Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Ukulele - Playful Kitten of the Guitar Family

Two years ago in April of 2013 on a whim I bought an Ukulele (Ooo-koo-le-le) and joined the Ukulele Underground forum. I kind of learned a few chords and started learning a couple of songs at that time, and I even brought it out for my Spring Music party. During said party, I discovered that keeping it on my makeshift stand (an easel book display) it was easy to knock over, so the back of the neck got dinged. After the party I felt it would be safer to keep it in the gig bag, so I did that.

Fast forward to February 2015, and my little Ukulele has been out of sight and therefore out of mind, still snug and safe (and unplayed)  it the gig bag. But this winter I found myself needing a little more sunshine, and what could be more sunny than an ukulele? So out of the gig back it went and onto my Autoharp stand it sits now between practice session. Rosie the Autoharp was put safely away in her case for now, she's had plenty of attention over the past 2 years.

I signed up for UU+ which includes lots of pre-recorded classes so I can really learn some solid techniques on my dear little Ukulele. After one week of practice I know three chords and am learning two songs with those chords. I just watched Lesson 2 of Ukulele 101 and am looking forward to completing the 10 week course just in time for my Spring Music Party. For those of you interested in such things I have the Lanikai Concert model # LU21C, a nice inexpensive entry level Ukulele with Aquila nylgut strings. I added some stickers to it, so I wouldn't take myself or my little Ukulele so seriously. 

I love the sound, and I'm pretty sure my cats do as well. It really is kittenish and playful. Due to the small size, the ukulele doesn't have much sustain, so you have to keep strumming to keep sound coming out of it. So just like a kitten, it doesn't hold still very long. It's also a strapless instrument, easy to hold with the crook of my elbow and walk around with. This week spare moments have been spent viewing Uke videos online, and have created a playlist that I go to for tips and inspiration on YouTube. Check it out!

Friday, November 8, 2013

DAD - Dulcimer Acquisition Disease

There is a longing in my heart right now that sings out to the tune of "Basketball Jones" only with Dulcimer in the place of the basketball, and I've got it bad. Last night I cleaned my dulcimer, oiled the fretboard and changed the strings. My sweet Mary Jane looks and sounds wonderful. A week from tomorrow will be my 5th Annual Fall Music Party, and I am very excited to have a bunch of friends over to play and listen. We always welcome both Pickers (musicians) and Grinners (audience) to the party. It's always potluck and BYOB and loads and loads of fun.

So in preparation, I'm taking care of my main instruments. Last week I tuned my autoharp after several months of it sitting idle, it took an entire hour. Now I've got my sweet mountain dulcimer in tip top shape. But the Jones, aka Dulcimer Acquisition Disease or DAD, did not go away because of these activities...and it is so strong. It is an instrument acquisition Jones. I recognize the symptoms.  That longing after something Other than what I already have. There are no funds for a new instrument, I have other plans for my money at the moment such as pay off my credit card, buy a love seat and rug for the living room, and the long term goal is to pay off my student loans.

I think a new dulcimer would be a suitable reward for that final payoff. Don't you? That way I can quietly look at all the dulcimer options available to me, savor the yearning for a new instrument for a good long time, and when the time is right...scratch that itch and get a new dulcimer. There are lots of options out there. Six string, baritone, hourglass, different woods, sound holes and so much more. And you know what? I found the ultimate Mountain Dulcimer porn site. Tons of photos of different models, they even have a Kantele that I can dream about acquiring. It is the same place I bought my sweet Mary Jane from, and the Folkroots travel dulcimer I reviewed last spring.

