Strumming so frustrated

jasemones
jasemones
@julie-semones
10 years ago
6 posts

Thanks Richard and Helen - unfortunately I've been away from my dulcimer for MUCH too long. I had taken on a job caring for an elderly lady and that took most of my time. Unfortunately she passed away on Wednesday...so I am hoping to jump back into learning again!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
10 years ago
1,744 posts

Marg and others, forgive me for adding a little music theory, but there are different types of notes:

513_forums.jpg

I would suggest forgetting about sixteenth notes for a while. You will be playing awfully fast to get those in dulcimer music, and most of us aren't ready for them yet.

There are two ways of indicating eighth notes. If you just have one by itself, it has a little flag as in the picture I posted. If you have two together, they are joined by a bar across the top as in the examples from the pictures Carrie posted and Marg quoted.

We all completed elementary school and learned our fractions, so this shouldn't be too hard. A whole note gets four beats, a half note gets two beats, a quarter note gets one beat, and an eighth note gets 1/2 a beat. Another way of saying that last part is that you play two eighth notes in the space of one quarter note.

That is why it helps to learn to strum in both directions. If you are strumming out once a beat, as Julie is in her rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle," then strumming in as well will let you play eighth notes. Maybe a short demo is in order.

Remember that this stuff takes time. Be patient. First goal: develop a steady strum in one direction. Second goal: develop a steady strum in both directions. Third goal: start to "swing." Fourth goal: have fun skipping strums and creating cool rhythms.




--
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
marg
@marg
10 years ago
616 posts

Are we to practice what we see?

When a note has a bar it goes out in? So 3 notes would be out in out? and 4 out in out in?

were we to click on the photo or just use it as a guide?

Thanks Carrie, everyone is very helpful but sometimes it still doesn't make any sense - yet.




And this pix by Doug Berch

512_forums.jpg Everyone at one point in time or another just has the strum get 'em down. These are just a couple of aids that may help you "whip" that strum into shape! Grin.gif




John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
10 years ago
182 posts

Yay Julie! Smile.gif

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
10 years ago
1,744 posts

Julie, you're doing great! Stop beating yourself up. Your rhythm is steady, even when there are rests or half notes. Just keep doing what you're doing.

It seems like you are only strumming in one direction, and for now that's great. Twinkle Twinkle should only be strummed in one direction. When you feel more comfortable, try to strum in the other direction as well. So if you are going out now, you will want to add in strums.

To start out, try playing the Alphabet Song, which is basically the same tune as Twinkle Twinkle. But when you get to "L-M-N-O" you have to play eighth notes. Keep your hand moving just as steady as it is now, but on the M and O you will want to strum in rather than out (your hand has to move that way anyway!). There is no rush here, so if you don't feel ready for it, just put it off for a while. But that will be the next hurdle for you to cross. And given how you are playing now, I think you are about ready for it. And the main point is that your hand does not have to move any faster than you are playing now. But instead of only strumming in one direction you will, when the music calls for it, strum in the other direction, too.

Julie Semones said:

Alrighty all, I've been trying everything you all have posted, I think I'm finally catching on....here I am (YIKES, can't believe I'm sharing this!!LOL)




--
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
10 years ago
2,278 posts

That's how it starts, Julie!

Julie Semones said:

Alrighty all, I've been trying everything you all have posted, I think I'm finally catching on....here I am (YIKES, can't believe I'm sharing this!!LOL)




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
10 years ago
1,445 posts
Julie, you're doing great! Just keep with what you're doing and strumming will, over time, come to feel natural. Well, at least most of the time, anyway. I have days. . . :)

Julie Semones said:

Alrighty all, I've been trying everything you all have posted, I think I'm finally catching on....here I am (YIKES, can't believe I'm sharing this!!LOL)

jasemones
jasemones
@julie-semones
10 years ago
6 posts

Alrighty all, I've been trying everything you all have posted, I think I'm finally catching on....here I am (YIKES, can't believe I'm sharing this!!LOL)

Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
10 years ago
1,445 posts
Julie, I got my first dulcimer in '05 and I'm always working (playing) on my strumming. :)

Julie Semones said:

