Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Damper Use ... Continued

As more and more players act on their "damper lust" - purchasing new instruments with dampers or retrofitting old instruments - there are more and more questions about how to use them. I certainly am not the expert. No dampers at my house (yet)! I must rely on the experience of others. As I hear tips and advice from players in the wider dulcimer world I will pass them on here.

In a blogpost dated 11/13/13, I shared a couple of tips that MaryLynn learned from Maggie Sansone in a workshop last fall. Continuing this line of thought, I'd like to pass on this Q & A that appeared on the HD listserv on 3/7/14. (Want to know more about the HD listserv? See below.) Thanks to Kathy and Ken Kolodner who have graciously given me permission to reprint an edited version of their original discussion. I invite you to share any wisdom that YOU may have on this topic by leaving a comment below!

Kathy's question:

After playing many many years without dampers, I just got them added to my dulcimer. I'm looking forward to incorporating their use in some fun ways, but finding it is not quite as intuitive as expected.

First the physical mechanics. I always stand when playing...with weight over both feet and my right foot free to tap. I am finding that when I extend my right foot out to use the damper I am teetering standing on one foot, and that I need to move over to the left more than I would like and closer to the dulcimer in order to get my right foot out and forward on the pedal which is centered under the dulcimer. Normally when standing I move around as needed if I am playing on different areas of the dulcimer to keep the playing fluid. To press the pedal I seem to have to move to an awkward place close to my dulcimer...and I need my whole foot to press it down.  I can't leave my heel on the ground for balance or I don't have enough weight to push the pedal down. Just seems like an awkward angle to press the pedal.

I am realizing how much I rely on tapping my foot... even just a little… which obviously I can't do with a foot pushing down on a pedal. The music flow feels a little disrupted when I have to stop and start tapping my foot.  

Perhaps there are other ideas to think about that would help? Karen Ashbrook has talked about some different pedal designs that might make a difference and I will go there and try hers out soon I hope. Any thoughts on the particular pedals you all use?

Any thoughts and ideas of when and how you use your dampers musically? The obvious uses I think of are in playing a rhythmic vamp as backup, or playing once through a tune section with dampers for variety...(particularly a faster and low note tune?). Then also for a dramatic stop...or just to stop ringing notes that are muddy or key change or something. But I see some folks using them throughout their playing (Dan Landrum for one). Any thoughts in general on the how and when of their use?

Perhaps it is all just a matter of getting used to new positions and movements and playing with them over time, but still always interesting to hear thoughts from those that have experience!

Ken's response:

I started using dampers in the mid-1980's. I still have the instrument, one of Sam Rizzetta's first instruments with dampers (originally built for John McCutcheon as a compact). I'll address a couple of your issues.

Where to stand and damper placement: I pull the damper out a bit from under the instrument so I don't have to search for it with my foot. Also make sure that you don't put the damper up too high so that it might flip over. I pull it slightly to the left (I stand on my right and dampened with the left but it doesn't matter which foot you use). And I definitely still stand back from the instrument so that I am not hovering over the instrument – that way I can easily grab the lower notes. I rest my heel so I am not standing on one leg. The weight of your leg should do the job. You really hardly have to press down to engage the dampers.

Tapping: I am a foot tapper as well. I don't have to tap to play but I do like to move a bit. However, I still tap with the damper foot even when I am on the damper - maybe not too vigorously but a gentle tap still works fine without affecting the dampers. And I also do pulse the dampers slightly sometimes.

Pedal design: I am using the Dusty Strings model but have used a bunch of different ones. Once I showed up at a concert and had left the damper at home - I made a damper with a board. It worked fine. What are you using? If it is small, really light weight or flips easily that is not good.     

Uses: As you say, there are players that use it extensively (Dan). When playing in an ensemble, I use it way more than when I play solo because I play very differently with the damper. My main uses are for "stops," to accentuate something percussive that I am doing, and when doing vamps. Some examples:

Playing solo Columbito Tecumano, a South American tune: - the placement of the damper is all wrong here as I actually had to kick the damper closer to me because it was too far under the instrument (I learned not to do this after that performance!!) - note that my heal is off the ground - not good!  

By the way, I found a version of this tune on youtube  performing with Chris Norman, Robin Bullock and the Camerata Bariloche, one of the finest orchestras in South America. It is just the audio but it is pretty cool!! The orchestra comes in after about a minute.  

Playing Reuben's Train with my son, always on the dampers You can't see the damper placement here but I can tell that it is placed out from underneath the HD, based on where I am standing - and I am indeed tapping my left foot.

Poke around on youtube and you will see all sorts of ways to use the dampers!


