Are There More Than Ever?

Byron Kinnaman
Byron Kinnaman
@byron-kinnaman
8 years ago
9 posts


Strumelia said:

Stephen said:

I recently heard someone bemoaning there just aren't as many non-tablature/by-ear folks as there used to be. They talked about how all the clubs seem to be more standardized and tablature based. I suggested to him there are not only more tablature players than ever, but also more non-tablature/by-ear folks than ever.

Getting back to the main subject of Stephen's original post above --

1) Yes there seem to be more dulcimer players overall than ever before...more players of all kinds.

2) Yes the clubs are more standardized and tablature based. Unless they diversify their approach they will continue to naturally mostly attract those who play from tab. (nothing at all wrong with that, if that's what they like).

3) Yes there are more non-tablature/by-ear/variedtunings/noter/diatonic type folks than ever. They tend to play with other musicians because they play/learn by ear and consequently they can manage to play along in various music jamming situations. Thus they have less interest in attending the dulcimer club scene, and less interest in attending dulcimer festivals that offer 90% of their workshops based on the tab/DAd/chording players. They are more likely to attend music gatherings that feature jams with various instruments, such as general folk or old-time festivals. Mind you, I don't mean to imply that they are more 'advanced' in their playing than the tab players- but rather that they can learn from a wider range of methods and don't have to translate everything into D/tab/chording format in order to learn a tune.

4) Even though there is a higher number of all types of dulcimer players overall than there was 15 years ago, I do also see the proportion changing rapidly . Within that whole, the percentage of diatonic/noter-drone/Galax/traditional/by-ear players is increasing by leaps and bounds, older beginner players too are interested in those areas of playing, and people in general are i think more wanting to play with other musicians and friends, not just in club/tab-book settings of dulcimers only. Ten years ago on EverythingDulcimer forums, I remember it was a rare treat to read posts about diatonic, drone playing, noters, Galax, playing with fiddlers or old-time sessions, etc. DAd chording/flatpicking pretty much ruled the day. Even fingerpicking topics seemed a bit outside the norm, as I recall...lol!

All that has changed now- these traditional playing genres and learning methods are super hot topics for everyone, even older beginners are eager to jump into such areas of play. It's great , now in addition to the most common tab/chord approach, there is much wider diversity of interest, information, and learning! Something for everyone's tastes. Smile.gif

I find this all very interesting, but either I'm kinda odd or something. I can't play a song I don't know. If I want to learn a new song I have to hear it a large number of times. Does that make me a play by ear, NO. Because I also need the notes on paper and the taps. Once I've heard the song enough times, played it enough times, I no longer need anything but my mind, it's all well embedded there. Flat picking, noter-drone, finger picking, cording, none of that matters as long as the song sounds as you, the player would like it sound.

I recommend recording your practice sessions, then listening so you can make adjustments.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,013 posts

Hey thanks guys. Actually, the last 'call to arms' was over a year ago i think, and we might need another reminder soon...

I think Stephen's original post questions are important and fascinating.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Rick Kennedy
Rick Kennedy
@rick-kennedy
8 years ago
17 posts

No problem, there, Dave. I did and will give again. Just referring to the "Call to Arms" a few months back.

Second those Kudos!Grin.gif

Rick Kennedy
Rick Kennedy
@rick-kennedy
8 years ago
17 posts

Great post, Lisa. To your point 4, specifically, I am grateful for FOTMD (when is that next pledge driveGrin.gif ?) because it provides a non-club outlet for noter/drone players. 2 years ago, I picked up the MD with a mind toward DAd/chording but quickly abandoned that pursuit to play by ear with a noter and drones (although I do understand TAB and can read crows on a wire to a degree and am trying to understand modes). Not only has the site provided the opportunity to see a number of great "amateurs"--in the classical sense of "one who loves" as in "loves" and is totally dedicated to the instrument--but I have learned and have been inspired by the history of the instrument. To hear folks like John Henry and Robin Clark (is there such a person as a classically amateur professional?) play tunes that we associate with early America when, in fact, they are "transatlantic" tunes hundreds of years old is inspiring, to say the very least. This, I think, is helping to swell the "unreported?" ranks of traditional players. (and so ends my love letter to FOTMD)

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,013 posts

Stephen said:

I recently heard someone bemoaning there just aren't as many non-tablature/by-ear folks as there used to be. They talked about how all the clubs seem to be more standardized and tablature based. I suggested to him there are not only more tablature players than ever, but also more non-tablature/by-ear folks than ever.

