Monday, August 27, 2018

Monday's Muse

Some people have lives; some people have music.  ~ John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Monday, August 20, 2018

Monday's Muse

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, August 16, 2018

routine practice

Wouldn't it be nice if intellectual understanding alone was enough to master a musical instrument? A little bit of study and we could be such experts! We players of the hammered dulcimer would hammer away with passion and freedom! After all, the patterns and set-up of the hammered dulcimer are fixed, and music theory is a finite body of information. Right?

Of course, it is not that simple.

First, the physical act of playing requires training of our muscles and our brains. Muscle memory is real, and it helps! Then, music theory must be applied. Simply understanding how a chord is constructed is not the same as being able to play the chord.

The word “rote” has a bad rap in modern-day learning. But in reality rote practice, i.e. routine practice that focuses on specific challenging skills... plays an important role. The path to success and creativity at the hammered dulcimer is to practice until the foundational patterns are deeply ingrained. Mastering the fundamentals is why we must practice scales and chord patterns when learning to play (as well as hammering skills, embellishments, complex rhythms, etc, etc, etc)

But I just want to have fun! 

Learning isn’t always “fun.” Sometimes it involves hard work. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes it feels downright impossible. But life is short! Our music practice should give us pleasure. And guess what? You can't spell "fundamental" without F-U-N!

Practicing fundamentals within the context of a tune is helpful. Practicing a back-up arrangement 
within the structure of a given chord progression, even if you think you'll never play with another musician, results in better understanding of the tune, better understanding of chord patterns and rhythms, and may lead to some good arrangement ideas. Making up your own exercises based on music you want to play makes the practice more enjoyable and more meaningful.

I encourage you to routinely set aside some practice time to focus on the fundamentals. I guarantee the payoff will be fun!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Monday's Muse

Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.  ~ Maya Angelou

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What's your skill level?

In recent weeks I have publicized a Dan Duggan workshop (planned for September 22, 2018) and the Black Mountain Music Festival (scheduled for October 21-26, 2018), both excellent opportunities to see professional musicians at work and to acquire some top-notch instruction on the hammered dulcimer. But these opportunities bring up questions. I've had inquiries. People want to know...
  • "Am I good enough?"
  • "What exactly is an 'intermediate' player?"
  • "What skill level do you think I am?"
It's not unusual to wonder, "Where do I fit in? How do I stack up?"
  • compared to other players of this instrument
  • compared to other musicians
  • compared to one's own personal goals
Compared to your own personal goals is a topic that is a bit lofty for this space. But I do encourage you to monitor your own progress and goals in a manner that is fitting for you. What I know for sure, is that as individuals, we are always raising the bar. There is always so much more to learn. There is always so much music, so little time. Just keep at it!
Compared to other musicians is certainly, a question of interest, but for many of us playing for our own enjoyment, not the biggest concern.
Compared to other players of this instrument... Now, this could be useful information, especially when signing up for classes at a festival or workshop.

I was going to attempt to write out a description of the various skill levels, from beginner to advanced, but you know it's already been done. That's what google has done for us. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I thought I would link you to a few good resources.

Take a look. Think about your own skills. Perhaps you'll find some affirmation in these descriptions. Perhaps you'll recognize some holes in your own skill set. Maybe you'll get a better feel for the process of mastering the instrument. Maybe it will help you envision where you want to be in the process. And hopefully, you will gain confidence to participate in activities that are perfect for your skill level!

Links to information worth reading below:

Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
Hammered Dulcimer Curriculum

From a satellite of the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association
General Playing Level Descriptions
(scroll down to find hammered dulcimer information)

From Steve Eulberg, at Owl Mountain Music
Skill Levels? How do I compare?
(scroll down to find hammered dulcimer information)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Monday's Muse

Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair.  ~ Susan Polis Schutz