Monday, December 26, 2011

On My Nerves

My hand dilema has a solution! Thanks to an adjustment from Dr. Becca, the weird tingles have been greatly reduced, and we are treating the source of the problem: my stiff neck. It's been almost a week since I last practiced my dulcimer, and she gave me the go ahead to practice my dulcimer, with strict instructions to put the sheet music at eye level.

During my last practice session, I had my music sitting to my left on couch, so I could refer to it time to time as I was trying to memorize the song. Bad idea. My neck muscles tightened up and voila! Pain and tingles in my arm, wrist, and hand that persisted for several days. So I contacted Becca, the same person who inspired me to take up the autoharp in the first place, and got in for an adjustment. Now I will be doing stretches three or more times a day and visiting her for a follow up in a week.

But I got to hold my darling dulcimer and listen to her sweet voice again tonight. I will continue practicing, in moderation, and stretching my neck under the direction of Dr. Becca. Oh, and I'll be adding Yoga in to my daily routine as well. That way I will keep everything stretched and toned so I can continue to grow as a musician. I've been very blessed in having someone I can trust to go to for help. I had never been to a Chiropractor before, and there is no way I would let a stranger adjust my neck that way. Ah the life of a musician!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day of Rest #3

Today is the third day in a row that I have not practiced my dulcimer. Determined to learn to play more with my thumb, I let my stubborn nature take over and for five days I practiced for at least a half an hour a day working my thumb chords in a song. By day five I was getting the hang of it, and I was also getting sore. The next morning I woke with my left hand stiff and occasional pins and needles in my hand, wrist, elbow, and upper arm.

Crap. I over practiced, stupidly ignoring the soreness. Now I'm on day three with not touching my little beauty, and continued soreness. I really hope this isn't the beginning of something chronic, like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But since I am also experiencing some soreness and numbness in my pinky, it's likely just strain and a possible pinched nerve. A few days before the holidays and I can't even play the Christmas Songs I've been working on. If it continues past a week, I will definitely consult with a Chiropractor who specializes in working with musicians. Crazy, stubborn musicians like me, who don't quit when their bodies want them too. So, I'm taking some Ibuprofin and going to bed, in the hopes that things will be better tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Musically Restless

The other night I had a dream that my sister had left an unusual guitar at my house. It had a very wide and short neck with seven strings. On a whim I picked it up to play, and I immediately started playing some lovely tunes. No such guitar exists, and it is just an indication that I am restless in my current musical endeavors. The Mountain Dulcimer practicing is bearing fruit, but more slowly than my early efforts. Adding chord melody playing, fingerpicking and other techniques adds to my learning time. The mountain dulcimer, like the Autoharp, takes a few moments to learn to play and a lifetime to master.

I think I'm doing pretty well at seven months, but there is so much that I want to be able to do RIGHT NOW...sigh. I actually was considering putting the guitar on my new instrument wish list, but I've come to my senses after last night's lesson. I have a ton of songs I'm learning, it's helping with my skill level, but I really want to get ten or so up to performance level within the next few months. So the guitar is off the list and the Autoharp is back on, and my savings has quite a long way to go before I make that kind of a purchase.

Normally my next lesson would be in two weeks, but 'Tis the Season, so my teacher will be off. This will be a good time for me to get that extra fret added to the dulcimer, and I will then embrace my Kantele to tide me over while my darling Mary Ann is in the shop. But I won't be sending her off until after the holidays, it's her first Christmas with us after all! She should be around to enjoy it. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anniversary Pictures

Yesterday I took a bunch of pictures of my darling Mary Ann the Mountain Dulcimer. I even got a couple with my sweet kitten Cleopatra, cleo for short. The dulcimer arrived six months ago today, the cat turns 13 this year.

