a false view with visions of brillant (toxic hued) red, yellow, blue birds?

There is enough fantasy in the pixelated video world they live in.

Give them reality...with textures, and soft hues, nuances that only an artist might reveal.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 19 May 08 - 03:24 AM

The difficulty you may find iss't so much the left as the right hand. You may finger-pick, flat-pick or whatever. I have only tried a dulcimer a few times and, yes, the fingering was quite simple but I was told in the shop I tried it in (Eureka Springs, Arkansas) that I should stop trying to 'pick' and just strum the lot in one direction all the time. Suppose once you get that habit it becomes easier.

Good luck

Dave


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 19 May 08 - 03:46 AM

I believe mention was made of using feathers for noters. I haven't heard of that use, and on a "modern" dulcimer with steel strings I would think that any feather shafts I've seen would be much too soft for any regular use as a noter. Since feathers are hollow, they can "crush" pretty easily, which makes them "flabby." Even "hard maple" dowel stock (a very commonly used material for home-made noters) will "notch" fairly quickly with regular use.

Feathers (generally goose?) were reportedly a traditional "pick" material, but even there frequent replacement is needed for use with modern strings. (Unless the gooses I got to just weren't trying as hard as the old-timers did.) They might last a little better on a "re-enactment" dulcimer strung with gut strings(?) - if someone can authenticate a period when anything other than steel/brass/bronze strings were generally in use.

The history of the instrument is somewhat vague, and there are lots of different versions around. Obviously not all of them are wrong, and likely there are multiple histories from various locales, each "correct" for their individual sources. The instrument doesn't appear to be an "ancient" one, and decent metal strings were probably(?)/possibly(?) fairly available for the earliest builders - maybe.

John


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 19 May 08 - 04:16 AM

They might last a little better on a "re-enactment" dulcimer strung with gut strings(?) - if someone can authenticate a period when anything other than steel/brass/bronze strings were generally in use.

Wasn't the Appalachian Dulcimer always strung with metal? Certainly its European forebears were (and are!) - Swedish hummel, Norwegian langeleik, Hungarian citera etc. Remember, there is nothing particularly 'modern' about metal strings.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST
Date: 19 May 08 - 04:46 AM

Mr. Tam,

Stick to what you already know. Go to a slide guitar style of chording.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 19 May 08 - 07:15 AM

Sedayne -

I don't know that the history of the mountain/Appalachian/lap dulcimer is well enough known to make any general statements about how the earliest ones were strung.

A fair number of old ones are known with very primitive peg tuners, and the style and (lack of) fit would be better suited to a gut string or at least to very slack-tuned metal string. Many (as a percentage) of the old ones were quite obviously one-off homemade instruments, and could have used any string material(s) handy.

Some tradition asserts that they were played almost exclusively as "solo" instruments and some say that the main use was as "courtin' instruments." For the latter application, loud wasn't needed - and probably not wanted - since the instrument only needed to make enough noise so that the chaperones could tell the couple was still playing and not playing around, while still giving them some degree of privacy for the smiles and winks and drooly stuff that was "permissible." Gut strings, or even binder twine or old boot laces, would have been quite sufficient if that actually ever was a common intended use. (Of course that assumes that little brother didn't have his iPod blaring away in the kitchen.)

There are sufficient surviving "pretty old" instruments to offer some clues as to construction in a few fairly specific times/places, but the ones that survived probably were only the best, and nobody knows if they represent a majority type or are really similar to a significant percentage of earlier ones.

Was Stradivari actually a perfect builder, or did all his "less than good" ones just get neglected, busted, or chucked in the lake? The ones that survive are all good (with one(?) exception, I'm told) - after the modern modifications, of course - but they're not even close to a majority or even a representative sample of the ones he built. We don't really know what his "average" instrument was like.

John


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: BanjoRay
Date: 19 May 08 - 08:06 AM

Virginia Tam - you say you miss the music of Appalachia and would love to learn the Dulcimer. Here's an opportunity - this coming weekend is the Foaotmad Spring Camp at Sacrewell Farm, near Peterborough. There should be at least two lap dulcimer players on site along with maybe 50 other Old Time musicians. We spend the bank holiday weekend mostly playing Old Time dance tunes from your part of the world.

