Positive game-changers in your progress

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
5 years ago
447 posts

Whether your answers are long or short, I hope everyone is realizing as they read these responses that playing the dulcimer is a very personal experience.  Each individual brings to it their love of music and looks to find a way to have the dulcimer express this in the way that pleases them most.  And, as several have said, sometimes the journey changes for one reason or another--but it's still all good!




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
5 years ago
1,749 posts

Life-altering game changer in all my music playing, on any instrument, has been two pronged
...and for me they've gone hand in hand:

-discovery of dronal tones and older intervals and dissonances...and how they can move me to my soul.

-embracing rhythm/beats/percussion as an equally important aspect (if not most important) as notes or melody in my music making.




--
Site Owner

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

updated by @strumelia: 09/13/15 12:59:51PM
James Phillips
James Phillips
@james-phillips
5 years ago
84 posts

Mine was a variety of factors.  I am not knocking chord melody nor finger style at all, but I realized when I got back to playing dulcimer in 2013 that while I love those styles, I could not execute them well on the dulcimer to do it justice.  So instead I worked on noter style playing, using CGG Ionian tuning.  I worked on a song at a time, instead of a bunch at once.  That way I could say I could play (insert song title) very well, instead of a bunch of songs so-so.  

I also worked on my strumming technique, and started doing the alternate strumming you see in my video clips.  At first I got it down for slower songs, then started working on faster songs with it, like Wildwood Flower and Old Joe Clark.

Lastly, I figured out what tunings and set-ups worked best for me and my music.  I got into Bagpipe tuning, and use that on 2 of my dulcimers to-day.  I also have on my Bagpipe tuned instruments the 6.5, which I know some traditionalists will stick there noses up the air about, but my rational is this: If tuned Ddd Bagpipe, from the open fret I get key of D mixolydian, and if it does not dip below the scale, D major.  From the 3rd fret I get key of G major.  Like having 2 dulcimers in one.  As well, if I do a reverse capo under the drones on the first fret, I get E minor.  The flip is that I also had gotten a mean tone fretted McSpadden hourglass, no 6.5, doubled middle string, and tuned E-BB-B.  Partially because there was talk about this fretting system no doubt because of John Henry Crocker on this site, and seeing a video of someone in the UK playing a McSpadden in this set-up, I decided to bite the bullet with it.  So on some songs, I like to use this.  Another thing I figured out for me was that I prefer to play with a single melody string, as to my ears, it has a cleaner sound, so I either prefer equidistant 4 string or a doubled middle string.

 

So there you go, the long winded answer to a simple question Laugh


updated by @james-phillips: 09/13/15 06:36:33PM
Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
5 years ago
253 posts

I started playing chord melody style in DAd, like the vast majority of players coming to the instrument.  The game changer for me was discovering pre-revival dulcimers and their playing styles.  I'm not a 'traditionalist', it is just that I love the aesthetics of playing with a noter and pre-revival strumming styles, particularly on old instruments specifically designed for melody against drone playing styles.  I've loved discovering all I can about early players and working on their styles to incorporate what I can into my own playing.  There's such a depth of musicality to this style of playing - and the moment of realising that noter drone playing was not limited to being 'a beginner's way to play' was the game changer that started my journey down this path.

Wout Blommers
Wout Blommers
@wout-blommers
5 years ago
100 posts

Thanks Dusty. So in a way it's like a friend of mine who once said to me about playing the guitar: "Concentrate yourself on the right hand: that's where the music comes from. If it is the other way around people would play the guitar reversed." That knowing it changes a lot in my techniques.


updated by @wout-blommers: 09/13/15 02:50:30AM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
5 years ago
1,206 posts

Wout, I think you have the main idea, but you might be thinking too literally.  In common American parlance, a "game changer" is an idea, technique, or event that significantly changes the manner of doing something.

