Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
6 days ago
251 posts
I like what Strumelia said about using both, "TAB and by ear."

Example : This morning I decided to learn the song, "Old Folks at Home."
I picked it out by ear, using the one finger method.

Then I referenced Linda Collins book, "Beyond the Basics." I did this to quickly get the two and three finger chords. Beautiful chords.

Hey Richard my friend. This song sounds pretty dog gone good using the smaller bamboo noter. Me thinks me and the little noter are entering into an affair.
Richard Streib
Richard Streib
@richard-streib
6 days ago
110 posts

Lois Sprengnether Keel:

I hope Lisa's blog is read.  Her call for respect is needed. 

Let's all play, whether by ear or in print, a chorus of Aretha Franklin's R-e-s-p-e-c-t.

 

The dulcimer produces such sweet music and it is versatile enough to be played in different ways.

I "amen" the appeal to respect others of our forum no matter their choice of playing style, use of TAB or SNM or memory.  Let's just all have fun and enjoy the dulcimer in the way that appeals to us and allow others the same without disrespect related to their playing method or style.

 

Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
one week ago
112 posts

I hope Lisa's blog is read.  Her call for respect is needed.  Possibly those trained classically are at a disadvantage because we have been trained to start with the written notation.  It doesn't mean the end result must be mechanical. 

Difficulty playing by ear also doesn't necessarily mean lack of trying.  Ditto memorization.  People have different learning styles and abilities. 

Frankly one of the things I have enjoyed here is the understanding there are so many ways to play and enjoy the dulcimer. 

I have loved awakening my ear in Ionian tuning.  I still need the security blanket of music for moments of uncertainty.  Mixolydian arrangements are beyond my ear at present other than snatches played repeatedly.    Those arrangements go beyond what I used to do playing guitar by chord and various strums.    Maybe some day I will be up to that, but right now I enjoy the freedom found playing my dulcimer.

Let's all play, whether by ear or in print, a chorus of Aretha Franklin's R-e-s-p-e-c-t.

 

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one week ago
1,819 posts

Here's what I wrote in my blog about the Tab vs. By Ear debate nine years ago:

https://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2009/04/tabis-it-bad-or-good.html




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
one week ago
251 posts

It's really nice to be able to play by ear, not a "slave" to tab. But the main question is: Who's having fun? Hopefully, everyone. I've only been to two dulcimer jams, and that was in my 1st year of playing. I'll tell you what's what. I've never seen such a large group of people having so much fun. And 90% were looking at tab while playing. Do it your way.


updated by @terry-wilson: 08/09/18 04:20:59PM
Bill in NM
Bill in NM
@bill-in-nm
one week ago
1 posts

One of the peculiarities I see among many of the others in my dulcimer group is an over-reliance on tablature. They are slaves to it. They don't hear the music -- they only play the notes. I play by ear primarily, and if I can't quite get it, I go through the tabs note by note. I play a lot of chords and link them with melody notes where possible. More and more often I actually look up at the standard musical notation rather than the tabs. There's a lot of information there.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it. . . . Bill in NM

Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
2 weeks ago
956 posts

In some skills, I'm rank beginner.  In others, I'm intermediate or above.  Two things I'm always learning:  the instrument, what it allows and its limitations and my ear.  If I were to attend a workshop, I'd try to place myself in a workshop which would expand my knowledge of the mountain dulcimer itself and how I hear it. 

Although noter/drone is the only style in which I play, exploring its limits is really fascinating to me.  :) 




--
Robin T
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
2 weeks ago
1,819 posts

Even the most basic beginner has wonderful things to teach a highly skilled professional. Over time, expert musicians can forget the bright joys of 'newness' one experiences when playing music for the first time. They can lose freshness and objectivity and not even really be aware of it.  A beginner can remind us of why we play music to begin with. A true gift!

I've always felt that the idea of distinct levels of beginner/intermediate/advanced are very subjective and hard to separate. Also we all tend to undervalue our own abilities.

@dulcinina , if the music you make brings joy to the lives of others, then I'd say that's the only proof you need that you are indeed a 'real' musician in the truest sense.  I wish we could just agree to add the joy factor into the criteria by which we 'judge' whether people are musicians or not.  To me, that's so much more important than whether someone can read music or play in various keys.  love




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
dulcinina
@dulcinina
2 weeks ago
41 posts

This discussion spoke to me in so many ways.  I lead a small group of players because I just wanted to have someone else to play with.  They consider themselves beginners and in some ways they are because of being new to the dulcimer.  One is a retired music teacher (voice) the other played the piano.  They know music theory. I do not.  But I could get them started  and they have taken a couple workshops.  They are slaves to the written tab.  They won't deviate or experiment.  My other two players in the group just go with the flow.

