Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday's Muse

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. ~ Mark Twain

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday's Muse

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”  ― Confucius

Friday, December 20, 2013

CTO … Learn to Sing with the Hammered Dulcimer

Check This Out … Marya Katz will be offering her winter workshop once again on Martin Luther King Monday. The topic this year: Singing with the Hammered Dulcimer.  The workshop is intended for anyone who …

  • wants to accompany a singer or singing group
  • wants to learn how to accompany themselves while singing

Marya says, "It's not done with mirrors, and it's really not as hard as you might think!"

Monday, January 20, 2014
9:00am - 3:30pm

College Park Baptist Church
1701 Polo Road
Winston Salem, NC

Registration Fee:  $60
Materials and lunch provided
Pre-registration is not required, but the organizers would appreciate advance notice of participants so that sufficient materials and lunch may be available.

Marya Katz
(540) 961-4435

Check Out Marya's Website: Dulcimations

Alternate contact:
Terry Lefler
(336) 692-8613

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Have You Tuned Lately?

Oh, boy! 'Tis the season when every minute counts. One of my students explained why she had to cancel her lesson this week … "I'm under done and over booked." Ha! I can relate.

Then there's this crazy NC weather … warm and humid one day, cold and dry the next. The heat system is on. The heat system is off. The windows are open. The windows are closed. Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoy these variations and I'm always thankful for a sunny warm day this time of year. It's what allows me to garden year round.  BUT the dulcimer can be temperamental, subject to major mood swings. You know what I'm talking about. Don't you hate it when the instrument is so far out of tune you can't stand to play it in the solitary space of your personal practice? I think I speak for most players when I say I'd rather play than tune!

On the other hand, I'd rather tune a dulcimer than tune a fish, wouldn't you?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday's Muse

‘How did it get so late so soon?

It’s night before it’s afternoon.

December is here before it’s June.

My goodness how the time has flewn.

How did it get so late so soon?’  ~ Dr. Seuss

Friday, December 13, 2013

CTO … A Christmas Cannon

From the Finale Blog, here's a piece of creativity!

I've used several versions of the Finale music notation software over the years with more functional and mundane outcomes. Here's what can be done when one thinks outside the box! Check This Out … A Christmas Cannon Yep, that's spelled correctly!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

One More Thing to Make Your Life Easier Next Holiday Season

Last week I encouraged all you holiday revelers and Christmas carolers to mark up your music with notes that will help you remember your holiday repertoire from year to year. You certainly don't want all those fantastic arrangement ideas to fade into oblivion!

Are you thinking it's too much work to get it all down in writing? Here's an alternative idea … Create a recording of your holiday tunes.

Of course you'll want to start by playing through each tune. Then include a little monologue speaking to your future self. Give yourself tips for choreographing the tune to the instrument, what you learned about playing the tricky parts, which tunes were especially popular with your audiences, etc. Be sure to include additional arrangement ideas that you'd like to develop next year. You'll thank yourself later!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday's Muse

"You should sit in meditation 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy, then you sit for an hour." ~Old Zen Saying

Friday, December 6, 2013

CTO … Rhythmic Notation in LEGO

Here's a non-threatening way to think about rhythm.

Check This Out … Posted on his website November 9, 2013 (under "Blog, Pedagogy, Theory") pianist Tom McPherson describes a creative way to visualize the relative time values of notes in written music using LEGO blocks. I like it! Check it out!

Rhythmic Notation in LEGO

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make Your Life Easier Next Year

Mark up your holiday music.

Don't you hate it when you spend a significant amount of time on a piece of music but when you come back to it in a day or two you've forgotten how to play it? If you think it's difficult to remember tunes you're playing regularly, wait until you try to recall how you played your favorite Christmas carols a year ago!

Many of my students are busy practicing Christmas tunes this month. Some are preparing for gigs. Others are playing for their own enjoyment. Most are attempting to create a repertoire of seasonal music that will be improved upon and added to year to year. The sad fact, though, is that once the Christmas season is over most of these holiday tunes will be shelved, not to revisited until next fall.

The good news? Many of these tunes have fairly simple melody lines and they are familiar - locked into our brains in such a way that allows our hands to find them with some ease on the instrument. But chances are you've taken these tunes beyond the basic melody. I'm guessing you've worked out some arrangement ideas or have spent time figuring out how to play someone else's arrangement. You're going to want to remember that in the future.

Mark up your music.

Make notes directly on the music to help yourself remember all the stuff you've figured out during your practice sessions, i.e. hammer patterns, where to cross the bridge, which duplicate note to use, hints on how to play difficult phrases, etc. That way, you won't have to reinvent the wheel next year.

If you think this is a great idea but don't want to mess up a book of music or would rather have a clean original piece of sheet music, simply make a copy or two, then mark away!

Read more about Marking Up your music for Efficient Practice in my previous post, dated March 12, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday's Muse

“The key to life is accepting challenges. Once someone stops doing this, he's dead.” ~ Bette Davis

Thursday, November 28, 2013

We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing

In honor of the holiday I've posted some of my arrangement ideas for the traditional Christian hymn, We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing. Go to my website,, scroll down the home page until you see the FREE SHEET MUSIC button. You can take it from there.

Have fun! and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday's Muse

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was 'thank you', that would suffice."
~ Meister Eckhart

Friday, November 22, 2013

CTO … Worried about carrying your instrument onto a plane?

There's a law protecting your right to do it!

Check This Out … The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Obama on February 14, 2012. It includes a section under "Passenger Air Service Improvements" that addresses musical instruments on airlines - page down to Section 403, subsection 41724. There's more pertaining to larger instruments, but here's the scoop on carry-ons:

‘‘(1) S
carrier providing air transportation shall permit a passenger to carry a violin, guitar, or other musical instrument in the aircraft cabin, without charging the passenger a fee in addition to any standard fee that carrier may require for comparable carry-on baggage, if—
‘‘(A) the instrument can be stowed safely in a suitable baggage compartment in the aircraft cabin or under a passenger seat, in accordance with the requirements for carriage of carry-on baggage or cargo established by the Administrator; and
‘‘(B) there is space for such stowage at the time the passenger boards the aircraft.

