Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Want to be a Musician!

Have you ever uttered these words? Either out loud or in the quiet of your own heart and mind and soul?

I said it out loud to my first dulcimer teacher. His response, "When will you be a musician?"

Oh, that was a good question! And in that moment I knew that the only answer was, "Now."

When those words burst out of my mouth in 1995 it was not a frivolous declaration. It was an expression of a heartfelt desire that had been simmering inside of me for a long time. I knew that music in general was something I needed in my life. As a youngster, I learned to play the piano. I was never very good at it, but I could sit and play for hours, losing all track of time ... a sure sign that I was on the right track.

When I first heard the hammered dulcimer at age 17 I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this instrument in particular was something I needed in my life. It grabbed ahold of me. I knew I had to play it! But there were so many excuses to keep me from doing it ... where would I get such an instrument? who would teach me to play it? what was that thing called, anyway? I didn't see or hear another one for years! I was sure there was a more "normal" instrument out there that would satisfy my itch.

It turns out that insistent little voice inside of me ... you will play that instrument ... would not be satisfied until I listened and took action.  Since joining the dulcimer community, I have met many players and have heard some form of my story over and over. For many of us, there's only one way to describe it .... playing the hammered dulcimer is our heart's delight.

Yet, we hesitate to call ourselves "musicians". What is keeping us back? I suspect it is fear ... fear that we are not good enough.

But what if we were to consider our heart's desire as a simple statement of who we already are? Let's change our vocabulary. "I AM a Musician!" Go ahead. Say it out loud. There's no judgement here. It's simply a statement of fact, a declaration of who you are at your core.

Now, there is another fact to consider, and it is this. There will always be somebody better skilled than you are on your instrument AND there will always be somebody who is less skilled than you are.

That's right. We are all on this big continuum, stretching from here to infinity ... each one of us making progress at our own speed. We raise the bar. We set goals. We practice. We plateau for a while. We have 'aha' moments. We move ahead again. There's always something to aspire to!

When will YOU be a musician? Put yourself on that continuum TODAY. I give you permission.

As an aside:  I have been practicing yoga intermittently all of my adult life. The yoga tradition offers a formula for realizing your heart's desires. For more on this deep subject, here's an article from Yoga International.  Inspired Intention 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday's Muse

For those who like word play, here's a little music theory to chew on ...
C, E-flat, and G go into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry, but we don't serve minors." So E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough. D comes in and heads for the bathroom, saying, "Excuse me; I'll just be a second." Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, "Get out! You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight." 
E-flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, "You're looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development." Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else, and is au natural. Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he's under a rest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.

Friday, January 25, 2013

CTO ... a handy-dandy flow chart ...

... to help plan your practice time. Thanks, MaryLynn, for sharing!

Check This Out ... OddQuartet is a web comic that updates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Lots of fun stuff that musicians (and others) can relate to.  Here's the practice chart .

Now get to it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Marya Katz - New Book - "Songs and Tunes from the Time of the Underground Railroad"

A dozen of us spent Monday in Winston Salem at a workshop taught by Marya Katz of Blacksburg, VA. She led us through selected tunes from the collection she has recently put together in her new Dulcimations VI book, entitled "Songs and Tunes from the Time of the Underground Railroad". It seemed a fitting thing to do on January 21, 2013 - Inauguration Day and MLK Day - as the nation celebrated the second inauguration of President Obama and honored the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Music has always been important in the heritage of African people, used for telling stories and bringing people together in common cause. Many believe that the spirituals of the slavery era were used to convey coded messages to help bring the slaves to freedom. It's not difficult to ascribe symbolic meaning to "the promised land" as the north, or "Moses" as a conductor of the underground railroad. At the very least, this music would have served as encouragement as slaves made plans to escape oppression.

During the workshop we had fun playing Steal Away, Tryin' to Get Home, Wade in the Water, The Lord is my Shepherd, and Bonnie Dundee. We played AND sang Follow the Drinking Gourd. That was a challenge!

The book contains 39 tunes ... well-known spirituals as well as several fiddle/banjo tunes from the period .... harmonized and arranged by Marya for solo or ensemble performance. Lyrics are included, as well as interesting trivia.

Marya will be teaching at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival, May 3 - 4 (see "Schedule of Events" tab on this blog for more information about the festival).

Interested in Marya's music? Want a copy of the book for yourself?
Here's the link:  Marya's website

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Everybody's different, nobody's better than anybody else." ~ Phil Bozeman

Friday, January 18, 2013

CTO ...

