Wednesday, January 31, 2018

It's not over 'til it's over!

There are many reasons we might mis-hit a note on the hammered dulcimer. One is simply a matter of attention. Sometimes we allow our focus to shift away from one place to another too soon.

The most frustrating examples I have encountered are those habitually missed notes that appear in a tune as part of an "easy" well-practiced pattern, such as a scale, or a root arpeggio. After identifying it as such a pattern, shouldn't it just fall into place? What is wrong with me??

Take a breath, and realize that it's probably not you... and it's probably not even that note! Often, we miss one note because the next note is tricky in some way. Maybe it's far away, or an unusual rhythm, or an awkward reach.

Take a look at this example from the tune, Frosty Morning. Here are the two opening phrases:

Check out the scale run up from A in measure two. There's an E at the top. My students mis-hit it routinely. Why?

Because the next thing we sometimes like to play are octave G's on beat 1, measure three. Now, the E is a half note. There should be plenty of time to get to the G's, but the big jump is scary, and the mental anticipation steals the player's focus away.

Typically, one would continue to practice the transition between the Am and the G phrases at a slow, comfortable speed until your brain and hands learn it well enough to play all correctly, gradually increasing to tempo. This will eventually work for many players. For others, the mental preparation of moving from that high E to the octave G's still takes up too much time. What to do?

In these situations, I have found it useful to give my brain something to think about that maintains proper attention until the last split second. In this case, shape that scale run with an accent on the top note. A nice crescendo from the A to the E, hitting that top note with intention, requires your brain to stick with it until the run is over. Plus, you've just introduced a nice dynamic element. AND there's still plenty of time to get to those octave G's!

How do YOU trick your brain into maintaining focus in a tricky spot? Share your successes with us!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Monday's Muse

Don't give notes. Give the meaning of the notes.  ~ Pablo Casals

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Don't Let Your Tunes Get Stuck in One Place

Want to test how well you know a tune? Move it to a different place on your instrument. Specifically, move the tune to a different octave.

Shifting octaves is one of the simplest ways to vary a tune, but it's not necessarily easy to execute! Like everything else, it must be practiced.

Select any tune you know. Play it as you learned it. Now, try playing it an octave higher. Can it actually be accomplished on your instrument? Do you have all the necessary notes? If no, well... good to know! Return to the original location of the tune. If yes, practice until the tune is as easy to play in the upper octave as it is in the original octave.

Now, return to that original location on your instrument. Ahhhh.... feeling better?

Next, play the tune an octave lower. Same question: Can it be done? If no, you're finished. If yes, practice until you can play it as smoothly as in the first setting.

Even if the entire tune can't be played in the upper or lower octave, sometimes the A part works, or the B part, or a portion of one or both parts. Try it all and take note. This is valuable information that allows you to take full advantage of the range of your instrument for any given tune.

Once you know what can be done, play around with it. Play the entire tune in one octave, then jump to a different octave. Or move by parts ... play part A in one octave, part B in another. Or A1 in one octave and A2 in another. Or move by phrases. Or whatever. Just have fun!

The real fun comes when you begin to find ways to shift from one octave to another using bits of scales and pieces of chord arpeggios. The sky's the limit!

Warning: Don't make the mistake of playing the tune in a different key! That's fun, too, but not what we're doing here.

Having trouble knowing where to start?  Identify the beginning note of the tune. What's its name? Move to the note with the same name an octave higher (an interval of 8, all inclusive). Don't forget that this is not a linear instrument. You will not be moving straight up the instrument to find your new note!

When moving to the upper octave you will cross the bridge or valley to the left, looking up the instrument for the new note in the same relative position to the mark as the original note. If the original note is on the mark, the new note should be, too. If the original note is one above the mark, the new note will be, too. If the original note is one below the mark, the new note will be one below the mark.

When moving to the lower octave, you will cross the bridge or valley to the right, looking down the instrument for the same-named note that is in the same relative position to the mark as the original note.

Sure does take a lot of words to describe this! Much easier to show it on the instrument. Good luck! and let me know how it goes :-)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday's Muse

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.  ~ Pablo Picasso

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Marya Made it a Red, White, and Bluesy Day

Two weeks ago, on a Wednesday night, we got 3 inches of sparkly snow. This morning, we woke to rain changing to heavy, wet snow, an accumulation of 2-5" expected. I must say, it's a lovely snowfall... but these snow days are wreaking havoc on my teaching schedule!

Considering the alternative, I guess I should be thankful for the sunny, albeit cold MLK holiday this past Monday. Trapezoids traveled far and wide -- from the Triangle in the east, from Asheville in the west, from points in between -- to Winston Salem, for a day of practice and play with Marya Katz of Blacksburg, VA. This mid-winter musical boost has become an annual event on MLK Monday.

Marya had pronounced a red, white, and blue theme for the day. Attendees got into the mood by dressing for the occasion. We started with some ear training. We learned Cailin Deas Rua, The Pretty Red-Haired Girl, with no paper assistance, then added embellishments to make it sound Irish.

Then, on to The White Cockade. We considered varied hammer patterns to play the basic tune - taking advantage of duplicate notes - then worked out the chord progression. I think some folks were amazed that there were so many correct chord possibilities! You mean chord progressions are not set in stone??

We ended the day improvising over the 12-bar Blues chord progression in D major, to the tune, Joe Turner Blues. Yes, we really did the dreaded "I" word... and we had fun doing it!

Nearly two dozen trapezoids filled the room. I managed to capture this shot of Marya with four of my students. Maybe I'll catch YOU there next year!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday's Muse

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr

Monday, January 8, 2018

Monday's Muse

Begin noticing and being careful about keeping your imagination free of thoughts that you do not wish to materialize. Instead, initiate a practice of filling your creative thoughts to overflow with ideas and wishes that you fully intend to manifest. Honor your imaginings regardless of others seeing them as crazy or impossible. ~ Wayne Dyer

Friday, January 5, 2018

CTO ... Marya Katz set to Teach Workshop in Winston Salem

Check This Out... Marya Katz has made a tradition of offering a hammered dulcimer workshop on MLK Monday these past several years. If you haven't met Marya yet, she's a great teacher... really knows how to make it fun! If you have the day off, and are in the mood for a little day trip, check it out!

MARYA KATZ  will teach a hammered dulcimer WORKSHOP
Monday, January 15, 2018
9:00am – 3:30pm
College Park Baptist Church
1701 Polo Road, Winson Salem
All levels welcome
Cost: $60, includes all handouts and lunch; make payment that day
Contact: BOTH Marya Katz AND Terry Lefler to reserve your spot

See additional details from Marya below:

We are ON for the annual MLK day hammered dulcimer workshop on January 15th, at College Park Baptist Church. Our theme this year will be "Red, White, and Blue" - we'll do some chord exploration and ornamentation/embellishments to provide "color" in a melody.  

The building will be open by 8:30 am for everyone to meet, greet, and tune (if you didn't arrive in tune, but of course that wouldn't happen...right?).  Coffee, tea, water,  and a few goodies will probably be available at that time.  The first session begins at 9:00, and we will break for lunch around noon.  The second session begins around 1:00 pm, going until 3:30.  $60 will cover the cost of the workshop, all handouts, AND lunch.  I'll also have a few of my books and CDs available for purchase in case your library is in need of more music!

Terry Lefler will be in charge of taking lunch orders within the next week, so if you would - please send your affirmative response to this notice to both of us ( AND ( so that he'll know to contact you with the lunch choices, and I'll know to bring enough handouts, etc.

I've already heard from several of you, so I know we'll be having a great time playing music together.  Just in case you've forgotten, our theme this year will be "Red, White, and Blue" - we are going to do some more chord exploration and ornamentation/embellishments (to provide "color" in a melody).  

Looking forward to seeing you - and of course, invite anyone else you can think of to come along (just forward this email to anyone not in the "To" list above so they'll get this message).  I try to gear my workshops for all levels of hammered dulcimer playing so everyone should feel comfortable that day.

Smiles to all,

 p.s.  A little extra gift to anyone who actually wears red, white, and blue!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Monday's Muse

And now we welcome the new year... full of things that have never been.  ~ Rainer Maria Rilke