Many hammered dulcimers are not "small" instruments, but if you have a more compact instrument it may fit in the overhead compartment. If so, the key is to board the plane early before available storage space is taken. Check with your specific airline to find out how to get an early boarding pass.

It wouldn't hurt to print out the entire "musical instruments" section of the law in case you run into gate attendants who don't know the score. It's helpful to realize that "gate checked" items end up with the regular baggage. If you must check at the gate, make sure your instrument ends up with a tag that's the same as the one that goes on strollers and other personal items that will be put on the jet bridge at the end of the flight. Some airlines may call this "valet" checking as opposed to "gate" checking.

Read lots of great comments and stories about this issue and other musical concerns at Ari's Take .  Check it out!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Music Buddies get Creative

There are many ways to benefit from having a music buddy, even if you don't live anywhere near each other! One of my students has made a pact with her music buddy from afar. The two of them take turns choosing a tune. They spend one week learning the tune and applying original arrangement ideas. Once the arrangement is "just right" they record it and share it with each other privately through YouTube.

Here's what YouTube says about sharing private videos:

If you'd like to share one of your videos with a select and limited audience, you can do so by setting your video to private. Once the video's set to private you'll be able to share it with fifty other users.
Once you've set the video to private you'll be able to send the video's private URL with your contacts. Once your contacts receive the private URL, they'll be able to sign into their YouTube account and watch the video.
Here's how to find and send a private video's private URL:
  1. Sign into your YouTube account and click the Account link located (at the top-right of any page ).
  2. Then click the Uploaded Videos link. Click and choose the video you want to send to your friends. Then, click the "Edit" button.
  3. Under the "Broadcasting and Sharing Options" section (on the left-hand side of the page towards the bottom) you'll see "Privacy" options. Click the little black arrow / triangle to expand and see all your privacy options (if its not already open and you cannot see your privacy options).
  4. If the video's set to private, there will be a URL section below the "Private" option. This is the special private link that you will send to (up to) fifty contacts so that they can watch your private video.
  5. Email / send a private message including the private video's special URL. When your friends receive the email invitation, they'll need to: Sign into their YouTube account
  6. Click the video URL. They'll then be able to watch the video
That's it! You've now learned how to share a private video with your contacts!
What a great way to challenge yourself, impose accountability, structure practice time, strengthen the bonds of friendship ... practically guarantee improvement of skills and technique … not to mention have FUN! I'd love to hear more about how others share their musical journey with friends.

Previous Posting: 10 Reason Why Music Buddies are Essential

Monday, November 18, 2013

Monday's Muse

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” ~ Confucius

Friday, November 15, 2013

CTO … Now Available! Ken Kolodner's newest book of tune arrangements, "The Sandbridge Waltz and Slow Air Collection"

Book #2 in a two-volume set, this is the companion book to The Sandbridge Dance Tune Collection, released at the end of October and featured in the November 1 CTO posting. You know you must have both of these books! Better let Santa know ...

Check This Out … From Ken Kolodner's website, The Sandbridge Waltz and Slow Air Collection contains "Traditional and original waltzes, slow airs, marches and O'Carolan. The repertoire draws primarily from the traditional music of the U.S. (Old-Time), Ireland, Scotland, Quebec, Cape Breton, England, Finland, Sweden, Chile and Israel. Each tune is presented as a simple melody with chord progression along with one or more detailed arrangements offering a wide range of levels of complexity. Backup and harmony parts are provided for many of the pieces. The book is a lifetime resource for players of all levels. Kolodner is widely known as one of the most prominent teachers and performers of the hammered dulcimer and is especially known for his teaching of arranging and backup techniques."

All righty, then. That ought to keep you busy for awhile!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Damper Users - Give us a Clue!

I don't have dampers on my instrument. You could say that I have "damper lust". Consequently, I don't have much to offer in the area of damper instruction. I depend on my students and blog fans to teach ME about the use of dampers.

So tell me … what has been the biggest "ah ha" moment you've had while learning to play with dampers? Share your words of wisdom and we'll begin a list of tips right here. I'll get it all started with a couple of pointers I learned from a student today. She got these gems from Maggie Sansone during her recent joint workshop with Marya Katz.

1.  Don't like the central position of the damper pedal? Easy fix! Decide which foot you'd rather play with - right or left? Position the pedal to the left or right side of center. Pull up the string on the top of the damper bar on that side. Tie an overhand knot. Tadah! But be careful. The drawback to this is you can't alternate your feet to spread out the physical exertion. Fatigue could become an issue.

2.  Wish you could have more control over the sustain of your instrument? Ride the pedal. Like riding the brake in your car - not entirely activated and not entirely off. Strike a happy medium.

Don't be shy! Do you play with dampers? We need your advice. Give us a clue!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen."  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Guest Blogger: Ken Kolodner - "Learning Tunes by Ear"

While out of town this week I'm happy to feature my long-time teacher and mentor, Ken Kolodner, as guest blogger. Focusing largely on traditional music, Ken has often been called one of the most influential players in the US. He teaches fiddle and hammered dulcimer in Baltimore, MD and throughout the United States. The following is taken with permission from his "Old-Time Fiddle Style Book/CD Set", (Mel Bay Publications, Inc., 2010). It's a collection of 35 traditional Appalachian tunes written with fiddle players in mind, but there's a lot of wisdom in this article for the hammered dulcimer player as well!

Learning Tunes by Ear
Written by: Ken Kolodner

Improving your listening skills is vitally important! I offer this discussion to encourage you to develop your ear.