So Jan was asking people what they had discovered in their own dulcimer development that significantly changed in a positive manner how they were playing and learning the dulcimer.  So yes, indeed, it is a matter of growth. But not the slow, incremental type of growth that you might get from practicing scales every day, but the growth that comes from a specific change that leads to a big leap in your understanding or ability.




--
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
Wout Blommers
Wout Blommers
@wout-blommers
5 years ago
100 posts

Do your thing, that's what is going on...

I wanted to understand the feeling of the words 'game-changing', because it can mean another way to play the game, but also changing the rules or even the complete game... I think this discussion is about growth and the moments one is aware of this growth. And as every preacher or shrink can tell you: growth is a mile stone on the road to happyness. So are picks... squaresmile

 

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
5 years ago
447 posts

Great responses on this discussion!  One of the things I wanted to add was that these changes aren't necessarily permanent ones--they may just be what you needed at that time to make a difference. 

For instance, I changed from a 28" to a 23" VSL and found it much easier to get my left hand to do the chords and fingering I wanted it to do. But as I got more proficient with those skills, I began using dulcimers with longer VSLs.  I now usually play dulcimers with a VSL in the 25-27 " range.

The super thin picks helped me with strumming tempo when I was struggling with that.  For awhile, I too, used only thin picks. Later, however, I started experimenting with picks of different thicknesses and now use a variety, for different purposes.  But the thin pick--at that time--was a real game-changer, for sure.

Imagine you're on a car trip, heading east across the USA, and about midway across the continental 48 you decide you'd like to experience the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.  So you head south.  That doesn't mean you continue heading south, no matter what! You may decide to alter your route to take a better highway through the mountains.  Or you may detour around a swamp.  You may even decide partway there that maybe you'd prefer the Jersey shore or the sands of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  That's OK!  You can change your mind, try something different.  You might even decide to spend your time in a cabin with great mountain views, instead of heading toward an ocean.  

It's OK!  Do your thing!  yes




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
5 years ago
130 posts

Great summation Jan and i think this is one of the best (and for me, most useful) discussions we've had. Thanks Dusty re the chord info...i will put that to work. Robin, you are so right about rhythm being so important....i have just finally got the metronome out and am working on the exercises in my Techniques book and Bing' Blues book. Boy it is hard but i am gonna stick it out. Was at a jam last night and although i could finally match a couple of chords, i was hopeless at matching the rhythm of the squeezebox and guitar player. Thats another game changer for me. I have started to learn the chord and note names that i play. I never bothered when i learnt...just followed the tab or my ear. I recently set myself the task to learn 2 chord names a week. I can also put a few other game changers brought up in this discussio into my own playing. Its great so many of us have contributed on this one. Hope we get more.

Bob Reinsel
Bob Reinsel
@bob-reinsel
5 years ago
74 posts

Wout, I am right handed.  And yes, you are understanding 'game changer' correctly.  I learned both strumming and finger picking playing guitar.

I think what I was trying to say is that I have forgotten how hard it is to work with both hands because it is automatic for me after so many years.  When teaching my kids I have left off trying to teach them rhythmic strumming (bum-ditty-bum-ditty for example) and just let them strum to the melody line.  This way they get to hear themselves playing a tune which is fun and exciting for them.  Luckily both of them have a good ear, so I can often sing a line and they can follow it on the dulcimer.




--
Bob
Site Moderator

The greatest music is made for love, not for money -- Greg Lake
Wout Blommers
Wout Blommers
@wout-blommers
5 years ago
100 posts

Hi Bob,

Are you left handed?

Most people who are only strumming think the left hand is more important than the right. I thought so too until a teacher told me the right hand is the most important, because it produces the tone and the dynamics. The left hand will follow the right. If the left hand would be the most important we would plat the instrument reversed.