Now I have to go rake leaves, or snuggle with cats, or both.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Six Months with the Mountain Dulcimer

This morning I woke up with music going through my head, it's the perfect thing for a Saturday morning, I think. Tomorrow marks the six month anniversary since my Mountain Dulcimer arrived on my doorstep. My fingertips on my left hand and the side of my thumb are now nicely calloused, and I'm just so happy to have my darling Mary Ann, I think I will commemorate the anniversary with a photo today, as the weather promises to be absolutely beautiful. I think it's time I recorded her details from her build as written on the label inside:

Handcrafted by
Folkcraft Instruments
model: Folkcraft FSH
serial #: 20111636
luthier: S.J. Ash   date: 4/19/2011

She is my own darling dear, and I play her just about every day. Just over a week ago I wrote my first tune which I've titled Kari's Song, in honor of my friend who inspired it. I'm building a nice play list, with seven songs solidly memorized, and three more on the way I've made good progress. I'm still working on my technique, with chord transitions not going as effortlessly as I'd like, and my fretting not as clean as I want. I'm thinking it might be about time to change the strings, and maybe giving her a good oiling before winter sets in.

There is a very fun thread going on in the beginner players group over on Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer called "Cure for dulcimer shortage" which I am finding quite amusing. I am currently without a working Autoharp, and as I've mentioned before, have decided I want one that is luthier made rather than factory made. Two reasons for this: I love my luthier made mountain dulcimer and kantele, and I don't want the same problem to happen again with the bridge lifting like it did on my Oscar Schmidt. I have yet to obtain a quote on having extra frets added to my Mary Ann, but I will email Hoffman guitars to find out. Their website shows that they charge $90.00 an hour for labor, so it might be more than I am willing to pay to modify my current instrument. In that case, I might just want to get a second Mountain Dulcimer with extra frets. But I have plenty of time to ponder the situation as I save my nickles and dimes up in my new instrument fund.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Good Times Big & Small

Well, last night was my third annual Autumn Music Circle & Party. It was also my debut playing my lovely mountain dulcimer. The party was well attended, and the weather was fine, but very windy. So we did not have the bonfire going, too many leaf piles that could catch fire. Better safe than sorry! Lots of friends show up, with a small bunch arriving almost an hour early.

The party itself went very well, with groups talking in the kitchen, and the spare room that acts as my office/music room. But the music itself happened in the living room. In the past, we've filled all the chairs with musicians, up to about a dozen or so. This year we had less than half that. Three guitars, one stav, and myself on the dulcimer. Boy did my little dulcimer sound quiet compared to those guitars! And I was strumming as loudly as I could without making it go all buzzy. I played from my music book because I felt like I needed the crutch. I was very nervous on my first song, which didn't go very well. It was "Diamonds and Rust" and I've only been playing it on the dulcimer for a couple of weeks. I'm learning bar chords and it's still a little awkward and difficult to leap from the 1st fret down to the 6th without missing a beat.

I managed a fair rendition of "Wild Mountain Thyme" toward the end of the night. When one of the guitarists left there was a break in the music and we wandered around and chatted. We did a few more tunes after that. The party went on after the musicians left, and I ended up kicking everyone out at about ten minutes to two in the morning. So there were definitely some good times at the party. The music circle never really got to a good jam level, but it had it's moments. I was quite relaxed by then end of the night, very comfortable sitting there with my dulcimer amid the guitars.

My next lesson with Karen is a week from Tuesday, and I'm looking forward to making progress with my lovely instrument. I really want to learn it well enough that I can jump in and jam with others, and maybe get together more often with my musician friends just to hang out and play. In the meantime I will keep watching for when the next Dulcimer Day in Duluth is. I hope they're going to do it again, it would be great to meet some more dulcimer players in this sea of guitarists here in Minnesota.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

1 1/2 Fret - or more than you wanted to know about a Mountain Dulcimer

As I struggle to play C as a bar chord on the 6th fret, my Mountain Dulcimer teacher took a moment to mention to me, that my life might be easier if I have a 1 1/2 fret added to my dulcimer. What's that you might ask? It's an extra fret between the 1st and 2nd fret. This would enable me to play a C chord as an easy transition from Em, AND play an F chord, which does not exist on my lovely diatonic dulcimer tuned to D A D. I told you it was more than you wanted to know. Why do I love obscure zither instruments anyway? Why couldn't I have just tried taking up the guitar...again.
Well the guitar route failed me twice, and I do so love the sound of an Autoharp, the drone of the Mountain Dulcimer, and the ringing of a Kantele. So here I am, learning a song that would be so much easier with a 1 1/2 fret. For now I must do it the hard way, but once my music party is over, she might be put into the hands of a luthier to make my life that much easier. Because I want to play in the key of C as well, without having to re-tune. Call me crazy, but I think that variety is the spice of life. The instrument pictured above has both a 1 1/2 and 8 1/2 fret.