Getting back to the main subject of Stephen's original post above --

1) Yes there seem to be more dulcimer players overall than ever before...more players of all kinds.

2) Yes the clubs are more standardized and tablature based. Unless they diversify their approach they will continue to naturally mostly attract those who play from tab. (nothing at all wrong with that, if that's what they like).

3) Yes there are more non-tablature/by-ear/variedtunings/noter/diatonic type folks than ever. They tend to play with other musicians because they play/learn by ear and consequently they can manage to play along in various music jamming situations. Thus they have less interest in attending the dulcimer club scene, and less interest in attending dulcimer festivals that offer 90% of their workshops based on the tab/DAd/chording players. They are more likely to attend music gatherings that feature jams with various instruments, such as general folk or old-time festivals. Mind you, I don't mean to imply that they are more 'advanced' in their playing than the tab players- but rather that they can learn from a wider range of methods and don't have to translate everything into D/tab/chording format in order to learn a tune.

4) Even though there is a higher number of all types of dulcimer players overall than there was 15 years ago, I do also see the proportion changing rapidly . Within that whole, the percentage of diatonic/noter-drone/Galax/traditional/by-ear players is increasing by leaps and bounds, older beginner players too are interested in those areas of playing, and people in general are i think more wanting to play with other musicians and friends, not just in club/tab-book settings of dulcimers only. Ten years ago on EverythingDulcimer forums, I remember it was a rare treat to read posts about diatonic, drone playing, noters, Galax, playing with fiddlers or old-time sessions, etc. DAd chording/flatpicking pretty much ruled the day. Even fingerpicking topics seemed a bit outside the norm, as I recall...lol!

All that has changed now- these traditional playing genres and learning methods are super hot topics for everyone, even older beginners are eager to jump into such areas of play. It's great , now in addition to the most common tab/chord approach, there is much wider diversity of interest, information, and learning! Something for everyone's tastes.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
folkfan
@folkfan
8 years ago
367 posts

James, Memory is a quirky thing. It works in so many different ways.

This morning I started singing "Are you going to "Blank, blank, blank"town.7.gif Tried fitting in London, but not enough syllables, Edinburgh fit but I knew that wasn't right, stuck in Nottingham, Birmingham, etc and so on, but I knew they just weren't right, I finally went on through "Are you going to ?????town, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and it's Scarboroughtown."40.gif

I tend to like TAB too because if I can remember the words to a song, generally I can sing the melody. But when my mind decides to forget the words 43.gif43.gif , my music goes to "He.l in a handbasket"

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,013 posts

James, I too enjoy using tab for various reasons. Tab is the home grown musician's practical way of writing down what they play, and tab notation has been in use for generations and on many instruments. I don't think you need worry one bit about tab becoming extinct.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
James Phillips
James Phillips
@james-phillips
8 years ago
87 posts

My only thing is that I hope people do not abandon writing tab. I can do some by ear if I've been playing a song for a long time, but I can not just hear a song, and be able to play it. Everyone has there own method of learning and mine is to learn by tab. If I can commit the song to memory, great, but sometimes that's easier said then done. For whatever it's worth...

Stephen Seifert
Stephen Seifert
@stephen-seifert
8 years ago
22 posts

I agree about YouTube. Combine YouTube with software like Transcribe! by Seventh String Software where you can change the speed and key of the videos, and there'smore opportunity to learn by ear and eye than ever before in history.

Scott Collier said:

This is a great discussion! I can relate to the Tab vs. playing by ear this way. My Son plays the bass guitar and since he has "grown up" in the digital age, never even thought of taking lessons or buying books. He started watching songs he wanted to learn on Youtube. He was able to quickly learn them. I was amazed at his ability to grasp the concept of a song by just watching someone else play.

Scott Collier
Scott Collier
@scott-collier
8 years ago
14 posts

This is a great discussion! I can relate to the Tab vs. playing by ear this way. My Son plays the bass guitar and since he has "grown up" in the digital age, never even thought of taking lessons or buying books. He started watching songs he wanted to learn on Youtube. He was able to quickly learn them. I was amazed at his ability to grasp the concept of a song by just watching someone else play.

I come from a background of learning SMN and the sax. But have been out of that for so long I can't read it anymore. Tab helps me learn a new song but one thing tab can't help you with is the pace and timing of a song. If you have never heard a particular song before, tab won't help you with the rhythm.

Following my Son's lead, I have started using Youtube more often and it really helps. I have to agree that tab is good to help beginners learn the notes of a song but teachers should help them steer away from it and listen to the songs they are learning once they get the notes down.