As soon one switches to finger picking there will be a moment this game changer will show itself. (BTW I hope I understand 'game changer' right in the way being the thing which changes one's playing; I am not a native speaker...)


updated by @wout-blommers: 09/11/15 09:56:19AM
Bob Reinsel
Bob Reinsel
@bob-reinsel
5 years ago
74 posts

The first thing that popped into my head when I read this thread was that teaching my kids has been a game changer for me.  It has really made me slow down and think.  I have been strumming instruments for 30 years so it's really second nature for me to sit down and pick out a tune because I don't have to think at all about what my right hand is doing.  But that's not the case for my kids.  Since I have been doing it so long, I had forgotten how hard it is to combine rhythmic strumming with fretting notes and chords.  So I had to slow down and not worry about strumming with the kids right now and just focus on helping them be successful playing a tune.  

This has actually helped my playing because I find that I focus more on bringing out the melody line and trying to make it ring out clearly from the strumming.




--
Bob
Site Moderator

The greatest music is made for love, not for money -- Greg Lake
John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
5 years ago
193 posts

The game changer for me occurred when I became a student of the game.  I watched (and still do) as many videos of people playing the dulcimer as time would allow.  I discovered that there are many approaches and many styles to experiment with.  I asked questions here on FOTMD and got varying opinions...but I got opinions.  Then, I finally got to attend my first live "in person" dulcimer workshop to see and hear "up close" many of the answers to my questions with immediate feedback.  I guess my true game changer was when I immersed myself in all things mountain dulcimer.  I kept the things that worked, made note of the things that didn't work for me, and continue the process to this day (and try to share those experiences with others so that they might avoid some of my earlier frustration).  The wonderful byproduct of this is all of the amazing friends that I now have in the dulcimer community that I didn't even know five years ago.  The mountain dulcimer community is genuinely a fantastic collection of people.

Sam
Sam
@sam
5 years ago
178 posts

Jan, sadly one game changer for you has become a crutch for me. The thin pick. I do not play well and I've resorted to a thin pick because it does not make my mistakes at loud  :( I haven't developed any confidence in my playing. I still make the same mistakes I did in my first month with a dulcimer. I'll never play well, I've accepted that, but I can get some of the melody, some of the time ... and that's enough.

Great discussion. 




--
The Dulcimer. If you want to preserve it, jam it!
Wout Blommers
Wout Blommers
@wout-blommers
5 years ago
100 posts

About the thickness of the pick: an eye opener to me was the use of a 'hard' pick gives a better tone control than a 'sloppy' one. The sloppy pick absorbs the energy of the arm muscles. Sloppy picks sound always the same.

What happened is this: take a wooden plank, hard with no bending and put this under a heavy box using a piece of wood to make it to swing-like operate. The hard plank works fine. Using a thinner or sloppy plank the box can't be lift or just a little bit...


updated by @wout-blommers: 09/11/15 08:26:59AM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
5 years ago
1,206 posts

First of all, this is a great question, Jan.  Thanks.

Second, I have two responses, one physical and one mental.

 When I first started playing, I had trouble controlling the dulcimer. It would slip all over my lap and sometimes even sort of tip over.  To keep the dulcimer in place I used to use the moveable arms of my office chair to hold the dulcimer on my lap. But that meant I could only play in my office.  Eventually I got up the courage to drill small holes in my precious instrument and install strap buttons.  Immediately the dulcimer became mine. I know not everyone plays with a strap, but I have found that physically attaching the instrument to my body gives me much more control over it and a much more intimate relationship with it.

 I had a mental epiphany one day trying to fingerpick, but it is something that works for any modern style of playing.   I was trying to add little filler in between melody notes and I realized that as long as my left hand was fretting a chord, any note I played would be OK. So I tried to make sure that as I played the melody I was always ready to play a chord, and then I let my fingerpicking hand just pluck strings almost randomly. I now do that when I play with flatpick, too. I'll just throw a basenote in whenever there is a break in the melody, or play a quick arpeggio, or whatever. You don't have to plan it ahead of time or even think about what you're doing.  As long as your left hand is fretting a chord, any string can be played. It's really liberating not to have to worry about hitting a wrong string. And sometimes starting with one or two strings will lead to a short idea for a melodic filler.  But it all starts with knowing that playing a chord makes any string safe to play at any time.




