Monday, December 29, 2014

Monday's Muse

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.  ~ Neil Gaiman

Friday, December 26, 2014

CTO … Just for fun!

If you're on FaceBook you might have seen this, but still …

Check This Out … a little holiday reindeer humor.

Rudolph Puzzler

Got it?

Hint: Sing the song in your head until you get to a line that makes it all make sense.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday's Muse

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  ~ Charles Dickens

Friday, December 19, 2014

CTO … Watch this!

Dan Landrum, editor of Dulcimer Players News, has put together a 10-minute video that peaks inside the current issue of DPN. Get a load of those meaty topics! And sample the tasty tunes featured on the CD!

Check This Out … Dulcimer Players News is a delectable publication dedicated to players and fans of hammered and mountain dulcimers. Every issue is chock-full of inspiration, music, connections to the traditional past and information about current goings-on in the dulcimer world. It's a fun and instructional resource.

Not a subscriber yet to this awesome quarterly magazine? Sign up today, or consider a gift subscription for a dulcimer loving friend. Subscribe at the website or call (423) 886-3966.

Watch the video preview on the DPN website

Like and follow on the DPN FaceBook Page

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday's Muse

I love singing Christmas carols. I know every harmony to every music-hall Christmas song. ~ Zooey Deschanel

Friday, December 12, 2014

CTO … Dan Landrum Suggests Making the Most of Tuning Time

Tuning is a necessary evil. Most hammered dulcimer players I know don't like to do it, but we know we must!

Between my students' lessons, my own practice sessions with music buddies, and the occasional gig … I have to tune a lot. Usually, I just want to get it done. If the instrument is not terribly out of tune I'll zip straight up and down the bridges. This is probably OK for the quickie job I'm doing, but it doesn't necessarily result in the most accurate tuning across the board.

What if we structured our tuning efforts in such a way that we could actually learn something while getting the instrument in its best tune?

Check This Out … Dan Landrum has posted a video in which he discusses this very thing … ways to make the most of tuning time. Advantages to these tuning strategies is:
  • opportunity to learn the names of notes
  • chance to become more familiar with your instrument
  • more movement while tuning is friendlier to your body
  • better equalization of tension across the instrument compared to tuning up and down the bridge
The two methods:
  1. Tune all notes of particular name … all the A's, all the B's, all the C's (including chromatics, such as Bb and C#) This forces you to go all over your instrument
  2. Tune by fifths, around the Circle of 5ths. All the G's, all the D's, all the E's etc. You'll get to know where all the notes are and possibly begin to understand some things musically. Don't know what the Circle of Fifths is? Google it … or follow this link to read about it: Circle of Fifths
Follow this link to watch Dan's video yourself:  Mindful Tuning 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Simplest Way Ever to Vary your Arrangements

It does seem to be a simple thing …

… but have you moved that new tune into a different octave? If not, why not?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday's Muse

Music is my thing. It's my thing; it's what I love. It's what I do. It's football to me; it's Christmas to me; religion to me; poetry to me.  ~ Ryan Adams

Friday, December 5, 2014

CTO … Marya Katz to offer Workshop in January

Check This Out …  Marya Katz will continue her traditional offering of a day-long hammerdulcimer workshop in Winston Salem on Martin Luther King day. This year's topic will be "A Toast to the Table" (or "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry") - presenting a collection of duets for hammer dulcimer friends to play together. Sounds like a fun way to spend a Monday. I hope you'll join me there! Here's the scoop:

MLK Monday, January 19, 2015
9:00am - 3:30pm
College Park Baptist Church
Winston-Salem, NC

Fee: $50 pre-registration, $60 at the door
Includes lunch

Marya will send lead sheets out in January to all who have pre-registered.

To register, email Terry Lefler or Marya Katz.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A snapshot into my practice life ...

I said I would share how my newly structured practice is going. Here are some facts ... 

In one week's time I've spent 22 hours at the dulcimer in intentional practice.

I have focused on:

  • arranging(for myself & students) - notation is separate time.
  • backup (for 11 of the tunes listed below)
  • ear training (slow jams are good for that)
  • extended arpeggios and scale runs (exercises built out of actual tunes)
  • tremolos and triplets (within the context of tunes)
  • improved swing
  • increased tempo

In these tunes:

  • Albert Montmarquette's
  • Bach's Bourrée in Em
  • Beggar's Belief
  • Come Before Winter
  • Crested Hens
  • Done Gone
  • Falls of Richmond
  • Frenchie's
  • The Gale
  • Holme's Lane
  • La Valse Pour les Petites Jeunes Filles
  • Leather Britches
  • McDonald's
  • Reel de Montreal
  • Saudade de Uberaba
  • Shenandoah Falls
  • Turkey in the Straw
  • Valse Nadine
  • We Three Kings
Whew! Enough of this. I've got work - and play - to do!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday's Muse

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Friday, November 28, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Applied Theology of the Hammer Dulcimer by Fr. Michael Shields

How fortunate I am to be a part of the trapezoid world! The hammer dulcimer has put me in relationship with many fine people, for which I am truly thankful. One of my favorite fellow hammer dulcimists is Fr. Michael Shields of Siberia … that's right, THE Siberia.