Also, an instrument doesn't have to be hard to learn to play to make beautiful music. The mountain dulcimer provides that, and as it turns out, allows for a little more customization in order to play it the way you want it. My first custom change was to remove the second melody string, turning my four string into a three string, it simplifies chording and allows equal play on all three strings for the melody. Now I want to add an extra fret. Technically, I already have 2 extras, the 6 1/2 and the 13 1/2 which are very common on modern mountain dulcimers. Heck, you can even get a fully chromatic one these days, which is kind of like taking up a guitar.

So, I will check with Hoffman Guitars, and see how much they would charge to add an additional fret...or two.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Good Night & Joy Be With You All

"Good night and joy be with you all"
Those are the words you need to learn for the sing-a-long part of my closer - "The Parting Glass". It will be the last song of the night of my music party, and I hope to make it a tradition. Every musician must have at least one closer, sometimes it's a rousing and exciting song. Sometimes it's a little more quiet to end the night on. And frankly, the saying "good night and joy be with you all" is a bit nicer that "get the fuck out of here', which is also a closer.

The song has become synomonous with Irish Pubs, so much so it has become the title to a book on the subject. I think I shall put that on my wish list, especially since someday we hope to decorate our basement like a pub. I'm looking forward to music parties held down there!

Once upon a time I had a friend named Fred, where every song was a closer. Hard to follow, but fun to hear, he has been a longtime favorite of mine with his twelve string guitar. The last time he played at one of my parties was 15 years ago. Much too long, and never since I began having regular music parties. I miss him and his twelve string, and the "Red Dancing Shoes" we would all sing along to in harmony. I hope he makes it to this party, I sure would love to hear him play.

That's what I love the most about music parties, I love singing in harmony, and it's always different. Unrehearsed, filled with joy for the music and the people around you, you just sing your heart the best you can next to your neighbor. The churches got that part right, and even provide handy hymnals to sing from. My music parties are a bit more informal, but I want to let everyone join in on the music. Live acoustic music is something that I crave on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that is something rather hard to find sometimes. Except that I know there is a wonderful jam Tuesday nights at Merlin's Rest, and I indent to attend that this coming Tuesday, since I will not have to go to work the next day.

Yes, I am taking the entire week off leading up to the music party. It's my annual fall stay-cation, because this is my favorite time of year. Raking leaves and practicing my Mountain Dulcimer in preperation for the party are my active tasks for the week. Less active are reading and snuggling with cats. Much snuggling has already been done today, with reading to come and fixing a tasty dinner for my honey and me.

But I digress...the song is a wonderful classic, and I found a terrific accapella version of it by the Wailin Jennys on YouTube. I'd never heard of them before, and I'm really excited to find a new group of ladies singing and playing music from the heart. Bonus is that they're from Minneapolis North, also known as Winnepeg Canada! Woot! They're practically family already.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Missing My Autoharp

As much as I love my mountain dulcimer, and my kantele for that matter, I do miss my autoharp. I had two years of happy play with her, and I miss holding her against my heart. Lap instruments are warm and cozy,  but actually being able to embrace an instrument the way you do an Autoharp...well...there's just nothing like it. There were times that I would just put my ear next to the harp and close my eyes and play. There was such a wonderful sense of the vibration of the strings, and feeling the sound resonate from the body of the 'harp to my body when I played. That is what I miss, and that wonderful sound of so many strings ringing out at once.

Rather than break into my little pile of emergency savings to buy a new one, I'm saving for it instead, so it will take a while. Because, no matter how much I miss my autoharp, this is not an emergency. With my trusty mountain dulcimer at my side, I will get through the long and cold Minnesota winter while my savings grow to buy a new instrument. One thing that I have decided is that I plan to get a custom instrument, and my teacher Karen Mueller recommends the Arkansas Autoharp as a good option at a good price. I like the way it looks, and I'm sure I could adapt from a 21 bar to an 18 bar for most songs that I have in my book.