And I agree with Robin. If we post more songs in alternate styles and modes at this level, it will help sway popular trends, eventually, and everyone will benefit.

Paul Certo
Paul Certo
@paul-certo
8 years ago
242 posts

What I have seen a lot is players who are actually afraid to try to play without the tab in front of them. In some cases it's because they never got the tune in their heads-many never listen to recordings of the songs they are trying to play. Never letting their ears take over guidance of their hands, they are forced to use their eyes instead. Eyes are a very very poor substitute for ears, when playing music. Besides Beethoven, can you name a deaf musician? But there have been scores of blind musicians. Even Beethoven learned with his ears before he went deaf. I suspect he never would have become a musician had he been born deaf. Find a recording of the song you are working on, and listen until you can hum the tune, then work with the tab. It speeds up the process. YouTube is the first place I turn, if I don't have a recording to listen to. The down side of YouTube is I always find several more songs I want to learn. It's a vicious circle, and I'll never get to the end at the rate I'm going, so many songs, so little time.

Another group doesn't realize how much they can do with their ears, and stick to tab/eyes. Fear or failure, lack of self confidence, there are several reasons players fall into this trap, but it can be hard to talk them out of it. I've heard such answers as "Oh, no, not me. I'm tone deaf. But almost every person can recognize a familiar melody after only 5 or 6 notes. Your ears have been in training since your Ma first sang to you as an infant. Start with the tab, or SMN, but eventually set it aside and try without it. Trust your self, and your ears, the worst that can happen is a few wrong notes. That won't last forever. But do use your eyes for using knives, cars, and chainsaws!

From my own experience, I have found that at performance or jam speed, I can't read the tab fast enough to keep up with other players. This is when you or I really need our ears in command.

Paul

Skip
Skip
@skip
8 years ago
291 posts

I don't know if this fits into this thread, but I have 'music[al] dementia' and need tab to learn/remember more difficult tunes.

An area I feel needing more coverage is playing in support of the lead [as far as I'm concerned, most dulcimer playing/instruction is on the lead part] so I also use tab to learn and pass on harmonizing and multipart tunes, when I can figure out how to do one. Learning the supporting part can be hard due to the fact it/they do not sound like the melody part, but blend with it [rifs, runs ?], it is not playing the melody with a baritone or bass although that can be a part.

john p
john p
@john-p
8 years ago
173 posts

Playing by ear is an extension of singing or whistling to me, so depends on having something in my head already.

I've never been convinced by plain fret order without already knowing the tune, or a sound clip to go with it. It's more useful as a 'refresher' or aide memoire

Just as an experiment, see what you can make of this :

345545565543
34543454
345545565543
36543

Apparently a very simple tune that only uses 4 notes(do,re,mi,fa) but if you've never sung it before you may find it hard to know what you're supposed to do with the numbers.

Folks don't sing enough, and that includes me.

john

Peter W.
Peter W.
@peter-w
8 years ago
47 posts

I sign that, Dusty. Tabs helped me to learn some new (to me) "typical" or "authentic" songs for dulcimer - but on the other hand, I want to get rid of them as soon as possible! Smile.gif

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,485 posts

I would like to reiterate a point Robin makes above. Although nowadays, software such as Tabledit allows very elaborate tablature indicating all sorts of nuances of playing, most tab that people have used has been very simple. That simple tab assumes that you already know what the song sounds like. In the case Folkfan raises--3453, 3453, 567, 567--which is Frre Jacques on an A string, one has to know that the 7 note is played for twice as long as the other notes. One also has to know that the accents fall on the first and third beats of the measure rather than the second and fourth. You don't even have to know what a measure is, but to play that song based on that tab, you have to know what it is supposed to sound like.

The point is that even if you think you are playing by tab rather than by ear, you are relying on your ear a lot.

My second point is that we all learn differently. It may be, as Folkfan says, that "With the use of tab . . . a person can quickly join in and get a sense of satisfaction from being able to play." But not all people can do that. I cannot look at tablature and play a song. I can replicate the notes on the page, but I cannot get it to sound like a song unless I have an idea of what the song sounds like. However, if someone plays a simple song slowly in front of me, I will be able to pick it up by the third verse or so. Let's not generalize about how easy it is to play from tab. Some of us cannot do it at all.