Shortly after finishing college and just before heading to graduate school, I decided that I would teach myself to play the fiddle. I had no music background and didn’t read music. I tuned the fiddle using a pitch pipe (bad idea), bought a few albums (remember those round things?) from County Records of old-time fiddle “classics” and proceeded to listen to the tunes over and over again. It was a total struggle, my technique was non-existent and I really had no clue what I was doing. But, in time, I did begin to approximate what I heard on the recordings. I can’t honestly say that I would recommend trying to take the road that I went. If I had it to do all over, I would have found a teacher, focused on technique and, yes, learned to read music and learned some music theory right from the start. But the process of learning solely with my ears forced me to listen and perhaps gain some appreciation of what old-time fiddling was “supposed” to sound like.

My experience is that an overwhelming majority of the more accomplished players of traditional music believe very strongly that to fully understand the phrasing of the music, learning by ear and from experienced players is much preferred to learning solely from sheet music. While it may be true that the subtleties of the music cannot be effectively notated (e.g. swing, anticipations, ornamentations, etc...), once you become an experienced player, written music can be an important aid in expediting learning tunes. I have a very large library of traditional music books and often learn tunes by reading. Experienced players can often interpret written music and create a version of the tune that sounds “traditional.” Over the years, I have become a strong believer in getting as many people participating in playing music as possible and doing whatever it takes to get everyone going. This means that written music is a useful aid. Nevertheless, there are many advantages and situations when learning by ear is a great asset. There is simply no substitute for developing your ears.

The issue is really not whether there is significant value in learning traditional music by ear. The bigger issue is how does one learn to master the skill of listening and learning by ear? I hope that some of the techniques discussed below will help you in your quest to practice learning by ear. Many of the ideas are obvious but they still bear mentioning. As with any other skill, the more understanding you have and the more techniques you bring to the process, the more likely are your chances for success.

Ten “Tools of the Trade”
(1.) Identify the meter. In old-time music, you are almost guaranteed that every tune that is played in a jam will be in 4/4. Old-time musicians do not play jigs (6/8) but do play the occasional waltz (3/4). Still, viewing the broader world of learning by ear, we need to establish the meter of the tune. There are some tunes that do not stay in a consistent meter. These are among the tunes that are said to be “crooked.” Crooked tunes might have an extra count to a measure or a full extra measure in an A or B part of the tune. It can take a while to understand these tunes—repeated listening usually gets you there.

(2.) Find the tonal center and understand the modes. Find the note on which the tune resolves. This is a great start to get you rolling as this might (probably) tell you which key the tune resides but be careful. It is better to understand the “modes” as most traditional music is typically in one of four modes. The modes tell you where to play physically, what notes to expect, and the chords that you are most likely to encounter.
     Most common is what we will all know as major but is also known in mode-speak as Ionian. Don’t skip this section and start rolling your eyes! The other modes can easily be found by starting on different notes of the major scale and playing eight notes. First, let’s start on the second note of the major scale and form a scale called the Dorian mode. It might sound a little weird to play this scale. I did not include any tunes in Dorian but don’t let that fool you—it is a very common mode. The tonal center uses a minor chord. Thus, the mode sounds minor.
     Now, let’s skip to the fifth note of a major scale and form the mixolydian mode. Players often misclassify this mode and call it major. That is probably because the mode has a major chord for its tonal center. But the mode does not sound like it is in a major key and has a sort of, well, “modal” sound! (See “Mike in the Wilderness,” “Sandy Boys”.) Next, from the sixth note, we form the Aeolian mode. This is also called the “relative minor” (See “Devil in the Strawstack,” “Home with the Girls in the Morning,” most of “Journey to the Heartland,” and “Sally in the Garden”). There are many tunes that switch modes from one part to the next. For example, a common usage is to move from major to relative minor (Aeolian).
     People will often say “this tune is modal.” This really doesn’t mean much since all traditional tunes are modal! If you can learn how the modes work and recognize them, this can be a huge clue into finding the notes of a tune faster since you will know which scale to use. Tunes typically are composed of scalar patterns and pieces of chords (arpeggios). Once you find the correct mode, you will at least have a frame of reference from which to get started.

(3.) Think structure. Identify the number of parts that a tune has and within each part, the number of phrases. Most importantly, phrases usually repeat, and sometimes phrases repeat multiple times within a tune. Most tunes have two parts: an “A” and “B” section. Within these parts, most tunes are composed in two measure phrases with a question and answer format. While many different structures are common, a very typical construction of phrases is as follows.

The A part:
(Phrase A1) A two measure “question”
(Phrase A2) A two measure “answer”
(Phrase A1) Repeat question #1
(Phrase A3) A new two measure answer (the ending)

The B part:
(Phrase B1) A new question
(Phrase B2) A new answer or possibly the first answer of the A part (A2) (Phrase B1) Repeat the new question
(Phrase A3) The ending of the A part or possibly a new answer (B3).

Another way to think of this construction is to imagine a conversation that goes as follows: Question/statement: “Hey?!”
Answer: “What?!”
Repeat the question/statement: “I said ‘Hey?!’”

New answer: “OK!”
There are many good examples of this exact construction (see “Needle Case,” “Single Footin’ Horse” and many others.) But watch for the occasional crooked tune!

(4.) Think chord progressions. My ability to learn tunes by ear improved enormously once I began to understand chord progressions. Now, I cannot imagine learning a tune without first identifying a basic chord structure (not necessarily “the” chord progression but at least a likely or “beginning” chord progression). Identifying the modes and a “beginning” chord structure are integrally related. This is an enormous topic which regrettably is beyond the scope of this discussion. I would encourage you to learn the four big modes and learn which chords commonly occur in each of them. It bears repeating that tunes are essentially scalar fragments (pieces of scales) and arpeggiated chords (pieces of chords) put together in clever ways. Once you see that, you can find tunes much faster.