Until my savings account is full, I shall continue to give myself little pep talks like this in my blog, as a reminder that I'm a multi-instrumentalist. But I will continue to miss playing my autoharp anyway.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Moments With My Dulcimer

Moments are spent with my mountain dulcimer, both playing and enjoying it's beauty. For my birthday, my husband bought me a wonderful display stand for my lovely instrument from Ray Lynn Woods. Each morning I sit in a chair where I can see my lovely girl in her stand, looking pretty. Before work I have to have my quiet time, when I sit and have my first cup of coffee and write my morning pages in my journal. It's become a daily ritual for me that I rarely ever miss. My cats join me in the room and we have a good time, them gazing out the window or dozing in a chair, and me with my coffee, journal, and view of my mountain dulcimer. She really is a work of art in and of herself, and having a hand crafted stand is the best option for her as well. As I get to know her voice, I am reminded of all the other dulcimer players out there, who love their lovely fretted friends as much as I do. They bring us so much joy in their quiet sweet way. It's like the first time I lived with cats, I knew that I never wanted to live without them. Both came to me later in life, and both have taught me many lessons about patience, kindness, and being able to just relax once in a while.

Relaxing is the key to happiness I think. I get so caught up in things emotionally, that I need to find a place within myself to rest. That place is full of sleepy kitties and the sweet sound of the mountain dulcimer. Autumn has arrived here in Minnesota, and it's my favorite season. The leaves are decorating the lawns and dancing in the streets. In just over a week, I'll be taking a Stay-cation and loving every minute of it. Finally I get a chance to slow down and spend entire days like my precious mornings. No goals or ambitions, other than to get the house ready for my music party. Tonight's practice went a little better than last night's, and I worked on fingerpicking while singing "Red is the Rose". I've known the song for many years, so learning it on the dulcimer makes a lot of sense to me, and I'm so happy to do it.

I'm feeling very peaceful, but still excited about the party. My hope is to play my songs without my music stand and book in front of me, that means memorizing quite a bit, but it makes me quite joyful too. That way it's just me and my mountain dulcimer, as I play music learned by heart. Finding moments with my dulcimer brings a lot of happiness into my life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sore Fingers

The problem with practicing mountain dulcimer immediately after doing dishes is that my fingertips have softened a bit after soaking in warm water. While I have managed to work up some callouses, I found my fingers a bit sensitive at the beginning of this nights practice. Sore fingers are common among musicians specializing in stringed instruments, and my first few days of practice were a little uncomfortable. It's the price we pay to get to know our instruments.

Today is the first day in over a week that I actually did practice. Avoiding housework except for necessary puttering to get through each day, I also successfully avoided building up a bank of time to practice. So tonight, even though I'm very, very tired, I cleaned a bit and practiced a bit. Because I was never blessed with discipline, I have to rely on my innate stubbornness to get me through my plan to have both a clean house and a well rehearsed list of songs in time for my music party. Sleep is what I need right now, so off I go, in the hopes that a cat or two will come tuck me in.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Truth About Taking Up The Mountain Dulcimer

While looking in on the Fingerpicking group on Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, I discovered another beginner like myself who has learned an interesting fact: the more you play, the dirtier your house gets. It's true, the dulcimer calls to me much more often and loudly than the dishes, the laundry, the toilet, even my thirsty plants aren't getting enough attention. It is so common that there's been a song written about it, "Cat Hair on My Fretboard" recorded by TNT. They even have the TAB for sale. So cats are common as well among dulcimer enthusiasts, interesting.

With a big music party coming up, I need to get my practicing in, but the house will need to be kept clean as well. Being the persnickity person that I am, I have devised a plan. For every hour that I spend cleaning each day, that's how much time I get to practice my dulcimer. Please do not take this statement lightly, because I certainly don't, in fact I have a form that I will be logging my time in. That way I won't cheat myself out of a clean house. It's for my own good really, and I just might be stubborn enough to get something accomplished. I'm turning over a new, and neater, leaf this Autumn!

