Best instruction material?

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
2,073 posts

Steven there's no need at all to understand modes at this point in time. Just sayin'!  earplug   lolol




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
340 posts

Steven:

LOL I started the same way, with only a sparse, barely remembered, 3rd grade understanding of music,,,,,,,, at 60 or so! It's been an interesting, and fun, trip so far. I've met, or talked, to a lot of really helpful, knowledgeable, folks along the way.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,974 posts

Steve -- the short answer is that Modes are scales - do, re, me fa, sol, la, ti , and do again is the Ionian Mode, which guitars etc call the Major.   Other scales (Modes) have other sequences of notes.  It's music theory.  Don't worry.

Diatonic means that the fretboard does not have all of the half steps that chromatic fretboard does -- which is why there are wide spaces between some frets and narrow spaces between other frets.  On a chromatic fretboard those wide spaces would have another fret in the middle.


updated by @ken-hulme: 07/24/22 06:15:59PM
Steven Stroot
Steven Stroot
@steven-stroot
3 weeks ago
32 posts

Skip:  I've never had a banjo lesson so, with the exception of a few chapters of "Banjo for Dummies", I'm self-taught.  Music theory is a complete mystery to me so anything beyond "Put your finger here and pick this string" is over my head.

Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
340 posts

@ Steven

Just look at modes as being the names of a re-ordered scale. CDEFGABC to DEFGABCD is a diatonic [8 note] scale changing modes, all the same notes, different order.

Steven Stroot
Steven Stroot
@steven-stroot
3 weeks ago
32 posts

Ken:  No offense was intended.  My head exploding comment was a reflection on ME not you.  I found that the whole diatonic/myxalodian/ionian concept was difficult (at least for me) to take in.  Thanks for your previous words of encouragement and thank you for your offer of further instruction.  

Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
340 posts

It really will be pretty easy to for you to learn the basics, you have 11 years of music background to help. Many folks start with with with none.

Remember back when you started with the banjo. You probably started with a childs song and picked it out one note at a time on one string. With the dulcimer that's the standard, normal way for n/d and finger dancing. You pick out a melody on the melody string, one note at a time, with no concern for any of the other strings [the're just drones to fill out the sound]. Then you do the same thing but strum across all of the things at the same time as you fret the note. When you've gotten to this point you've caught up with 50% or more of MD players. 

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,592 posts

At the in-person dulcimer gathering I host each month I begin with a free beginner's lesson.  Before I mention tunings or modes or extra frets or anything, I put a dulcimer on the newbies lap, have them strum across the strings in a slow and steady rhythm, and then ask them to follow my left hand as I play some basic melodies on the melody string.  Within 5 minutes they are playing music. Hot Cross Buns.  Mary Had a Little Lamb.  Bile Dem Cabbage Down.  Go Tell Aunt Rhody.  Only after they experience the joy of playing a few songs do I teach the parts of the dulcimer, how to hold the instrument, the reasons for different tunings, and so forth.

A lot of us want to understand what we are doing musically, but sometimes we forget to just put the instrument on our lap and play something. If it sounds good, do it again. If it doesn't, try something else until you find something that does sound good.  Getting started can be as simple as that.




--
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
Salt Springs
Salt Springs
@salt-springs
3 weeks ago
178 posts

Steven......I've read some of these posts and I'll share what Kerry Coates told me before she passed on (Such a gracious soul and sorely missed).   She built my first dulcimer years ago and told me to get Larkin Bryant's book which I did.  (Sadly, Larkin has gone on too and another great loss).  Anyway, after working with that book and ending up in a bit of a dither Kerry said, "Look, just play the darn thing".  So I tuned it up to DAA and made all sorts of noise.

She was exactly right!  After a week or two you'll get the hang of it and like she said, "tunes will come to you and you won't feel all flustered."

Now books, and there are tons of them, can help you learn all sorts of stuff.  Some will make you crazy at first but sooner or later you'll find one or parts of many that will ring your bell and your journey is off and running. 

I remember all the silly stuff I did when I first took a stab at playing this thing.  I'd buy new strings, (OK, I broke few trying to figure out the difference between G and g; DAA, DAD, CGG and all that.........then I figured well it must be the instrument or the pick or the noter, maybe the tuner; all that sort of stuff.  Don't fall into that that trap if you can help it.  (I'll bet I'm not the only one who has done that and I believe that Dulcimer Acquisition Disease may be rooted here).  I don't know much about modes.  (The only mode I care about at this point is "a la mode", preferably apple and vanilla.)