Interested in the HD listserv? Here's the contact info:

To subscribe or unsubscribe via the World Wide Web, visit
or, via email, send a message with subject or body 'help' to

You can reach the person managing the list at

Send Hdlist mailing list submissions to

Hdlist mailing list

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday's Muse

Do what you please, follow your star: be original if you want to be and don't if you don't want to be. Just be natural and gay and lighthearted and pretty and simple and overflowing and general and baroque, and learn and learn and learn. Open your minds to every form of beauty.  ~ Constance Spry

Friday, April 25, 2014

CTO … Still no dulcimers here

Check This Out … Just another place saver. I thought regular posts would be possible this week, but everything is on "Island Time" here, including WiFi transmissions! Between that and the frustrations of composing on an iPad, I gave up and went to the beach. I could get used to this!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tromping up a Tropical Trail Today

Heading toward the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Can you guess where that is?

Alas, no room in the fanny pack for a hammered dulcimer!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday's Muse

It's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.  ~ Marilyn Monroe

Friday, April 18, 2014

CTO … John McCutcheon, in Cary, May 3rd

And get this … it's FREE!

As luck would have it, this is the same weekend as the Winston-Salem Dulcimer Festival. Why does everything happen at the same time? But if you must skip the festival, and happen to be in the Triangle …

Check This Out … The Town of Cary has booked John McCutcheion to play during their Spring Sertoma Series at Sertoma Amphitheater in Bond Park (off High House Rd just east of High House and Cary Parkway) on Saturday, May 3, 3:00pm. Here's your chance to hear one of the early, legendary hammered dulcimer players that emerged during the 1970 - 80's. He's one of the "masters" of the instrument! These days, he's billed as an American folk-music singer and multi-instrumentalist. The hammered dulcimer is only a small bit of his current schtick. Still, it's a great opportunity to see a very talented musician.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday's Muse

"To analyze the charms of flowers is like dissecting music; it is one of those things which is far better to enjoy than to attempt to fully understand."  ~ Henry T. Tuckerman

Friday, April 11, 2014

CTO … Beat that!

No dulcimers here, but imagine what could be done with one hand behind your back and your eyes closed!

Check This Out … Serious musical fun.  Шутка ) from Elena Terebus 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Top 10 Reasons to Attend the 20th Annual Winston-Salem Dulcimer Festival

  1. Affordable
  2. Located in our "back yard"
  3. Old friends will be there
  4. New friends are waiting to meet you
  5. Lots of different instruments to see / hear
  6. Books, CDs, accessories for sale
  7. Swap table - bring your own instruments and accessories to sell
  8. Jam sessions at all levels
  9. Nationally acclaimed instructors
  10. Inspiring performances

May 2-3, 2014
College Park Baptist Church
Winston Salem, NC 

Register today!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday's Muse

"Music gives a soul to the universe, 
wings to the mind, 
flight to the imagination, 
and life to everything." 
~ Plato

Friday, April 4, 2014

CTO … Music, the "Quickening Art"

In support of playing familiar music ...

Check This Out … An old man, mostly unresponsive after living a decade in a nursing home, comes back to himself as he listens to some of his favorite music from earlier days.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Do you know the 1-2-3-5 pattern? If not, you should. Sometimes, it's just the thing for filling space. It works starting from a marked course of strings (for a major chord) and from strings one above the mark (for a minor chord). But beware! It doesn't work played from one below the mark.

Try this:
  • Go to the marked G mid-way up the right treble bridge on your instrument
  • Play G with your left hand, alternate hands as you move through the pattern
  • Continue straight up the treble bridge, through the notes of the scale …               G - A - B, skipping C, strike D  See that? 1-2-3-(skip4)-5 (L-R-L-R)
Want to continue on into the next octave?
  • Your left hand will lead you across the treble bridge to strike the octave G on the left side of the treble bridge
  • Continue through the pattern … G - A - B, skip C, strike D
You've been moving up the treble bridge, but like other patterns on the hammered dulcimer, this one works across the valley, too.
  • Go to the low G on your bass bridge
  • Play the pattern, 1-2-3-5, straight up the bass bridge (LRLR)
  • Left hand leads you across the valley and strikes the octave G on the right side of the treble bridge
  • Continue up the right treble bridge, 1-2-3-5
  • Left hand leads you across the treble bridge to the next octave G
  • Continue up the left treble bridge, 1-2-3-5
  • Congratulations! You've just played three octaves of the 1-2-3-5 pattern!
Extra credit:
  • Play the Am pattern
  • Now try it in D, and Em, and all over your instrument
  • You've been moving UP the pattern, now move DOWN!  5-3-2-1 Figure out where to cross the bridge and valley

Incorporate this into your warm-up exercises. It's fun. It's useful. It even sounds pretty in practice!