I know the more musically trained get frustrated with me but I said at the outset "I am not a professional musician."  I can get you started.  But you know what? After reading this discussion, I say I am a musician.  I play to satisfy myself, I play at the Alzheimer center and in nursing homes and I don'obsess about mistakes. 

All really top notch musicians make mistakes.  My mentor, a pianist and graduate from Julliard who knows nothing about the dulcimer, has trained me to keep playing regardless of mistakes and told me countless stories of famous musicians who make mistakes.  Oh gosh, I'm rambling.  I am going to have my group read this discussion and hopefully they'll relax a little bit.

And my friend from Julliard wants me to teach her the dulcimer.  I am inspried by so many of you on this website.  Thank you for all the insightful comments.  Dulcinina

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 weeks ago
1,005 posts

That's a great perspective, @john-keane. Instead of worrying about whether you have the skills for a workshop, consider whether the workshop has the skills you seek.




--
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
Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
2 weeks ago
251 posts
John, you presented a whole new perspective, to me, anyway and I agree wholeheartedly.

Thanks for taking the time to write your "novel."
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
2 weeks ago
1,718 posts

Nicely written John.  I've always told people to go to classes which appeal to them, regardless of the rating.  You may not master the topic now, but six months or a years down the road there will this "Aha!" moment when something you learned in the past finally "fits" what you're doing.

John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
2 weeks ago
206 posts

The topic of level "labels" has been a source of interest to me since the time I filled out paperwork to attend my first dulcimer festival years ago.  This was a long time before Karen and I had any notion of traveling the country performing and teaching workshops.  We were just professional musicians (on other instruments) wanting to learn how "not to stink" on this wonderful new instrument that we had discovered a few months earlier.  We both figured out rather quickly that the level labels didn't really work for us at all.  Even though we had less than a year of experience on the mountain dulcimer, we had a lifetime of musical background.  We found that, as we looked through the course offerings, we seemed to fit (in most cases) anywhere from novice to advanced (depending on the class).  The selection process and trying to declare a level label for ourselves was excruciating UNTIL we changed our perspective.  We decided to approach the selection process in a "where do we want to be" manner rather than the "where are we" fashion.  This decision literally changed our lives.  Yes, it was scary.  Yes, we were sitting in classes with students who had been playing for many years as opposed to our few months.  Yes, we understood that the instructors wouldn't wait for us to "get it" before moving on to the next topic.  With all of that said, we had a look at the payoff part of the dulcimer journey.  We learned skills and tricks that we couldn't do well at the time, but we could go back home and practice them.  We learned that the mountain dulcimer community is very helpful and accepting, and we met people all of those years ago who have become some of our best friends on this planet.  ALL of this happened by changing our perspective concerning level labels and totally eliminating the frustration.  I tell students all of the time that perspective is a weird and wonderful thing.  Some might marvel at how people can come from all over the country yet sit down and instantly make beautiful music together while others might complain that all these people do is sit in a circle and play the same twelve tunes for a week.  It's all about the perspective of the observer.  We cannot control labels developed by others and where we fit (or not) into these categories, but we CAN control the perspective at which we view these labels and approach them in a manner that will benefit us (as players) the most.  Sorry about the novel, but this is a topic near and dear to my heart.  Please don't be afraid to venture into a workshop that a label declares is too difficult for you.  The information will benefit you greatly if you take it and develop the skills at your own pace.   

Elvensong
Elvensong
@elvensong
2 weeks ago
22 posts

Dusty Turtle:

Just put the instrument on your lap.  Play something.  If it sounds good, do it again. If it doesn't, try something else.  Don't be too ambitious, just try to find the melody for all those nursery rhymes we learned as kids.  You'll get those melodies in a short amount of time and will be able to figure out more complex ones later on. 

This is the very essence of learning any instrument. By continually experimenting with what sounds good and what doesn't, you build your intimacy with the instrument. And like any other skill, if you practice 15 minutes a day, you will learn your instrument. Your brain begins associating certain sounds with certain shapes and it starts to snowball. Before you know it, you are writing tunes and able to jam with confidence because you know your instrument. 

