Timothy's Blog

Timothy's blog on dulcimers, music, nature and life!
AUG
29

Hammered dulcimers in many lands

Hammered dulcimers in many lands

People often ask me about the origin and history of the hammered dulcimer, and usually they have no idea that it has the popularity and heritage that I tell them about.  It's a widespread, very international, musical instrument!  Many Americans don’t know that it ever existed at all till they see my own instrument where I’m out playing, and they commonly assume that it’s some mountain instrument developed in the Blue Ridge or such (though I don't play it in a style that should lead to that assumption).  So I get to enlighten them the way I was enlightened thirty-some years ago when I first saw one myself!

It's even considered a national instrument in a number of countries such as Hungary, India, China, and Iran.

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AUG
20

The hammered dulcimer is the ancestor of the piano

The hammered dulcimer is the ancestor of the piano

Harpsichords and clavichords had been in development for a few centuries when an Italian named Bartolomeo Cristofori decided in the late 1600s to try to adapt the idea of the hammered dulcimer to the chromatic keyboard design. 

Harpsichords had only one loudness (known to us as “quiet”), and their tone was essentially always the same plucking-crow-quill sound as well.  Cristofori recognized that applying the hammer concept could open the way to a great range of volume and tone --- so he worked on making a sophisticated key assembly that could handle the varied actions of swinging a hammer at the strings.  Now, instead of the player’s moving two hammers around on a diatonic (do-re-mi) pattern of notes, he or she would be able to use all ten fingers to push buttons (keys) that swung hammers that were already oriented in front of their chromatic notes.  (And separating the right and left hands for different musical roles could create the effect of a "duet" that we're so familiar with in keyboard playing.)

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AUG
10

Playing without a plan can be great

Playing without a plan can be great

Are you a musician who is tied to the page?  Do you need to have notes printed in front of you in order to play?  Or do you have to depend on a carefully rehearsed repertoire?  Do you require a chord chart so you know the right harmonic structure?  Or are distinct melodies your only option when you play?

Here's an example of how totally 'out of the blue' playing can be beneficial:

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JUL
03

Playing to the audience --- or in your own private world

Playing to the audience --- or in your own private world

I’ve noticed that when I’m performing in front of an audience, particularly in a concert setting, there are two different modes of operation between which I fluctuate during the course of a set.  For those of you who are public performers or who are considering entering that amazing world, perhaps these will be useful concepts:

When I play some pieces, especially upbeat ones, such as my zany version of “Soldier’s Joy” or my original composition “Sycamore Rapids,” I find myself playing to the listeners --- intending to communicate the excitement of the music from myself to them.  Notice I’m not trying to merely play a tune or arrangement, or demonstrate what I can do, but rather I’m forming the perspective in my mind that I’m right there with those other people and I am sharing my own experience with them in an active and assertive way.  (And yes, I’m basically an introvert, so I find that this keeps me from getting too self-conscious --- it’s not an extroverted behavior but in reality a coping mechanism!)  With a meaningful and lively spoken introduction, I set the stage for this approach, and the audience usually gets the message easily.

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JUN
27

Choosing a hammered dulcimer of your own

Choosing a hammered dulcimer of your own

It can be quite a challenge to choose your own instrument, because there are so many factors to consider in order to get what you’ll be happiest with, especially if you have particular goals and dreams for your own playing.  Then again, if you really want to play an instrument, almost anything will do just to get started!

For the hammered dulcimer, my main instrument these days, I recommend that people try out lots of them.  Craigslist or eBay can actually be a problem if you don't really know the different builders, because the builders and the instruments are all so different in sound quality and general quality. 

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