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!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday's Muse

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. "Because I think I'm making progress," he replied.

Friday, September 13, 2013

CTO ... The Self-Correcting Universe

For all you math and physics geeks .... as my husband says, "Life is physics."

Check This Out ... Watch 32 discordant metronomes achieve synchrony in a matter of minutes. I guess this is why we use digital metronomes!

mesmerizing metronomes

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

SmartPhones in the Concert Hall

Here's an interesting article written for the Huffington Post by James Ehnes ... on bootlegging and the modern-day behavior of documenting and sharing every life experience. Maybe it's time we put our cameras away and simply enjoy being in the moment. At the very least, think before recording and posting that live musical performance.

"At a recent concert where I played the Brahms concerto, a young man in the second row filmed my entire performance on his smartphone. When I first noticed him, my reaction was one of surprise and mild annoyance. This sort of thing is prohibited, as a rule, in most if not all traditional concert halls. I stared at him with my best, "seriously?" look, but he didn't seem fazed by that at all. So I just tried to ignore it as best I could. I'm guessing he had no idea that I might find his filming objectionable. He applauded enthusiastically and smiled at me at the end.

This got me thinking about the pros and cons of recording a performance in this way, both for the musician and for the potential audience for such a recording. I admit to feeling a bit conflicted about the issue ..."
James Ehnes is the Violin Soloist and Artistic Director for the Seattle Chamber Music Society. Read his entire Blog post here:
Familiar scene? Photo by Josué Gogesome rights reserved

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday's Muse

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ~ Alan Watts

Friday, September 6, 2013

CTO ... Road Trippin'

No mid-week post this week. I've been driving cross country with son, Noah. Destination: Boulder, CO. Don't worry, I'll be back in the music room before you know it. In the meantime, enjoy the trip vicariously. And if you get the chance, do it yourself!

Check This Out ... Selected photos from the Piedmont of NC to the Foothills of the Rockies. You better believe, this is one big country!
Heading west on I-40, NC, Blue Ridge Mountains
St. Louis, MO - Gateway to the West
Blackwater, MO - a town that time forgot.
3 miles off I-70. We needed a break!
Kansas City, MO
Kansas, the Sunflower State
Hay cutting season in the Heartland.
Kansas was not as flat and boring as I expected.

Eastern Colorado - Now that is some flat and dry country!

Between Denver and Boulder ...
This is where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains.
We made it!
Out of the car and heading up a trail overlooking Boulder.

Monday, September 2, 2013