The truth of the matter is that playing a dulcimer is for enjoyment.  I'll never be a great player like those I see on youtube or other video platforms, but it's fun and the bottom line for me is........."who cares what folks think."  One you reach that level of comfort, you can sing along and you might be surprised at how small or large your audience will be.........in my case it's just the old hound dog......the cats scram and flee to the great outdoors.  (My wife just puts on headphones and listen to whatever).

Now ya'll don't get me wrong, what I'm saying is this, "Just go slow and as one feller out here in the woods one remarked, "a good outhouse ain't built in a day".

Don't get discouraged...just have fun!!  And by the way........welcome to this great group, "wheez glad yer here"!!!

BTW.....

For those who have asked, that old hound is still getting over the nasty Rattlesnake bite and the University of Florida Vet Hospital is pleased that I've paid their light bill for the month.  The good news is that will end in another few weeks.

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
3 weeks ago
26 posts
The lap dulcimer is a very simple musical instrument, but it is a musical instrument. I believe that there are a few people who do lack the requisite skills.

If you can't tell Go Tell Aunt Rhodie from Frere Jaques you will have challenges. Some sense of melody is required.

There are also folks with no real sense of rhythm - folks who will bring a drum to a jam session and just bang on it, missing the beat. Dulcimer tunes include a wide variety of note lengths (quarter, half, eighth, etc.) In our local group the comment, "Well, at least we all finished at the same time," is sometimes good for a laugh.

As a dulcimer player, I am a beginner, but I have been attending our local dulcimer group sessions for several years, sometimes playing ukulele or U-Bass. I've been watching how others learn and how and why others are challenged.

If you didn't have trouble in primary school music, and/or can comfortably sing along with hymns or patriotic songs at gatherings you should be OK.

Keep your initial sessions short. Few beginners can really stand a full-hour lesson. If you find yourself saying "I've got to get this right," you're pushing too hard. Learning curves are only steep if you try going too fast.
jost
@jost
3 weeks ago
66 posts

I started with Ritchies Dulcimer Book and would  recommend it to any beginner. 

In my opinion her introduction to Tunings is a good thing behause sticking to one Tuning  will limiting your Musical Repertoire.

For DAA tabs I would recommend Gamses Best Dulcimer Method yet. It‘s for CGG-Tuning, which is DAA just for C.

One caveat though: These are Books for Noter/drone /fingerdancing, so not a big help for Chord playing

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
2,073 posts

Steven, you said you were interested in a basic strumming style, fretting only the melody string. That would be either noter style playing, or fingerdancing style where you fret with the fingers on the melody string only.

You might find some helpful instruction, over 30 beginner tabs, and videos in my online free blog for beginner noter players:
https://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/search/label/strumming
(Be sure to browse the posts sorted by date (earliest posts first) and/or by subject matter, using the right hand column indexes found on every page.)

I find KenH's article very simple to follow, until it gets to explaining modes. Modes are always a challenge for new players to learn about. But like many FOTMD members, you don't really have to understand modes to enjoy playing in noter style. It's fun to learn about modes later on, and get those wonderful 'light bulb moments' as you change tunings.
I've written a very simplified "modes aren't so scary after all" method of learning about the basic modes in my blog, but I suggest you delve into that later on, after you are comfortable with playing a few simple first tunes. And it doesn't get any simpler than the tune for Hot Cross Buns.
For now, just know that tuning to DAA to begin with will make it easier if you are wanting to fret notes only on the melody string.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990

updated by @strumelia: 07/24/22 09:45:20AM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,974 posts

Stephen -- I am chagrined to hear that my beginner booklet has you stopping reading for fear that your head would  explode!!!  If you have ANY questions about anything I've written there, please write (through PM here or email) and tell me, and I will do my best to re-explain whatever it is that's troubling you.  

As an aside -- the dulcimer IS a very simple instrument to learn!!dulcimer .   

1.  There are 3 courses of strings -- bass (farthest from you), melody (closest to you) and middle drone (in the middle naturally). Each course usually has one string each, but sometimes they have two strings very close together which are treated as if they are a single string.  