The dulcimer players (Malcolm and Georgina Denny)are very nice helpful people who would be glad to give you a taste of what it would feel like to play, and would be very generous with useful advice on the practicalities. If you PM me, I could give you their personal details, so you could make sure they'd be there (they usually are, but you never know).

I could tell you anything else about Foaotmad and the camp you need to know.
Cheers
Ray


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 19 May 08 - 10:43 AM

1. That's a good idea, BanjoRay. I hope Virginia Tam can make it.

2. In the first post, Tam wrote 'What I'd like to know is if anyone else has picked this instrument up in their later years and how easy or difficult is was for them to learn.'

Well, Tam, I did just that. Started playing at age 55. For many years, I played in DAA. I don't think there's any easier way to play WITH HARMONY than by playing a mountain dulc. in DAA.

Later I added DAG to my repertoire. I use stickers (as sold to little kids) to mark the notes to combine for harmony in DAG.

I have had piano and know which notes make up which chords. That made it easier, but you can get that knowledge without having music lessons.

3. But - I believe that any way of playing involves the wrists. Hold your hands up in front of you so that you are looking at your palms. Now flicker your fingers as if typing. See the amount of movement in your wrists and forearm?

(I use typing-type movements a lot with the dulcimer. I don't just play chords.)

Now close your hand as if holding a noter (or pencil). See the movement in the wrist area? See the wrist straighten out? Observe the tension on the inside of your forearm. Only you and your doctor can judge whether this is good or bad for you.

4. Some dulcimers will be easier to play than others. Try them out. Make sure the action isn't too hard and that the strings are not too far above the fretboard. You should be able to slide a nickel between the strings and the fretboard - and no more.

I hope it works for you - the dulcimer is a wonderful instrument.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Grab
Date: 19 May 08 - 10:44 AM

Per Jack's comment, you can play slide guitar, either in regular position or with the instrument on its back. Usually slide is played with the guitar in open tunings, commonly open-G (DGDGBD) or open-D (DADF#AD).

I'm not saying it's better than a dulcimer, but:

- you've got more range of pitch on a guitar;
- with multiple strings you can play true chords if you want;
- dulcimers are mostly very quiet, so you often won't be audible if you're playing with other people;
- a dulcimer requires *more* force to play than a slide guitar;
- you can play slide in standard guitar position, whereas dulcimer requires some relearning of left arm movements and positions;
- you already know guitar, and open tuning isn't much of an issue;
- you already have a guitar, so it'll only cost you the price of a slide to try it.

Graham.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 19 May 08 - 11:26 AM

Feathers or quills, as they were once called were once used by old timers and some relatively newtimers as picks. I interviewed Joe Craft about 35 years ago and he mentioned using turkey feathers. They may not have lasted into infinity but the turkeys had lots of feathers and he did not play for hours on end. Joe had come to Arkansas from Kentucky and his dulcimer was sent to him by a relative in Kentucky. He was best known in the area as a banjo player and a moonshiner. His banjo playing can be heard in the John Quincy Wolf collection on the Lyon College site. I have seen several players use the quill and have experimented with them myself. There is a technique to it but a very nice rhythm was the result. Some of the players would trim the quill to make the point more flexible.

The history of the mountain dulcimer does have a lot of gaps but some speculation involves the route taken by many of the Scots Irish who migrated to North America in the 18th century. Large numbers of these folk left Ireland between 1700 and the Revolutionary War and landed in Philadelphia. As they worked their way west which most of them did they encountered German settlers in western Pennsylvania. Historians have indicated the Scots Irish got the long rifle and concept of the log cabin from the German settlements. They could have found the idea for the dulcimer there as well. Some historians credit the log cabin architecture to the Norse settlers and if there was contact with Scandinavian people the dulcimer could have come that route. There is also some evidence that the Scandinavians were the source of early Scots interest in the fiddle. Another opening for the dulcimer. Although I tend to believe that the idea leading to the dulcimer came in North America since there is no record of which I am aware of the lowland Scots or Ulster Scots having played dulcimers while still in Europe.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: katlaughing
Date: 19 May 08 - 12:12 PM

Jean talks about using goose feathers to strum/pick in her book, but I remember her advice for a pick that she really likes was to cut one out of the top of a margarine container. Works quite well! I have never heard of feathers being used as noters.