 

Dusty Turtle:
...She protested that she can only play with tablature.  But the problem was that although she knew the melody, she was getting distracted by all the information on the tab.  When I forced her to stop thinking about fret numbers and note duration and just to play the song she had in her head, she was able to learn it much faster.


Exactly. In our circle, everyone knows the songs we're playing but most still insist that they can't play without the tab. Most of us hum these tunes in our sleep lol.

 

 

notsothoreau
@notsothoreau
2 weeks ago
44 posts
I try to look at the tab if there is a tricky part I haven't been able to figure out. I find I can pick out the melody most of the time if I just mess around with it.

I try to keep in mind how kids learn to be rockers :). They dress like their hero, try to play the same way and obsessively listen to a song to figure it out. It's still a good way to go about it.
Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
2 weeks ago
251 posts
Lois Sprengnether Keel:

Terry, ages ago I gave away my harmonica and the book I bought as I just couldn't get it.  Wish I could as it's a small very portable instrument.



I had a baseball coach in HS who's favorite saying was: "Boys, ya gotta want it!" He screamed
that a thousand times or more.

I loved baseball, and I wanted it, as far as my small frame would take me.

Same for any instrument, you gotta love it and want it. We have two pianos in our home. My wife is a superb puano player. I don't have any love for it, and I don't want it. I do love to hear her play.

She has no real appreciation for the dulcimer or harmonica or ukulele. Society's fringe instruments. A source of consternation between us. But life goes on.

Lois, ypu didn't love the harmonica.
Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
2 weeks ago
112 posts

At the risk of turning this into a different topic, I agree with the practice part even though I never could get the hang of getting a harmonica to play just a note at a time. <Ptooey!>  My Ionian playing of Christmas carols comes closest to this. 

Memory and knowledge of what you want to play are a major factor.  Also those of us who go beyond just a melody are probably dissatisfied with not being able to flesh it out.

Bob
Bob
@bob
2 weeks ago
167 posts

This is a really interesting discussion that got me thinking a lot. What skills does one need to master in order to progress from one 'level' to the next... Made me remember times I was asked for the music or tabs to a tune I had played on my dulcimer or Scottish Small Pipes. When I reply with an apology, that I can't help because I cant read music or tabs yet and only play by ear, I somehow feel inadequate.

I believe it's possible to master some skills as an intermediate player but also lack some of the skills of a rank beginner, at least in my case. Most, or a great many beginners learn from written music I think. I never learned to do that, even though i know the importance in it. (It's hard to commit to that when there's so many other neat and exciting things I need and want to do!) Some solace that, within the Irish music tradition, according to some quite renown musicians, most learning is done by ear, "Lugging it" as Matt Seattle (Scottish composer and musician) calls it. I guess it comes down to skill and confidence.

Anyway, if there was a definitive check list for player 'levels', I don't think I would want to see it.


updated by @bob: 08/01/18 03:19:45PM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 weeks ago
1,005 posts

The key part of @terry-wilson's comment below is the practice part.  The fact is that if you can sing (not well, necessarily, but hitting something close to the right notes) then you can play by ear.  If your brain can make the connection between the interval between two notes and the right amount to open or stretch your vocal chords, then it can certain make the connection between intervals between notes and distance on the fretboard. After all, on the fretboard, you have not only your brain making a theoretical connection, but the feel of your fingers and the vision of your eyes.  So playing an instrument by ear should be three times easier than singing.  The only difference? Most of us have been singing our whole lives, so we have decades of experience.  Too few of us practice playing by ear.

And one problem with tablature is that it forces you to look at it instead of looking at the instrument.  So it actively sabotages your ability to play by ear.

I have no doubt that there are a lot of people who right now are unable to play by ear. But that doesn't mean they can't do it. They just haven't tried enough and practiced it.  Perhaps because I am self taught on most of the instruments I play (I took some guitar lessons the summer after third grade and piano lessons around that same time) I am amazed that people are afraid to play without tablature, without someone else telling them exactly what to do.  Just put the instrument on your lap.  Play something.  If it sounds good, do it again. If it doesn't, try something else.  Don't be too ambitious, just try to find the melody for all those nursery rhymes we learned as kids.  You'll get those melodies in a short amount of time and will be able to figure out more complex ones later on.  

On Monday I was teaching a student a song that she requested to learn.  So I wrote up tablature for her. But she was struggling so much looking at the tablature that at one point I took the tab away and forced her to look at the fretboard.  She protested that she can only play with tablature.  But the problem was that although she knew the melody, she was getting distracted by all the information on the tab.  When I forced her to stop thinking about fret numbers and note duration and just to play the song she had in her head, she was able to learn it much faster.  In this case the tab was a hindrance to her learning the song. But even when that's not the case, using tab does not aid in the development of our ability to play by ear and may even sabotage it by forcing us to look at the music instead of our instrument.




--
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
Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
2 weeks ago
112 posts

Terry, ages ago I gave away my harmonica and the book I bought as I just couldn't get it.  Wish I could as it's a small very portable instrument.

Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
2 weeks ago
251 posts

My 2 cents: And I've stated this before, as it worked for me. If you want to play the dulcimer by ear then do the following : Buy yourself a D or C ten hole harmonica, practice for 30 min a day for three months, and bingo, you begin a new life The Harmonica is a "by ear" musical instrument. Put in honest practice time for three months, and then without fanfare, a still small voice speaks to you; "Wow, I'm playing this dang thing by ear." I don't need harmonica tab, just know the tune in your head. Don't even attempt to play the lower or higher octave. Just concentrate on the middle octave, beginning at hole four. Same scale as dulcimer. Do it!!! Spend $25.00 and change your musical life.


updated by @terry-wilson: 08/01/18 02:36:26PM
Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
2 weeks ago
112 posts

I once wrote here about "First language", meaning in this case instrument training, influencing you.  In my case it was piano and I am indeed chained to sheet music.  Ionian tuning has let me develop my ear a bit, but ear training and (at least in my instrument playing) memory is a gift, or at least a skill, I don't possess.  I can play something over and over and maybe do most of it without looking while the piece is actively being worked on for performance, but if I come back to it after some time later, I couldn't begin to play it without working on it.  It may take me less time the second time, but it's not like singing if I know the words.  

I sometimes say I'm "math impaired" as numbers don't stay with me.  I believe this is somehow part of my brain linkage.  Perhaps it can be developed, but I've never been able to do it.  This is why I say I'm not a musician.

FWIW my memory works pretty much the same way.  I exercise it like crazy with theatre, but once I finish a show I couldn't begin to give you the lines without reviewing them.  It's also why, as a librarian, I gave great service taking people to the numbers on the shelf, because I don't remember them very well.

Elvensong
Elvensong
@elvensong
2 weeks ago
22 posts

Ken Hulme:

"...plus it seems most beginners get caught up in collecting tab and playing only from tab without actually learning to play from memory.  I don't know how many folks I've seen who literally have to use tab to play Boil Them Cabbage!!!

 

I whole-heartedly agree, Ken. The same goes for people who can only play with sheet music. Tab & sheet music are useful in SMALL doses. After that it becomes your ball and chain.

It's like training wheels on a bike. Sure you can keep your training wheels on but you'll never be a good rider.

Frank Ledgerwood told me stories of people who came to him to improve their playing and he would ask them to play their favorite song so he could evaluate what they needed. They would tell him they couldn't because they didn't have the tab...for their favorite song?

I often get asked how I developed my style and it was by just experimenting. I learned my instrument by making up tunes. Put away the tab and just spend some time with your dulcimer. Sight reading tab and music are two great skills to have but I'll take knowing my instrument any day.

I might not know a song but in a few beats I can jump in and jam with anyone because I know how to make the sound that I'm hearing in my head. I may not know know I'm playing a C9 chord but I know the sound I am after and how to get there. 

I have considered teaching a workshop on how to write tunes with no music theory or tab, and it will be a beginner class because if you can fret and strum your instrument, if you know what sounds good to you, then you have the ability to write your own songs. The biggest impediment is people thinking they can't do it so they don't even try.


Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
2 weeks ago
112 posts

Marsha, I saw this happen recently with my husband at our folklore group.  I do understand as I've felt intimidated by them because there's some darned good musicians in the group.  He can play banjo in the background at my Civil War programs and earn raves.  I also stop him being in the background to have him play the melody of "Old Rosin the Beau" for my singing the Civil War abolition song "Roll on the Liberty Ball" and later a bit of it for "Lincoln and Liberty, Too."  He knows the song and does it well. 

We had a theme of Cities for our folklore group's song swap and he wanted to sing and play it for the song "Denver."   It's to that same tune and he can do it in his sleep.  He blew it, not just a little bit, he got thoroughly spooked.  Don't think I'll ever get him to try playing there again. 

O.k. I make myself play there.  When I said "I've felt intimidated", that past tense isn't true as I still do.  I've blown it there at times.  It's good for me to set those goals.  Just hope someday he'll try it again and I keep trying to help him understand.

Marsha Elliott
Marsha Elliott
@marsha-elliott
2 weeks ago
13 posts

You are absolutely right Dusty. I need to work on keeping a happy face when I make a mistake. It seems that the difficulty of doing so is in direct coralation with who the audience is.... old folks, kids and family, no problem because they don't even know when I make a mistake, but on a stage, different story. I loose concentration and bingo, ooops!

 

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 weeks ago
1,005 posts

Musicians (including dulcimer players) make mistakes all the time. I'm sure Yo Yo Ma makes mistakes daily.  How often you make mistakes does not differentiate a beginner from an advanced player.

But an important skill to learn is how to make a mistake and keep going, keeping the flow of the music.  If you make a mistake but skip right over and keep going, the mistake is gone, off into the ether, and even if anyone noticed, they forget about it right away. But if you make a mistake and then stop and start over, or utter some choice exclamations (as I am wont to do) or pause for a moment with an unhappy face, then you really look like a beginner who can't carry a tune.  And what's more, once you learn how to continue playing after making a mistake, then the fear of making mistakes goes away.  Magic!




--
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
Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
2 weeks ago
112 posts

Regarding the discussion of "when you can consider yourself a musician", I sometimes think I play like an Oriental Rug...there's always a mistake somewhere in it.  (O.k. so maybe the audience doesn't know -- if I'm lucky.)  My standard reply to the obvious mistakes is "Now you know why I'm a storyteller and not a musician."

Marsha Elliott
Marsha Elliott
@marsha-elliott
2 weeks ago
13 posts

I just returned from the Dulcimer U workshop in Cullowhee, NC where my main morning class was Tull Glazener's upper intermediate. He taught us how to take any music score, transpose it to key of D (or what ever key you want), then write the full chord tab for it. He also taught us how to then write other parts to do it as ensemble. No previous knowledge of music theory was necessary, nor did we have to be able to play by ear.

it was an intense week, but I came out of there with a whole new world opened to me. And I am so excited now to know that if I can't find tab for a song I like, it won't be a problem.

Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
2 weeks ago
251 posts
Goals. I believe a key factor is:

"What do you want to do with your music." I believe if one can accompany their singing with an instrument, like a dulcimer, and it's acceptible, then you are a musician.

I believe if you can entertain yourself, your family, and/or friends, then you are a musician.

I could go on and on with other examples, bit I'll stop there.

The point is: "YOU WILL KNOW when you are a musician."
notsothoreau
@notsothoreau
2 weeks ago
44 posts

I could open another can of worms by asking when you can consider yourself a musician :)

I find myself looking at a number of lessons on Dulcimer School for Intermediate and Advanced. They may be above my current skill level, but they give me an idea where the gaps are in my knowledge. Sometimes, it's something I've never even heard of. I know musicians use riffs to fill in a melody, but I'd never considered learning a few to add to what I play. I had no idea there was such a thing in the dulcimer world. That's the tough thing about being a beginner when you aren't taking lessons from someone in person. Sometimes it's something you can pick up from watching someone else play, even if it's just a video.

 

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
2 weeks ago
1,005 posts

If any of you are Patreon supporters of Bing Futch, you see that he has just posted materials from his 3-Day Intensive workshops at Evart.  He is doing separate workshops for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

I just glanced at the material and haven't watched the videos yet, but so far I don't really see much difference between the intermediate and advanced stuff.  He teaches chords in the intermediate level, but he also teaches crosspicking technique there, which in my mind is more challenging than the scales he teaches at the advanced level.  In the arrangements themselves, it appears the advanced stuff is played faster and has more eighth notes, but the intermediate arrangements looked pretty advanced to me.

It's interesting to see his take on these categories. At some point when my work lightens up I'll take a harder look at that material.

I've said before that I don't see any use for these categories other than providing guidance at festivals about what workshops might be appropriate for individual attendees. Perhaps a more useful discussion would be what skills or techniques people have found useful and encourage others to develop.  Maybe an idea for a different discussion . . . winky




--
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
notsothoreau
@notsothoreau
3 weeks ago
44 posts
Just watch his hands!
Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
242 posts

Nah, I'm intermediate.

dulcinina
@dulcinina
3 weeks ago
41 posts

This is a good discussion and I remember it being discussed several months ago.  After reading Dusty's Berkley descriptions back then, I moved my rank up to Intermeditate. I still make mistakes while I'm playing but I can cover a lot of them up, too. Ditto everything Terry Wilson said.  I guffawed out loud when I read Skip's description of Beg, Inter, Adv.  Skip, so you have TAB for Flight of the Bumblebee?  Dulcinina

notsothoreau
@notsothoreau
3 weeks ago
44 posts
I really think it's an attitude or state of mind. I was messing around with Southwind yesterday. I played it on the melody strings, sometimes throwing in a few chords. I played it on the upper strings, then the bass strings. I even tried it just on the middle string. I'm still not ready to call myself an intermediate, but that kind of experimentation is what you do when you are moving out of beginner status.
Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
242 posts

Beginner-  "What's this?"

Intermediate- "I got most of the notes/chords in most of the tunes today".

Advanced- "Lets play 'Flight of the Bumblebee'".

Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
3 weeks ago
251 posts
Strumelia:

This is a good and useful discussion!

In reading the Berkeley guidelines, I have to say that some of those criteria for being Intermediate seem more suited for Advanced however. I'd never meet those standards, especially the parts about "to play in and modulate to different keys with and without a capo or retuning; to flat-pick and fingerpick a tune".....sigh... I guess I'll be an eternal beginner.  bigsmile  Also, is it not possible to be considered an advanced player without ever reading either Tablature or sheet music?- an intriguing question.

NSThoreau, I think you are right about the fact that there is often less info geared towards the huge segment of people who have just gone beyond the beginner stage. There must be good explanations for this but I can't think of any right now.

One would think that by the time one is an 'advanced' player they'd be at the point where they could be teaching most of the workshops at festivals. Maybe there should only be one advanced workshop- called Teaching Advanced Playing Workshops... but then would they just be teaching each other how to teach the workshop?  hahaha
Sorry I don't mean to make light of this, but the problems and ironies of this classification system have always struck me. I've always found workshop festivals to be a mixed bag, partly because it's hard for me to know where I even fit in, and often by the time I figure that out, it's over.  




Lisa, I know you are serious, but you still brought a huge humongous smile to my face.

I certainly can't judge what "level" your career stands. But one thing I do know is this:

"If it wasn't for your videos, I may have given up early on. Far as I am concerned you be a "100." Seriously.
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,005 posts

I would have no idea how to rank myself or anyone else and I think it's important to point out that there is no perfect way to define dulcimer abilities.  I am sure I know a whole lot more chords than does Ken, but he understands modes in ways I never will.  The skills and knowledge for different styles of play are simply not comparable. Linda Brockinton one of the best fingerpicking dulcimer players around, yet her prowess with a flat pick or quill is pretty limited.

I don't think it is worth working on a skill just because you think you want to advance to some other level of dulcimer playing. Just watch and listen to the people who play in the style that most interests you and keep trying to improve.  That's all that any of us can do.

The only purpose for formal definitions of levels is at festivals to help attendees find the right workshops for their interests and skill levels.  But that's it.  They do not really define objective, measurable skills that everyone develops over 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
Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
3 weeks ago
251 posts

I don't know what I am. But I think, from 0-100, I am perhaps a 57. Yeah, I like 57. In 6 years, never been to a work shop. Jammed with other dulcimer players two times. Have never ever much thought about hammerons....and the other nifty skills mentioned. I still use tab some, but also play by ear. Use two octaves regularly. Love to strum. Play a lot with one and two strings. Have introduced  dulcimer to adults and children. Even when I was a 30 rank. So why a lowly 57? You might ask. Well, most every time there is a new video posted, I am faced with the truth. I KNOW SO LITTLE AND HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO. If the many members , for example, like Mark and Dusty and Christine, weren't so doggone good, then maybe I could be a 63.


updated by @terry-wilson: 07/28/18 07:31:24PM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,005 posts

Folks, I didn't provide the criteria from the Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering because I agree with the descriptions there or think of it as the standard we should all adopt.  I just wanted people to see an example of descriptions that list some specific techniques, since the original question was about "skills" that would be considered intermediate.

Banjimer: If we're talking about dulcimer workshop levels (and it sounds like we are), the solution is to have a short description of what will be taught.  Then the attendees can decide if they are ready to learn that particular skill. 