I first met "Fr. Mike" in 2009 at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival. He was enjoying a visit to the US and had begun studying the instrument with Ken Kolodner who happened to be teaching at W-S that year. In the summer of 2011 Fr. Mike and I had classes together at the Swannanoa Gathering and then at the Sandbridge Dulcimer Retreat later that fall.

We both attended the most recent Sandbridge event this past October. Afterwards, he sent out these words of wisdom to fellow participants and gave me permission to share them here with you.

Thank you, Fr. Mike for helping us recognize the symbology of our musical endeavors. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Applied Theology of the Hammer Dulcimer
or Resolutions and Learnings for Life from the Hammer Dulcimer
by Fr. Mike
  • You can with great patience actually tune to the beautiful green light. The temptation is to settle too easy for the slide to the right of left into the red. The idea of living with less compromises and seeking the center where it all vibrates so beautifully can be a real goal. Not perfection just less compromises.
  • In practicing it is not important how many times you repeat as much as how many times you repeat it correctly. It is not how many mistakes you make but the willingness to correct them that is important. Not perfection just a willingness to change.
  • Each note is there for a reason. Alone they might at times seem dissonant or unnecessary but placed in the whole movement of the song and played together they are necessary. The willingness to find meaning in the dissonant times and see them played out in the whole of life patterns softens them and gives them meaning.
  • Look for patterns. Life has a way of repeating itself in surprising ways. It may look to you upside down but it is the same notes just played differently.
  • Look for the chords. If you can see the chords you will be more confident in your hammering. The key is why that note is found in the patterns of chords. Confidence in making good choices is found in following good patterns.
  • Play the basic song first in a simple pattern and know that pattern. Often we make things so complicated that we forget how beautiful one well played note is following another. Enjoy the simplicity of a tune and of life.
  • Play with expression which means the space between the notes actually is the music. Let silence and pauses enrich the song and your life.
  • See the pattern in the music. There are questions and there are answers. Let the questions come and seek the answers that follow. Much of life is a question being answered over time.
  • The hammer dulcimer is in itself a large, cumbersome, and difficult to keep in tune instrument. Those who play know the trouble it brings from carrying to setting up to tuning and tuning again and again. The struggle is worth the sweet sound. Sacrifice and struggle - at the time difficult - makes for deeper faith, more humility, great patience and a greater compassion for others who struggle. So it is with all hammer dulcimer players.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday's Muse

There is no technique, there is just the way to do it. Now, are we going to measure or are we going to cook?  ~ Frances Mayes

Friday, November 21, 2014

CTO … Order Your Sunrise Dulcimer Posters and Notecards Today!

Check This Out … Artist Geek, a.k.a. Laurie McCarriar has created posters and notecards using a photo of her "favorite beach sunrise ever" - an ethereal image of a hammered dulcimer, upside down in the sky over the Atlantic.

Laurie took the picture during Ken Kolodner's Sandbridge Dulcimer Retreat last October. She added a line of poetry written by Triangle Trapezoid player, Rosemary Hornak. Need a little inspirational wall art or the perfect gift for your favorite trapezoid player? Check it out!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Setting up an Intentional Practice

In an effort to maintain a more deliberate and intentional practice I have adopted a new system for monitoring my progress. Using Google sheets, I’ve set up a spreadsheet that allows me to:
  • record time spent at the instrument
  • maintain a complete tune list at my fingertips  color coded, mind you ... red for a brand new tune, orange for a tune in process, green for a tune that has been mastered.
  • keep notes specific to each tune, i.e. accomplishments, goals, trouble spots, solutions to problems, current tempo, etc.

Only a week into it, the system seems to be working.  I had been feeling somewhat adrift in my practice, but this system keeps me on task and moving forward. I’ll keep you posted!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday's Muse

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."
 ~ Scott Adams

Friday, November 14, 2014

CTO … I said, "No."

But apparently that wasn't the right answer!

What was the question? See yesterday's post. Then … Check This Out … All relaxed, enjoying the concert, and Ken calls Bart up to play guitar. I'm thinking, "Good for Bart." Then Ken looks and me and says, "Sue, get up here and play my dulcimer!" Me??

It's true that a well ingrained jam session tune would be just the thing. I can play Hangman's Reel in my sleep, right? The tricky part … playing it on Ken's instrument. Pitiful excuse, I know. Took a round to find my place, then it was all fun. Thanks, Ken, for believing in me!

Here's the link: Hangman's Reel, at the Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, SC
Ken & Brad Kolodner (twin fiddles), Bart Saylor (guitar), Sue Wilson (hammered dulcimer)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stay in Ready Position

Gosh, I must be getting old! Or maybe I'm just getting lazy. My personal policy has always been to say 'yes' to musical opportunities. If the challenge appears too great, too scary, too whatever … I say 'yes' then figure out a way to survive.

Last weekend I was in Charleston with my long-time friend, Bart Saylor, and my long-time teacher/mentor, Ken Kolodner. Ken invited me to play a tune with him and his son, Brad, during their concert on Saturday night. I really wanted to do it, but I'm a bit rusty in the performance mode. Not quite up to speed, the brain pathways are not as efficiently connected as they could be if I had been practicing recently with performance in mind.

Instead, the work I've done recently has been more cerebral. Meeting the needs of my students … arranging tunes, planning lessons, perfecting my teaching schtick … has taken up a large portion of the "music" time in my life. Make no mistake, I've learned a LOT. Teaching others will certainly increase a person's understanding of any topic. But, I'm not "performance ready" and I don't like that!