Also, someone said strumming in only one direction, but as Night Owl pointed out to me, there are many techniques to strumming, including back and forth and with certain rhythms. It need not be just a one strum in one direction thing.:-)

Not that it matters, but greg, they were a gift to me. And, there ARE such things in the WILD.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 19 May 08 - 12:43 PM

To Gargoyle: Nothing wrong with using colourful feathers for little ones. Natural feathers are dearer and would be a loss in little hands (darling as they are) which tend to be a bit grubby and careless.

To Arkie, et all: re feathers. I read somewhere that turkey feathers were believed to have been used, but article did not illuminate what for, noters or plucks.

To Guest: "Mr. Tam, Stick to what you already know. Go to a slide guitar style of chording."   I am not a Mr. and I don't know what is meant by slide guitar style, but I expect I will learn (what slide guitar syle is. Not the being a Mister part though).

To BanjoRay: Thanks for the tip about the Friends Of American Old-Time Music and Dance site and event. Will look into it and discuss with the hubbie (also my chauffeur).

To Leeneia, Kat and Maeve, et al: Thanks for all the encouragement. I don't read music very well. Always been the "pick up an instrument and play something on it" type. Though in my young years before kids and adult responsibilities, I spent every waking moment connected to piano, guitar, recorder, harmonica, whatever was handy. Looking forward to learning chords by sight, not just by sound. As I cannot craft (beading, embroidery, crochet) very much anymore, if I find the dulcimer easy on my wrist, I think it will be same. I tend to get really stuck into something until I simply cannot physically do it any longer. But with this, I plan to be smart with stretching and warming up before and stretching and ice pack after. Start with short timed periods and extend gradually. I work on a PC all day and find no problem with typing. I also mimicked movements of players on you Tube and found it quite easy. Will have to see about the pressure thing. Thanks for the tips about the action and distance of strings from fretboard.

To Grab: I don't particularly fancy the sound a slide guitar makes. But I think I will give it a go just to see what it feels like. However, I live in a flat, so practicing on something quiet appeals to me. I won't feel I am disturbing people. It is difficult enough for me to really belt out songs, when I want to practice before a sing around session.

Thank you all for playing.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 19 May 08 - 03:43 PM

Punch "bottleneck slide guitar" into google - you will learn easily since you already have the guitar expereince.

Truly, can be played with the neck of a cut/broken and polished neck of a wine bottle...hence the name. Little pressure required with your RA since it can be on the lap or on a table

For lesson number one try:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E23x5loDn8E

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 19 May 08 - 04:17 PM

The quill or feather is used for strumming. I do not think a person could get a satisfactory sound by using the feather as a noter. Something dense and hard would work best for that. A pencil or popsicle stick would work but a dowel would be even better than a pencil.

On the strum there is a theory that the principle strum should be toward the player striking the melody string or pair of strings last. I was not exposed to that theory until I had been playing for a while so I do not play that way. Someone on Mudcat might be able to explain the virtue of the direction or whether it really matters. When a person is just beginning you can use a simple one way strum to get used to the instrument and used to strumming and noting together but as you develop your playing you will also develop a rhythmic stroke with brushes backward and forward. What you do not want to do is a constant backward and forward motion. That can get pretty tiresome for players and listeners. I think Larkin's book discusses the rhythm of the strum. Larkin developed that book from her many years of teaching and she was an exceptional teacher. The book has been helpful to a lot of new players. Since you already have experience with strums and playing music you will probably sense an effective pattern to your strums.

Another factor about dulcimers you have probably already discovered is the tunings or modal scales. I came along before the modern wave of players who named tunings by notes. I learned the tunings by the modal names. The aeolian and dorian are minor scales and sound very nice on the dulcimer. If you progress quickly and have not issues with tuning you might get the urge to experiment with the various tunings.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 20 May 08 - 05:18 AM

Peace be with you Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Highlandman
Date: 20 May 08 - 09:11 AM

I built one from a kit for my wife a few years ago (non-cardboard). She hardly messes with it but the kids and I love to pick it up and tinker. I can hardly think of an instrument that rewards the least effort and care with such pleasant results. As said above, though, really mastering it -- like any instrument -- is a lifelong process.
As for the RA: there are two basic ways of holding the noter. One (I think the more 'orthodox' way) is to hold your left hand with the palm down and basically press down on the noter with your index finger. If that results in an uncomfortable wrist position, you could try the less conventional way of holding your left hand with the back of the thumb upward and pressing down on the noter with the thumb. This is probably a little less agile but may well result in a more ergonomic position for your wrist.
JMHO
-Glenn
(PS hammered dulcimer would be a poor choice both from a learnability and wrist abuse standpoint.)