And because it's all about folk music for me, I thought it would be fun to end this post with an amazing video of Butch Ross singing his original tune, "I like Singing Folksongs"

It really describes a life doen't it? There's so much talent out there in the Mountain Dulcimer community. Down to earth, real people with a passion for this kind of music. That's why I'm doing it too, nothing speaks to my soul more than Folk Music. It's best live and with a room full of friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Grey Day

Tonight after work I stopped at Homestead Pickin' Parlor and scheduled my next dulcimer lesson with Karen. When I walked in the door, right before my eyes, were a couple of albums by Mimi & Richard Farina. After updating the dulcimer page on the blog here, I knew I had to get my hands on some of their music. I chose the cheaper album which also features an autoharp. There are several instrumental songs on the album, which is exacty what I wanted.

The title suits me as well. "Celebrations for a Grey Day" fits my mood of late when I'm not happily strumming away at my dulcimer. It's been too long since I've seen some live folk music, and I will have to remedy that soon. Having a lesson will perk me up a bit as well, I'm sure. Visiting HPP always is a welcome retreat from the pristine world of my corporate job. They're an old school mom and pop shop with an old fashioned cash register, so after sitting all day in front of a computer with my wireless earpiece taking customer service calls, the low tech world really appeals me. I'm actually longing for old style phones with chords and everything. Oh to have a rotary phone! One of the big heavy black ones that were made out of some kind of ceramic/plastic hybrid. Glorious days of old. As I sit here at my home computer, listening the album I just Ripped to my hard-drive, I sit and wonder at the passage of time. Richard died in a motorcycle accident a few months before I was born, but here I am listening to his music.

The title track to the album is playing which is a medley jam of an assortment of tunes. It somehow works and I'm looking forward to the day when I know enough songs to choose some for a medley of my own. The liner notes are an interesting ramble, wrapped up with a folk musician's point of view.

"Time, tide, and the accident of what the statisticians call birth have conspired to provide us with a tradition barely ours and hardly it's own.  Music, if it has a mind to, can sing about things like that, and maybe set one or two of them straight, yes?" ~ Richard Farina
A passage through time forms between the drone of the dulcimer and the bass strings of the guitar. So many days pass with nothing but work, but in the evening all is music. It is my refuge in so many ways. We are having warm days this week with highs in the 80's, twenty degrees above normal for the start of an October in Minnesota. Some days I just want to go away to the woods for a while, like maybe the rest of my life, and play my dulcimer and snuggle with cats. Life has gotten so complicated, I want something simpler, something full of stories and song.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

From Kantele to Dulcimer

With my next music party just a month away, and my autoharp out of commission, I need to get more tunes for the mountain dulcimer. While I have the wonderful book by Neil Hellman on Celtic music for the mountain dulcimer, I really want to explore my Finnish heritage in song as well. Lucky for me one of the major tunings used on the Kantele is the key of D, so tonight I made up my first Mountain Dulcimer TAB from the book "My Kantele is My Teacher" by Lani K. Thompson that I got a year ago. I picked a very simple tune for the first one, because of my lack of skill with my MD as well as it's my first time coming up with my own tab. I found this is a really good way to learn more about what makes a song a song. Even this simple one, which is just eight bars long, had something to teach me.

My experiment worked very well, and I should have a Traditional Finnish folk song or two memorized in time for my music party. It helps that I'm taking my staycation the week leading up to it. So I will have no excuses for either having a messy house or a lack of playing ability. Most of my musician friends have RSVP'd as maybe. I will have to do a little begging and cajoling to get then to commit to coming to play. I'm kind of obsessed with learning to play better at the moment. I want to pick up my instrument every chance that I get. At least I won't embarrass myself too badly in front of my party guests!

Friday, September 23, 2011


Dulcimerating. That is the term my husband uses when I am online blogging about my dulcimer, visiting Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, watching YouTube videos of people playing the mountain get the idea. So now, as I sit and dulcimerate, I have to share this golden treasure I found in the FOTMD forum. It's about all the Irish music you could ever want...and it's free to download! To get it all in one swell foop - click here to Download O'Neills Irish Tunes PDF . To pick and choose individual tunes from O'Neill, visit this page.