(5.) Simplify: Identify target or anchor notes or phrases. Almost every tune has what some musicians call variously the “corners,” “anchors” or “target notes” that are critical to defining the tune. To new players, it can be a mystery why there are so many versions of common tunes. They often want to know what the “real” tune is. Or maybe they might complain “that is not the way you wrote it down!” or “that isn’t the way it is in the book!” The reality is that many notes in most tunes are relatively unimportant and that there may be only a few phrases or critical notes within each phrase that are essential to the integrity of the tune. These are the “anchors” of the tune. A typical technique in learning by ear is to find these notes first and then gradually fill out the tune upon repeated listening. Some musicians call this finding the “skeleton” of the tune. In many tunes, you discover that a good part of the melody is not that critical to the tune, but the tune must have the anchors, corners or whatever you want to call them. In other words, you can create your own version of the tune as long as it is reasonably close to what you are hearing and you retain the anchors. Do not get lost in the details of the less important notes. If you don’t like a few note choices in my tune versions, feel free to change them!

(6.) Practice and learn intervals. Even if you do not think chords or even modes, being able to recognize intervals is perhaps the key to figuring out tunes, once you identify the structure. Identifying the mode/key is certainly very important, and identifying the chords is a huge bonus. But recognizing intervals can get you very far. Formal ear training typically consists of learning the distances between any two notes (intervals). Many of us practice scales up and down. This is not sufficient. At a minimum:
(a.) practice playing thirds through major scales (e.g. the key of D, walk up the scale playing D - F sharp; E - G; F sharp - A; G - B; A - C sharp; B - D; C sharp - E; D - F sharp; and then go back down: E - C sharp; D - B; C sharp - A; B - G; A - F sharp; G - E; F sharp - D); and
(b.) practice arpeggios and their inversions all over the instrument, backwards and forwards; and
(c.) learn to recognize other intervals (fourths, sixths etc.).

Why do all of this? Again, most tunes are comprised of scalar patterns, little sections of movement in thirds, mini arpeggios in their various forms in all directions, and so on. In addition to using the above practice tools, there are all sorts of simple ways to recognize the many intervals you are likely to encounter. Using examples of common tunes is perhaps the easiest. For example:
For a “minor third,” think the first two notes of “Greensleeves”
For a fifth down, think “Flint-stones” (ok, you have to be a certain age for that one)
For a fifth up, think “Twinkle, Twinkle”
For a fourth up, think “A-amaze” in “Amazing Grace” or “Here Comes” in “Here Comes the Bride” For a major arpeggio, use “Morning Has Broken” or “Soldier’s Joy” or see measures 1-2 in “Elk River

Blues,” “Flop Eared Mule,” “Quince Dillon’s High D” and many other tunes in this book.
For a sixth down, “Crazy” and the beginning of “Liberty”
For a sixth up, the beginning of “Bill Cheathum” or “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and see

measure two in “Needle Case”
For an octave, “Some-where” in “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and see measure one in

“Home with the Girls in the Morning”
You can find many others by simply trying out different common tunes. Practice playing the interval and learn to hear and recognize it.

(7.) Practice learning small pieces at a time; practice “call and response.” If you listen to the entire tune over and over again, you risk getting overwhelmed. In a jamming situation, you have no choice. But this is NOT the place to start to develop the skill of learning by ear. You will likely sit there and be frustrated by sensory overload. Rather than listen to an entire piece over and over again, it really helps to take very small pieces of the tune and master only that. Practice that small piece and get it down before you move on. When working with a CD or other recording, I must admit that I sometimes write it down as I go (hitting the pause button!) just so that I can remember it later. I see no harm in doing so as you are still learning by ear! A common technique in teaching a tune is to use “call” and “response” where a phrase is played; perhaps a full two measures or perhaps smaller depending on what can be most easily digested. Try to play as much of the phrase as you can. The “call” and “response” is continued until the learner gets the whole phrase. Additional phrases are added using the same technique, gradually incorporating larger pieces until the whole tune is captured.

(8.) Slow it down. Experienced musicians sometimes disparage the practice of slow jams at festivals. I understand that this may not be the “traditional” way to learn. I understand that by slowing down the tunes significantly, there is a risk that the groove and other subtleties of the tunes are lost or obscured. The point of the slow jam or slowing the tune down is to get people to learn, have fun, and build confidence. Most of us do not find the time to listen and practice for hours. Nor do we often have access to other players. So I am all for playing the tunes slowly which is why I did this book with a recording! In fact, you can learn a lot by playing the tunes slowly and hearing them slowed down. For example, it is especially difficult for newer players to hear the “swing” in the tunes when played up to tempo.

(9.) Learn from different instruments. Since you are likely to want to learn tunes from all sorts of players and sources, try learning from an instrument other than the instrument you play. You can learn so much about the phrasing and other subtleties in the music by listening to experienced players of other instruments.

(10.) Listen for subtleties in the music. As you gain skill and experience learning by ear, hopefully your focus shifts to pick up the subtleties in the music. I always recommend that it is best when first learning a tune to basically ignore ornamentation and other details: i.e., simplify! But after I have the basic tune, I listen for details. Especially important is to listen for swing. As described earlier, fiddlers and other musicians typically speak of swing as the evenness (or lack thereof) of spacing of the eighth notes such that the first note of a pair of eighth notes is held longer than the second. Listen also for the accent shifts (e.g., in 4/4, the degree to which the pulse is on the two and four counts as opposed to one and three or possibly on the counts of “and”), anticipations and other ornamentation.

