When I perform, people often ask me how long I’ve been playing the hammered dulcimer. I think they mean this question to compliment my apparent years of study, probably many, you know, to learn from teachers how to develop the appropriate virtuosity on the instrument.
I usually begin my answer with, ‘Well, I have a long answer to this short question.’
Because I haven’t actually studied the dulcimer. I did begin playing my own hammered dulcimer in 1988; but I’ve spent the time since then exploring ways to get my own musical vision out through the instrument, and that has been a moment-by-moment experience, always living in the moment with the music and searching for tones, for chords, for melodies, for phrasing, that can say what I want the instrument to say.
I started dulcimer in 1988, flute in 1963, guitar in 1968, piano (lessons for a bit) in 1957; but before all that I started earnestly working with music in my head when I was a baby. That’s actually the source of all this! Maybe you’ve had a similar experience with doing music in your mind and then everything else that you do musically relates to that?
Each piece has a different goal, and I’m continually swinging between satisfaction and frustration, between joy and disappointment. Listeners may have the same sense I have, and they may have a different one.
At any rate, I decided long ago that I prefer not to study ways of playing my instruments, but rather to go on a journey with music, and the instruments are a way of getting the innate music out into the air. I do study technique and search for ways of developing new techniques to get certain effects, and I search for new melodies and compositions that really say something to me or for me --- but I see music itself as the core of what we performers do, and the instruments serve as tools to bring it into the physical realm, as the means to communicate musical structures and meaning through the air to others and to God.
Yes, studying how to play a particular instrument like the hammered dulcimer is a really good thing; but I suggest that you also consider how you can take your favorite musical ideas and preferences and make them speak in a special way through the instrument you play!