Since my Autoharp is now a cherished treasure, never to be played again, I've been looking back at all the richness of the past two years. Music has been my haven as I transitioned from Professional Artist to Customer Service Representative. Keeping up with the food and shelter bit takes a lot of time away from my hobbies. But through music, I've made new friends, shared wonderful memories, and thrown some awesome music parties. With my next one coming up on November 5th, and only dabbling with my mountain dulcimer after that first month in May, I have lots of practicing to do. I'll have to give Homestead Pickin' Parlor a call and see if I can get in with Karen for a lesson or two. Really, I'm going to do it this time since the party is looming and my repetoire is very small and clumsy at this point.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Down by The Sally Gardens

To sing a Yeats poem is a glorious thing, I feel connected through time by my voice and the sound of my dulcimer. I decided to learn this song next, as it has many chords in common with "The Parting Glass" so "Down by The Sally Gardens" I go.
It was down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I did meet.

She crossed the Sally Gardens with little snow-white feet.

She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree,

But I was young and foolish, and with her did not agree.

In a field down by the river, my love and I did stand

And on my leaning shoulder, she laid her snow-white hand.

She bid me take life easy , as the grass grows on the weirs

But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

Down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I did meet.

She crossed the Sally Gardens with little snow-white feet.

She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree,

But I was young and foolish, and with her did not agree.

I sure I hope I have it ready for my Autumn Music Circle & Party. We're going with a theme again, this time it's Surly.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


After consulting with Karen Mueller, who gave me some tips on what to look for on my Autoharp that might indicate a more serious problem than just old strings, I found a crack. Now I knew last summer that the support straps holding up the soundboard had given way under the chord bars, but it was still playing great.

Not now, now I can't get it in tune, and what's more, the fine tuners/bridge is being pulled up and towards the tuning pegs. Because the crack is at the corner of my high C tuning peg and runs over an inch up. Boy has the soundboard sunken there! I think the only thing that's been holding it together these past six months is the heavy laquer.

When I purchased her it was in the middle of summer, July the hottest month of the year. The soundboard supports could have given way while it wiled away on my steps waiting for me to come home. Or it could have been that time I left it in my car before taking it in to have strap pegs added. That's the first time it was pointed out to me. The 'harp was hot, too hot, and homestead pickin' parlor said puppy rules apply. They pointed out the sunken area which I could see at that time when I looked from the bottom under the chord bars. I mentioned it to Karen and she said it still sounded fine, so I played it for another year until I noticed something wrong. This summer I took it camping, it was June and was not hot, just damp so I kept her in my car. I took her out and played her a couple of times, but I notice that she really needed a good tuning. After camping I left her in her case, and didn't play her again for a month, I tried to tune her but never got her very well in tune. I kept trying every week, and every week the middle and upper strings were way out of tune. Something told me this wasn't just a string thing, and now I've confirmed it.

May my darling Autoharp rest in peace. She sure does look pretty in her new stand. So now she is the first of my instruments to have died young.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Harder Than It Looks

I am currently working on learning the chords and singing along to "The Parting Glass" which is a wonderful closer at the end of a night of making music. It's a lovely tune, and I'm getting better bit by bit. Mind you, if my autoharp hadn't gone all un-tunable on me I might not be doing this right now, I'd still be working on my repetoire on the more familiar instrument. String changing is a long weekend project, and since I just had to pay to repair a flat tire on my lovely little PT cruiser, I'm lacking the funds for the new strings anyway. So out comes the mountain dulcimer, on it's fancy new stand, which is just lovely, from Ray Lynn Woods. I actually bought the book before the dulcimer arrived last Spring, as I figured Slow Airs would be just my speed starting out.

