Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday's Muse

"In the very moment you want to give up, give it all you got! You're on the brink of your breakthrough." ~ Aisha Martin

Friday, April 26, 2013

CTO ... Tune List from April 5 - 7 Jam Sessions

15 trapezoids gathered for all or part of the weekend of April 5-7 on top of a mountain near Roaring Gap, NC, for Martha's Dulcimer Day on the Mountain. We worked hard all day that Saturday, practicing chord patterns and rhythms to back up common fiddle tunes. We entertained the neighbors Saturday night. We ate and laughed, shared ideas and played tunes.

Check This Out ... Viola kept notes! Here's a list of tunes in the order they were played during the jam sessions. While some of the "favorites" might have been played several times during the weekend, they are listed here only once. It's a pretty good list ... but there are plenty of great tunes missing! What would YOU have called for next?

Whiskey Before breakfast
Lady of the Lake (Can you play the bass line back up?)
Nail that Catfish to the Tree
Frosty Morning (NOT Cold Frosty Morning)
Midnight on the Water
Ash Grove
Ruth sang The Rooster Song
and Seven Nights Drunk
Little Red Wing
Rights of Man
Black Nag
South Wind
Oklahoma Rooster
John Ryan's Polka
Soldier's Joy
Shepherd's Wife's Waltz
Hangman's Reel
Spotted Pony
NC Breakdown
Smash the Windows
Planxty Fanny Poer
Blackberry Blossom
Ashokan Farewell
Lovers' Waltz

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Warning: Serious Practice in Progress

My intention has always been to say, "Yes!" if at all possible to opportunities to perform. Scheduling gigs has provided meaning to my practice, has pushed me to grow, and has helped me learn to manage stage fright.

This winter / spring, I've taken on a big project ... Malcolm Dalglish's "Hymnody of Earth."  It is a collection of songs composed and arranged for hammered dulcimer, choir, and percussion, featuring the poetry of Wendell Berry. I've taken on the responsibility of playing six selected songs from the complete work. That would be six complex pieces to work out, learn, memorize, eventually to coordinate with the choral director, choir, and percussionist. Sometimes I wonder, "What was I thinking?"

But I got smart. I arranged a tutoring session with my friend, Marya Katz, who performed some of the pieces last fall. That was a big help! She provided not only specific tips and suggestions for playing a couple of the pieces, but also the special encouragement and support that a good friend can provide.

Events have been put into motion. Practice is underway. I feel alternately capable and overwhelmed, sometimes both in the same practice session! No matter what, of this project I am certain:

  • It will require structured and focused practice.
  • It will sometimes take more time than I have to give.
  • It will bring on fear and trembling.
  • It will get me out of the "minimal practice" rut.
  • It will improve my overall playing.
  • It will be fun to be a "part" of the "whole".
  • It will be over on June 9.

I've been "tweeting" my progress. You can follow me if you like @hammerdulcimer

Have you taken on something big? Is it worth biting off "more than you can chew?" How will you know, if you don't try?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

CTO ... I just took my dulcimers to the basement.

Tornado warning for Chatham County. Pittsboro's in the path. I'm not taking a chance! The instruments go to the basement. Granddog's at my feet. Kittycat's on my lap. Hubby is standing by. We're ready to take cover.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"It's my job to make your brain hurt."

I actually did say this to one of my students the other day, and it got such a great response (a good laugh) I've repeated it throughout the week. Believe me, there has been reason to repeat it. I have witnessed serious looks of concentration on the faces of my students. You see, I've been pushing the chord thing and I'm sure many of my students will be convinced that these words were meant especially for them.

But I am convinced that understanding a little chord theory and recognizing chord patterns (root position and inversions) on the instrument is essential to mastery of the instrument. Everything from learning and memorizing a basic tune, to filling out and arranging said tune, to playing effective backup benefits - nay, depends on this knowledge.

So go ahead, stretch your brain ... even when it hurts!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday's Muse #2 - In light of today's Boston Marathon bombings ...

"This will be our reply to violence: To make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."  ~ Leonard Bernstein

Monday's Muse

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."  ~ Berthold Auerbach

Friday, April 12, 2013

CTO ... Dulcimer Day on the Mountain 2013

What a hard-working group! Chord patterns - inside, outside, upside down. I think that's how it felt at times. But here we are in the middle of the afternoon with smiles on our faces.
Check This Out ... Last Saturday, 14 experienced hammered dulcimer players came together to spend the day practicing back-up strategies. We were stuck in 'reel' time all day, but nobody seemed to mind. Bass lines, various rhythmic patterns, chord inversions, snippets of harmony ... I just kept bringing it on and they soaked it up!

At one point, we had fun backing up Cindy Ribet's band using her recording, The Slow Zone, which includes 8 fiddle tunes played at a slower than usual tempo for practicing lead or backup. Check out her web site, or see her in person next month at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival May 3 - 4. She'll be teaching a couple of repertoire classes ... "Old Time Tunes" and the popular Christmas tune, Sleigh Ride. Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival - Registration Time!