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 20 May 08 - 04:40 PM

The first video technique I referred you to was awful for your problem..too much fretting....and too sophisticated a style.

Take a look at this "Open G" tuning page - and its relationship to "dulcimer style" related instruments....(the kind kids can make and use) Note Mr. Robert Johnson and Bo Diddly references:

http://www.t4p.com/blues/opengslide.html

Playing the guitar flat on your lap or a low table is easy on the wrists. You can grip the slide many ways - whatever has the least pain. Think "country steel" style.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Highlandman - you are right - hammered does have lots of wrist action.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Jeri
Date: 20 May 08 - 05:44 PM

Mountain dulcimer is dead easy to play simply. You get a 'noter' (stick) and use that to fret the string. You can probably play harmony notes as as a bit of an arrangement if you want.

It's not so easy to play more than just single note lines with open strings. Lorraine Hammond can play damned near anything, fiddle tunes, bluegrass, and devastatingly beautiful accompaniments. Mostly though it's a great instrument for allowing you to make the music in your head a reality.

It's not chromatic though, so you can only play in one key unless you re-tune the instrument. If you're only accompanying yourself, and you usually only play in D, you're fine.

I like Chlorox bottle triangles for picks. They're about as stiff as quills, and easier to come by, and people don't swipe them for some reason.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Gurney
Date: 20 May 08 - 05:51 PM

Tam, you could also try the Autoharp.
Just a thought.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 20 May 08 - 07:01 PM

While most(?) beginners on mountain dulcimer start out with a noter, those interested in more than very simple use of the instrument invariably(?) graduate to "fingering" the frets.

As commonly held/used a noter can result in a lot of stress on the one finger that presses it down. If RA is a problem in the wrist, you might find it's also present - or "incipient" - elsewhere (i.e in the knuckles?), if you begin holding a noter in a fixed "grip" and constantly pushing down with it.

Some people find the actual pressures, forces, and positions less a problem with RA than activities that require some stress in a fixed position, and that's the common complaint with guitar where the wrist has to be positioned to wrap the hand around the neck. I'ts also fairly common with fiddle players, due to the fairly fixed "wrist arch" commonly used.

The "more motion" on something like a hammered dulcimer might actually be beneficial. Whole arm motions are required to reach the right strings, but the only "effort" comes from flicking the hammer against the strings, which is largely in the fingers. The wrists, where the pain complaint is indicated, can be fairly "fixed" or are somewhat free to flex more or less continuously without obvious effect on playing. (An experienced HD player may have other input on playing style, but it's academic if the instrument doesn't interest our victim present subject.)

Failing to consider another instrument due to unconfirmed fear of pain probably is not productive thinking. A fairly brief trial, perhaps on a borrowed instrument, will let you know whether the problem exists.

Failing to consider an instrument because "it's not something you'd want to play" is of course perfectly valid.

An autoharp might be another alternative, but would appear (to one who hasn't played one) to dictate something of a "curled wrist in mostly fixed position" somewhat akin to the guitar, although I'd think that probably the finger pressures may be somewhat less.

And of course there's always the harmonica if nothing else works - unless of course one is addicted to munching peanuts during sessions.

The lap dulcie looks like a perfectly appropriate choice in the present situation. Only personal experience will really tell if it works for the one who tries it.

John


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 21 May 08 - 01:20 AM

"Highlandman - you are right - hammered does have lots of wrist action"

I'd agree with JiK - the fingers give a lighter faster flick compared with the wrist. Must spend more time on my triple stringer. I need to get some more hammers, especially lighter ones balanced in sets of 4.

It's a matter of technique though. If you want to play '2 hammers in one hand' style, you will need to rotate the wrist somewhat more than when using only one, though. BTW - 2 hammers per hand is quite common on xylophones nowadays.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 21 May 08 - 01:38 AM

BTW, the 'Hammered Dulcimer' is also played with bare fingers and fingerpicks - no hammers. There are also instruments variants that have 'muting bars' - often foot operated. Also come in occasional Bass voicing.

Saw footage of an orchestra - apparently from somewhere in the Balkan area.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 21 May 08 - 05:15 AM

Gargoyle: Thanks for the links. Interesting stuff there. Unfortunately the sound clips keep crashing on the last link, even though I have Quicktime installed. I have to say, I do love blues - love listening and singing along. Not certain how welcome blues would be in folk sing around sessions in the UK. I daresay, very welcome. But I am a newbie to this environment so trying to keep a low profile. I will sing what I hope people will enjoy, which is some traditional folk from UK, and a bit of gospel, folk and other stuff from US. At least until I become more comfortable.

Tuned up my honey's little classical guitar this morning and immediately remembered how to play the stuff I taught myself (probably wrongly) years ago. Classical Gas, Dust in the Wind, Country Roads (yeah I am from that generation). Of course it was a little over 3 years ago that I was playing without pain. Today, my poor wrist was in screaming pain just with the tuning up. Much tempted as I am to just play through the pain, I am told that with RA I have to rest the hurting area to prevent increased inflammation and the deformity that follows in its wake. The old adage - "Doctor, it only hurts when I do this." "Well then, don't do that!" - becomes painfully real.

Hammered dulci sounds lovely and looks to require incredible finesse. I may give it try in one of the little shops set up at fesitvals, some time. I have mimicked that motion with different weighted items, wooden spoons and such and found no pain in it. I have looked at autoharp, it is a possibility but not if it is to be held up against the chest. I'd have to curl my left wrist to play.

For the time being, I am keen to learn and share the music that my grandparents (from Pennsylvania and West Virginia) listened to and that my Gammy played and sang. I vaguely remember her at the piano and then being the "oh so cool teenager", turned my nose up at what she was performing. Now I am in love with the sound that the mountain dulcimer makes. Don't know what it is. You reach a certain age and the heritage bug bites?

Thanks to all for the advice and well wishing.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 21 May 08 - 05:42 AM

Actually, the Autoharp was played by some while resting on a table - many have feet for that purpose - mine have no 'strap fixings'. You CAN play it on your lap - or on some sort of portable 'table like thingy'.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 21 May 08 - 10:10 AM

Well my duclimer arrived an hour and a bit ago. Already playing a rudimentary The Water is Wide on it. I love it. Think I am going to find it diificult to go to work and leave it behind in the morning.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: katlaughing
Date: 21 May 08 - 10:51 AM

Kewl!! COngrats!!


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 21 May 08 - 10:51 AM

Woot! - I am picking out both melody and harmony of Beulah Land. Well the harmony my then 11 year old daughter sang. Wonder if she is listening from Beulah Land now.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 21 May 08 - 11:48 AM

Hi Virginia   Hope you are still injoying your dulcimer (I'm sure you are) Another place besides Mudcat to get music is "Everything Dulcimer" on the computer. They have all kinds of help for dulcimer players from newbes to many years of experience. I play mostly by ear but sometimes need to see the music or hear it to get all the notes and timing right but remember it still will sound beautiful even if not perfect........MK


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 21 May 08 - 12:22 PM

OUCH! Finger pads.. I need finger pads. Wrist is still fine though. Will ice the finger tips and keep on going. I am in love.

Thanks GUEST I have been using Folk of the Wood today. I do have Everything Dulcimer in my favorurites though. Will check it out soon.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 21 May 08 - 03:08 PM

Hi Virginia, Just me again. Don't push down so hard. If you are useing the side of your thumb it will get a little sore. Try some "New Skin" or those tinder places. The Everything Dulcimer site has many good links to other dulcimer sites. Remember you are to stop playing with your new toy and eat and sleep once in a while...
MK
    We had a problem with a number of people using the name GUEST,guest - so the name has been taken out of circulation. If you wish to post,pick a distinctive name and use it consistently, or risk having your posts deleted. Thanks.
    -Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 21 May 08 - 03:38 PM

I don't know that the history of the mountain/Appalachian/lap dulcimer is well enough known to make any general statements about how the earliest ones were strung

The best thing to do is try it out. Back in 1977 I strung my old Camac triangular dulcimer with nylon & there was no sound at all despite it being the most beautifully toned dulcimer I've ever owned. And uncommonly loud too. Long gone now, alas! I suppose it's a question of acoustics. As for pegs, most of my other dulcimers have been peg tuned, but still steel strung.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 21 May 08 - 07:01 PM

Sedayne -

The comment on pegs wasn't meant to imply that properly fitted pegs aren't good for wire strings. Many of the "homebuilt" or "craft built" early dulcimers appear to have had a straight hole bored with an auger, whittled out with a pocket knife to give it some arbitrary taper, and then an oversize straight peg rammed in and then spun until things "sorta matched up." With pegs of that sort, low tension is best.

Matched hole reamers and peg shavers to provide well-fitted pegs have been around for quite some time, but even now a good set is pretty pricey, and not something you'd want to buy to build one - or even a few - instrument(s).

As to your nylon string experiment:

A dulcimer doesn't have a bridge, and when you fret a string a little bit of the noise gets out of the string at the nut end, but most of what goes into the soundbox goes through the fret that the string is pushed against. A nylon string, of the kind used on other modern instruments, might have been just too "squishy" to wiggle the fret, especially with a fat finger on top of it.

I don't have any good engineering data on old gut strings of the kind one might have made at home out in the smokehouse, but modern "gut" fiddle strings seem to have an astonishingly high surface "hardness" that would not be replicated in modern nylon strings. Given even that though, it's still a SWAG about what might have caused your silent dulcie.

John


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 22 May 08 - 06:05 PM

I use a thumbpick on my right hand. The pick plucks the melody string and brings the melody out.

Also, this makes the movements of the right hand similar to the movements made in playing piano or fingerpicking guitar - the right hand fingers can play independently or strum.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 23 May 08 - 07:52 AM

Given even that though, it's still a SWAG about what might have caused your silent dulcie.

I didn't mean it was silent as such, just that it had no volume or presence, or projection. Another thing with dulcimers, as with other European board-zithers, is that the diatonic fretboard gives a particular zinging quality when played with a noter, which, it is said, is the main reason why these fretboards exist the way they do - with gut strings, you wouldn't get the zing!

I think the hardness of modern gut is very like nylon actually, having used both for other instruments (harp & crwth) and rejected the former on grounds of cost & durability, but in the end it's mostly a question of pragmatics. On-line someplace there's an interesting piece on the Hungarian citera which recommends stringing it with light gauge fencing wire from the local farm store. There's something admirably rustic about this bringing me back to a lovely old book that used to be in North Shields library which contained images of hundreds of antique Appalachian Dulcimers. North Shields library was well stocked with books on the Appalachian Dulcimer on account of the late Phil Ranson working there! I wish I could find that book now...

You'd think such stuff would be on-line but the closest I've come up with so far is This, which makes for interesting reading & viewing.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 11 Oct 08 - 08:35 AM

How I am gettin' on? After getting flat in order (much redecoration) and starting a new job, I finally have some time to attend to my new toy. Her name is Somerset.

I find that sliding and walking up and down the frets to make tunes on the melody strings is fairly easy. I don't much like the noters (pity because the man who made the dulcimer, made and sent the noters to me no charge). But the produce a tinny sound. Maybe I am not using them correctly.

Strumming is another matter. My left brain/right hand say this is wrong, you are not holding the "guitar" correctly. I am trying to convince both that we are not playing a guitar. More practice needed.

I have ordered a DVD that teaches beginner mountain dulcimer. Looking forward to this, as just now have big enough TV to see what the instructor is doing.

Wish there was a mountain dulcimer player in Essex UK to take some basic instruction from.

My goal, is to be able to play chords left hand and pick with right hand by early next May, before the Rochester Sweeps and sing around sessions.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Arkie
Date: 11 Oct 08 - 10:08 AM

Virginia Tam, you seem to be making progress. Even without instruction you should meet your goal. Instruction usually speeds things up a bit though.

I know quite a few dulcimer players and most use their fingers exclusively for noting. A few use noters for certain tunes. County records released an album by the Russell family several decades ago and I believe it is now on CD. On that recording Bonnie Russell is playing dulcimer and is using a noter. It is one of my favorite dulcimer recordings. When I was playing a lot, I used the nail of my thumb to get some of the effects of the noter. In the hands of a master, and Jean Ritchie would qualify here, the noter can be very effective. Since it is slid along the fingerboard it is picking up grace (or whatever you might call them) notes adding to the tune you are playing. The noter can be a simple way to start but to use it effectively requires some real skill. With the fingers you do get a softer sound and have the option of adding harmony notes and chords. That comes more naturally to most people.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 11 Oct 08 - 12:07 PM

Comments amounting to trivia that may be ignored:

Background comments (first part):

Some have mentioned the "slide guitar" as an option, but apparently were mostly making reference to "bottle guitar" in which a "slide" is used on one finger to play on a more-or-less standard guitar. Side note: the electric slide guitar (sometimes called a "hawaiian" guitar) is played similarly(?) with a fairly massive, usually metal, slide held in the hand, with the guitar usually laid flat in front of the player on a stand. Some such instruments have pedals for changing the pitch of individual strings, resulting in the "pedal steel guitar" name.

In both cases, the "bottle" or "slide" acts as a "false fret" so that it is not (usually) necessary to press the strings down against frets on the fingerboard.

When played with a noter, a mountain dulcimer commonly is "noted" only on the top (melody) string, with the remaining strings strummed in "drone" fashion. The noter can be used as a barr across all the strings; but at least for the beginners I've know this is not common.

Background comment (second part):

It was commented above that the sound in a mountain dulcimer is transmitted partly through the "bottom nut" but gets to the sound board mostly through the fret that is "fretted."

Observation #1:

The open drone strings on a mountain dulcimer pass the vibrations of the string through the two "nuts" at opposite ends of the fingerboard. Variations in construction can make these two points more or less efficent in coupling the vibrations into the sound board, but in many dulcimers neither of the two is as "efficiently coupled" as the fret against which the melody string is pressed. This, on at least some dulcimers, makes the fretted melody string sound naturally "stand out" against the background drone. This effect may or may not be noticeable on an individual dulcimer, and "better" dulcimers probably are less likely to show an obvious difference than more crudely constructed ones. If your dulcimer shows this effect, being aware of it may allow you to use it to some benefit, or to compensate and make it less obvious if that's your choice.

Observation #2:

The "sound path" through the fret can be clearly shown by using the noter "like a slide." If the noter is pressed lightly against a string, without moving the string down against a fret, you will hear (probably faintly) the pitch you would get if the string was fretted at that point on the string. If the noter is then rotated to press against the fretboard, contact with the string and fretboard allows transmission of the string vibration to the fretboard, where it is "amplified" and made audible. The noter will be a less efficient sound (vibration) path than for a string against a fret, but the difference in sound should be quite apparent. Leaving the noter in contact with both string and fretboard, and pressing the string down against a fret will show whether the fret couples the vibrations to the soundboard more efficiently than the noter alone.

Observation #3:

The ability to "false fret" a mountain dulcimer by touching the string with the noter while simultaneously contacting the fretboard with the noter to get the string vibrations into the soundboard presents the possibility of playing isolated "accidentals" that are "between the frets." On most dulcies, and with most noters, these "in between" notes will not be as strong as fretted notes, but can be used - if you're playing melody line with drone style - to get the occasional "blues note." The method can also insert a "half step grace note" if your style requires it. With the end of the noter touching the fretboard, the initial sound will correspond to where the noter touches the string, but will shift to the sound for the adjacent fret as the string is pressed down to contact the fret - giving the grace note effect.

Note that this "method" is definitely NOT A MAINSTREAM technique, and probably should not be used to excess. It's best use is just to aid your understanding of "how the dulcie works." Making it play beautifully, and understanding the physics, are two separate things, not both simultaneously necessary for playing - or building - the instrument.

John


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 11 Oct 08 - 01:53 PM

Virginia

I've got a flyer here advertising an event that you might be interested in, and you may be able to find a local tutor this way. On the weekend of 31 Oct - 2 Nov there's the Nonsunch Dulcimer Club Annual Weekend in Leicestershire, with "workshops at all levels" and non-club members welcome. There's an application form on the club website - www.nonsuchdulcimer.org.uk

If you're interested, mail me and I'll give you a phone number too. And even if you don't go, the website may be helpful.