As you know, I started with the Dulcimer School, and my subscription to that is about to end now that I have a few of the basics down. So I picked up the book and went through it again and found, what I thought, was a good song to start with. Each verse ends with the toast "good night and joy be with you all" and it looks as if I might actually be able to learn this one before the next music party. My fingertips are toughening up once again, and I'm practicing more now too. Now that the cool Autumn temperatures are coming in, I'm really looking forward to making music in my little cottage with my friends. I will be honest with you, I was thrilled with the beautiful cover art on this book as well, it is by the very talented Rachel Arbuckle. My thirst for music, history, song, and instructional notes is thoroughly quenched, and it even comes with a CD to give you an idea of how some of the songs go. This will give me hours of pleasure this winter, and I'm taking a staycation when October switches to November. You may or may not see me blogging about my progress here, depending on my mood. That will be ME time that I sorely need.

So the title of this entry is it's harder than it looks, because Neal makes it look so easy as he plays on a beautiful Folkcraft teardrop dulcimer, a couple of laments.

Beautiful, I have hours and hours of practice ahead of me, but it's music like this that makes me so glad I took up the Mountain Dulcimer.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Mighty Wind

If you love folk music and haven't seen "A Mighty Wind" you really must. It's a pity that I didn't see it in the theatre, that would have been awesome. As it is, I own the DVD, CD and the music book. Yes I spoiled myself for my birthday just over a year ago, and I still watch the movie from time to time when I get in the mood. It's still holding up and I can't even tell you how many times I've seen it, probably about a dozen by now. At least. Tonight after watching it I decided to tune and practice my autoharp. So I tuned...and tuned...and tuned some more...and I started to practice and the poor darling was still flat. I've been tuning it at least once a week for the past month, thinking that it would get better the more often I tune it, but the strings are going flat by half a note or more between tunings.

I've had the 'harp for over two years now, and I've never changed the strings. I figured I'd have to change them this summer, but with all the fun things I've been up to I just haven't gotten around to it. Oh, I bought a lovely display stand for it, but buying strings means changing strings and that is a daunting task that will take hours and hours. Not to mention that the set costs about $65.00, more than double the cost of the stand. My other concern is that it might not be the strings, it might be the autoharp itself. You see, somewhere along the line, the support straps gave way under the chord bar area. You can't really see it above the chord bars where I strum, but the wood is sunken in pretty dramatically right before where the strings are attached to the fine tuners at the bottom of the autoharp. I think it might be time for my first dulcimer lesson from Karen and maybe she can take a look at my 'harp and let me know what she thinks. Because I just don't have the cash for a new Autoharp right now, I'm really hoping it's just a thing with old strings. Sigh.

Lucky for me I have my trusty mountain dulcimer, which is getting it's own stand courtesy of my darling husband as a belated birthday present. He's so supportive of all my enthusiasms. I haven't been practicing it much lately, so I think it's time to dive back into it and practice every day for a little bit, and re-watch all those lovely dulcimer videos on YouTube. But I have to share another video with you first, it's actually a deleted scene from the movie "A Mighty Wind" which features a song I've been trying to learn on autoharp.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bringing Dynamics Back

Here's something that I need to share with all my fellow musicians, especially the ones who like to play plugged in: I hate loud music. Louder is not better, it is just more painful and damages my hearing. If you turn it up to 11 I will not sit through your concerts. Really. I will walk out if I need to. I have excellent hearing, I know because I had it tested where I work as part of my training, I work at a hearing aid company.

If you feel the need to play loud, you are probably concealing a lack of understanding of dynamics. When I was a little girl I learned how to play music in band, and there were different levels that we learned to play with. The dynamics would vary according to the musical notation on any given song. It takes skill to learn how to play at different levels, and if you want it all loud all the time you are missing that. Really.

All that is happening is you are making noise. I want to hear and understand the lyrics, I want to be swept away by a melody, I want to LISTEN. Too loud music has me covering my ears and leaving the room. This is why you are more likely to see me at an unplugged event than a plugged event. Because I listen to folk instead of heavy metal, you would think this wouldn't be a problem. But I can't listen to some of my friend's bands because the music is too damn loud. Come on people! Louder is NOT BETTER! You know who you are, and I challenge you to play with a greater dynamic range and make the loud parts dramatic, and make the soft parts enchant me.