Misconceptions about learning by ear
I would like to offer a final word on several misconceptions about learning by ear. First, you do NOT need to be able to sing very well (or at all) to learn by ear. I hear it stated often that you need to be able to sing the tune in order to play it by ear. Singing the tune certainly helps many people but it is also not necessary. Rather, you only need to learn to “hear” the tune “in your head.” Second, you do not need “perfect” pitch (e.g. you do not need to ever know what an “A” sounds like) but only need to develop a sense of “relative” pitch. Most musicians develop a sense of relative pitch—few have perfect pitch. Third, while some people are perhaps “naturals” and can hear tunes easily, learning by ear is a skill to be learned, practiced and developed. You will get better and better at learning by ear by practicing and understanding the many components of the task. Finally, learning by ear does not need to be “rote learning.” Rote learning usually involves playing something over and over again typically without any thinking. Some people confuse learning by ear as rote learning—that you just have to listen many, many times to get a tune. And you just listen and play it over and over again until you memorize it. That might work for some or even many people. As I have tried to describe above, I would argue that for many of us there is clearly much more to the process, especially if you want to retain the tune for a long time. Rote learning typically involves no understanding of structure, chords, intervals etc. I believe that many experienced players retain hundreds or even thousands of tunes by using a wide variety of the tools including many of those described here. Good luck! 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday's Muse

"You must do the things you think you can not do."  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, November 1, 2013

CTO … NEW Tune Book available from Ken Kolodner

The long awaited Sandbridge Dance Tune Collection is here!

Check This Out … Ken Kolodner has put together a hefty volume of traditional and original dance tunes - reels, jigs, hornpipes, and polkas - all arranged for hammered dulcimer. For each tune, he starts with the basic melody and chord progression, adds arranging ideas of varying complexity, and even includes harmony and back-up ideas for some tunes. Representing 30 years experience of teaching countless individuals and many, many workshops, this book is the first of a planned two-book companion collection. There's plenty to keep you busy while waiting for book #2!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Signs that Christmas is coming ...

  • Students are requesting Christmas carols.
  • I've already accepted this year's first holiday gig request.
  • I saw a lit Christmas tree in a private home as I drove through town last night.

In all other areas I resist the cultural push toward the holidays. Being a good Episcopalian I've learned to value the season of Advent. My personal rule? Don't think about Christmas at all until after Thanksgiving.

But when it comes to playing seasonal music for the enjoyment of others … that's a different piece of fruit cake. The play list must be ready by the first of December. Event organizers are making their plans, lining up entertainment for their holiday parties and programs … all of which will happen prior to December 25.

So, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Time to dust off the holiday repertoire. Maybe add a tune or two. Work out some new arrangements for students. 'tis the season!

Just wondering … Are you playing holiday music? What new tune(s) will you add this year? In your experience, what do you find to be the most requested holiday tune?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday's Muse

"The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, "Is there a meaning to music?" My answer would be, "Yes." And can you state in so many words what the meaning is? My answer to that would be, "No."  ~ Aaron Copland

Friday, October 25, 2013

CTO ... Maggie Sansone and Marya Katz present workshops and concert

This a bit further afield than the Triangle of central NC, but a worthwhile opportunity within a reasonable driving distance.

Check This Out ... Music in the Mountains, hosted by Marya Katz, Saturday, November 2, 11:30 - 5:00pm, Northside Presbyterian Church, 1017 Progress Street NW, Blacksburg, VA. Maggie Sansone and Marya Katz present a fun-filled hammered dulcimer workshop in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Cost: $50, payable at the door. Includes 3 workshop sessions and a class jam, plus a mini-concert with Maggie and Marya. Bring a bag lunch to eat while setting up and tuning.

The day's schedule looks like this:

11:30 -12:15    Arrive, tune, meet & greet (bring a bag lunch, or eat ahead of time)
12:15 -  1:00    Mini-Concert with Maggie and Marya
  1:00 -  2:00    1st workshop session, led by Maggie (slow tune, possibly a celtic waltz)
  2:10 -  2:50    2nd workshop session, led by Marya ("chord choreography")
  3:00 -  4:00    3rd workshop session, led by Maggie (faster tune, probably a Scottish jig)
  4:15 -  5:00    Class jam for all who are interested

Other instrumentalists are welcome at the jam. Maybe there'll be a guitar or two, a bass, some percussion... Encourage anyone interested to join the jam at 4:15.

Contact:  For more information and registration contact Marya Katz at 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Plan to be the Stress-Free Wedding Musician

You've signed the contract. Details have been discussed. You and the Bride have decided on the music for all the significant parts of the ceremony. You've been paid in advance. You've practiced. The big day approaches. Count down to performance time!

Getting Ready
There's a lot more to being a wedding musician than simply preparing and practicing a list of lovely tunes. Minimize the stress of the day with a little advance planning. Complete some tasks in the days leading up to the event.

Directions and Instructions
Find and print out directions to the venue. Pack them safely into your gig bag. Alternatively, program the address into your GPS. Determine how long it will take to travel to the wedding site. Allow plenty of time for an empty gas tank, unexpected traffic tie-ups, and other little surprises. Make a list of special instructions for the day, i.e. where you are to set up, how many mothers will be seated, who's the last one in before the Bride, what's the last thing the clergy says before the recessional, etc. Include emergency phone numbers for important contacts, such as the wedding director or other persons "in charge" ... preferably NOT the Bride!

Play List 
I typically work with the Bride well in advance to make tune selections for the seating of Mothers, Grandmothers, and Special Guests; the Wedding Party Processional; the Bridal Processional; optional Special Ceremonial music; and the Recessional. These are important tunes that may require extra practice time. I've always worked with Brides who trust me to develop a list of beautiful and happy tunes to play for the 45 minutes prior to the ceremony while guests are being seated. I do work out a play list for this period of time, paying attention to varying tempo and key signature to keep it interesting. I suppose you could "wing" it, play what you feel like playing, but I personally don't like to have to think of tunes while I'm under the pressure of a performance situation.  Make a point of playing through your list and timing it. It's not much fun to get to the end of your tune list and still have 20 minutes left to play!

Equipment  Will you be providing amplification or contributing any part to amplification of your instrument? Be sure everything's in proper working order. Gather cables, cords, adapters, mics, pre-amps, etc and stash them in your gig bag. Get your amp ready. Settings look good? Battery charged? Are you sure there's power available if you need it? Better throw an extension cord into the gig bag while you're at it.
When's the last time you changed the battery in your pickup? Yeah ... that's what I thought! If it's been awhile, you may want to splurge on a fresh battery AND figure out how to remove the old one in order to install the new one. At the very least, be sure to have an extra battery in your gig bag just in case the juice runs out as the first guests arrive.

