Timothy's Blog

Timothy's blog on dulcimers, music, nature and life!
OCT
15

Hammered dulcimer steepness and the gravity effect!

Hammered dulcimer steepness and the gravity effect!

Hammered dulcimer players often discuss the best steepness of angle the instrument needs to be for playing. There are some interesting factors that figure into this equation!

  1. How big is your dulcimer? If it’s big, like 3 ½ to 5 octaves in range, you might want to lean it pretty steeply so you can easily reach the high notes.
  2. Do you play standing up or sitting down? If you stand, it’s easier to have a flatter angle, since you can move on your feet to get the reach; if you sit, you have to move around from the small of your back and use your arms more than the rest of your body, and can reach more easily with a steep angle.
  3. Do you hover over your hammers, or do you stand up straight and reach from your elbows and shoulders mostly? Hoverers like me tend to need a bit steeper of an angle to easily lean over the notes --- but height helps too: I prefer for the whole dulcimer to be pretty high off the ground so my face can get close to my playing (and since I have relatively short arms), and so I don’t have to crouch to get the bridges’ lowest notes or hurt my elbows because of the funny playing position. Other players may see it just the opposite, though. What’s your approach?

 

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1937 Hits
SEP
18

Slash chords!

Slash chords!

Lots of sheet music has chords written over the top of the staff. For example, if the key signature of the notation has one sharp, you might see chords that start and end with ‘G’, in which case the tune is most likely in the key of G Major. It may start and end with ‘Em’, meaning probably that the key is E Minor, which has the same notes and chords as G Major, except that the scale starts on a different note.

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1346 Hits
SEP
10

Three ways of naming and playing musical notes!

Three ways of naming and playing musical notes!

 

Please don’t be dismayed by the possibility that this blog post is going to get too technical! The concepts are simple, and I think they are incredibly useful!

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846 Hits
SEP
07

Center yourself on the hammered dulcimer’s treble bridge

Center yourself on the hammered dulcimer’s treble bridge

I think it somehow feels natural, when you play hammered dulcimer, to center your body behind the instrument. The assumption, I guess, is to be able to equally reach all the note locations.

But I’ve found that I can play my best when I center my body behind the treble bridge, and usually reach to the right for the bass bridge notes.

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833 Hits
OCT
27

Hammered dulcimer hovering

There are a lot of stances for playing the hammered dulcimer: Some folks prefer to sit down behind a very vertical instrument (easy to reach all the strings); some like to stand and reach down to a level dulcimer (great efficiency because of gravity’s help); some stand and use the typical moderately slanted setup (a compromise between the two above), reaching from a stationary position to use mostly shoulders and elbows for aiming the hammers.

I am, though, a hoverer. I prefer to stand for that reason, though it’s possible to hover while sitting. (When seated, however, my way of playing requires some strenuous action at the small of my back.) Rather than stand upright and let my hands and arms do all the work, I love to use my whole body, transferring energy from even as far as my calves and thighs to swing force into the hammers, sort of dancing the vector forces at all sorts of angles into the vibration of the strings. For my temperament, at least, this seems to create the greatest possibility of expressive range and emotional coloring.

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2010 Hits
JUL
25

Arrangement ideas from favorite sources

Arrangement ideas from favorite sources

There are certain musical pieces that we personally love, and that our whole culture seems to love.  Sometimes I like to consider what it is that is so lovable, then make my own arrangements with ideas from what I find.

Here’s a really clear one as an example!  Today I was talking with a student about how to arrange the old Shaker tune ‘Simple Gifts,’ and I mentioned how Aaron Copland had made a theme and variations from it in section seven of his very popular orchestral Appalachian Spring Suite.  (Many folks from my generation and older remember one part of it as the theme music for the weekly TV news show The Twentieth Century with Walter Cronkite.)

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3290 Hits
JUL
20

July 20, 1969!

July 20, 1969!

On this very date in 1969 I was seventeen years old and several days into a backpacking trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in the Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico with friends from Virginia.  We’d hiked several days from Lover’s Leap to Lower Bonito to Crater Lake to Fish Camp, and now to Beaubien Camp, a beautiful mountain meadow among spruce, fir, and aspen in the classically wondrous Rockies ecosystem.  As a young Eagle Scout who was a backpacker at heart, this whole experience was utterly thrilling!

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