But the really odd (to an outsider) use of tablature in the dulcimer community is not for learning songs; it is the utter reliance on tablature in order to play at all. Once you have learned a song, you should be able to dispense with the tab. Maybe you need a quick glance to refresh your memory, but I have to believe that you are stifling your own musical expression if your attention is focused on the tablature in front of you rather than on the instrument on your lap. When you play you have to feel the music enough to know when you might play some notes staccato or linger on a whole note a bit longer or play the chorus with some extra drama. I'm not talking about improvisation here, but merely the small nuances of playing that give any song its character. I assume no one wants to sound like those midi files when they play a song. You need to free yourself from tab in order to put your own unique touch into a song.

It may be, as Robin suggests, that we need to do a better job teaching people how to play by muscle memory. Part of that is learning about how songs are put together. It is a lot easier to learn a song if you pay attention to the fact that there are four melody lines of four measures each, that the second and fourth are identical, and that the first and third only vary in two measures, and so forth. Learning to see that kind of structure when you first listen to a song or look at tablature is the first step in knowing a song without the tab. Most of the music we play is pretty formulaic, and understanding some of those formulas (formulae?) can help in the process of freeing oneself from an over-reliance on tab.




--
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
Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
8 years ago
237 posts

With the use of tab, however, a person can quickly join in and get a sense of satisfaction from being able to play along, or play alone. I remember the feeling of happiness I had when I heard the dulcimer being played, and I was the one playing it. So what if it was only 3453, 3453, 567, 567, with an out only strum, I was playing.

I have used that simplenumber sequence TAB myself with complete music/instrument novices, and it is great Grin.gif It is a useful shorthand where the player already has in their head, or is taught, how the tune sounds -astheTABlacks information like the tunesspeed rhythm and phrasing. I would say Folkfan thatyour simplenumber is style of TAB is closer to learning by ear than you may think - it relies on a lot of internal asistance from the tune in your head. It is great to help move the tune from your head to the dulcimers as it give the mechanics for achieving that process. But it can become like having stabalisers on your bike, at some stage I would hope that my strudents would take the stabalisers off for that tune and play it without the TAB in front of them.

Chord melody playing looks incredibly complex on the staff - and I doubt there are any players who just use SMN for playing chord melody style - unless they are using one of those busking guitar books of popular songs that gives the chords above a melody line and they are working out their own arrangements (half by ear and half by SMN).

However, if I'm teaching a slightly more advanced noter/drone player I would encourage them to learn SMN for a number of reasons. Such as the fact that there is so much Appalachian and world folk music, hymns etc avaialble in single melody line SMN for other instruments. And SMN contains all the information required to play a newtune you don't know (notes, timing, rhythm, phrasing). However, I would still expect students to quickly reach the stage where the SMN is put away and the tune is played without prompt. That's not to say that anyone will remember the tune for ever. But a quick read of the SMN at any time, with or without your dulcimer, will bring the tune back. I have reinforced my learning of many a tune by following the SMN when sitting in bed in the morning with a cup of tea Smile.gif And, unlike TAB, SMN is a thing of beauty. It bypasses language by using a pattern to depict the tune, whilst also providing the detailed machanics of a tune (key, note name, note duration etc) when those are required. With practice, reading SMN can become like hearing the tune being played, and so SMN can reinforce learning to play by ear.

And here is where things get blurred - there is no strict line between learning to play by ear and learning to play from TAB. The problem with TAB is folks not being taught how to 'learn'a tune fully and so they become TAB-bound (or SMN bound). I think a great workshop for a dulcimer festival would be one on the skills and techniques that experienced players use to move a tune from the page to muscle memory. I'm sure that there are a lot of players who would like to be able to put their TAB away but find they can't take the stabalisers off their bike Frown.gif There are skills and techniques that can be taught that will enable that jump to be made.

folkfan
@folkfan
8 years ago
367 posts

Babs, I think you've come up with some good points about why there are so many dulcimer players rely on TAB rather than playing by ear. For a number of us, traditional music wasn't a part of our lives growing up, in the sense of live musicians playing real instruments in a local or neighborhood setting.

Until I was an adult and could buy concert tickets, I'd only heard the church organ or the high school band play real instruments except for brief violin and piano lessons in grade school. Having a 30 to 45 minute lesson a week and then going home and practicing alone as no one I knew really played an instrument is not a way to learn to play by ear.

In college, I had to take a music theory class so that as a primary school teacher, I could teach music if required to. The class took basic piano lessons for 1 semester included in this class. And it didn't surprise the instructor that many of us had little to no background in music other than a few childhood piano lessons and listening to music on the radio, TV, or phonographs. Again that's not a way to learn to play by ear.