The Big Day

The Lovely and Handsome Musician

You should look good, and by that I mean "professional." Unless the Bride has asked you to wear something specific to match the theme of the day, such as lime green or psychedelic florals, it's best to choose conservative attire. You certainly can not go wrong with a neutral pallet. Black and white are safe standards. Cover up your tattoos, leave your red high-top converse tennis shoes in the closet, and make sure you're not showing anywhere near as much skin as the Bride!

While the Bride and her attendants are primping and preening, so are you! Allow the time you need to complete your beauty routine. After all, you might appear in the wedding album, a wedding video, or somebody's FaceBook post. It could happen. Let's hope none of us end up on "America's Funniest Home Videos"!

Keep up your Energy  Eat a little something before you leave the house. It would be bad form to pass out in the front of the congregation. Take a snack and a bottle of water, just in case. I personally don't like to eat too much before a gig, so I'm usually starving afterwards! I toss some nuts into my gig bag, and consider chocolate always a good idea.

The Unique and Stunning Instrument
Be prepared for a few questions, especially if you'll be set up in an area where guests walk past you. Someone is sure to ask, "What is that?" Be polite, but remember your job is to play music. While you will certainly not be center stage - that's the Bride's place - be sure that you're set up in a location that allows you to see what's going on with the wedding party, the officiant, and/or the wedding director. I had a lovely place behind a big fern at the last wedding I played. It actually was the perfect spot in that particular setting.

Tune It  Follow your own routine, but I like to do the big tuning at home. Playing outdoors? I put the dulcimer on the porch a few hours before tuning time and let it soak up the natural air. Expecting to play in heated or air conditioned space? I attempt to mimic that at home. Since I usually play solo for weddings I don't have the additional stress of being perfectly in tune with other instruments. I allow at least 30 minutes to tune. There's always a string or two that will not cooperate! Then I allow time to fine tune after set-up at the venue.

Pack it Up  Keep the essential check list in mind ...
  • Instrument √
  • Hammers √
  • Stand √ (+ preferred chair or stool if you sit)
  • Tuner and Tuning Wrench√
... PLUS your gig bag with all that stuff you've been collecting!

Leave on Time It's better to be a few minutes early than a few minutes late. You do not want to contribute one moment of stress to the Bride's special day.

Last Minute On-Site Considerations
  • Turn off your phone.
  • Breathe.
  • Do not rush.
  • Play beautifully.
  • Say, "Thank you," when guests compliment your playing.
  • Pack up and leave promptly. Your job is done!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday's Muse

“If you want to play at all you have to practice. I have to practice every single day to be as bad as I am.”  ~ Woody Allen

Friday, October 18, 2013

CTO ... Is Music the Key to Success?

Interesting article written by Joanne Lipman, co-author with Melanie Kupchynsky of the book "Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations."

Check This Out ... "Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening."

Read the entire article:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

20 Tunes that will Rock the Jam

There's nothing more fun than getting into a jam with a bunch of trapezoids! In between Ken Kolodner's instruction and M.J.'s food there was plenty of time to play music with friends at the Sandbridge Dulcimer Workshop last week. It was great to have a variety of instruments to enhance the experience ... guitar, mando, banjo, fiddle, piano, a shaker or two. Over a crabby dinner at Margie and Ray's last Friday night a group of us at the end of the table brainstormed our favorite jammin' tunes. As one might expect, there's some overlap with the list I generated myself and posted last March, "Today's Top 20 Favorite Jam Tunes." Looking to enhance your own play list? These tunes are hard to beat!

  1. Bill Cheatham
  2. Booth Shot Lincoln
  3. Granny, Does Your Dog Bite?
  4. Hangman's Reel
  5. John Brown's March
  6. John Ryan's Polka (dum dum)
  7. John Stenson's #2
  8. Leather Britches
  9. MacDonald's Reel
  10. Missouri
  11. Nail that Catfish to a Tree
  12. Oklahoma Rooster
  13. Rock the Cradle, Joe
  14. Roscoe
  15. Sandy Boys
  16. Sandy River Belle
  17. Shenandoah Falls
  18. Snake River Reel
  19. Waynesboro
  20. Willafjord
I bet we missed a "few" good ones. Don't see YOUR favorite here? Add it in the "Comment" section below!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday's Muse

Overheard at Sandbridge Dulcimer Week #3

I'm recently back from a week of intense instruction with Ken Kolodner and 18 other experienced hammered dulcimer players. Despite the raging wind and rain storm that settled in over Sandbridge Beach (see last week's national weather map) it was an awesome week!
Be sure to read more about the Sandbridge Dulcimer Workshops on Ken's web site. In the meantime, here are some silly and profound quotes that I overheard from the back of the classroom ...

"I thought this was a surfing class." ~ Confused

"I'm here for the food."  ~ Hungry

"Is that all there is to that tune?" ~ Advanced

"We're all going to practice this, right?"  ~ Optimist

"Surely I'm in tune this morning. I just tuned last night." ~ Hopeful

"It's so hot in here ... really hot!"  ~ On the Spot
"It's going to get hotter."  ~ Teacher

"We've got one more note to add to this thing."  ~ Ambitious

"I'm more afraid to do this than make a felony arrest!" ~ Manly

"Remember, the count I give you should have some relation to what we play."  ~ Finicky

"Slow ... it works!"  ~ Triumphant

"There's an unbelievable amount of talent in this room."  ~ Awed

"I don't know which was more fun ... rehearsing or performing!"  ~ Satisfied

"We're in search and destroy mode." ~ Determined

"If you don't read music it's time to learn how. If you read it's time to start using your ears." ~ Smarty

"Put it in crab cake terms and I'll get it."  ~ Still Hungry

"Leave him on the beach in the nasty weather!"  ~ Sunken Sailor

"You're crazy!"  ~ Astounded
"It's been mentioned."  ~ Passionate Fanatic

"Let's go to the easy version."  ~ Friday's Child

"This tune is exactly like that tune, but different."  ~ Helpful

"Tombigbee went to the Falls of Richmond and Sawdade."  ~ Telephone Operator

"God grant me the serenity to accept the tunes I cannot play; Courage to play the tunes I can; and Wisdom to know the difference."  ~ Zen Master (w/apologies to Reinhold Niebuhr)

"Uh oh ... Sunshine!"  ~ Incredulous

Friday, October 11, 2013

CTO ... Look Who Crashed the Party!