2.  You make music by pressing down the melody course at various frets up and down the fretboard, while strumming across all of the courses.  

FWIW, I'm 74, and spent over 35 years of my working career as a science and technical writer explaining in detail how to use many more complicated devices for people with little or no experience in using them.

Steven Stroot
Steven Stroot
@steven-stroot
3 weeks ago
32 posts

Thanks everyone for your input.  As an aside...  I was led to believe the dulcimer is a very simple instrument.  However, I started reading Ken Hulme's "I just got a dulcimer. Now what?" article and had to stop for fear my head would explode.  Looks like I've got a steep learning curve ahead.  But, with support from folks like you guys (and gals), I'm sure I'll manage.  Thanks again!

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 weeks ago
893 posts

John's suggestion looks good also. I don't have that book, but have met Anne and know that she does a good job of teaching in person. It is worth checking out as well.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 weeks ago
893 posts

Wally has provided some good suggestions which you won't pick up in books. I'm 75 and pretty much self taught although I started in playing in 1974 when I made my first dulcimer. Over the last 20 years I've attended lots of festivals and workshops and accumulated lots of tab. These days I'm mostly focusing on playing single melody string either using a noter or my index finger. I can play chord/melody style but really like the sound of drones. For fretting only the melody string, I suggest Maddie's two books; Teach Yourself Dulcimer and The Wonderful World of DAA. If can purchase the books along with the audio/video downloads, I think that would be ideal for you. Can listen to audio or watch the videos whenever you want. I've found that with growing older that tab gets harder to see. I have to write out larger numbers on most of the tab I have.

We have a group that meets on Tuesday night on Zoom that plays mostly in DAA. I know it would be a little advanced for a beginner, but you are welcome to watch us play and ask questions. We meet at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, so it would be at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. If you are interested, let me know, and I will send the information on how to join the meeting.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
3 weeks ago
39 posts

I like the dulcimer instruction book by Anne Lough, which came out in 2011: "Welcome to the Mountain Dulcimer, Instruction and songs for beginners", Although she uses a noter, you can use your fingers if you wish.  Her songs are mostly familiar to dulcimer people. She covers three different modes and also includes  chord charts. It comes with an accompanying CD.  

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
3 weeks ago
26 posts

There are a lot of "details" which are easily skipped over when learning on your own. Many of these have to do with getting comfortable. Many of them are treated trivially in books and videos and easily missed.

For me, and many others, chair height is an issue. I'm short, and modern chairs are made too high to be good. I use a 2 inch foam foot block to raise my knees so the dulcimer doesn't slide away. That beats toting a 1950s vintage chair which does fit me. Some folks use straps, mats, etc. to reduce slipping, but proper height  and angle can provide a serious advantage.

Almost everyone uses a chair without arms. When a gathering is being set up, this is usually a discussion topic.

Where are you going to put your book while playing? Traditional music stands are great if you are playing most orchestral instruments, but put the music too high if you are looking at both the paper and your frets. You probably want a table about 25 (not 30) inches high.

Since you will not be learning these things in a group, when you watch videos, study how the performers set up.

There is no one right way for everyone. 

Steven Stroot
Steven Stroot
@steven-stroot
3 weeks ago
32 posts

Being old (72), I'm old school and an instruction book probably suits me best.  Dulcimer groups are pretty much out of the question.  When I mention the dulcimer around here, people invariably reply, "the What?".  I'm a 24/7 caregiver for my wife so instruction and practice opportunities are whenever I can find a bit of free time.  So, I have to learn at a very inconsistent pace.  I noticed quite a few dulcimer books available on-line so I decided to ask your sage advice on which to select.  I'm thinking a basic strumming style, fretting only the melody string (I'm a simple guy), is what I'm looking at.  Again, thank you for your kind assistance.  

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 weeks ago
893 posts

Steve, I don't know where you are in Oregon, but I suspect that dulcimer players are sparse in your area. I've used many books over the years and made recommendations to lots of students. A good basic instruction books that has been around for quite some time is Maddie MacNeil's You Can Teach Yourself Dulcimer from Mel Bay. It begins with DAA tuning plus you can access audio and video from Mel Bay. If you want to go with DAd, First Lessons Dulcimer in DAD by Joyce Ochs (also from Mel Bay) is a good beginners books. It has audio access. These books originally came with CDs or DVDs, but everything from Mel Bay is now by download these days. There are also lots of beginners lessons via video through the internet if you have a good internet connection where you live.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
3 weeks ago
26 posts

How well you can learn on your own depends on many factors.