With the use of tab, however, a person can quickly join in and get a sense of satisfaction from being able to play along, or play alone. I remember the feeling of happiness I had when I heard the dulcimer being played, and I was the one playing it. So what if it was only 3453, 3453, 567, 567, with an out only strum, I was playing.

Babs Greene said:

I really have no clue what a West Coast Style player is etc; I just wanted to comment on the non-tab and by-ear players, if there is a dwindling of people that play by-ear and use tab, it may well be, in part, because music is not being passed on as traditionally as it once was, in addition to people from all over the world learning to play the dulcimer who are unable to attend either workshops or be part of the communities that are rich in the traditional intergenerational transmission of their musical history and roots.

New players that live a distance away from the centre of the dulcimer world who are neither able to discern by ear nor able to play along with others must resort to other means in order to learn to play; if they were left floundering and not really getting anywhere, after months of play, they'd probably just give up completely, since there's nothing more satisfying than being able to play a piece of music even though they may feel they have no musical skill at all.

I recall, being able to play straight from tab, as soon as I got my dulcimer, and it felt great, had I needed to restrict myself to either by-ear or by SMN, I wouldn't have stood a chance, at least for a number of months.

Kristi Keller
Kristi Keller
@kristi-keller
8 years ago
84 posts

One of my favorite movies!

Robin Clark said:

I agree with what has been said so far in this thread.

What I would add, however, is that the big issue as I see it from over here the other side of the Atlantic is not the fact that the focus of 95% of teaching materials and workshops since 1980 has been DAd chord melody, the issue goes deeper than that. Firstly, and most importantly, we simply need more music recorded in alternative styles.

The instrument's life is about the music it creates. There are hundreds of CDs of dulcimer music based out of DAd chord melody playing, there are hundreds of YouTube clips of players using DAd, competition winners use DAd, workshop concert artists use DAd. If we want another genera to grow then it has to be the music of that genera that speaks to folks - the music itself must lead the way.

This is going to sound a little harsh but it is a metaphor to make a point. To me the dulcimer establishment has become a little like the Australian Dancing Federation from Strictly Ballroom - 'There are NO NEW STEPS' as Barry Fife would say. This has not been a conscious move but a natural slide from the organic to the orderly . The way to break that cycle is for those of us interested in playing other styles to study hard, perform, record and make avaialable our music at the grass roots level. This process has started, and is most visible here on FOTMD with many players contributing to the growth of alternative styles. And it is this process, our music, that has put alternative styles on the radar of our 'Australian Dancing Federation' (Luckily our dulcimer pro players have far more emotional inteligence than Barry Fife Grin.gif ).

We just need to continue playing and posting our music at the grass roots and the workshops and teaching material will grow out of that interest. It looks like Stephen is already on the case!!!!

folkfan
@folkfan
8 years ago
367 posts

Dulcimerville seems to have a new way of presenting a class this year. One of the 13-14 hour classes is going to have a CD sent out before with the tunes that will be taught so the students can have a chance to hear them before coming. It's going to be a "playing by ear" class as I understand. So I guess they won't be handing out tab.

Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
8 years ago
413 posts

Dusty, A hearty AMEN to your thoughts on tab. I have always hated tab for the guitar, and, though I use it some on the dulcimer, if I can't get it just right by ear I'd rather have the music. Back in the "day" most blues/folk guitar books were only in tab. I bought them, but it took me much longer to figure out the tunes if the book didn't have the SMN as well.

John and Mandy, I also agree about getting out of the "comfort zone." However, I prefer workshops that focus on technique or musicality (for of a better term.) I take a lot of beginner's workshops to try to see if I can polish up the basics of different techniques, and to see how others teach. I can learn "Haste to the Wedding" by listening or looking at the music. Now, if someone wants to teach "different" harmonic voicings and are using "Haste to the Wedding" as the basis, then I'll be there! Though I'm mainly a fingerpicker, I've taken flatpicking workshops because I figured I could learn something. I hadn't played much with a noter even tho' I've had one for a long time. So when a noter workshop was scheduled at Ft New Salem, I was right there.

Dusty, I also agree with you about the number of workshops at festivals. I would rather see half as many workshops but 2 hours long, even if I would only care to take 1 or 2. I took all the Mt Dulcimer workshops at the Spring Fling in Lancaster, Ohio, last year. All I can tell you now it that Doug Berch has an amazing left hand, and Butch Ross barely got into the subject of his 2nd workshop. Somewhere around here I have the tab from it.

Well enough rambling. Let's get to playing!

