MTWaggin: I will take you all back to your beginner days (since that is what I am)...I just started trying some chord work ... the chord work even at a simple level makes my hands and arms hurt...
Hi MTWaggin and @jill-geary! What a treat to have another dulcimer player join the family, MTWaggin! The dulcimer's dulcet tones captivate and never let go. I'm still as in awe of the MD as I was years ago!
I wanted to throw out a couple of suggestions to see if it might help:
I often see new or even seasoned players hunched over their dulcimer with their shoulders scrunched against their neck and their arms and wrists are stiff. And very often they hold their breath for long periods of time due to their focus. I don't know if these are your issue(s) but it is quite common.
I played that way for years but got tired of being sore. I discovered that if I sit up straight (not stiff but comfortable) and take a deep breath and purposely relax my shoulders, it relieves much of the strain.
In addition, when you are strumming, don't use your whole arm (think sawing motion) but rather use more of your wrist; more like a brushing motion like when brushing egg wash on a pie crust or brushing a bread crumb off your pants.
Also, I see many beginners try to strum perpendicular to the strings, i.e straight across the fretboard. Without using the left hand, try strumming the strings perpendicular then watch what happens to your arm: your elbow will be far forward and your forearm will be almost parallel with the fretboard - it is very unnatural and is very often the source of sore arms, shoulders and wrists.
When you strum, hold your arm as though it was going to rest on your right thigh. Think of starting your strum at the 7 o'clock position and cross the strings to the 2 o'clock position. Look at your arm now: it will be relaxed and at a natural angle and the wrist is moving its natural direction as well relieving stress there.
And don't forget to breathe!
As for learning new songs, I learned a couple of great tips from Aaron O'Rourke at the Menucha Dulcimer Festival: Don't try to learn the whole song at once. Take two measures and practice them slowly until you are comfortable then speed up for a few strums then work your way up to the tempo of the song. Then move to the next couple of measures.
And when you choose the measures to work on, play those measure PLUS the first beat of the next measure that you are not playing. Doing this allows you to instantly be setup to play the next measures and it smooths the transition to the new material. Once you have the new measures (don't forget to grab the first beat of the next measure) "under your fingers", go back and play the original two measure with the new measures until it is smooth, then move to the next new measures.
Not only does this break the task of learning a new song down to manageable pieces, it also builds muscle memory because each time you learn a new set of measures, you will be also practicing the ones you've learned. By the time you've finished the last measure fo the song you will be able to play it from beginning to end at tempo and you will be thrilled!
Aaron is a fantastic teacher and I highly recommend the Dulcimerschool.com. Aaron and Stephen Seifert teach beginner to advanced and it's a STEAL at the price.
I hope this helps!
Have a great day!
updated by @elvensong: 04/16/18 04:25:51PM