The winter 2014 volume of Dulcimer Players News landed in my mail box this week. As usual, I sat down to quickly peruse the entire magazine to see what treasures might be in store, lingering here and there as my mood dictated. I saw my friend, Nat West, is looking to start a dulcimer playing children's group in Florida. John Keane offers insight into the difference between playing and practicing. Deb Porter is encouraging folks to find their singing voice. But my favorite article this time was written by Stephen Humphries, "Rhythm, Accents, and Syncopation: Putting the Emphasis on the Right Syllable."
I've had the chance to take several classes with Stephen in recent years. A great teacher and an impressive performer … he's a percussionist who really knows how to handle the hammers! And guess what? He's one of the featured instructor-performers at this year's Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival, May 2 - 3. If you haven't yet made plans to go, what are you waiting for?
But I digress. Let's get back to the article. Last year, I taught a class myself at Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival. The focus was syncopation. The students were challenged. I was not surprised. I have found that syncopation itself, and accenting specific notes in general are common areas of difficulty for all of my students. So I was interested to read what Stephen had to say. I really like the way he described how he thinks about hitting a note in order to accent it. I highlighted this paragraph and have been reading it verbatim to all of my students this week. Seriously! Different situations have come up in every lesson that have called for this insight:
"I prefer to think about accenting (or emphasizing) notes by hammer height rather than force. It allows my grip to stay more relaxed and the notes to flow more smoothly. In fact, sometimes it is even better to think about lowering the hammers on non-accented notes, or de-emphasizing these notes, to get the desired effect of an accent. An accent only needs to be one level louder than all the notes around it to stand out." ~ Stephen Humphries
Check the article yourself for all the details, plus a page full of exercises. And maybe I'll see you in one of Stephen's classes in Winston Salem!
Read more about Stephen Humphries on his website:
"Stephen Humphries is a national hammered dulcimer champion, freelance percussionist, and music educator. While regularly performing and teaching at dulcimer and folk festivals around the country, Stephen also presents educational programs for hammered dulcimer and percussion in elementary, middle, and high schools. Additionally, Stephen composes music for the hammered dulcimer and other percussion instruments and shares this music through his performances and workshops. In 2011, he was awarded a Make Work Grant from CreateHere (a Chattanooga, Tennessee arts organization) for projects fusing hammered dulcimer and percussion through the use of technology. Stephen is also an artist/educator for Innovative Percussion, Inc. "