Mandy
Mandy
@mandy
8 years ago
140 posts
I can only speak to my personal exp. I've not been to any festivals, workshops, or played live with another dulcimer player. I've only been playing dulcimer for a year and a half, but I've played banjo since 2005 on and off.I play whatever I like the sound of basically. If I hear something cool, I'll try and fake my way through it. I mostly play by ear, but also use tab about a third of the time. Whenever I use tab now though, I'll use it more as a guide and change things as I go. I always use a pick, and I do not have the patience to get the nuances of the notes/drone style.If I was going to attend a workshop now, I would want something that centers around using the whole fretboard. That and learning how to pick out harmony notes interest me.This is an interesting discussion.
John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
8 years ago
182 posts

Dusty...me too. I have no earthly idea how I can decide what I like or dislike personally without trying new things. We (as dulcimer enthusiasts) can become our own worst enemy by type-casting ourselves into a specific genre. It can then lead to extremely poor public relations for the instrument if we criticize and ostracize those who don't "do it and play it as we do" so to speak. The key is having the desire to grow. I have personally attended workshops where I was taught how to play tunes that I have no desire to play. The part that escapes some people is that we can take the PROCESS used in learning those tunes and apply it in our own homes, learning tunes that we actually DO want to play. It has just become too easy to gripe and complain about things outside of our comfort zones rather than testing new waters. I think it is rooted in a "I might make some mistakes if I get outside of my comfort zone" mentality, but I don't know how to get better without a few brain cramps along the way...I call it growth. I have never attended a workshop where I didn't learn anything (even if it's what NOT to do), but the BIG picture that is so often missed is what we can learn at a workshop OUTSIDE of the classroom! If we get that many dulcimer players together in one place, we can find folks who can show us how to do things that we find helpful, AND we are bound to run into folks who like to play the same style/genre/song that we do. There are fantastic learning opportunities that we cannot take advantage of if we don't attend the event. As I approach my third anniversary of playing this wonderful instrument, I hope to have three years of experience rather than the same experience three times. Smile.gif

Dusty Turtle said:

What I find bothersome is the refusal of some dulcimer players to attend a workshop that does not address the specific style of play they prefer.

Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
8 years ago
237 posts

I agree with what has been said so far in this thread.

What I would add, however, is that the big issue as I see it from over here the other side of the Atlantic is not the fact that the focus of 95% of teaching materials and workshops since 1980 has been DAd chord melody, the issue goes deeper than that. Firstly, and most importantly, we simply need more music recorded in alternative styles.

The instrument's life is about the music it creates. There are hundreds of CDs of dulcimer music based out of DAd chord melody playing, there are hundreds of YouTube clips of players using DAd, competition winners use DAd, workshop concert artists use DAd. If we want another genera to grow then it has to be the music of that genera that speaks to folks - the music itself must lead the way.

This is going to sound a little harsh but it is a metaphor to make a point. To me the dulcimer establishment has become a little like the Australian Dancing Federation from Strictly Ballroom - 'There are NO NEW STEPS' as Barry Fife would say. This has not been a conscious move but a natural slide from the organic to the orderly . The way to break that cycle is for those of us interested in playing other styles to study hard, perform, record and make avaialable our music at the grass roots level. This process has started, and is most visible here on FOTMD with many players contributing to the growth of alternative styles. And it is this process, our music, that has put alternative styles on the radar of our 'Australian Dancing Federation' (Luckily our dulcimer pro players have far more emotional inteligence than Barry Fife Grin.gif ).

We just need to continue playing and posting our music at the grass roots and the workshops and teaching material will grow out of that interest. It looks like Stephen is already on the case!!!!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,485 posts

I am not sure how to respond to this interesting conversation except as an outsider. I have only been playing the dulcimer for about 4 years. I have only attended two festivals, both on the west coast. I cannot attest to how things have been changing in the dulcimer community, but I do share the general observation that dulcimer players are increasing in number and so are dulcimer festivals. Stephen's observation is merely that even if it is true that a majority of workshops center on chording, DAd tuning and playing by tab, there is more available on other styles of play than there was in the past. That seems like an accurate observation.

Later this month I will be attending a dulcimer festival offered for the first time. There are 9 workshops in total, about 1/3 devoted solely to beginners. Of the other 6, one is devoted to noter technique, one solely to DAC, and one to a variety of tunings for fiddle tunes. There are only two devoted to modern chord style play in DAd tunings for intermediate or advanced players. My guess is that nearly everyone attending will find too little for their particular interests. But to the credit of the organizers, there is quite a variety for the choosing.