So, it got me thinking. How does one stay "performance ready"?

Real on-stage confidence comes from:
  1. being able to nail a tune consistently
  2. knowing that nailing it isn't a coincidence because … 
  3. you have identified what is required to play a tune perfectly every time
How do you get there? It's all about how you structure your practice.

Keep up the repertoire
Remember the old Girl Scout song? Sing along, now … Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. Of course we all want to continue to learn new stuff, but we must constantly revisit the "keepers" that are on our list. They do fade away without attention.

Establish a deliberate, intentional practice.
Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity. "Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process by which we relentlessly seek solutions to clearly defined problems." It's slow. It's repetitive. It requires monitoring. Here's a good article about this kind of practice:

What happened at the concert Saturday night? Come back Friday for the rest of the story.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday's Muse

You can't be that kid standing at the top of the waterside over thinking it. You have to go down the chute.  ~ Tina Fey

Friday, November 7, 2014

CTO … Have you considered the ergonomics?

Suffering aches and pains? Be more conscious of how you live in your computer work space. This simple video shows what's important:

But, hey ... Check This Out … Some of these tips apply to playing the hammered dulcimer! It's important to pay attention to posture, position of the body and arms relative to the instrument, hammering habits, etc. Lucille Reilly has written about Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and the hammered dulcimer. Read all about it here:

What changes will you make in your dulcimer set-up? or maybe you have a true story about how making changes changed your life for the better? Let us know what's working for you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Practice Creativity

I'm always on the lookout for inspiration, a new idea, a trick that makes it easier to accomplish my goals. No matter the passion of the moment … gardening, cooking, quilting, childrearing, playing the dulcimer … I assume every person I meet has something to teach me about how to do something better.

Of course, many of these tidbits are specific to one area of interest. But when it comes to creativity, the nice surprise is that some bits of wisdom may be applied across the board to all sorts of endeavors.

Years ago, when our creative young daughter wanted to learn to paint I signed her up for lessons with a local artist. I still remember her tips for success:

  • Paint every day.
  • Paint a lot.
  • Don't throw anything away because you might be able to turn it into something else later.

A friend recently shared advice she'd learned from a professional fabric artist:

  • Set aside some time every day to simply play at the sewing machine.
  • No expectations. No judgement. Just sew.
  • Choose a favorite piece of work and change it just a little. Then change it again.

Can you imagine applying these principles to your music practice?
Grow and stay fresh in your practice, no matter what that practice is.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Monday's Muse

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself. ~ Virginia Woolf

Friday, October 31, 2014

CTO … Ken & Brad Kolodner in NC Next Weekend!

You may have heard that Ken & Brad Kolodner will be performing a house concert here in central NC on November 9. Perhaps you relegated that bit of information to the back of your mind thinking that November is in the future. Well, my friend, November is here and there's no more time to procrastinate. There are still a few seats available. Reserve your spot today! Don't miss this opportunity to enjoy some fine toe-tappin' music!

Check This Out 

Sun, Nov 9, 2014: Hillsborough, NC
Ken and Brad in a house concert at ThreeSpokes, the home of Doug Joyce and Colleen Zinn. Suggested donation of $20. Show starts at 3:00 p.m. Jam to follow!! Finger foods and iced tea will be provided. Bring your beverage of choice if you would like. Please get your reservations early as seating is limited to 50. For reservations or more information, contact Colleen at or call 919-732-7570 

In the mood for a little road trip and want to make it a weekend?
Here's the rest of the story:

Fri, Nov 7, 2014: Charleston, SC
Ken and Brad join Bart Saylor to play for the Charleston Contra Dance at 8:00 p.m.  Felix Davis Community Center, 4800 Park Place East, North Charleston, SC 29405

Sat, Nov 8, 2014: Charleston, SC
Old-time banjo workshops with Brad Kolodner
Old-time fiddle workshops with Ken Kolodner
Fiddle and banjo workshops will run at the same time
10:00-12:00 - Cost: $35
Location: Hungry Monk Music, 1948 Belgrade Ave., Charleston, SC
To register & learn more, contact Bart Saylor at & 843-270-6234

Sat, Nov 8, 2014: Charleston, SC
Ken and Brad in concert at The Circular Congregational Church, at 150 Meeting St. Charleston, SC. Tickets at $20.00. 7pm-9pmMore info: Bart Saylor at and 843-270-6234

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday's Muse

I love music. For me, music is like morning coffee. It's mood medicine. It's pure magic. A good song is like a good meal - I just want to inhale it and then share a bite with someone else.  ~ Hoda Kotbe

Friday, October 24, 2014

CTO … Chatham J.A.M. offering their next series of classes in Pittsboro

JAM stands for Junior Appalachian Musicians. This posting is not specific to hammered dulcimers, but it IS relevant to the continuation of traditional music into the next generation!

Do you know a budding musician who would enjoy learning to play acoustic instruments that are common to the Appalachian and Piedmont regions of NC? Here's a great opportunity for getting them started out right!

On Thursday, October 30 the Chatham County JAM will be starting a new 6 week session. We are happy to announce that Pittsboro Presbyterian Church will be hosting our new session. Registration and warm up will start at 6:30 with classes starting at 6:45. We offer Fiddle, Banjo, Mandolin, Dulcimer and Guitar lessons – beginner through advanced. Our second hour offers, String Band, Singing, and Dance lessons. Lessons are $5.00 each. For more information visit us at or call Denise at 919-548-3458.