She couldn't stay away!

Check This Out ... That face next to mine? That's the face of dedication! Mary Lynn made an appearance at all three Sandbridge Dulcimer Weeks. Beat that!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Feelin' Groovy

I'm at Sandbridge Beach, enjoying a week of instruction with Ken Kolodner and 18 other awesome hammered dulcimer players. It's great to have time to learn new tunes and practice arranging ideas. We spent today's morning session working on our "groove".

What is "groove"? It's not the easiest thing to define in words. Think of it as a rhythmic pattern, repeated. The groove is enhanced by the accentuation of certain notes. It's the swing ... the flow ... the beat of the tune. You have to feel it, then learn to play what you feel.

But how does one go about learning how to feel the music?

  • Listen
  • Loosen Up - light grip, relaxed posture
  • Move - Tap your foot, sway, nod, whatever! Move your body to match how you feel.
  • Count - Feel the pulse. Identify where the patterns start and finish. Develop your inner clock. Practice!
  • Don't Emphasize Every Note - "Groove" comes from accenting some beats and holding back on others. Leave off some beats. Sometimes less is more.
  • Jam with Others - Especially others who have a good feel for the music! If you don't have a music buddy play along with recordings. You can even record yourself playing a melody, then have your own personal groove-along. Mess around until you find something that fits.
Now, better get back to that groovy bunch of trapezoids!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So if you're feeling uncomfortable right now, know that the change taking place in your life is a beginning, not an ending." ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Friday, October 4, 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Passage of Time

"Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid."  ~ Frank Zappa

It's my birthday, a day to celebrate the passage of time. In the midst of meeting deadlines, I think I'll do a bit of decorating today!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday's Muse

"I like to tell people that the hammered dulcimer is easier than it looks and harder than it seems."  ~ Chris Peterson

Friday, September 27, 2013

CTO ... Ken & Brad Kolodner Release New CD

Brand new CD "Skipping Rocks" released this week!

Check This Out ... Ken and Brad Kolodner have announced the release of their second album of traditional and original old-time music, featuring hammered dulcimer, banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, vocals, and more!

For more details and to view a complete track list check it out here:  Skipping Stones

"Father and son have reached that musical telepathy that family members can sometimes achieve. The blend of the hammered dulcimer and banjo is exceptional."  ~ Old Time Herald, 2012

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Make the Stuff You Learn Stick

An article in the recent Dulcimer Players News (Summer 2013) caught my attention, "How to Get What You've Learned to Stay Learned," written by Dan Landrum. There's some good stuff in there! And it got me thinking. What works for me? What works for my students?

I asked a few of them, "What do you find most helpful in learning tunes, or learning technique?" The first reaction from some folks, "Nothing helps!" Oooh ... do I detect a bit of frustration?

Indeed ... My students do struggle with this. They ask, "How do you remember all these tunes and all these ideas?"  I wonder myself, "How can I train my hands and brain to consistently play cleanly and accurately?" If I knew the answer to THAT I would be rich and famous!

Repetition is an obvious strategy. It's what it takes to etch memories into our ears and brains and muscles. Most people recognize the importance of repetition in learning, but how many times through a tune is enough? 10? 20? 50? 70? 7 x 70?! I'm not sure I've ever reached the optimal number. Let's just say you'll know it when you get there ... but realize that the number is significantly larger than you might think. Add to that the fact that most of us are constantly raising the bar. What was acceptable yesterday must be improved upon today with new skills and ideas. Despite gradual advancement in overall abilities, you may feel as if you're chronically just a tad bit short of nirvana.

It might be helpful to remember that we're all on this infinite continuum. There will always be some players who are better than you AND you will always be better than some players. So acknowledge that you're on a journey, and be sure to enjoy the trip!

In general:
  • Learn the basics. Work on your hammer strokes. Practice your scales and arpeggio patterns.
  • Be patient with yourself. There's a lot that must come together in mastering this instrument.
  • Structure your practice time. Set an intention for each practice session.
  • Improve your focus. Leave the multitasking behind. Turn off the phone and computerize notifications.
  • Recognize your learning style. Look for a variety of ways to learn. Mark up your music, listen to audio recordings, hammer a difficult pattern onto your lap at a stop light, i.e. use your ears, your eyes, your hands.
  • Play what you like, like what you play. Life is too short to mess around with music you don't care about.
When it comes to memorizing, here are a few more specific things that I've learned along the way:

You have to know what you're doing before you memorize something.
  1. Fix the tune in your head. Learn it well enough that you can sing it to yourself. In this day and age we have great resources for finding free audio files ... think YouTube. Or play it ad nauseum from any type of recording.
  2. Analyze the tune you're working on. Work out hammer patterns and bridge crossings. Pay attention to the chord progression.
  3. Identify the difficult passages. Turn them into exercises. Include them in every practice session. Smooth out transitions between phrases and parts. You really don't want to memorize errors. Remember, practice may not make perfect ... but it does make permanent!
Now you're ready to memorize.