It doesn't help that I had a dream the other night that I went to a folk festival and met Bing Futch, a spokesperson for their dulcimers, and host of the Dulcimerica Podcast. I don't remember much about the dream, it was about finding my room and getting registered and stuff. So I think a Dulcimer Festival will be in my future at some point as well. I have lots of things to dream  about, like this little beauty:

This sure would make a sweet addition to my little instrument family. Learning new songs and techniques helps take the edge off the Jones temporarily, so I will do what I can to be worthy of such a beautiful dulcimer someday!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review of FolkRoots Travel Dulcimer

Last year I was lucky enough to hear about a free trial of a new model of dulcimer. The folks over at Folk Craft Instruments were designing a dulcimer based on an old FolkRoots Travel Dulcimer and were asking for volunteers to try it out and give it a review. So I signed up and many months later, the FolkRoots Travel Dulcimer arrived, with a Honduras Mahogany Body, Honduras Mahogany Soundboard, 22 Inch Scale Length, with 1 1/2 and 8 1/2 Frets.

When I opened the package and pulled out this sweet little dulcimer I was immediately charmed by it's symplicity and clean craftmanship. The color is rich and warm, and I was eager to try out the sound. Because of the short size, it fits nicely in the lap whether there are arms on a chair, or if I'm sitting cross-legged on the floor.

What I found was a crisp tone that was very enjoyable, and more volume than I expected in such a small instrument. It has a bit of a plucky sound that reminds me a little of a Ukulele, due to it's smaller size and short string length no doubt, but not overly so. The notes are not sustained as long as a full size mountain dulcimer, but the tone is quite nice, and has a pleasing warmth.

Fingerpicking gave a surprisingly rich full bodied sound, none of the pluckiness that I mentioned earlier. Vigorous strumming had more of the high silvery mountain dulcimer drone that goes great with traditional tunes. The middle 'A' string did buzz a bit when strummed with strong force, but only when left open. Other than that the action was really sweet and that made it easy to play.

Because I'm used to traditional dulcimers, I found the shallow height of the fretboard a little difficult at first, since I brace against the fretboard with my thumb for both chording with my left hand and fingerpicking with my right. But I did manage to get accustomed to it fairly quickly. I do not play with a noter, and I can see how that might be a challenge as well. I imagine with regular play adding a pickguard might not be a bad idea, as there definitely could be wear and tear over time. But if it's not played very often it would not be an issue.

All in all, the FolkRoots Travel Dulcimer is a sturdy little instrument that you can take anywhere and play. It would make a nice companion on either a hiking trail or college campus, and it is quite charming in my little studio room that I use for practicing. Sadly, it is too similar to my own mountain dulcimer (a Folkcraft FSH) to make it worth keeping; but it has been a pleasure trying out this little beauty, and I can recommend it to anyone who wants a small instrument that they can take anywhere.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Mountain Dulcimer is like a kitten

My mountain dulcimer is like a kitten, she sleeps in her stand looking all pretty, somehow more adorable each time I glance her way. A couple of days ago she even helped me find my way out of a pickle. I've been wanting to learn Joni Mitchell's "River" for some time now, and due to the variety of chords not usually found in a diatonic dulcimer, I thought my autoharp would be just the instrument. Well, it seems that didn't work quite right. I was missing a key chord, a combination chord of Dm and C, that really sets the tone for the whole song.

 My sweet Mary Jane, and the 1 1/2 fret I had added, came to the rescue. I figured out how to play that particular chord, and the song sounds much more complete. Like a kitten, my mountain dulcimer craves a certain amount of attention. This time stealing it away from my autoharp. Tonight is the night I catch up on some emails I need to write, so I was pretty excited to see an email from the folks at Folkcraft. It seems they are still sending out travel dulcimers for players to review and it's my turn to try it out! So look for my review, complete with photos here on the blog. The other thing in my inbox was a link to Dulcimerica 210 with Big Futch. A couple of sweet tunes on a baritone dulcimer, one of which I can play on my own little Folkcraft. Enjoy!