Fall 2014 Schedule in a nutshell
Thursdays, October 30 - December 11, 6:30pm
Pittsboro Presbyterian Church, Pittsboro, NC
$5 per lesson
Register today!

Please do pass this info on to anyone who might be interested.

Here's Chatham JAM's mission (from their website):
Chatham County JAM education program introduces children (from 3rd to 8th grade) to the music of their heritage through small group instruction in instruments common to the Appalachian and Piedmont regions of North Carolina.  Instrument, dance and vocal instruction are augmented by stringband classes providing children opportunities to play and perform in small and large groups. Chatham County JAM strives to make the program accessible to all students by providing free or low cost instrument loans and free or highly subsidized tuition.  Field trips, visiting artists and an introduction to the rich history of music unique to local communities help complete our program offerings.

Follow these links to learn more:
Chatham County JAM Education Program
Chatham J.A.M. Website

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Decorate! Ideas for Every Tune in Your Repertoire

In the past couple of weeks I've been practicing bounced triplets and 5-note tremolos. It's made me think about the many embellishments that are available to hammered dulcimer players. As you might expect, these ornamentations require practice to master. They do feel awkward and difficult at first but it does get better! Because they're challenging, these ideas often get left out of the mix of arrangement possibilities.

I have to admit that my practice goes in fits and starts when it comes to practicing hammer strokes and applying them to interesting techniques in my arrangements. I am currently in a "do it" mode and it's making a difference! I encourage everyone to incorporate … at your particular level … single strokes, double strokes, and combinations of the two ... into your regular practice. Hammer control is important to mastery of the instrument - duh! There's an amazing amount of variety that can be accomplished with two hammers.

What are all those bouncy things hammered dulcimer players play? Different names, different techniques. Here's a primer:

  • Tremolo - a rapid repetition of a single note, alternating hammers, done to sustain a note for a prolonged period of time. It may be executed using two notes (any interval, but usually not a 2nd - see "trill"). A tremolo may also be produced by using one hammer (a strike plus bounces). 
  • Trill - a rapid alternation of two tones a tone apart. A trill is executed like a tremolo. Played for the full time value of the note being trilled, ending on the melody note.
  • Turn - a rapid four-note passage in which the 2nd and 4th notes are the embellished (melody) note, the 1st and 3rd notes are the scale tones immediately above and below (or vice versa, below and above) the melody note. It can be used as a quick twist for ornamentation or to link one note to the next melody note.
  • Mordent - similar to a turn, a rapid 3-note passage which includes the melody note, the note above (or below) and back to the melody note.
  • Triplet - three notes that fit into the time value expected to be taken up by two of the notes. In written music the notes are grouped by a tie line that's marked with the number 3.
  • Grace note - This embellishment has no time value. In written music, it's a tiny note linked to the melody note. It's played quickly, right before the melody note. The melody note then gets its full time value.
  • Roll - In written music a roll is indicated by a slash or two or more through the stem of the note that is to be rolled. The value of the note is cut in half for each slash that is present. Single strokes or bounces may be used.

I don't know about you, but I feel better now, having figured out the difference between all these techniques! Did I get it right? Did I miss anything?

Remember, these are ornaments, not the focus of the tune. Learn the basic melody before embellishing. And here are a few more things to keep in mind:

Rhythm is all important. Be sure to give embellishments the proper amount of time, with appropriate accents. Start slowly. Use a metronome, gradually increasing the speed. Focus on technique first. Be assured that the speed will come.

Use a light touch. There should be no forearm motion and limited movement in the wrist. Aim for control in the fingertips. Listen for a crisp attack with clear separation between the tones. Watch for tension moving up the arms and into the shoulders. Think "burst". Remember to practice from both hands, starting with the left hand AND starting with the right hand.

It's never too early to think about dynamics! Think about phrasing. What shape does each embellishment take? Where do the accents fall? Include this in your practice from the beginning.

Bounced vs Hammered embellishments? Practice both, but keep in mind that bouncing must be under control at all times.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday's Muse

Music to me is like breathing ... I don't get tired of breathing, I don't get tired of music.
~ Ray Charles

Friday, October 17, 2014

CTO … Organizing Sheets of Music

I get this question quite frequently … How do you keep all your music organized?

Ask ten musicians and you'll get ten different answers on this one, but here's a modern way to approach the problem of sheet of music spilling out all over the place. Load it onto your favorite device. You'll have music at your fingertips, organized alphabetically, by set list, by rehearsal list, by any name you want to call it. Searchable. Transposable. The ability to add notes and highlights. More features than you might need.

Check This Out … Look for apps designed for your device. I'm currently trying iGigBook. The iPad is certainly a lot less bulky than a huge 3-ring binder and fits on a music stand!

Let us know what is working for you.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

After the Bliss, the Laundry

Wow, it's been a busy week! It's true … there's no place like home. Returning after a week away at the Sandbridge Dulcimer Retreat is always a sweet thing, but accompanied by definite symptoms of withdrawal. Bonding with 18 other people over a shared interest in a supportive environment ... at the beach, with plenty of good food to eat, and limited responsibilities ... is a pretty awesome experience! Real life is full of laundry, bills, cooking, cleaning. And, of course, I must hold the grand baby :-)

Two full days of teaching, though, did give me reason to stay immersed in the music. You might guess that the soundtrack running through my mind this week has been comprised of the tunes we hammered out last week.

I've been organizing and reviewing music from the week. I've written out specific goals.

Goal #1:  Practice more

Following through on this goal will make all the others easier to accomplish!

My biggest challenge is finding time to practice in an already crowded schedule. It's so easy to fill up excess minutes with mundane tasks. So part of my plan is to schedule regular practice sessions with "practice partners". That way, there's a specific time set aside AND somebody who will hold me accountable. Plus, it's BIG FUN to play music with a friend!

What strategies do YOU use to fit playing music into your life?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday's Muse

“To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. Do you feel your music?” ~ Michael Jackson

Saturday, October 11, 2014

CTO … 10 years of Sandbridge Dulcimer Workshops

Artwork by Abigail Wilson West
Check This Out … I'm just home from a week of study with my long-time teacher and mentor Ken Kolodner at week three of his 10th Annual Sandbridge Dulcimer Workshops. Just imagine an entire week of incredible instruction, spiced up with informal teaching moments, energetic jamming, sharing, feasting, playing, laughing  … with friends, at the beach. I am one of the three "charter" members. What a decade it's been!

See you next year!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Have you gotten yourself into a JAM lately?

What IS a jam?

From Wikipedia:
"A jam session is a musical event, process, or activity where musicians play (i.e. "jam") by improvising without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements. Jam sessions are often used by musicians to develop new material (music), find suitable arrangements, or simply as a social gathering and communal practice session. Jam sessions may be based upon existing songs or forms, may be loosely based on an agreed chord progression or chart suggested by one participant, or may be wholly improvisational. Jam sessions can range from very loose gatherings of amateurs to evenings where a jam session coordinator acts as a "gatekeeper" to ensure that only appropriate-level performers take the stage, to sophisticated improvised recording sessions by professionals which are intended to be edited and released to the public."

The fact that is missing here? Jams are FUN!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Monday's Muse

 … It goes like this: the 4th, the 5th, the minor fall, the major lift …  ~ Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

She's ba-a-ack!

It's October 1.

I've been on a blogging break since June 19th … 3 days before the birth of our first grandchild. It's been quite a summer! In addition to the sweet baby girl who is now a part of our routine life, I had the best yield ever in my garden. It's amazing what a little extra sunshine (we felled a few trees last fall) and Mother Nature's well-timed sprinkler system can do. The results? Lots of good eating … and plenty of hours toiling over a hot stove as I "put up" the extra. We had a memorable vacation in August (my first extended backpacking trip) in the Maroon Bells / Snowmass Wilderness area near Aspen, CO. The wildflower display was impressive! and so was I, climbing over four mountain passes in as many days … each at least 12,000 feet in elevation. Whew!

But vacation is over. The summer garden has been put to rest. Students have been scheduled, and most have completed a couple of lessons since Labor Day. I have 5 new students … I mean brand new to the instrument. Three of my regular students gave up their rentals this summer and are now playing their own instruments. That's a new adventure in itself!

I appreciate all who have patiently awaited my return … perhaps feigning satisfaction with the muses of Monday and the random items of interest that I deem worthy of being checked out on Fridays. This has been a rambling missive, but the mid-week posting is back!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday's Muse

Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears - it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more - it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them music is not a luxury, but a necessity.  ~ Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

Friday, September 26, 2014

CTO … Warning: Creative mind at work!

It's not often that we get to witness the process of creativity.

Dan Landrum is the editor of Dulcimer Players News, the quarterly magazine and CD "filled with instruction, interviews, and stories for and about dulcimer enthusiasts." He is currently in the process of writing an article about burnout for the fall issue of DPN.

Check This Out …  In this self-made video, Dan puts himself out there as he attempts to listen to his instrument with fresh ears. Wonder what will come of this?? Check it out for yourself, and watch for the article in the upcoming magazine. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

CTO … Perform Better Under Pressure

Embrace stress as your friend!

Check This Out …. Turns out, stress is a negative factor only when we believe it is bad. Check out this video of psychologist Kelly McGonigal at TED. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday's Muse

You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.  ~ Charlie Parker

Friday, September 12, 2014

CTO … Ruth & Steve Smith in Concert at Perelandra, PLUS Dulcimer Workshops

Tickets went on sale September 10. Hurry!

A bit further afield, but if you can get to Black Mountain …

Check This Out … On Saturday, October 11, 7:00pm, Ruth and Steve Smith will appear in concert at Perelandra, the gorgeous, intimate "Song of the Wood" performance venue that overlooks the mountains near Asheville. Last December, their joint concert with Joshua Messick sold out two shows within two days! Call NOW to secure your reservation. Tickets include a complementary reception.

Ruth will be teaching two hammered dulcimer workshops that day, 10:30 - noon (adv beg / intermed players) and 1:00 - 3:30 (intermed / adv players). If you've never taken a class with Ruth, here's your chance! She's a talented teacher with much to offer.

All the details are included in the official invite. Here's the link:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday's Muse

You aren’t trying to win any races or be the leader of this or the leader of that. You’re enjoying it because of the satisfaction and joy you get out of music, which is totally unrelated to your professional status.  ~ James D Wolfensohn

Friday, September 5, 2014

CTO … Searching for the app that will make music theory as simple as pie

Music theory … You know you want more!

Check This Out … Bing Futch, master of the mountain dulcimer, featured an interactive app - which features the Circle of Fifths - on his blog this week. In Bing's words, "This mysterious piece o' pie contains solutions to many of the mysteries that lie within the mathematics of music." He's got a lot of other cool stuff to read, too. And some pretty awesome music! Check it out!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

CTO … Breaking News! Ken & Brad Kolodner Plan Mini-Tour in the Carolinas this November

That's right! Ken & Brad Kolodner have scheduled a whirlwind weekend of fun, including a contra dance, fiddle and banjo workshops, plus a concert in Charleston, SC.

Then they'll top it all off with a house concert right here in central NC!

Don't miss this opportunity to enjoy some fine toe-tappin' music!

Check This Out 

Sun, Nov 9, 2014: Hillsborough, NC
Ken and Brad in a house concert at ThreeSpokes, the home of Doug Joyce and Colleen Zinn. Suggested donation of $20. Show starts at 3:00 p.m. Jam to follow!! Finger foods and iced tea will be provided. Bring your beverage of choice if you would like. Please get your reservations early as seating is limited to 50. For reservations or more information, contact Colleen at or call 919-732-7570 

In the mood for a little road trip and want to take in the entire weekend?
Here's the rest of the story:

Fri, Nov 7, 2014: Charleston, SC
Ken and Brad join Bart Saylor to play for the Charleston Contra Dance at 8:00 p.m.  Felix Davis Community Center, 4800 Park Place East, North Charleston, SC 29405

Sat, Nov 8, 2014: Charleston, SC
Old-time banjo workshops with Brad Kolodner
Old-time fiddle workshops with Ken Kolodner
Fiddle and banjo workshops will run at the same time
10:00-12:00 - Cost: $35
Location: Hungry Monk Music, 1948 Belgrade Ave., Charleston, SC
To register & learn more, contact Bart Saylor at & 843-270-6234

Sat, Nov 8, 2014: Charleston, SC
Ken and Brad in concert at The Circular Congregational Church, at 150 Meeting St. Charleston, SC. Tickets at $20.00. 7pm-9pmMore info: Bart Saylor at and 843-270-6234

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday's Muse

"Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it."  ~Leonardo da Vinci

Friday, August 22, 2014

CTO … Practice Progress Disappears Overnight!

Have you ever practiced a piece of music over and over until you have it down just right? Feels good, doesn't it? Why, sure it does, until you settle into practice the next day and can't begin to duplicate the genius. What happens to all that progress? Does the sandman wipe our brains clean while we're sleeping? Maybe we're doing the practice thing all wrong!

Check This Out … Research suggests that a random practice schedule is more effective than the traditional blocked practice schedule. Has anybody tried this?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monday's Muse

To achieve a great goal, one must begin with a small achievement.  ~ Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday's Muse

Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.  ~ Plato

Friday, August 1, 2014

CTO … "The Language of Music" this Sunday with Constellation

Helen Wolfson & Eric Thomas of Durham ARE the musical duo, Constellation. They will present a special service, "The Language of Music," at 10:30 am this Sunday (August 3) at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The event is free and open to the public.
Check This Out …  The Durham News has the scoop! Read all about it here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday's Muse

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.  ~ Maria Robinson

Friday, July 25, 2014

CTO … Summer Practice Tip

Check This Out … Getting together with friends to play shared repertoire can provide a real boost to your practice. Plus, it's FUN!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday's Muse

Embrace the glorious mess that you are.  ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

CTO … Summertime

Check This Out … Set up to practice on the porch.
Do you have a favorite outdoor space in which to practice?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday's Muse

If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you're not sure you can do it, say 'yes' - then learn how to do it later.  ~ Richard Branson

Friday, July 4, 2014

CTO … Summertime

Check This Out … Practicing on the porch of the Minnis House B&B, New Market, TN. Happy 4th of July!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday's Muse

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don't make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can't take their eyes off you.  ~ Maya Angelou

Friday, June 27, 2014

CTO … Heart's Delight

Everybody wants to know … Sweet Baby Girl has arrived!

Check This Out … Evalyn Fern Wilson was born into this world on Sunday, June 22, 8:11am.

Weight: 7 pounds 1 ounce  Length: 22 inches

I am a grandma! and I'm taking the summer off!!
Don't forget to practice!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday's Muse

The worst hour of your life is only 60 minutes long.  ~ Anonymous

Friday, June 20, 2014

CTO … The Price of a Musician

Check This Out … This has been around awhile, but, sadly, still applies:

A guy calls the musicians' guild to get a quote on a 6 piece band for a wedding. The rep says, "Off the top of my head, about $2,000." The guy says, "WHAT? For music?!" The rep responds, "I'll tell you what. Call the plumbers' union and ask for six plumbers to work from 6 'til midnight on a Saturday night. Whatever they charge you, we'll work for half."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

… so long as I get somewhere!

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
~Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Students ask me what they should practice, how they should practice, when they should practice …

Here's the thing about practice: It is a very individualized pursuit, most effectively designed by YOU to get YOU where YOU want to go. "Progress" means different things to different people. How would you define progress in your own musical endeavors, today?

  • mastering a new tune arrangement?
  • playing your favorite fiddle tune up to speed?
  • successfully playing backup during a jam session?
  • learning that tricky right hand root arpeggio pattern?
  • etc, etc, etc
Whatever the goal, it's important to have one (or three)! Then, make a practice plan that will get you where you want to be. The Cheshire Cat would say, if you don't know where you're going it doesn't much matter what you do in your practice. While it may be true that doing anything is better than doing nothing … you're bound to accomplish something … if you intentionally gear your practice toward accomplishment of your goals, you will grow in the direction of your dreams.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday's Muse

Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art.  ~ Charlie Parker

Friday, June 13, 2014

CTO … Traditional Music is Alive in Chatham County

Chatham County JAM (affiliated with the regional Junior Appalachian Musicians, Inc.) works to get young people playing music!

Check This Out … From their web site:
"Chatham County JAM education program introduces children (from 3rd to 8th grade) to the music of their heritage through small group instruction in instruments common to the Appalachian and Piedmont regions of North Carolina.  Instrument, dance and vocal instruction are augmented by stringband classes providing children opportunities to play and perform in small and large groups. Chatham County JAM strives to make the program accessible to all students by providing free or low cost instrument loans and free or highly subsidized tuition.  Field trips, visiting artists and an introduction to the rich history of music unique to local communities help complete our program offerings."

2013 JAM Camp fun
Next week, June 16 - 20, Chatham County JAM is holding their summer camp at the Farm Heritage Park in Silk Hope, NC. For the third year, I'll be teaching afternoon enrichment classes on the hammered dulcimer. I'm really looking forward to jamming with all those great kids!

Do you have some aspiring young musicians in your life? Tell them about the Junior Appalachian Musicians organization.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Take a Break? Resist the Temptation!

Pink … of course!
Summertime, and the living is easy. We hope.

This ought to help … I'm taking the summer off!

It's been a challenge to fit everyone in for "one more" lesson before the end of this week. The plan is to resume teaching after Labor Day. I'm clearing the schedule to make way for our first grandchild, Sweet Baby Girl, officially due June 26. Plus, I have a garden to tend, family and friends to visit, places to go, things to do. Did I mention a baby to hold?

Turns out my students are busy this summer, too. They need a break. Still, many wonder how they will get along without the structure of regularly scheduled lessons. It thrills my heart that some have actually asked for guidance in how to practice this summer. While it is difficult for me to spell out specifics that will work for every person, I can make some general suggestions.

First of all, resist the temptation to "take a break" from music. While it's true that I am taking the summer off from teaching, I am NOT giving up on playing and practicing the instrument. My students do get a break from their lessons … but we've all been working too hard to risk losing ground … which surely will happen if you don't touch your instrument for weeks on end. Play (and practice) regularly, if only for short periods of time.

Now that we have established that, the most important thing you can do is consciously set goals and write them down. Decide what you'd like to learn this summer. These should be specific goals that are achievable within the given time frame … between today and Labor Day. Think about two categories:

  1. Tunes
  2. Skills/Techniques

Refer to my blogpost A Plan for Your Summer Practice (07/03/13) for help in making goals.

While most of you will have plenty of tunes to choose from when making your "tunes" list, you may have more difficulty coming up with "skill / technique" goals. It's always a good idea to let the tunes you're learning inform your technique / skills practice. The best exercises are derived from weaknesses discovered in the attempt to master a new tune. Having trouble with hand separation? Noticing that your valley rolls have become a bit sloppy? That's where to put your focus. Or maybe there's something you've been meaning to get to, such as … finally understand the difference between dorian and aeolian modes, or figure out all those 7 chords. There's no time like the present!

If you're still at a loss, here's a list to get the brainstorming started. It is not all-inclusive, mind you. I'm sure you will think of other skills that need improvement!

Back to Basics

  • Hammer Strokes - single strokes; double strokes; tremolos, rolled chords, octaves, valley rolls (flams), etc
  • Scales - major, minor, chromatic; multiple octaves; starting from left and right hands
  • Arpeggios - left and right hand patterns; multiple octaves
  • Hand Separation - ascending / descending bass lines

Music Theory

  • Study music theory. Learn more about chords. Understand modes.
  • Learn to find chords all over the instrument. Root chords. Chord inversions.
  • Learn to play back up. Use arrangements that have been worked out by others. Create your own back up for a melody you already know and play well.

General Music Stuff

  • Learn to read music.
  • Train your ears. There are plenty of apps designed for this purpose!
  • Learn to use the metronome. Play with a steady rhythm. Play tunes at tempo.

Take it to the Next Level

  • Add to your jam tune repertoire. Make a list of your favorite jam tunes. Keep the list in your instrument case so you'll always be ready when it's your turn to call a tune. Get those jam tunes up to speed. Work out a back up arrangement for your absolute favorites.
  • Find your own style. Develop your own arrangement of a favorite tune.
  • Create a gig for yourself. Make a tune list. Get those tunes performance ready. Do it!
Need a little more pressure and help with accountability? Send me your goals. I'll check in with you at the end of the summer. Keep hammering and good luck!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday's Muse

Life is brief, even at its longest. Whatever you are going to do with your life, get at it.  ~ Jim Rohn

Friday, June 6, 2014

CTO … Ruth and Steve Smith Release NEW CD

Ruth & Steve Smith's eagerly anticipated CD of instrumental hymns is now available!