  1. Get away from the printed music as soon as possible. Look at what you're doing on the instrument.
  2. Divide and conquer. Identify chunks, not single notes. Learn to see the patterns ... pieces of scales and arpeggios. Good memory work is done in chunks. Don't forget to work on transitions between the chunks.
  3. Play it backwards. This is a very effective memory strategy. I find it essential to working out difficult passages. If you don't know how to practice backwards, read this:
  4. Play it forwards, learning it in its appropriate form.
  5. Use a metronome to work it up to tempo.

Test yourself.

  1. Put yourself under pressure ... even if it's "fake". Read about a silly little game that I play to produce pressure in the practice room: Count to Eight for Effective Practice
  2. Practice in a practical way ...  perform for others. It's ok to set up gigs for yourself !
  3. Teach somebody -- it's the best way to learn!

Memorization is necessary on any instrument if the goal is to play fluently, with freedom and musical expression. We actually don't have much choice on the hammered dulcimer. Because there's no tactile connection to the instrument we depend on the visual connection which makes it difficult to read from a score while playing. So hone those memorization skills, and if you find a trick that makes it easier, please share!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday's Muse

"No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you're still way ahead of everyone who isn't trying."  ~ Tony Robbins

Friday, September 20, 2013

CTO ... Got an instrument to sell? Looking to buy a used one?

Check out the menu bar above this post. To the right of the "Home" and "Schedule of Events" tabs you'll see the newly created "Instruments for Sale" tab. The new page is designed to help would-be buyers and sellers connect ... intended especially for those located in, or convenient to, the greater central NC area. Simply click on the tab to see what's available.

Check This Out ... I have had three people contact me in the past several weeks to tell me they have an instrument for sale and would I please let my students and any other interested parties know? I find it difficult to get the message out to just the right folks, so I decided to add this new page.

  • In the market for an instrument? A used one might be just the thing!
  • Recently upgraded your instrument? Sell your old one!
  • Realize that you don't need 5 instruments after all? Clear out the inventory!

Email Sue with all the info. Guidelines and disclaimers are listed on the page. Also, you'll find links to other websites that provide free listings of instruments for sale. List and look!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why a Consistent Hand Lead is Better than Simply Alternating Hands

Experienced students come to me for help. They've been playing for awhile and they're stuck. They report that they can't make their music sound the way they think it should. I ask them to play something. What I often notice is that hammer patterns are awkward, execution of the tune is uneven, and the pulse of the tune is missing. What is holding these students back? It could be ineffective use of duplicate notes or bad choice of chord patterns, but most often it's the failure to develop a consistent hand lead.
One of the most important things a hammered dulcimer player can do to improve overall performance is learn to play with a consistent hand lead. Playing with a consistent hand lead does several things for you:
  1. It gives you a rule to follow. Consistency translates into faster learning and memorizing. Less time spent trying to figure things out means more time actually playing.
  2. You'll always know where the count of "1" is. The pulse of the music will shine through. Without question you'll know how to play more complex rhythms.
  3. You'll be able to play faster, with greater accuracy, increased fluency, better musicality, and increased confidence.

How does it work? Here's the basic rule:
  • In a simple melody line one hand always plays the primary counts
  • The other hand always plays the counts of “and"
Consider this to be your default hammer pattern. Maintain the default pattern as much as possible as you add harmony notes and other embellishments to the melody line. Embellishments that involve an odd number of notes, such as 3-note rolled chords or triplets, may throw your hand pattern off. That's OK. Rules are meant to be broken! Once you have committed to regularly applying the rule feel free to break it as needed! Just be sure to get back to your default hammer pattern as soon as possible ... whether that be the very next note, the next measure, or the next phrase.

How might this play out in a tune? A reel, for example, is played in 4/4 time, i.e. there are 4 beats per measure and a quarter note is worth one full beat. It takes four quarter notes to fill up one measure and would be counted1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - /. The lead hand would play each of those notes. That's right ... four notes in a row played by either the right hand or the left hand ... whichever YOU have decided is your lead hand. /R-R-R-R-/ or /L-L-L-L-/ Notice that no notes are being played on the counts of "and".

What if the measure is filled with a string of eighth notes? In 4/4 time, one eighth note has a value of one-half beat. It takes eight eighth notes to fill up one measure and would be counted 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &The lead hand plays the counts of 1 2 3 4  while the other hand plays all the counts of “and. In other words, the hands are simply alternating, either /RLRLRLRL/  or /LRLRLRLR/.

With other combinations of quarter and eighth notes you simply work out the hammer pattern so that the lead hand plays notes on the primary counts while the other hand plays notes that occur on the counts of "and". I have to admit, folks who read music will have an easier time making this type of analysis. When using sheet music, don't be afraid to write out the count, then write "R" or "L" over each note to designate which hand you want to use. Work out the hammer pattern, then play it that way every time.

OK ... let's assume you're convinced that a consistent hand lead is important. Now you must decide which one of your hands will play the lead. Will you be a Righty or Lefty? There are arguments for both, and many fine players on both sides of the aisle. What's important is that you decide which hand works for you, then stick to it! By the way, it has nothing to do with being right-handed or left-handed in everything you do throughout the rest of your life!

Of course, you might have guessed that I do have an opinion! Some folks swear by the right-hand lead. Others prefer a left-hand lead. I fall into the left-hand lead camp. Here’s why:
  • Important melody notes are most often found on the primary counts. The left hand ends up playing more of the melody while the right hand is freed up to play harmonies and those nice bass notes that are located on the right side of the instrument.
  • Think about the set up of the instrument. Treble notes are on the left side of the dulcimer. Bass notes are on the right side. A left-hand lead makes chording and use of bass notes easy.
  • It's nice to have a rule, and I believe one must break the rule less often with a left-hand lead.
So there you have it! Right or Left ... whatever you decide, start where you are. Choose a new tune and give it a whirl. Be diligent. Work out the hammer pattern and apply it every time you play the tune. Then try another tune. You'll be surprised at how quickly it will begin to feel comfortable and "natural" to play with a consistent hand lead. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!