Thank you all for your responses!! I am going through reading them all. I've been trying to play since Aug 2013, which isn't really that long at all. I'm proud of myself for plucking out the tunes I have. My dad for Christmas made me some beautiful noters, and I've tried using those too...beautiful sound.. Please don't think I'm ignoring comments, I am just taking my time reading through them all!Grin.gif

jasemones
jasemones
@julie-semones
10 years ago
6 posts

Thank you all for your responses!! I am going through reading them all. I've been trying to play since Aug 2013, which isn't really that long at all. I'm proud of myself for plucking out the tunes I have. My dad for Christmas made me some beautiful noters, and I've tried using those too...beautiful sound.. Please don't think I'm ignoring comments, I am just taking my time reading through them all!Grin.gif

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
10 years ago
2,278 posts

Many great suggestions here in everyone's answers- I think everyone's advice and approach is useful and good...check them all out, Julie, and you are sure to find an approach that suits your particular learning style perfectly.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
10 years ago
1,744 posts

There are a couple of different issues being addressed here. Julie commented that she has trouble strumming while playing a song. Most of us have given advice on how to develop a better strumming technique. One specific piece of advice was to practice with a metronome.

Ken's advice is how to arrange a song. And indeed playing a song by replicating on the dulcimer exactly how you would sing it is one way to arrange a song. It probably is the most obvious for people who are used to singing, and for those folks it might be a good way to start. But there are others. You might develop a rhythm that you think characterizes that song, strum that rhythm, and fit the melody notes into that rhythm. Another is to play a harmony part on the dulcimer. Or a counter-melody on the dulcimer. Those latter two take a bit of practice, but not perhaps as much as you think. Strumelia has a wonderful video on how to play a harmony part to Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

But none of those ways of arranging a tune are incompatible with the use of a metronome. When you practice with a metronome you do not strum every time the metronome sounds. Rather, the metronome keeps time for you, and you fit what you are playing into that steady rhythm. A metronome is usually set to a quarter note or half note, meaning it sounds two or four times a measure. But you might play one note per measure, eight notes per measure, or whatever, depending on the tune. Practicing with a metronome helps you develop a steady strumming pattern that sounds smooth rather than choppy and is consistent throughout. If you want to start with Ken's suggestion of strumming the melody the way it would be sung, that's fine, and using a metronome will help you do that steadily and consistently.

In my post above I did not mention using a metronome, but I think it a good idea. And in the video lesson to which I linked I don't address how to arrange a tune; that comes in the subsequent videos. The first thing is to develop a steady strum that feels comfortable, stays on beat, and moves smoothly across the strings.

Most beginning players concentrate on the left hand. They think that finding the right notes to play is the key to being a good musician. But most of our playing is done with the right hand. How smoothly we play, how loudly we play, how fast we play, whether we play one string or all three, all those decisions and more are determined by the right hand. The fact that you are aware of the need to work on your right hand is a good sign. Just being aware of it and working on it will make you a better player, better able to express whatever it is you want to express through music.




--
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: 09/21/19 04:17:33PM
John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
10 years ago
182 posts

Julie, once you discover your strum and become comfortable with it, I would highly recommend the use of a metronome when practicing. A metronome is probably the most valuable implement available to novice and professional musicians alike for developing rhythmic and technical accuracy. Smile.gif

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
10 years ago
2,137 posts

I'm gonna suggest something different, Julie: don't try to be a metro-gnome.

Strum in the rhythm of the words not a machine-like rhythm. Start with songs you already know how they sound.

Strum once for each note -- in the rhythm of the words. Melody string only or across all three courses, it doesn't matter.

One of my favorite teaching tunes is Frere Jacques, because 1. Nearly everyone knows how it goes; 2. It's a simple repeated string of notes; 3. It has a distinctive, but not 'flat' rhythm.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
10 years ago
2,278 posts

Julie, here are some posts I wrote, along with videos, concerning getting your strumming rhythm to feel more natural:

Why is it taking so long?:

http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-is-it-taking-so-long-for-me-to.html

Strumming tips for beginners 1:

http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/01/video-tips-for-beginners-strumming.html

Strumming tips for beginners 2:

http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/01/video-tips-for-beginners-strumming_08.html

Muted strumming practice tips- fun!

http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/02/many-new-players-understandably.html

Strumming patterns song 1:

http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/01/video-tips-for-beginners-sugar-hill.html

Strumming patterns song 2:

http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/01/video-tips-for-beginners-sugar-hill_19.html

Figuring out where to add the extra strums:

http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/01/video-tips-for-beginners-where-to-add.html




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Skip
Skip
@skip
10 years ago
363 posts

I suspect you are using mostly wrist or finger movement, many beginners do. Try making the movement more like brushing something off your lap which is more movement via the elbow rather than the wrist. You can advance to the more controlled wrist/finger strokes later.