Check This Out … As seen on FaceBook:  "Well, our new CD has finally arrived and we first want to make it available to all of you, our Facebook friends, before we offer it on our website and across the Internet. Give a listen to some samples of the music on the order page by clicking the link below! If you order over the weekend, we'll ship your CDs on Monday. We are quite pleased with the outcome and hope it will bless you all!"

Check it out! You're going to want to order your own copy of "He Leadeth Me"  and LIKE Ruth & Steve's FaceBook page while you're at it!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tomorrow … tomorrow … there's always tomorrow!

Perhaps you've noticed a paucity of mid-week postings on this blog. I've been away a lot recently … way long gone the entire week of Easter, plus traveling 15 of the 31 days in the month of May. Don't get me wrong. It's all been good stuff! Beach vacations, professional meetings, family visits, a wedding, baby showers, even a dulcimer festival. But such a schedule does push some things to the back burner.

One thing that has been pushed aside is my personal dulcimer practice. I've done what is necessary to keep up with students, but by the time all my other jobs are finished there's been no time or energy left for my own practice. Sound familiar? Well, if it makes you feel any better, I've been hearing a lot of "true confessions" in the music room lately. Let us take some comfort in the fact that we're not alone in our neglect of the instrument. But, then, let's make a plan to get going!

Today I confessed to my own teacher that I have not been playing. It was late in the evening when I got his response, "Start playing!! Tomorrow!!" Will do, Ken!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday's Muse

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.  ~ Maya Angelou  RIP 1928 - 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

CTO … Ken Kolodner passing through the Triangle area in November. Any leads on a concert op?

Check This Out … Ken Kolodner and son, Brad, will be heading to Charleston, SC this coming November 7-8  to play a concert (and contra dance) plus fiddle and banjo workshops. They are looking for a house concert or other concert opportunity in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area on Nov 6 or Nov 9. Any ideas? Contact Ken!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday's Muse

37,000 flags planted in Boston Common to honor the fallen soldiers of Massachusetts
~ from Revolutionary War to present time ~

Friday, May 23, 2014

CTO … Photos Taken Inside Instruments

Now this is a different perspective! Imagine shrinking small enough to climb into a musical instrument. Any photographers out there interested in giving us the inside scoop on a hammered dulcimer?

Check This Out … Photographs taken by Mierswa Kluska for the Berlin Philharmonic, concept by Björn Ewers and Mona Sibai. It's like stepping into another world! Check out Björn's gallery, Instruments from the Inside .

Monday, May 19, 2014

Monday's Muse

The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.
~ Henry Ward Beecher

Friday, May 16, 2014

CTO … True or False? You must get permission to play somebody else's music in a public performance.

Check This Out … Steve Smith taught an interesting and helpful class about copyright issues at the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival a couple of weekends ago. Steve Eulberg recently wrote an easy to read, easy to understand blog post regarding the topic. Educate yourself.

BTW … the answer is false

Monday, May 12, 2014

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. When you are seeking to bring big plans to fruition, it is important with whom you regularly associate. Hang out with friends who are like-minded and who are also designing purpose-filled lives. Similarly, be that kind of a friend for your friends.  ~ Mark Twain

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Desperately Seeking Inspiration

I've been doing the most random things in my practice since attending the Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival this past weekend. Most significant is the fact that I actually AM practicing!

Why do people go to dulcimer festivals, anyway? To be sure, there are as many reasons as there are people in the room. One reason I go is I'm always on the look-out for inspiration. I guess it worked. Look what I've been doing this week:

  • I loved hearing Sarah Morgan sing and play the mountain dulcimer during Saturday night's concert. What a voice! What a talent! On Sunday morning she went on to sing at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem. I did not attend that service, but thanks to the internet and a link seen on FaceBook I was able to hear a recording of her rendition of "Praise to the Lord". It's a beautiful hymn. I was so inspired, I went directly to my instrument and came up with my own arrangement before bedtime Sunday night. Alas, I have not added my own singing voice.
  • Joshua Messick taught an advanced class called "Out of the Box" in which he emphasized practicing the chromatic scale and using it to learn every sort of interval possible on the hammered dulcimer. Now, I know how to find the chromatic scale, but I haven't practiced it enough to be absolutely fluent ascending and descending. Nor have I worked at internalizing all the funky chromatics at the upper and lower ends of my instrument. You know … those strings on the extra bridges? The ones that haven't been tuned in a while?! Guess what, as of this week I'm becoming proficient.
  • One of the joys of attending dulcimer festivals is the opportunity to visit and play with long-time friends, such as Marya Katz. Marya taught the beginning beginner class on Saturday. On Friday evening, I participated in her drum circle. Marya really knows how to make music fun and inclusive. She had all of us beating on drums, shaking and rattling percussion instruments, communicating with each other rhythmically, and actually ending on the same beat! I guess she was on my mind as I set about looking for a tune to do with one of my students this week. I remembered her "La Luna Giubilante", a duet for hammered dulcimer featured on Mel Bay's Dulcimer Sessions webzine back in August 2007. I now have a new, very cool tune, and the duet part (the backup) was perfect for my student! I think that she is feeling inspired now. It must be contagious!
What have you been inspired to do lately?