The 19th annual Winston-Salem Dulcimer Festival is scheduled for May 3 - 4, 2013 ... less than one month away! Click here to read all about it. Registration is currently underway. Make plans to attend now!

I've been making my plans. I'll be teaching several classes for various skill levels:

Understanding Modes (Advanced)
Who cares about modes? Why do hammered dulcimer players need to know about modes? Knowing the mode of a tune helps you determine WHERE the tune will be played on the instrument and WHAT CHORDS will likely be used. Learn to recognize common modes. Practice by looking at real tunes.

Two-Chord Tunes (Intermed)
Lots of tunes are made up of only 2 chords. Learn how to create ascending and descending bass lines using chord inversions to fit these 2-chord progressions. Use these ideas in arranging or playing backup.

Playing Syncopated Rhythms (Novice)
What is syncopation? How do you play it? Practice musical rhythms that shift the accent from what is expected to be the “strong” beat to what would normally be considered the “weak” beat.

Playing for Homebound / Hospice (All)
Many of us feel the need to share our music. Playing for those who are homebound or living in assisted-living / nursing-care facilities can be a rewarding way to do this. Come with questions and stories as we discuss what is expected of the musician in such a situation. Learn how to: Find your audience ~ Behave at bedside ~ Include family and other care givers ~ Develop a playlist.

As usual, the festival organizers have assembled quite a good line-up of teachers. Here's your chance to get a variety of perspectives and styles. Check the website under "Class Descriptions" to see the full menu. There's something for everyone!

Be sure to stay around for the Saturday evening concert. The headliners are fabulous entertainers ... not to be missed!

This festival is held every year on the first full weekend of May. It's a great place to meet up with old and new dulcimer buddies. Expect top-notch instruction, inspiring and entertaining concerts, jam sessions, dulcimer related cd's, books, accessories for sale, and a whole lot of fun ... right here in central NC.

Make it a tradition!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Friday, April 5, 2013

CTO ... New Use for Space Balls

What? Space Balls? What are Space Balls?

Space Balls  are used by cabinet makers to "float"raised panels in cabinet doors. Guess what? They work great to inhibit undesirable vibrations from the strings on the right side of the hammered dulcimer's bass bridge. I heard it from Ruth Smith. She heard it from Chris Foss of Songbird Dulcimers. I put it to use this weekend. It works!

Check This Out ... Little rubber balls. Cut a shallow slit on opposite sides of the ball. Insert between the strings on problematic courses. The string will pop into the slit. Slide from side to side until desired effect is achieved.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is is OK if the notes in the bass line don't match the chord progression?

This Saturday I'll be leading a group of experienced players in an all-day structured jam session. The goal is not to learn a bunch of new tunes. The goal is to practice a bunch of cool back up ideas.

We'll be focusing on chord progressions and experimenting with different rhythms.  Single notes, root arpeggios, open chords, compact patterns, drones, boom-chucks, down beats, off beats, snippets of harmony ... we intend to try it all! But right now I've got bass lines on my mind.

There are four basic ways for a bass line and a melody line to interrelate:
  • contrary motion - movement in opposite directions
  • parallel motion - movement in same direction and at same interval, e.g. parallel thirds or sixths
  • similar motion - movement in same direction but at different intervals
  • oblique motion - one line (usually the bass) sits on the same note while the other (the melody) moves up or down. Think 'drone'.
Bass lines are fun to play and add pizazz to a piece of music. They suggest movement, giving direction to a tune. There are a variety of ways to go about establishing a bass line, but the idea often intimidates players who are new to arranging and playing backup. Here's an easy way to get started:

  • Know the key of the tune
  • Play a descending scale that starts and ends on the root of the key.
  • Believe it ... this works in a lot of tunes!

For example, consider the standard fiddle tune, "Whiskey Before Breakfast". It's typically played in the key of D. Try this in the last four measures of the B part. Go to the lowest D scale on your instrument. While someone else is playing the melody line, you play the D scale backwards ... | D - C# - | B - A - | G - F# | E - D - | ...single notes on beats 1 and 3Notice the notes of the bass line are exactly the same as the notes of the melody line on beats 1 and 3. (You should be playing the bass line an octave below the melody.) This is a type of parallel motion. Two lines moving together on a unison note creates a powerful sound ... most effective in small doses.

This idea often works throughout an entire A or B part of a fiddle tune. In fact, it will work throughout the entire B part of Whiskey Before Breakfast. Go ahead. Give it a try! (Hint: You'll be playing that backwards D scale twice.)

Now, I know somebody out there will be paying attention and will notice that when you apply this idea to a larger portion of a tune the notes in the bassline do not always jibe with the notes suggested by the chord progression. Yes, it's true. Sometimes a bass line will contain notes that don’t actually belong in the chord progression. It's an accepted exception. The bass line takes precedence. Those odd notes will have some relation to the chords!

So, the answer to the question is 'yes' ... it's ok if the bass line doesn't exactly 'fit' the chord progression. Go ahead ... experiment. Know the key. Start somewhere and MOVE, even for a few notes. Trust your ear. Have fun!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday's Muse

"Got time to breathe, got time for music." ~ Briscoe Darling