But this festival symbolizes the problem. There are only so many workshops that can be scheduled and perhaps only at the massive festivals like Dulcimerville is it possible to schedule enough workshops on a sufficient variety of playing techniques to satisfy everyone. Stephen's own work is another example. While some traditionalists see his work as a quintessential example of modern chord style playing in DAd, others of us complain that the Join the Jam tunes are allpresented in a drone style, with the melody played solely (or mostly) on the melody string. You just can't please everyone.

But what I fail to understand is why people think these different ways of playing the dulcimer are mutually exclusive. I consider myself a modern chord style player because I fret across all the strings. But to some people, much of what I do is not chord/melody but flatpicking. And sometimes I fingerpick, when the song or arrangement warrants that technique. Recently I began trying to play an old Shaker hymn and I decided the best way to do it would be out of a DAA tuning, perhaps even (gasp) with a noter. Having attended the Redwood Dulcimer Day in Santa Cruz, I've learned from some of the originators of the West Coast style of play. But what I've learned from them is how to play traditional French waltzes, laudas from the Italian Renaissance, and songs of freedom from South Africa. In the same way that playing the mandolin made me a better guitar player, studying different styles of dulcimer playing makes us better at whatever it is we choose to specialize in.

What I find bothersome is the refusal of some dulcimer players to attend a workshop that does not address the specific style of play they prefer. This kind of ghetto-izing can only stifle our development as musicians. Robin Clark, who is active here and a wonderful noter/drone player, occasionally posts renditions of songs in a chord style, and even in one of his droning tunes, he refers to the move to the IV chord in one part of the melody. His understanding of chords does not hinder but rather enhances his ability to perform as a noter/drone player.

But now for my personal complaint: I hate tablature. Yes, I use it, almost daily, to get the general sense of a song or to navigate a particularly difficult section of a tune, but I cannot read tablature fast enough to play along at a workshop. If you play a verse or two, however, I'll catchup. I have to feel a song before I can play it. At the Dulcimer School I've posted a lot of practice videos, and I appreciate Stephen's feedback. But truth be told, I learn from the videos or audio tracks, not the tablature. I don't even look at most of the tablature. My prediction is that tablature will die out as audio and video recording becomes easier and easier. It used to be that the only "take-away" from a workshop would be a piece of paper with the music written on it. And since we are folk musicians suspicious of fancy learnin', we refuse to learnSMN, so we use tablature. But everyone has a phone now that can capture a workshop leader playing a song. Everyone can record themselves on their webcams and share their work with the world on YouTube or here at FOTMD. I find it tedious to have an instructor lead us measure by measure through a piece of tablature that was not made available prior to a festival. If the tab is helpful, distribute it beforehand. But when we get together, let'splay. If I have to sit out the first verse or two while I get the hang of a piece, so be it.

Maybe, here on the West Coast, I don't have the luxury of complaining ofa First World problem. I am so grateful if someone who plays the dulcimer and has something to teach me is within a few hundred miles, that I don't care what tuning they are using, whether they fretwith fingers or a noter, or whether they hold a quill, a pick, or nothing in their right hand. I am grateful to have them near and want to learn what they have to share.




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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.
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Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
8 years ago
812 posts

When I frist started attending dulcimer festivals in the late 1980s,I found that I was looked down upon as I played only in DAA. That is the tuning I learned in and did not know there was another popular tuning. I quickly adjusted to DAd to fit in, but still found myself doing DAA at home. I also played with a noter and that, too, was looked down upon at that time.

A friend of mine who put out a very good book for MD did so in DAA. He received nothing but criticism for doing so. He couldn't sell the book until he finally changed it over to DAd.

I am encouraged by the numbers of people now working on noter/drone style and tunings other than DAd.

As to the West Coast style I find more West Coast folks traveling to East Coast(and mid-continent)festivals and more East Coast people traveling to West Coast festivals. I think some of this is because we are reaching the age of retirement and are not restricted to doing festivals close to home because we have to be at work on Friday or Monday. I think this also applies to the reason we do not see large groups of young people at festivals; they need to be in school on Friday and Monday. Even the summer festivals are difficult for young people who need to work or are required to attend sports or other camps.

I do think festivals are opening up more to the branches.

Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
8 years ago
413 posts

I, too, think you've hit the proverbial nail right square on the head, Stephen. You have a lot more experience with workshops/festivals than I do; I've only been attending them for about 2 years now. You see what's happening and what other players are doing with the instrument. There does seem to be a marked increase in noter players. I think you're right: there are more players in general, so there are more in every style. In this area, the players who have been playing a while all play DAA (with the fingers not a noter.) Many of them have their tab memorized, but ear playing isn't done too much. That I use DGd along with DAd and other tunings is strange to most of them. They play on the bass string if they need to play in the key of G. That's what they were taught, and they see no reason to go beyond it. However we know DAA tuning is not for sissies if you want to go beyond into chords a al John Blosser. I've been told he was criticized by the DAd folks for not using the "accepted" tuning.