--
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: 09/12/15 02:14:47AM
Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
5 years ago
1,047 posts

A positive game-changer for me was when I realized Strumelia and a few other experienced players were right when they emphasized the importance of being solid with rhythm.  A wrong note isn't going to throw a jam off the rails but being off with rhythm can throw things all out of whack.  Once this sunk in, it caused me to try to pay particular attention to rhythm. . . I always need to work at it.  It's fun work, though! 




--
Robin T
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
shawn wright
shawn wright
@shawn-wright
5 years ago
12 posts

To new to call it a game changer, but I took my son to the Perry County Dulcimer Club and he got to hear good players.  All were very encouraging to him and I think it really helped him see that people can make good music with one of these unlike what I make while trying to help him.

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
5 years ago
447 posts

For the most part, these responses have shown a wide range of changes which have turned you in a new direction--sometimes one that brought on a whole new set of challenges, but, obviously one that has also brought you great pleasure.

Some of my friends switched from playing melody almost all the time to now playing backup most of the time.  I play harmony and counter-melody when it works out--and when I have others to play with, obviously!

I've played some on a baritone and on a chromatic (and on a chromatic baritone!) but need a lot more practice in that direction.

JohnP, I had a similar experience with the dulcimer--a "light bulb moment" when something clicked and I could suddenly play the dulcimer by ear, just as I did the piano and other instruments.  Learning chords has helped me progress in that area, which is really where my heart is.  If the song is in my head, I want it to show up at my fingertips!

Lisa, as you point out with that great story and the link to S. Smith's Blues for Mtn. Dulcimer, there are a lot of different genres that work very well on the mountain dulcimer.  I've seen folks in nursing homes sleep through every genre played until you get to the one that resonates with them--suddenly they're awake, clapping their hands and singing.  Some of us would feel tortured if we had to play classical music on the dulcimer--and others would be delighted!  To each his own!  My group in Tucson taught me to play the blues and they often perform St. Louis Blues, which is a real crowd-pleaser.

Experimenting with different strumming and fingering techniques can lead to something that really "clicks" for you, as with the bum-ditties, thumb-strumming, fingerpicking, etc.  You just might find something that becomes a great new technique for you.

And, yes, finding a group--even a small one--to play with, helps immensely, as does having someone teach you how to play....or how to play better!  I, too, enjoy going to workshops and festivals, not just for the fellowship and great jamming, but also for those workshops that cause you to stretch, bring you new insights, or take you into a whole new direction.

I'm enjoying the discussion and sharing of positive "game-changers" that you, personally have experienced. clap




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
Sheryl St. Clare
Sheryl St. Clare
@sheryl-st-clare
5 years ago
272 posts

Kandee, I'm in the same boat as you are. I attend every workshop, jam, and friendly get together I can possibly attend. I am getting better at keeping up, but sometimes I just play the melody string when I can't keep up with the chords. Eventually we won't be beginners anymore. You can learn so much here on FOTMD!   sun

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
5 years ago
103 posts

Sheryl St. Clare:
I think I am thankful, but it may take me a while to figure it out. Nice work, Lisa.

You make a real good point.  I said "this is easy" but that's only true in retrospect!  It does take some time to work through.  Have fun on the journey.

Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
5 years ago
130 posts

Great discussion topic Jan. For me the arrival of my first bum-diddy made a very big difference to my playing tho i am a bit of an addict now...bum'diddying all over the place. It really freed up my playing.

Kandee
Kandee
@kandee
5 years ago
26 posts

I am a beginner and I haven't been playing long enough to have a game changer but this is a great topic.  What has helped me the most so far is finding a local group to play with (read as they play and I try to keep up).  Also seeking out a teacher from that group and starting to take lessons.  Keeps me moving forward and provides a direction.  I definitely need that otherwise my playing would be going no where fast. :)

BTW:  Love the word gobsmacked! 