Looking for information about the dulcimer? Wishing you could ask other dulcimer players a question? Needing to buy / sell an instrument? Wondering about dulcimer festivals around the country? Want to be connected to the greater dulcimer community? There's a website for that!

Designed to accommodate players of both hammered and mountain dulcimer, lives up to its name. You'll find articles, discussion groups, tips for beginners, an events calendar, lists of teachers / performers / instrument builders, classified ads, and ... well ... everything dulcimer! All the content is generated and maintained by subscribers. Log in today to join the fun!

Check This Out ... Go to
Check out what's hot in dulcimer-land. Take your place in the on-line dulcimer community.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Mwa, mwa, mwa, mwa ..."

One of my beginning students was in for a lesson today. She is in the early stages of learning root arpeggio patterns. She has practiced and has had some success in playing the "go to" left hand pattern, widely known as the shed pattern. Today, we tackled the "go to" right hand pattern. I call it the backwards checkmark because that's what it looks like to me and I've never heard a better name for it. Do these funny names mean anything to you?

I could tell she was on information overload. Her eyes were glazing over. Then she laughed, and said my voice sounded just like the teacher in the Charlie Brown specials! In case you can't remember what that sounds like, listen to this 14 second clip:  Charlie Brown's teacher's voice

I understand what she's going through. Chords, arpeggios, duplicated notes. Add to that the fact that sometimes you must reach down the instrument to strike a note that goes up in pitch! It's enough to make a person's brain explode. Just give me a good ol' melody line!

Mwa mwa mwas mwa .... But, wait! Hang in there!! The time spent working on chords, arpeggios, inversions, etc is time well spent. In fact, it's necessary if mastery of the instrument is your goal. Believe it. Do it!

  • Get the big picture. Chord patterns are next to and on top of each other all over the instrument. Learn how to find them. Take a workshop. Find a teacher. Read a book. 
  • Bite off a little at a time. Start simple. Apply ideas to tunes you've been playing for awhile. Learn about chord theory. Play backup to tunes you know using the chord progression as a road map.
  • Add complexity. Learn about chord inversions, 7 chords,  interesting rhythms. Remind yourself of the big picture. Try more ideas in meaningful tune settings. 
  • Keep at it. One day, you, too, will be fluent in Charlie Brown teacher talk!
PS .... Do you have a better name for the Right Hand root arpeggio pattern?... the one I call "backwards checkmark"? I'd love to hear what it is! Comment below ...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Without music life would be a mistake." ~ Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche

Sunday, January 13, 2013

We'll never look at "Whiskey Before Breakfast" the same again!

What an awesome group ... two hours were just not enough!

Bob, Sue, Phill, Ellen, Diane, Wendy, Rob, Carmin, Viola

Friday, January 11, 2013

CTO ... Need help figuring out how to play back-up?

There’s nothing magic about playing back-up. It must be practiced! Jam sessions have a spontaneous feel, but you can be sure that those who appear to be playing with abandon have spent plenty of time honing their chops. If there’s a session tune you love, work out a back-up plan so you’re ready to spring into action!

The thrill of knowing a tune that’s being played in a group setting can quickly turn to boredom after you’ve played it through the umpteenth time.  What to do?
    • Know the tune
    • Know the chord progression
    • Know how to play chord patterns
    • Know the rhythm of different types of tunes
    • Work out your ideas and practice them
    • Have fun!
Check This Out ... Don't know where to start? Need some guidance? I'm teaching a two-hour workshop for advanced beginners this Sunday afternoon, 2 - 4pm in Cary. We'll be playing chord and scale patterns in a variety of rhythms to develop back-up ideas for a couple of familiar tunes. Come play with us!

Sue Wilson, teaching at the monthly HD Slow Jam
January 13, 2:00 - 4:00pm
Topic: Playing Back-up, Level of Play: Advanced Beginners
Registration fee:  $25
Community of Christ Church, 912 W Chatham St, Cary
For information or to register for the workshop contact Viola 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How much practice? Just Do It!

I'm going to let someone else do the writing today. This essay was written by Randy Marchany, originally posted to the hammered dulcimer listserv on 2/15/2008, reprinted on Randy's blog on 8/14/2011, and used here by permission. It was a response to the question, "How much should one practice?"

Randy Marchany's self-described interests are cyber-security, music, and volleyball. I'm not sure in which order he would prioritize the three! He's a great teacher, a fabulous musician, and an awesome entertainer. You may find him at dulcimer gatherings as part of the dynamic dulcimer teaching duo, "Randy & Wes" (Chappell).  They, in turn, are both part of the award winning quartet "No Strings Attached". See links at the end of this post. And now, without further ado ...