Sue


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: Will Fly
Date: 11 Oct 08 - 06:10 PM

I fret the dulcimer with my left hand and use my thumbnail to pluck the strings. The model in this video was made by Dave Sewell of Baltimore:

In Good King Arthur's Day


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 12 Oct 08 - 06:58 AM

Thanks to all for the advice, observations, smaples and offers.

Suegorgeous - I am afraid I already have plans for that weekend.    Thanks you very much for the info though. I have looked a the Nonesuch site before. I will return and have a nose around again.


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Subject: RE:mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 09 Nov 08 - 03:15 AM

UPDATE to my progress.

I have been picking out tunes, like Beulah Land, Water is Wide, Loch Lomand, Down in the Valley, etc. and finding simple harmony on the bass string. But it doesn't feel like learning.

Mel Bay Teach Yourself Dulcimer book and DVD (Madeline MacNeil) are proving very helpful. Yesterday, I started to learn Waterbound. Pressing down on more than the melody strings and getting harmony. WOOT! Still rubbish at timing the strumming, but I am actually reading from the book. That feels like accomplishment.

One thing though, after about 2+ hours practice, my back is knackered. I need to move off of sofa, put dining chair in front of TV and find something to act as music stand.

Suegorgeous- I am going to peek around in the nonesuch site to see if I can find a local group or even a local one other.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 09 Nov 08 - 09:53 PM

I play differently from most people. I use a thumpick on my right thumb, and it picks out the melody. Other fingers play the harmony. I don't strum much, preferring to treat my dulcimer more like a piano than anything else. There's a lot of variety that way.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Philippa
Date: 10 Nov 08 - 08:00 AM

Most of the Nonsuch people are hammer dulcimer players, but they have a good crew of mountain dulcimer players too. You might as well join the organisation and ask the secretary to put you in touch with any mountain dulcimer players in your area.

Very few people in Ireland play mountain dulcimer,but there are plans for a workshop weekend in Sligo mid April 2009.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Philippa
Date: 10 Nov 08 - 08:13 AM

You can also play mountain dulcimer with the instrument on a table or stand rather than on your lap; experiment and see what works best for you.
by the way, the first time I went to a Nonsuch weekend I shared a room with a woman who had taken up hammered dulcimer because of an arthritic condition - she found hammered dulcimer the least physically stressful instrument to play (though it would be harder to learn than Appalachian mountain dulcimer). Have you had a taster session with hammered dulcimer yet?


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: fretless
Date: 10 Nov 08 - 12:15 PM

Thread drift -- Philippa, can you provide any more information about the April workshop in Sligo?


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: VirginiaTam
Date: 10 Nov 08 - 03:59 PM

Thanks Philippa. Afraid I don't have room in my small flat for a hammer dulcimer. To be honest this instrument does not appeal to me. I like to listen but don't desire to learn to play.

I have posted appeal to the Nonsuch comments section re finding local mountain dulcie players. And I sent an email query to Liz Law who is the MD rep on Nonsuch.

I will look into the mountain dulcie stand, but am afraid that is just one more piece of kit I don't have room for and could not carry around to sessions for the reasons of RA and no room to set up. I just need to use the straight chair and not the sofa.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: fretless
Date: 10 Nov 08 - 10:40 PM

Straight chair is OK, but if you have room for it an armless old style rocking chair is simply heaven -- essential for a lap dulcimer and really fine for the banjo, too.


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 11 Nov 08 - 01:31 AM

"hammered dulcimer ... (though it would be harder to learn than Appalachian mountain dulcimer)"

If you can sight read sheet music, then hammered dulcimer can be very easy to play IF you do what I did - I added small letters of the notes of the strings next to them - shocked the 'traddies' - but hey! it was MY instrument.... :-P


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: katlaughing
Date: 09 Feb 09 - 12:24 AM

Check out the mountain dulcimer player magazines Lin in Kansas has added to the Mudcat auction!!


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Subject: RE: mountain dulcimer - is it easy to play
From: GUEST,Virginia HIckox
Date: 25 Jun 10 - 12:36 AM

I'm mid 50 and have just started learning to play the mountain dulcimer. Very easy on the wrist


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