This is a list of tips I handed out during my workshop at WinterFest
2014. I hope you will find it useful.
Tune your hammered dulcimer before attending a workshop, joining a
jam, or even just practicing. "Dulcimer" is derived from Latin
meaning "sweet music". And it won't be sweet unless it's tuned.
Keep your HD out, not packed away. Put it someplace where it's
only a few steps away from your normal path or activities. That
way you can stop and spend, say, five minutes on the HD. Take
more time as desired.
Never quit a practice session after a bad pass through the tune.
If you are having a problem with hitting wrong notes, slow down
enough to get a perfect run-through of that part or the whole
tune. Then quit. Go do something else. That way, your brain
will be mulling over the correct way to play it.
Learn your basic chords earlier than you think you should.
Knowing those will allow you to participate in a jam session even
if you don't know the tunes. Ask Dana Hamilton about that. He
has a great story to tell. In addition, when you are learning the
melody of a tune, you may find yourself adding harmony to the
melody, so you are embellishing the tune before you've completely
If you are just learning the melody, don't get "married" to your
hammering patterns. When you start embellishing the tune, you
will likely have to change your hammer pattern.
If you are unfamiliar with a tune, YouTube is your friend. Just
type in the title of the tune, and you will likely find several
renditions of it.
Install some ABC software on your computer, tablet, or smart
phone. Software is available for Winxx, Macs, Linux, Android, and
iWhatever. There is a massive amount of tunes available on the
internet in ABC format. With that, your ABC software will render
the tune in standard notation for printing, or in MIDI format for
playing. So you can hear how the tune goes, and even gives you
something you can play along with. Go to the ABC notation web site
for more information.
Find someone else you can play music with, and it doesn't have to
be another HD player. It could be a club or a jam group or just
one other musician. You can help each other learning tunes, and
may even find someone you can do duets with.
Build up a notebook of tunes and keep it in alphabetical order.
You will probably also acquire a number of published tune books.
When you find a tune in one of those books you want to learn,
either make a copy of the tunebook page to put in your notebook,
or at least take a sheet of paper and write on it the name of the
tune, the tunebook title and page number as a reference.
Once you learn one or several tunes, try playing them blind.
There are several ways to do this. The simplest is to simply look
away from the instrument. Another is to lay a thin cloth like a
cheap tea towel over the instrument and play over the cloth.
Join the Hammered Dulcimer Mailing List. It is populated by
people from beginners to accomplished professional musicians and
teachers, as well as luthiers and hammer makers. The list is a
great resource for finding about tune sources, festivals and
workshops, practice techniques, and nearly anything else to do
with playing music on the hammered dulcimer. Go here
for more information.