Just do it!
Can't tell you how many times we've seen our students hover over the correct note to hit but they can't bring themselves to hit it. We whisper in their ear "just hit it" and magically it happens.

For those book learners, there is a great book called "This is Your Brain on Music" by D.J. Levitin. There's a great section that deals with talent and being a virtuoso. The author claims that research studies show it's 10,000 hours of practice makes a virtuoso and not talent. Studies maintain that 10K hours of practice are required to become a 'world class expert in anything'. 10K hours of practice is the equivalent of 3 hours/day of practice for at least 10 years. After playing with a bunch of yang-qin players, I'm convinced this is true.

One cohort of HD player/festival instructors (Ken, Linda, Rick, Karen, Nick, Dan, Russell, Dana, John, myself, Wes, etc.) is at a certain skill level simply because of the number of years we've played the HD. The more senior cohort of Sam, Malcolm, Walt, Paul simply have more hours than we do. The younger player/instructors like the Tinas, Brenda, Sam, and others are at another "practice" level. In other words, the 3 cohorts I mentioned (and there are a ton more) are at different spots in the 10K practice cycle.

I personally believe that PRACTICE gives you the skill set you need to be creative. TALENT is how you put everything together. The less you have to think about HOW to do something, the more you can think about WHAT to do. Bottom line is that to become a better player, you must practice.

The amount of practice depends on what else is going on in your life and your motivation to become a better player. Play to enjoy the music, practice appropriately. Play to become a performer, practice accordingly. Play to match the international players, start now because 10 years is a long time!  ~ Randy Marchany

Friday, January 4, 2013

CTO ... Finale NotePad, Your FREE introduction to musical notation software

Many of my students are beginning to apply their own ideas to tune arrangements. Yippee! That means I'm doing my job! But once a person starts having ideas, the challenge becomes how to remember those ideas. There are several approaches. Pick one that works best for you!

  • Record yourself using one of many available recording devices.
  • Develop a personal type of short-hand to describe ideas in a way that jogs your memory.  Keep a notebook of ideas, or write the notes directly onto printed music sheets from which you've learned the basic tune.
  • Write out your musical ideas by hand using blank music staff paper.
  • Write out your ideas using computer software designed especially for notating music, i.e. word-processing for music.
Of course, there are many products out there. Research them for yourself. Personally, I got started many years ago with the free Finale NotePad. While the free version does have its limitations, I have to say it has served me well. I can't imagine teaching without it! Recently, I upgraded to Finale PrintMusic. It has way more bells and whistles, and allows me more control in formatting the page.

I've always printed out copies of sheet music as needed, but more and more I'm finding the need to make files available to my students through email and the web. This year I'll be encouraging my students to download the free version of NotePad so I can easily share my sheet music files via the internet. And BONUS ... with an electronic file, not only can you read the music, but NotePad will play the music back to you with high-quality sound.

Check This Out ... Download Finale NotePad today. It's your FREE introduction to musical notation software. Discover how easy it is to put your musical ideas into print, to hear your ideas played back, and to share written music with your friends ... and with your teacher!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Playing More Music ... High on Your New Year's Resolution List?

Happy New Year!

Friends and family have returned home. I've just put the last of the egg nog into a bundt cake batter. Today's the first workday of the year for many. And while the Christmas tree still looks good in the corner over there - I may hold out for the entire 12 days of Christmas this year - holiday festivities are behind us, punctuated by the grand celebration of the arrival of the new year. It's time to assess where we are in life and move forward with intention!

Are you thinking about taking your hammered dulcimer skills up a notch? Maybe you need a little boost in the right direction? A few lessons can really give you a jump-start, increasing your understanding of what is needed to master the instrument and providing good motivation to keep at it.

There are several good instructional opportunities coming up in the not-too-distant future.
  • Dulcimer Winter Weekend, January 3-6, Lake Junaluska (this coming weekend!)
  • Chords and Back Up, for advancing beginners, Yours Truly, January 13, Cary
  • Tunes from the Time of the Underground Railroad, Marya Katz, January 21, Winston-Salem
Click on the "Schedule of Events" tab at the top of the page for more info about these events and more. Make plans to attend workshops in 2013. Learn new stuff while having fun with old and new friends.

If private lessons are on your list of things to do in the new year, come and see me in Pittsboro. Lessons begin again next week. Your time slot is waiting! Details at

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Monday's Muse

"And now let us welcome the New Year ... full of things that have never been."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke