Saturday, February 14, 2009

A little bit about myself

Here is a bit of background information about me (so hard to write about oneself!). It's likely way more detail than you need. I am not well known and have no music credentials other than just being a player with my own thoughts and opinions about music and dulcimers, all based simply on my own personal observations and experiences. I have no cd's or books to sell, I don't teach at music camps. I do patent illustrations and technical illustration for a living. I garden, keep bees, create my own art in various ways, and play music for enjoyment with my husband and with friends. My mother played classical music constantly when I was a child- her friends would come over and play Bach and Vivaldi on recorders, violins, harpsichord, cello, flute. As a child I played cello in school, but never studied music seriously...

Later as an adult I decided I wanted to play a stringed instrument again, and took up mandolin and attempted to play renaissance music on it. I played alone in my kitchen, was not very good at it, but it was enough to keep me happy. After a while I had an urge to play music with other people, and began attending a local open folk music jam session with my mandolin. I had no particular direction in mind. At one session, a fellow pulled out a mountain dulcimer and began to play a folk song on it. I was floored. I had never seen or heard such a thing and fell instantly and completely in love with its sound. It was a life changing moment. When the jam was over he showed me how I could play a simple tune by just fretting the melody string and strumming with the other strings left open. WOW! I quickly got online and got myself a dulcimer and some books, and began to teach myself to play.

The books I got all seemed to teach DAdd tuning chord style playing, and so that's what I did, and it seemed to go well with the usual folk music being played at the folk jam. I began attending a local dulcimer club where everyone there also played in that chording style. I attended some dulcimer workshops, and I studiously worked on my chording techniques. Eventually I became pretty good at it. I actually had never heard of such a thing as 'oldtime music' until I had been going to the folk jams and playing my dulcimer for a while.
When I did finally hear recordings of archaic fiddle and banjo tunes, I recognized something primal about them, something to do with their drones and use of old sounding intervals instead of full Western modern chord sounds. In a strange way, it somehow echoed the medieval and renaissance sounds I had stuck in my childhood memories, and I felt connected to it. I often wonder whether I would have ever found my passion in oldtime music if my mother hadn't played early classical and medieval music at home for us as children. Inspired by my newfound passion for drones, I took up clawhammer oldtime banjo because it resonated with those drone connections inside me. The banjo was ‘open tuned’ to a key and utilized open drone strings a great deal. By that time I mentally associated the dulcimer completely with playing chords and flatpicking melodies over all the strings.

At that point in time I met my husband Brian, a man who happens to be a wonderful oldtime fiddler, and I began to accompany his Kentucky and West Virginia repertoire of fiddle tunes on my banjo. I loved the cross tunings and use of open drones he used in his fiddling. I also started singing unaccompanied ballads and enjoying their lonesome sound as well. My poor dulcimer collected dust.

Well, after a few more years of this, one day out of the blue I remembered how I had first been shown to play a simple melody on the dulcimer on just the melody string. Then I remembered that I had an old copy of Jean Ritchie's The Dulcimer Book that I thought had some more information about playing in an older style. At that moment the thought occurred to me that perhaps I should explore playing my dulcimer in the older traditional drone style I had read about long ago when first starting out. Like...DUH!
So I picked up my dulcimer again, put my chording skills aside, and this time it seemed so very natural to me to play it. The traditional noter and drone style of playing was perfectly matched to my 'inner music heart'. The sound was perfect for the music I wanted to play.
At first it was a great struggle to coordinate my noter hand and my strumming rhythm. For weeks it seemed incredibly awkward. It was very difficult and I practiced many hours.  Happily, I didn’t give up, and very slowly I improved and started feeling more natural using a noter.  Believe me it was work, but I was determined.

Since then, I play both oldtime banjo and noter style dulcimer and they have brought me much joy. My husband and I play music with each other and with our friends who play and love home made music as much as we do. We play for enjoyment and as a way to connect and celebrate life with people we love. We play occasionally in our community as well. Music is part of our lifestyle routine, just like going for walks or a bike ride or joining friends for breakfast in our town's little cafe.


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  2. Hello,

    I'm so happy to have found your blog! I was initially taught to play chords on DAD, but due to an old hand injury, found that I couldn't keep chording without pain. That's when someone introduced me to DAA, noters and quills, and I have enjoyed playing this way since. I have two questions:

    1. I play using tab, but I need a recording of the song in order to play properly (I can't read music well). Could you or any of the group recommend a DAA tab book that has an accompanying CD of the songs in the book?

    2. I listened to Kimberly's beautiful rendition of "Flop-Eared Mule. Her dulcimer has a lovely sweet sound, similar to the sound of Phyllis Gaskins' dulcimer recording on MelBay. My dulcimer does not have that sweet bell-like sound when I play. Can you tell me why, or recommend someone who might know why?

  3. Hello Fishchick....welcome! :)

    I'm glad you are enjoying my blog.

    Might i suggest to you to do a search for any of the song titles you want to hear played by actual people- search the title on There, you will be able to hear LOTS of different versions of the tune. Then you will become more familiar with how it sounds, even if it's not being played on a dulcimer.
    In some cases here, I have included in the song posts some suggested audio clips online to hear.

    Your other question about your dulcimer sound is a good one to ask, but I think you will get many more answers and great ongoing suggestions if you post some of your dulcimer questions on my other website- "Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer"...a new online dulcimer group of friends and players where beginners are always encouraged and helped, and everyone asks questions such as yours every day!
    Do join our friendly dulcimer community there- there is a link to it at the upper right area of every page here on the "Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer".
    You will get lots of helpful answers to ALL your questions there, and I'll be there to help too!

    I hope to see you there! :D