Jerry Rockwell gave a workshop at Ft New Salem, WV, last year, on fingerpicking with the noter. I attended and it was great. Am I going to go exclusively noter/drone, probably not. Do I have noter songs/tunes in my repertoire, I do.

Now here's a question for you. Can you teach playing by ear, particularly in a 1 hour workshop? I've got a good ear (no brag; just fact (you're probably too young to remember that from tv)) and taught in adult education for 10 years but I don't think I could teach playing by ear in that short a time.

Well, we're all playing our music and, hopefully, we're all happy with it. I hope you'll continue to muse on this subject and if you have other thoughts you'll share them.

James Phillips
James Phillips
@james-phillips
8 years ago
87 posts

I respect whatever is being taught, but maybe the reason for not a lot of variety in the way of the workshops is maybe there isn't enough demand for it to justify it. Lisa, I understand where you are coming from, but if that's what the people want, give it to them, or maybe the festival and workshop organizers need to hear from people to get some demand for other then DAd workshops. The only way for any kind of change, of any sort, is to say something. You don't accomplish anything without speaking up to the right people. Just my two cents worth for whatever it is worth.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,013 posts

I totally agree with everything you've said here, Stephen.

More dulcimer players of all types now- and the proportion of noter and quill and diatonic and chromatic/blues/rock and Galax and box dulcimer and mixed instrument jam skills and traditional and singing and WestCoast and DAA and by-ear players is getting bigger. I do think that festivals/workshops/clubs/learningmaterials need to take stock and get with the new changes...they are really lagging behind, stuck in focusing too much on same-old-same-old chord/DAD/flatpicking/tab-book, especially festival workshop offerings which seem to repeat the same subjects over and over. Shake it up already! Not everyone is ready for the nursing home, and senior players too are eager and able to learn some new things and have a hoot trying!

Stephen you are skilled and passionate enough to set an example for many.

As soon as I began to focus on noter style playing, even as a relative beginner to the style, I stopped going to festivals, dulcimer music camps, and workshops, and I stopped buying newer instructional material- simply -because there just wasn't much being offered for me. If festivals offer 90% of their courses aimed at chording/DAD players (whether flatpicked or fingerpicked), then those are the players who will find it worthwhile to go to that festival...others will tend to stay away rather than invest the time and money in attending.

The above-mentioned focuses are no longer 'novelties' that only merit a 5 minute passing mention in workshops. Many more people of all ages and all levels are serious about pursuing such focuses in depth now. This was not the case even as recently as 5 or 6 years ago.




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Patty from Virginia
Patty from Virginia
@patty-from-virginia
8 years ago
233 posts

I would like to see more workshops and music books with noter drone and no half frets. I like that old time style.

Stephen Seifert
Stephen Seifert
@stephen-seifert
8 years ago
22 posts

I've been wondering about something lately and I'm not sure what the truth is. Here's some groups that sometimes feel underrepresented in the dulcimer world at events and in materials:

  • Pure Diatonic (no half-frets)
  • Noter/Drone
  • Galax
  • DAA
  • West Coast
  • Non-Tablature/Play By-Ear
  • etc.

Is it possible, contrary to what some might perceive, there are more of these types of players than at any other time in history? I certainly think it's possible there's more dulcimer players in general than ever before.

I recently heard someone bemoaning there just aren't as many non-tablature/by-ear folks as there used to be. They talked about how all the clubs seem to be more standardized and tablature based. I suggested to him there are not only more tablature players than ever, but also more non-tablature/by-ear folks than ever.

It looks like if someone's into noter/drone, there's more resources and possible playing partners than ever before. Same seems true for folks that are into chromatic. I understand it's hard to find workshops for either at most events BUT I'm also seeing way more noter and chromatic folks at events compared to 15 years ago.

The mainstream is strong but the branches seem to be doing encouragingly well. Being all down about the lack of West Coast style players seems like a first world problem along the lines of, " My 5 dollar latte came with one shot of espresso instead of the two I asked for!" I'm basically suggesting we've got it better than we've ever had it no matter what you're into. I realize there's exceptions but do see what I mean?


updated by @stephen-seifert: 02/25/19 12:27:03PM