I agree, @banjimer.  However, a lot of workshops don't actually teach skills but teach repertoire.  There are tons of workshops, for example, on Irish jigs or English country dance tunes or whatever.  In those cases, people need to understand the skills they should already have to benefit from the workshops.

notsothoreau: I would say it's possible to be an excellent musician and not read music. It's a good skill to have though. 

Yes, there are plenty of great musicians who can't read music.  But some degree of music literacy is necessary if we are going to talk about how we're playing, to teach and learn from one another.  I give dulcimer lessons at a music store and they get a constant stream of young guitar players who want to teach there.  But many of them have no understanding of the basic concepts of music literacy, so they can't explain how to construct a chord or how long to hold a given note. All they want to do is show people how they play.  That approach is of limited helpfulness.

Ken Hulme: IMHO "Intermediate" is just a state of mind. 

I agree, Ken.  That's why I asked the question in an earler discussion about when people know they are no longer beginners.  A lot of people hold onto that "beginner" label as a crutch, as a way to lower people's expectations of their playing.  But in my mind if you can follow simple tablature or follow by ear and eyes someone playing a simple song, then you are no longer a beginner.  You've reached a basic level of proficiency that deserves the term "intermediate."

 

BUT . . . at the risk of upsetting many of my dulcimer friends . . . I do think that dulcimer players have two main limitations which impede our progress as musicians.  One is the inability to do anything with the right hand other than strum across all the strings all the time.  The second is the inability to play in keys other than D.

Just because we have three strings doesn't mean we have to play all of them all the time.  We should be willing to sometimes play a single note or sometimes just two. And yes, that might mean working on the right-hand techniques to strum two strings or pluck one-at-a-time.

And if you ever want to join a jam that is not limited to dulcimer players tuned to the key of D, you need to understand how to use your instrument to accompany others playing in other keys.  Without this ability--which requires some basic music literacy--even intermediate and advanced dulcimer players would be considered beginning musicians.  I'm not suggesting that I can jam with a saxophone player in Bb, and I admit to "cheating" by retuning and/or using a capo when I can, but the old timey music scene includes fiddle players who want to play in A and banjo players who want to play in G and so forth.  We should all aspire to being able to join them.

 




--
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
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,819 posts

notsothoreau:I just think that beginners sometimes get so focused on learning a song that they don't understand the ways they can change it around and make it their own.

I've seen that as an issue for both beginners and intermediate players.  Sometimes we get so focused on not stumbling or playing a single 'wrong' note that we forget about playing expressively and forget about the importance of the right hand as well.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 weeks ago
1,718 posts

notsothoreau: I just think that beginners sometimes get so focused on learning a song that they don't understand the ways they can change it around and make it their own.

That, plus it seems most beginners get caught up in collecting tab and playing only from tab without actually learning to play from memory.  I don't know how many folks I've seen who literally have to use tab to play Boil Them Cabbage!!!

IMHO "Intermediate" is just a state of mind.  If you play better than most of the folks around you, but aren't up to "really good" (in your mind) players,  I'd say you're intermediate.

 

notsothoreau
@notsothoreau
3 weeks ago
44 posts
To be honest, I wasn't thinking about workshops. I like to be able to judge my progress when I'm learning something. And I like to see more advanced techniques, because then I can see how it fits together. I'm starting to understand how to use chords now. You can play the melody, then drop in a chord at a good spot.

I would say it's possible to be an excellent musician and not read music. It's a good skill to have though. I think it's a good skill to be able to play a melody on the bass string or the high end of the dulcimer. I like the idea of learning riffs, to drop in as needed. I just think that beginners sometimes get so focused on learning a song that they don't understand the ways they can change it around and make it their own.
Banjimer
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
3 weeks ago
51 posts

If we're talking about dulcimer workshop levels (and it sounds like we are), the solution is to have a short description of what will be taught.  Then the attendees can decide if they are ready to learn that particular skill.

For example:

"This workshop will teach the three basic chords in D-A-A tuning and some basic rhythm strums."

"In this workshop you will learn hammer-ons and pull-offs and how to apply them in the songs you already know."

"This workshop will teach you how to retune to the four most common modal tunings."

"Dulcimer Duos.  This workshop will teach you how to play with another dulcimer player.  One will play play the melody and one will play back up chords."

