Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sad week....

Sorry I am not posting right now. I seem to have a dying beloved kitty here, it's emotionally difficult right now and I'm just not able write much about music this weekend. Will post as soon as I feel a bit better- thanks.

Our beautiful Lydia passed away peacefully at home with us on May 7th, in our bed. At 8 years old, her life was not nearly long enough. She was a truly wonderful cat in every way and we'll deeply miss her cheerful loving sweetness. Thank you, my dulcimer friends, for your kind and thoughtful comments.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jamming etiquette- part one

I want to write a couple of posts about jamming etiquette- guidelines that help us smoothly navigate through the often intimidating world of playing with groups of other people at gatherings of one sort or another. This is an important subject, and is more often than not a significant source of doubt and even fear among beginners. It can be a terrible barrier to get past... Jamming etiquette and learning to play well in groups without offending others deserves some in depth discussion and clarifications.

So I am going to suggest that anyone reading this blog who is interested in this subject first read through this brief collection of jamming etiquette lists I have collected below, and in my next post I will attempt to explain the reasoning behind some of the things on these lists, why I might either agree with each suggestion or disagree, and how it all effects us mountain dulcimers players. Keep in mind as you are reading that my own experience is mostly in old-time jam sessions, not bluegrass- but in the end I don't think that will matter too much.

Some worthwhile lists of jamming etiquette as compiled by various authors:

Jam etiquette List 1

Jam etiquette List 2

Jam etiquette List 3

Jam etiquette List 4

Jam etiquette List 5

Jam etiquette List 6

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Oh, Groundhog!

Now here is a song I first used to hear from time to time in folk music jam sessions. You know, the sessions with seemingly too many guys playing guitars and singing about gold watches and trains and hobos? That's how I first heard Groundhog- with lots of full and cheerful guitar backup. So much backup and chords in fact that it made Groundhog sound kinda like a number from an old tv rerun of Up, Up With People...
I decided early on that it was a dopey song that maybe only children would like 'cause it had animals in it.

All that changed when I finally heard Groundhog played by some old-time clawhammer banjo player. WOW. Groundhog was no wimpy kiddy song- NO SIR, was spooky, quirky, and just plain wonderful!
Without the army of folky guitars miring it in gooey treacle, the minor tone of the song and the drones on the banjo sounded powerful and untamed. And what truly twisted lyrics! Granny shuffling up to scarf down the brains?!? HAH!

I think you will agree that this simpler older version of Groundhog sounds fabulous. Heck, it even sounds great without any singing at all!

Try it first without singing, and notice how I indicated good places to s-l-i-d-e from one note to the next right before the beat. I do this often to try to get you sliding instead of just playing one clean note after another. Part of the beauty of noter playing is this very liquid sliding between notes. The slides I put in Groundhog here are little one-step 'baby slides', like the ones going from 6-7 and from 10-11. But if you put them in, they really 'make' the tune...they add the spice!
If the beginning of the second line of tab seems too difficult for you as yet, then instead of playing it "9 7-8 8 6-7, 7 6 4 4"- try a simpler version instead for that part: "9 9 8 8, 7 6 4 4". But do come back to it later and try getting those little slides!
You wouldn't want to slide all the time- that would sound a little weird- but sliding once every few notes is a big juicy part of the traditional Appalachian dulcimer sound.
Do you know how I began to slide with my noter? I just kept playing very SIMPLE and lovely tunes, at a moderate pace, over and over and over. After months of this, the sliding just sort of starts to happen naturally. It feels like when you are a kid and you're having fun sliding across a smooth wood floor in your socks. You can't slide on every step- it's far better when you take a few little running steps like a pitcher's windup, and then s-l-i-d-e. So cool. But despite what one might guess, sliding doesn't happen when you speed up and rush through tunes and load the song up with fancy moves everywhere. The magic of the slide happens when you take your sweet time and really let the music flow through you. I'll be writing more about slides later on. Meanwhile...pass the woodchuck brains!

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