Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Should We Sit? or Should We Stand?

Is it better to sit or stand at the hammered dulcimer?

From Wikipedia"The hammered dulcimer is set before the musician, who in more traditional styles may sit cross-legged on the floor, or in a more modern style may stand or sit at a wooden support with legs."

My son plays the hammered dulcimer in the style of a classical Indian santoor player ... sitting cross-legged on the floor. I don't know how he does it!

Seems safe to say there is no "right" way, but most people do have a preference. I suppose that in a perfect world we would all have the flexibility to do it any which way.

The physics of it all should inform us as to the "sweet spot" for striking the strings for most accuracy. Coming down directly from above the string seems most likely to produce an accurate strike. Indeed, Dan Landrum advocates standing with the instrument fairly level for that advantage.

As we all know, though, the position of the  hammer related to any individual string ... from top to bottom and side to side of the instrument ... is constantly changing as we play. Flexibility seems key. That's why I prefer to stand.

Standing allows for more freedom of movement ... less reaching if you can lean in to the instrument or shift from side to side. I find sitting to be restrictive. A long time ago, though, I DID mostly sit… with the instrument at an extreme angle. At the time, I was having a lot of shoulder and neck issues. Tilting the hammered dulcimer at a very steep angle put the high strings within closer reach which helped my shoulders and neck relax. Now I'm not so uptight (maybe??) and I stand almost exclusively, but am lucky to have had lots of experience sitting AND standing, mirroring students to match their preference.

What if you can no longer play the instrument in your preferred manner?

Sometimes, because of physical limitations, players have no choice but to sit ... or stand ... exclusively. If a person habitually plays one way or the other, having to change to the other way can be disruptive to playing. Accuracy can really suffer.

A friend contacted me recently with exactly this issue. In order to continue playing she feels she must switch from her preferred standing to sitting. Any tips? 

First, acknowledge that this is a big change and it might take a little while before it begins to feel "natural".

Treat the new playing position as a skill that will require retraining the muscle memory. It will sort of be like acclimating oneself to a new instrument.

  • Go back to the basics... scales, arpeggios, valley rolls.
  • Play your favorite "golden" tunes.
  • Focus on accuracy. Slow down if need be.
  • Can you identify specific problem areas? Make up exercises that force you to practice in those areas.
Pay attention to your set-up
  • Don't be afraid to experiment with the angle of the instrument.
  • Try different chairs, stools, benches. For example: I like an adjustable stool that twists so that movement is built in.

Listen to your body. Treat your music practice like the workout that it is, especially if you are experiencing physical limitations of any sort.

  • Stretch problem areas before and after practice ... fingers, wrists, shoulders, neck, back
  • Don't stay in one place too long, i.e. in practice position at the instrument. Take frequent breaks. Look up, look down, look all around. Go get a drink of water. Take a walk to the mailbox.
  • Determine how long a reasonable practice session should be for your abilities. Set an alarm to help you stick to your schedule. 10 minutes? 15? Personally, I tell Siri to "set an alarm for 30 minutes from now" and she does it! I record my 30 minutes on my practice log and go do something else for a few minutes. Refreshed, I come back for more.
I would be interested to hear strategies that other players have found to be useful in changing relative position to the instrument. Feel free to leave a comment or email me directly.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Monday's Muse

Even if you can’t sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home. But sing.  ~ Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Monday, January 20, 2020

Monday's Muse

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr

Monday, January 13, 2020

Monday's Muse

Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.  ~ Goethe

Friday, January 10, 2020

CTO ... Pittsboro Irish Session - Some Changes in the New Year

The Pittsboro Irish Session has been held monthly on 3rd Sundays of the month at The Modern Life Deli (aka: The Mod). But The Mod is undergoing some changes associated with the exciting addition of The Mod Other Side. From their website:

We are now proud to present our newest addition, the Other Side, a 21 and over bar where modern life coexists with rustic style. We offer a wide selection of spirits, wine, rotating drafts and entertainment for everyone. Enjoy a round of pool, a game of ping pong, dart boards, games on the big screen, and live music on the weekends. 

Check This Out ... The next Irish Session will be held in this new space, at The Mod Other Side, on Sunday, January 19, 3:00 - 7:00pm. Really good wood-fired pizza, fantastic selection of adult beverages, and awesome Irish music. Whether you're a player or one who enjoys listening, bring your instrument, bring your friends, and check it out!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Monday's Muse

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.  ~ Arthur Ashe

Friday, January 3, 2020

CTO ... Marya Katz to Offer Annual MLK Day Workshop

Check This Out ... Marya Katz is taking registrations NOW for her annual one-day hammered dulcimer workshop in Winston Salem, NC planned for January 20th. It's an MLK Day tradition! This year's topic: Moravian Traditional Music, including "brass band" orchestration. As always, Marya knows how to make it fun!

Check out the details:
Monday, January 20, 2020 (How's that for an auspicious date?)
9:00am - 3:30pm
College Park Baptist Church, 1701 Polo Road, Winston Salem
Cost:  $65, includes lunch; No fee due now. Please pay at the door!

Then, be sure to send a note to BOTH Marya  ... to let her know you can come ... AND Terry Lefler ... so he can collect lunch orders.

Don't hesitate to contact Marya if you have questions or concerns. All are welcome!

This is a great way to jump-start your music practice in the new year. Sign up today!