If I Had a Hammer (dulcimer) but no left-hand

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one month ago
1,303 posts

Thanks for the tip, @pmundy.  I saw the title to that book but haven't picked it up just yet.  The woman who gave me the hammered dulcimer included well over a dozen (mostly older) instructional books. I've been skimming through those and if I can't find exactly what I'm looking for I'll consider Ken's book.  I sure enjoy the music he makes with his son, who is perhaps my favorite clawhammer banjo player.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
pmundy
@pmundy
one month ago
5 posts

Dusty,

Have you looked at Ken Kolodner's HD Theory & Mapping book? It is a great reference for learning the hammered dulcimer.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,303 posts

Only 61 more to go!  I just put a new string on my hammered dulcimer.  I only have 61 more to go!

Actually my goal by the end of tomorrow is just to have all the phosphor bronze strings replaced.  I think there are 14 of them.  They seem to have weathered the years worse than the plain steel strings have.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Linda Matocha
Linda Matocha
@linda-matocha
2 months ago
8 posts

Dusty...I"ve been playing for awhile and have taken Rick Thum's classes 2x. He starts classes with doing exactly what you are doing. Practice will bring your left up to good. The only thing he recommends is exactly what Skip writes about.  It is great to learn and practice that way since it will put you in a position where you will find more strength quicker, and later when you have played a while you can play much louder. Scales and arppeggio's are the ways to practice. Do try to vary where you play both. Songs are more fun, but as with mountain dulcimer, there are multiple ways to play the same song depending on the player. Some teachers have a more rigid way of playing the songs than other teachers. I think that with the practice, your left hand will come faster than you expect. As far as I know, Rick's personal practices still include starting with the scales and arpeggios all over the instrument.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,303 posts

You are certainly right, @john-gribble, for lessons never hurt.  However, sometimes they are limited in their effectiveness. Right now I find what is holding me back on the hammered dulcimer (which I've only been playing about a week!) is technique.  I understand the basic layout of the strings and can find lots of melodies either from books or by ear, but my physical approach to the instrument is poor.  My left hand especially does not have the strength or confidence that my right-hand does.  Were I to pay for a private lesson, I would just ask for exercises and would then wait a month or two for another lesson while I worked on those exercises.  I was hoping to find those exercises on my own. So far I've been playing arpeggios, alternating hands.  And I've been working on scales either one hand at a time or alternating hands.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
John Gribble
John Gribble
@john-gribble
2 months ago
117 posts

A few lessons probably wouldn't be a bad thing...winky

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,303 posts

"Here among the fidlers I first saw a dulcimere played on with sticks knocking of the strings, and is very pretty."

Samuel Pepys, May 23, 1662




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
IRENE
IRENE
@irene
2 months ago
165 posts

I've had my hammered dulcimer from the time I made my first harp in 1988.   I tole painted beautiful birds on it.  I play a few tunes on it and that's it.   NOW is the time for me to learn more and be serious about it.   Thanks for this part of the discussion. I've sent for Kendra Ward's book on playing the H.D. and that also should be a start.   I'm thinking that maybe I'll sign up for lessons on line somewhere.   aloha, irene

robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
2 months ago
237 posts

I built a HD in 2006. I keep it in my dining room and play it rarely. But I love the sound. If your right handed, learning the left hand isn't too hard. I found by only using the left hand gave me a degree of coordination. Still it comes down to practice. Changing to lighter hammers helps as does adding felt edges to soften the tone. One thing I would do if I built another is color the soundboard dark with walnut stain. It makes seeing the strings easier... Robert

Skip
Skip
@skip
2 months ago
266 posts

A tip. Try not to cross your hands/hammers on alternate strokes. If you do a D scale on the treble bridge, for instance, start with the left on the D, which lets your right hand do the G [right side of the bridge] and the left hand can then do the A on the left side of the bridge.

Skip
Skip
@skip
2 months ago
266 posts

I'm not a HD instructor but this is what I would do. Since you're probably looking at muscle memory instead of strength, I would practice with the weak hand only, then add the other hand occasionally to add coordination. Using your fingers to move the hammers should help as they move more accurately than your arms. Start by learning the finger motion one hand at a time until it feels more or less natural with both hands. Then alternate notes between hands as you move up/down a scale. Just do one note and alternate between hands if necessary. D[left ]-D[right] up/down the scale. Go slow at first to compare hands. Scales for awhile then a really easy tune like Mary had a little lamb, or whatever. Alternate hands/notes.  

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,303 posts

Thanks, @Pondoro and @Skip.  I am expecting to practice. My question, though is how to practice.  Since I have been playing fretted instruments my whole life, when I decided to work on my weak little pinky, I knew how to develop exercises for that. It still took 4 years to get my pinky up to the same strength as my other fingers, but at least I knew how to work on it.  I designed some exercise specifically for my pinky and kept at it.  I have no experience with the hammered dulcimer, and it just seems that my dominant hand is pretty good but my weak hand, well, is decidedly not.  I have been doing some scales and some arpeggios, so maybe I just need to keep at it and perhaps in 4 years I'll see some improvement.  But I wonder if certain exercises might speed things along.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 08/17/20 10:58:22AM
Skip
Skip
@skip
2 months ago
266 posts

Does 'practice, practice, practice', sound familiar? poke

I took an intense 3 day class many years ago. We did scales, a lot! Both on each side if the treble bridge and across both bridges. Rick also tried to get us to use our fingers to power the hammers instead of wrist/arm movement. That is done with the hammers held between the thumb and pads of the first 2[or 3] fingers [no death grip]. The thumb pushes down over the pointer finger while the middle/ring lift towards the palm. It's kind of a flicking movement.

Pondoro
Pondoro
@pondoro
2 months ago
23 posts

The ugly reality for me is that I have to practice my weakest areas obsessively.  I’ve never tried the hammered dulcimer though.  

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 months ago
1,303 posts

Just got a hammered dulcimer a few days ago and am now in full frustration mode.  Boy, the instrument is unforgiving; you hit one wrong note today and it rings until next weekend!  I can see why people have dampers installed.

I have horrible technique right now and my left hand is especially lame.  Does anyone have suggestions for how to increase the coordination of a left hand for playing the hammered dulcimer. I wonder if some percussionists out there have recommendations.

Thanks in advance.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty-turtle: 08/17/20 02:42:25AM