What is your previous musical experience? Have you taken violin lessons or learned to play some other instrument by ear? Can you sing folk songs? How is your sense of rhythm? Any such experience can either help or hinder your learning.

As a starting point, you should be trying simple songs which you already know, and work from clearly printed TABS for those pieces.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,592 posts

Steven, there are several different ways you might approach this. 

You seem to be looking for a single book.  Yes, there are several good beginner instructional books out there, but they tend to teach a particular style of dulcimer, and I would think a true beginner should be exposed to different styles so you can better choose which one is right for you.  Wally has already mentioned Jean Ritchie's The Dulcimer Book.  For an introduction to a different style of dulcimer, I would recommend Joyce Ochs's First Lessons Dulcimer (Mel Bay, 2002).  Even brand new it only costs $10.  I have a copy I would send to you for the costs of postage, but you can probably get it faster and almost as inexpensively through Amazon.

Ken has suggested you seek out personal instruction, either through a dulcimer group or online lessons.  If you are a true beginner and need help just tuning your instrument, you probably want someone in person. But if you can tune your instrument and know basically to keep the string side up, then you might look into Zoom lessons.  A lot of instructors teach online very successfully.  Just ask someone whose style of play inspires you.

Another possibility is through an online subscription service.  There are two options I know of: Stephen Seifert's Mountain Dulcimer A to Z and Steve Eulberg's Dulcimer Crossing.  In both cases you pay a monthly fee and have access to a wide array of instructional materials.  It will take some effort on your part to poke around the sites to find the right material for your interests and your playing ability, but both of those online resources will have a lot for you both now and as you progress in your playing.

And finally: dulcimer festivals!  Some are in person and some are virtual through Zoom.  All of them have beginner classes, and usually those beginner classes are smaller than the intermediate classes so that you get the personalized attention you need.  In the tradition of shameless promotion, let me mention the Redwood Dulcimer Day which is online in just a few weeks and has a beginner string that includes lessons by Don Pedi and Aubrey Atwater.  But there are other festivals out there where you can get the instruction you need and also meet other dulcimer players.




--
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
Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
3 weeks ago
26 posts

I haven't found anything better than The Dulcimer Book. Ritchie's book will be a little challenging for some because of her suggestions on learning to tune. Some will be a bit put off by her early introduction of alternate tunings.

If possible, find a local group and learn "their way," at least that way you  you can ask questions and get demonstrations.

A lot of the YouTube stuff is posted by folks trying to sell you lessons.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,974 posts

Wow! That's a rather BIG question Steve!  Part of the answer depends on how you personally learn best.  There are Youtube vids.  There are dozens of books.  And today, there is personal instruction by Zoom or a local dulcimer club or player.  I learned from Jean Ritchie's landmark The Dulcimer Book decades ago when dulcimer players were uncommon.  I'm reader and a writer and am accustomed to that way. 

Today, if I were starting out, I would look for personal instruction.  Where do you live?  Is there a dulcimer club or player with 40 miles?  That IMHO is the way to go.  Second would be some Zoom call lessons. 

There are surely several people here who would be willing to work with you.

FWIW, If you aren't going to Fingerdance (play with bare fingers on the melody string while the others hummm along), are you trying to learn Chord-Melody style or Noter & Drone style?   

For beginners I almost always recommend Fingerdancing because it trains your body and mind both to interact with the instrument.  You don't "dance" to start, it's more like walking.  Chord-Melody involves trying to coordinate three fingers on three strings which isn't as easy; and Noter & Drone involves learning to use a stick to ftret the strings.  

Steven Stroot
Steven Stroot
@steven-stroot
3 weeks ago
32 posts

I'm finding that my efforts to learn dulcimer by trial and error is not working well and some actual instructional material would be helpful.  Can anyone recommend the best instruction book for beginning dulcimer?  I won't be delving into "finger dancing" or fingerpicking so the book need not cover advanced techniques.  I just need the basics.  Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.