Sheryl St. Clare
Sheryl St. Clare
@sheryl-st-clare
5 years ago
272 posts

Btw Jan, Excellent question! Very thought provoking. 

Sheryl St. Clare
Sheryl St. Clare
@sheryl-st-clare
5 years ago
272 posts

I think I am thankful, but it may take me a while to figure it out. Nice work, Lisa.

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
5 years ago
103 posts

Long years back, a guitar-playing acquaintance asked me what that instrument was on the coffee table.   I handed him my dulcimer, he looked at it for a moment, said “oh, I get it!” and played a blazing hot blues riff.   Then he handed the MD back to me.   I was gobsmacked.   I had no idea you could play blues on the thing.

 I was hosting the party, too busy to buttonhole him and ask how on earth he did that.   Soon after, he skipped town ahead of the IRS and hasn’t been seen since.   Exactly what you’d expect from the guy you want to learn blues from, right?

 Well, for the better part of a decade I was stumped.   I tried all the modes, all the tunings.   Nothing.   I blame this on the Internet, which obstinately had not been invented yet.   The few other MD players I knew thought I was insane when I asked about the blues.   But I knew it was possible .  

 I doubt that Steven K. Smith will ever fully appreciate what a revelation it was for me when I finally stumbled upon his three-part blues tutorial:   http://www.sksmithmusic.com/virtual_classroom/dulcimerblues.html

 My first thought was “hey, this works!”   And my second thought was “are you kidding me!?   This is EASY!   Why doesn’t anyone TELL us this stuff?”   Now I share Steven’s page with other MD players at every opportunity.   As I seize every opportunity to use the word “gobsmacked.”  


updated by @lisa-golladay: 09/10/15 12:17:16PM
Sheryl St. Clare
Sheryl St. Clare
@sheryl-st-clare
5 years ago
272 posts

Discovering that when I can't sleep at night, visualizing fingerings of songs I am memorizing works better than counting sheep. It's a win-win because I am not planning my day, or thinking of my regrets, and I am playing better having rehearsed the most efficient fingering for the song I am memorizing. 

john p
john p
@john-p
5 years ago
174 posts

Discovering you could play this thing by ear.

I started out learning 0 2 4 5 5 3 1 ... and such like and studiously playing it note by note, fret by fret.

Then one day the tune morphed itself under my fingers and I was playing something else. In one moment I went from stumbling through 3 tunes to playing hundreds. Still haven't played them all yet to this day bigsmile

Skip
Skip
@skip
5 years ago
246 posts

I'm the complete opposite of Ken, I went chromatic [the big change], no singing, prefer to fingerpick/flatpick/chord [backup] and settling into DAd as my primary tuning. I use my bass and what I call my 'Arkansas bass' [a big TMB an octave lower than the bass] about as much as a standard MD. It seemed to me that everyone was playing the lead melody and few, if any, supported the melody.


updated by @skip: 09/09/15 08:05:22PM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
5 years ago
1,697 posts

Deciding to stick to my strength's and abilities rather than 'follow the crowd'. 

I'm primarily an 'outie' thumb strummer who plays-sings-plays in Noter & Drone and occasionally fingerdancing style, who changes tunings readily.  I'm not a chord playing, sing-along, DAd tuned follower.

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
5 years ago
447 posts

"Game Changer: a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way" [Merriam-Webster]

We're so aware of the negative game-changers--our injuries, the damage or loss of instruments, etc.--but what have been the positive ones that have made a significant difference in our playing? 

For me, changing to a dulcimer with a shorter VSL was the first.  Using a thin pick to learn fast strumming was another.  Learning to fingerpick and locating chords--and scales of chords--on the fretboard were huge game changers for me.

What have been your positive game-changers?




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke

updated by @jan-potts: 02/02/16 02:47:35PM