Frank Ross
Frank Ross
@frank-ross
10 years ago
32 posts

Julie, not sure how long you have been on your dulcimer playing journey. I have only been at it for 4 months now. This forum had been of great help and encouragement. A month or two ago I described that my playing sounded like a series of rear end car crashes. Several members recommended that I practice strumming with a metronome and it really helped. After about 2 or 3 weeks of practicing strumming to a metronome things started coming together. I also practiced walking my fingers up and down the frets as I strummed to the metronome. This really helped with the strumming hand to finger hand coordination. Start off at about 60 BPM and work up to somethingyou are comfortable with. Occasionally you may need to take a day off to get the tick, tick... tick out of your head. http://www.metronomeonline.com/ . I had never played an instrument before and am 68 so my fingers to brain speed isn't what you would call fast anymore. After 110 days I posted a video of "Ode to Joy". It isn't Carnegie Hall quality but it is a great improvement over the Atlanta highways in the snow noises I used to create. See video below - I can strum in both directions but was nervous and just wanted get through it without dorking it up. Keep practicing, don't give up and things will happen.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
10 years ago
1,744 posts

Julie, I would suggest putting your left hand entirely over the strings of the dulcimer so they are muted. Don't think about playing notes at all. With your right hand, hold the pick so that most of the pick is securely between your thumb and index finger, but hold it loosely, not tightly. Think of strumming as brushing across the top of the strings rather than actually plucking them. As you strum out, angle the top of the pick away from you and just barely touch the top of the strings. Do that as you count 1-2-3-4. Just take it slow. Once you have a nice, slow, even stroke going out on the beats, count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & and strum out on the numbers and in on the &s. As you strum in, you want to angle the top of the pick toward you.

Reminders: 1) keep lots of the pick in contact with your fingers; you don't want to just hold the end while most of the pick sticks out; 2) hold the pick loosely, not tight; 3) brush across the tops of the strings softly; 4) keep a steady beat even if you have to go very slowly to do so.

Carrie has already pointed you toward John Keane's excellent video on strumming . I also put together a three-part instructional video on using a flatpick . The first video covers strumming. You might find it helpful.

You might also keep a pick with you at all times. I sometimes practice rhythmic strumming on my leg, my stomach, the steering wheel, the arm rest of my chair, etc.

Just take it slow and don't get impatient. Good technique takes time.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty: 09/21/19 04:15:46PM
Robin Thompson
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
10 years ago
1,445 posts
Yes, please do be patient with yourself, Julie.For fun, put any music you like on a music player. With dulcimer in your lap, mute the strings with your left hand by laying your hand across them. With your right hand, strum to the music you're listening to. Don't even think about it. Maybe even close your eyes. Don't worry about which direction you're strumming. There is no wrong way to do this exercise. The point is to just get comfortable with strumming only. The musicians you're listening to are playing the song-- you're just adding some percussive sound. :) If you try this, have fun with it!Everyone is different-- to me, strumming is more felt than thought about. It's likely not the same for everyone, though.
Guy Babusek
Guy Babusek
@guy-babusek
10 years ago
96 posts

Be patient with yourself, Julie. It takes a great deal of time and patient practice. Make sure you SLOW everything down a LOT! work slowly on small little sections at a time and don't worry about speed for now. Speed comes later. There is nothing wrong with you, it's just the nature of the beast. It will get easier and easier with time.

jasemones
jasemones
@julie-semones
10 years ago
6 posts

I LOVE my dulcimer, let me say that first, and I've learned a few tunes, and they sound pretty decent...however my issue is, I can't strum! Its gotta be a left brain/right brain issue, but anytime I try to start strumming, I stumble on the notes. I can get the notes playing clearly but can't strum. I have tried air strumming and that seems to go ok, until I try to actually play a tune. Can anyone offer some help?

I wish I were closer to people who play the dulcimer, but I don't; I tried dulcimerschool.com and while the lessons were great, I think I need someone in front of me, live, to teach me. Frown.gif


updated by @julie-semones: 07/31/23 09:31:04PM