Switching to Mountain Dulcimer due to guitar playing pain

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

Having looked at the photos you posted in your other thread, Roy, It is obvious that you have a very nice older dulcemore intended only for Noter & Drone or Fingerdancing style play.  The instrument is in the style of a Kentucky or JE Thomas dulcemore with staple frets under only the melody string.   There is no 6+ fret either, again pointing to the traditional nature of the instrument


updated by @ken-hulme: 07/18/22 08:51:24AM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 weeks ago
1,974 posts

@jost -- A transitioning guitar player has to understand that the usual flat finger type of fretting which works on guitar doesn't work well on a dulcimer flat in your lap; a more finger-tip approach is required.   I think Roy is wise to change playing style to noter as the way to transition from painful guitar to dulcimer.   Trying to treat a dulcimer as a miniature guitar can be fraught with "issues".  Learning the dulcimer as the dulcimer is traditionally played -- and then adapting some guitar technique seems best among those I know who have transitioned.

RoyB
RoyB
@royb
4 weeks ago
49 posts

Jost, I haven't mastered chording (as opposed to the noter) or finger picking, as opposed to a pick.  Still learning to tune (see my other posts about my wooden tuner battle) and pick out tunes with a noter.  I think the distance between strings is the same on the dulcimer as it is on the guitar, but I can see needing a wider fretboard if you're used to a guitar fretboard.  I'm personally more comfortable with a 2" classical guitar type fretboard, and have found even 1/8" difference can make fretting harder.

jost
@jost
4 weeks ago
66 posts

The style also depends on your instrument and your fingers ( at least in my humble opinion). My dulcimers fretboard is quite narrow thus I plain only noter/drone style ( Sound is great!) since my fingers always touch their neighbour strings. Of course one might argue that the fretboard isn't too narrow but my fingers to thick 😀

I'm saving money for getting another one with a wider fretboard now.

So: If you are interested in a certain style it might be an idea to get an instrument designed for it.

Like Dusty I would suggest to try several style and See what fit's you best.

Just my two Cents 

Btw: I'm playing guitar ( first chord strumming, now mainly finger-picking) too. I switch Instruments when one tires my fingers out too much.


updated by @jost: 07/16/22 05:17:30PM
RoyB
RoyB
@royb
one month ago
49 posts

Thanks Dusty. Definitely food for thought.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one month ago
1,592 posts

@RoyB, I would encourage you to think of noter/drone play not as a beginner "stage" in your dulcimer playing but as a unique style that may be relatively easy to learn at first but still requires years of practice to master.  You might consider embracing that style and planning on developing your noter technique over time.

On the other hand, if you want to play more modern styles of music on your dulcimer, you might be able to despite your arthritis.  With five fingers and only three strings, there are multiple ways of fingering chords and playing melodies across those strings.  I have a private student who has pretty bad arthritis in 1-2 fingers of her fretting hand, and we find ways to work around that limitation, either by finding alternative fingerings or sometimes revising arrangements.

And I should add that there are some great dulcimer players who don't use their pinky at all.

My advice is to concentrate on learning the instrument and playing the music you like.  Unless your arthritis gets much, much worse, there will be work-arounds for any obstacles you encounter.




--
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
RoyB
RoyB
@royb
one month ago
49 posts

Thanks, Lois.  While I fingerpick folk music on guitar, I'm still at the noter stage on dulcimer.  Saw a doctor and am treating what seems to be an arthritic finger (ain't gettin' old great?), but I may be joining your camp - I don't know how much I want to push my luck with it.

Lois Sprengnether Keel
Lois Sprengnether Keel
@lois-sprengnether-keel
one month ago
194 posts

While I still will use a guitar when needed for my storytelling programs, it's not easy with my fretting hand shortened on the pinky finger due to Dupuytren's Contracture.  I had the finger worked on once, but the brace I was supposed to use during recovery was too big & the finger became worse.  Not interested in possibly tempting my luck further with other treatment.  Fortunately the dulcimer is easier even when I do something forming a chord.  I'm told I mainly "finger dance" as I find the noter doesn't quite satisfy my desire to be "hands on."

RoyB
RoyB
@royb
one month ago
49 posts

Got it.  Thanks, Ken.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
1,974 posts

I've known several people over the years who have switched from guitar to MD, but usually for wrist pain or arthritis in the major fretting fingers, not the pinky.    IMHO it's good to get switched over now, before other hand issues start to appear.  

Noter & Drone is certainly the most definitive switch from the multi-finger/string fretting of guitar.  It has its own unique sound to offer, and a whole new world for you to explore.  One thing I would suggest is to not use the pathetic 1/4" dowel which even companies like McSpadden and Folkcraft include with their instruments.  Instead, look for noters of approximately the same diameter as your index finger.  I make many noters by rounding and polishing the "pen blanks" of exotic woods you can get from the Internet.  Bamboo also makes exemplary noters.  

Here's a link to a booklet I wrote a number of years back for folks interested in Noter & Drone style.  You can also find it in the Noter & Drone Group here (you have to "Join" a Group to be able to interact in any of the discussions).

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask here or in a Private Message.


Ken Hulme's "Get Noterized!" Article - Strumelia | fotmd.com


updated by @ken-hulme: 07/08/22 07:27:17AM
RoyB
RoyB
@royb
one month ago
49 posts

I'm starting to develop pain in my left hand pinky from guitar playing.  I have a mountain dulcimer that I've started playing in noter style.  Has anyone else actually made a complete switch to mountain dulcimer from guitar for this reason?

Thanks