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Kantele Journey

Taking up the Kantele is a journey through another land, mainly Finland, and one where I do not speak the language. But I think I have met a guide, and I will be contacting her about learning to play the 10 string Kantele. It is none other than Diane Jarvi, and I had the pleasure to make her acquaintance a week ago. I have been thoroughly enjoying the new albums of hers that I picked up, and it's renewed my excitement in really learning to master this instrument and a learn a wider variety of techniques. Diane studied Kantele at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, and has done workshops on playing the Kantele across the region. One thing I am considering is added a strap to my 10 string so I can play it standing up. Here's a little bit of inspiration for me and all you other Kantele fans out there: All in Finnish, of course! I'm learning some words and phrases here and there, and working on a song in Finnish right now that is quite lovely. This journey began with my lovely five string kantele in 2010, and now continues with the ten string here in 2012. It is an odd journey, but it's rich and fascinating, filled with unexpected twists and turns. I learn and sing and play as I go along, and it is delightful and my soul glories in it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Long Expected Party

My posts here of late have been few and far between. It's not that I haven't been pursuing music, it's quite the opposite. Since I last posted I have completed building my ten string Kantele, pictures were taken by my sister and husband and I have yet to obtain them. When I do I will be certain to create a nice long blog post of my kantele building adventures.

Rehearsals for Season 4 of the Idisi has begun, and I am having a wonderful time with all of my wyld sisters every wednesday night. We are getting ready for a big photo shoot this coming Sunday, it will be a great time providing the weather is accomodating. Wyld women photograph best in a natural environment, after all. It's an exciting time in my life, and I am most looking forward to sharing all the happenings with my friends next month at my Annual Fall Music party.

Let's talk a little about The HOBBIT A Long Expected Party, shall we? I have preared some songs that are Middle Earth inspired, one on my mountain dulcimer, and three on my autoharp. I hadn't even had my autoharp in my little eager hands a week when I was suddenly inspired and worked out a melody to one of my favorite Tolkien poems, I Sit and Think, which is attributed to Bilbo Baggins:
I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall never see.
For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.
This is the first song I have written that has words to it, so it is a milestone for me. I have a couple that I wrote on the mountain dulcimer and a couple on the five string kantele. I love to play them and I think they sound good, to my ears anyway, and if there are some quiet moments I may play them at the party as well.

While I would like to spend all my spare time practicing my instruments between now and November 17th, I will be spending a considerable amount of time getting the house ready. We pulled up the carpeting in the living room this past weekend, and there is more prep work to do before we can sand and finish the hard wood floors. The good news is that there does not appear to be any gouges or damaged boards. But there are many stains which may or may not come off in the sanding process. We'll see. A stained but re-finnished hardwood floor is still more attractive than a stained old carpet.

But back to the music, there is one little bit of trivia that I want to share. There is a strong link between Authoharps and The Hobbit. Marc Gunn, Autoharpist and Tolkien fan extrodinare, wrote some of my favorite songs in honor of middle earth that I have ever heard. In fact, his song Ring of Hope, is one that I have prepared for the party. But don't worry, you can learn some Hobbit friendly tunes in time for the event yourself. Just purchase his songbook via downloadable PDF, like I did!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dream Autoharp Arrives

The long wait is ended, and my Dream Autoharp, the d'Aigle Desert Rose 18 chord chromatic, is resting comfortably in her stand between the bookcase and my little electric fireplace in my studio. In the end, she did not get the chord bar layout that I selected, but the standard one. It was a surprise, but I found one song that I can play in my book that I wouldn't have been able to with my selection. And two that won't work. But one of those is "Red is the Rose", which is now one of my favorites on my mountain dulcimer, so all will be well. It's part of the challenge, learning to play with the limitations of the instrument. All instruments have limitations in one way or another, as do our dreams.

Zithers as a whole are nearly limitless, especially in their most well known form, the pianoforte. That's right. I said pianoforte, because that was the original name, and yes it is a zither. A hammered zither that can play both soft, piano, and loud, forte. This was an advancement of the original harpsichord design, which plucked the strings and therefore did not have as much variety in volume. But I digress. The important thing is I have an Autoharp again, and I can play it. I'm actually amused at how easy it was to pick up and start playing again, I even can pick a bit of melody of Ode to Joy. Delighted doesn't begin to describe what I'm feeling. It's like coming home again, full of comfort, but also knowing I don't have to leave. My autoharp is here to stay, and I'm eager to work on more music and master the tunes that I was just beginning to learn a year ago. The camera is not here, but there will be pictures posted this weekend for sure.

I think I shall play her one more time before bed...