The best workshops I've ever attended were taught by Stephen Seifert, who took a single tune and presented it in stages.  In essence, he taught those attending how to begin with a simple melody and gradually add different techniques to make it a more advanced arrangement.    

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,819 posts

This is a good and useful discussion!

In reading the Berkeley guidelines, I have to say that some of those criteria for being Intermediate seem more suited for Advanced however. I'd never meet those standards, especially the parts about "to play in and modulate to different keys with and without a capo or retuning; to flat-pick and fingerpick a tune".....sigh... I guess I'll be an eternal beginner.  bigsmile  Also, is it not possible to be considered an advanced player without ever reading either Tablature or sheet music?- an intriguing question.

NSThoreau, I think you are right about the fact that there is often less info geared towards the huge segment of people who have just gone beyond the beginner stage. There must be good explanations for this but I can't think of any right now.

One would think that by the time one is an 'advanced' player they'd be at the point where they could be teaching most of the workshops at festivals. Maybe there should only be one advanced workshop- called Teaching Advanced Playing Workshops... but then would they just be teaching each other how to teach the workshop?  hahaha
Sorry I don't mean to make light of this, but the problems and ironies of this classification system have always struck me. I've always found workshop festivals to be a mixed bag, partly because it's hard for me to know where I even fit in, and often by the time I figure that out, it's over.  




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
notsothoreau
@notsothoreau
3 weeks ago
44 posts
I find that very helpful. Thanks! I've seen this problem in learning other skills. There's a lot of info on getting started, then info for those learning advanced techniques. There's not always a good way to progress from beginner to advanced though.

I'm still in the beginner's camp but working towards that intermediate stage. This gives me something to shoot for.
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,005 posts

@notsothoreau, my personal opinion is that if you can play basic tunes reading tablature then you are no longer a beginner.  To some extent, that is a confidence and proficiency issue. If I tell you to play me a 3-3-5 chord, do you have to count frets to figure out where your third and fifth frets are?  If so, you are probably still a beginner.  But if you know the first octave of your fretboard, you are probably an intermediate player. Most festivals might refer to left-hand techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs as intermediate-level skills.  And among those of us who chord, we might point to the ability to play a certain number of chords, to be able to play more than one voicing of basic chords, and perhaps to understand some basic chord substitutions.  The ability to play in more than one tuning would probably be considered an intermediate skill as well.

But there is clearly no criteria that will fit everyone. I came to the dulcimer from the guitar and mandolin, and my right hand technique was advanced before I ever touched a dulcimer. Once I learned three or four chords, which I did the first 20 minutes I had a dulcimer, most people would have no longer considered me a beginner ,even though I had no understanding of the fretboard and was horrible at reading tab. (I'm still pretty bad at it today; I need to look at my instrument!)

The Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering posted the following criteria to help festival attendees identify the best workshops for them. It is admittedly centered on chord/melody play, which will not fit traditional gatherings at all.  (Although I regularly teach at that event, I had no hand in writing these descriptions.)


Absolute Beginner: You do not need previous dulcimer experience or musical background.

Beginner: You know how to hold your instrument, and can strum and play some simple tunes. You may not feel confident yet, but you love the music that your instrument can make! These classes will help you learn some chords, gain more comfort with your instrument and your ability to find and play tunes by ear and from music and tablature. You do not need previous dulcimer experience or musical background.

Intermediate: You have the skills of the previous levels and you’ve learned the basics of strumming and reading tablature, you need to expand your playing techniques and musical theory. You are learning to embellish your basic music with hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides; to adapt an arrangement with different chord positions; to play in and modulate to different keys with and without a capo or retuning; to flat-pick and fingerpick a tune. You can play in different tunings.

Advanced: You have the skills of the other levels plus the ability to play at least 4 chords in DAd or DAA tuning, to use 2-3 fingers (left hand), and be comfortable with at least 2-3 basic rhythms, utilize melody runs on all the strings using scales, then adding arpeggios and patterns from within chords, as well as a strummed chordal melody.




--
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: 07/27/18 09:34:20PM
notsothoreau
@notsothoreau
3 weeks ago
44 posts

There was a discussion earlier about people continuing to refer to themselves as beginners, even though they were no longer beginners skillwise. I'm curious as to how someone would determine that they have in fact progressed beyond the beginner stage. What skills are necessary before you can call yourself an intermediate? Is it simply attitude? Confidence?


updated by @notsothoreau: 07/30/18 06:52:21PM