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.
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.