By the way, if you love to play that loud music, you and your family probably have measurable hearing loss because of it. Your fans as well. If you can't hear soft music, you should probably have that looked at. Loud is not an intelligent lifestyle, it's harmful to the quality of music you are capable of creating as well as your quality of life. And I am not a fan of yours or your band. I won't be going to your shows and buying your records. It's too bad really, because I give really good audience.

But don't just think about me, think about the 6.5 million teenagers with hearing loss. Most of this is preventable by playing their headphones at a more reasonable level. By the way that number is 31% more than it was a decade ago.

Ever notice that in a really good dramatic movie you have to listen closely to the dialog sometimes? The actors are speaking softly so you have pay closer attention to what they have to say. It's called drama. Loud isn't dramatic it's just obnoxious. Being obnoxious is being hateful to your listeners, and causing permanent damage to their hearing is just foolish. This is not cool. Really.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Finding My Heart's Ease

Tonight is a time for me to sit in my room with kitties, to relax and to meditate. I don't do this often enough anymore, it used to be more of a habit in the evening after dinner to take some time to be quiet. Quiet is my soul's food. With so many things demanding my attention, it's nice to slow down and have a date with my soul. Even though I have listened to the album many times, I never thought to listen to Marc Gunn's Heart's Ease as a meditation CD. Not all the songs are super quiet or super slow, maybe that's why I never tried it before. But tonight it seemed like the thing to do. Accompanied by the cool breeze after a summer rain, it is the perfect way to end the day. The flame of a single votive and a small stick of Japanese incense complete the mood for me.

I really love this CD, it has a variety of moods. From sweet melancholy to joy among flowers, the tunes take me on a magical journey each time I listen to it. My intention was to bring a little bit more calm into my day, but I have found a smile as well as I contemplate while listening to Wildflowers of Party Field. There is a feeling that wells up from deep within that music can tap into for me, and this album tosses pebbles into that well until I feel the ripples calming the chaos and setting my mind at rest. Marc Gunn is really a wizard, and his magic dances from his fingers, through the strings of his autoharp and out into the world. There's no other way to adequately describe this album.

As an autoharpist, it is an inspiration. As a Reiki Master it is the perfect accompaniment to my practice. As a lover of fantasy, it ignites my imagination until my mind starts to travel to Hobbiton and beyond. It was a lovely addition to my CD collection, and one that I will surely treasure for years to come. It can be yours too, just buy Heart's Ease: Instrumental Autoharp Music by Marc Gunn from CD Baby. Do it, I dare ya.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Long Time Gone

I can't believe it's been a month since my last post! Time goes by so fast when you're having fun. Well, I survived my first week long camping trip, and had a wonderful time as well, even in the rain. Yes rain. Most nights brought rain and several misty mornings kept the instruments in their cases. I was able to pull them out to practice a bit on Monday, but not again until Friday evening. I had to re-tune the Autoharp both days due to the humidity, with my higher notes being between 1/2 and a whole note out of key!

So Friday evening I did play around the campfire the six songs I knew by heart on the Autoharp. It had to be the ones I knew by heart because it was too dark to see my chord sheets. It's a start at least, and they were well received. In fact if I go back next year I can have my own concert slot! :O I need to put them off for another year, because we have other plans that week for 2012. What can I say? I like to plan things in advance.

Back home under a real roof, I haven't picked up either instrument since. Scary, I know, I've been all about ATS bellydance again. But don't worry, I will get back into the groove again, I love it too much. To help me with my practicing habit I shall invest in music stands for my babies, that way they will be just sitting there looking pretty rather than shut away in their cases where I can ignore them. Also, the place I was going to do Open Mic night at has been shut down for repairs due to a tornado going through. They don't have a re-open date as of yet, no news in 3 weeks on their website or facebook page. It's too early for my next music party, but if we can at least pencil it in, that will give me enough time to concentrate on learning a few more songs by heart, and maybe even a couple on the mountain dulcimer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Strum Flower Songs & More

Tonight I played my Autoharp, which had been sitting neglected in a chair until last night when I tuned it. The base notes were all sharp while the middle and high notes were exceedingly flat. It took about a half an hour to tune it, and now that I've played it for a while it probably needs another good tuning. What it actually needs is a new set of strings, but that's next month's project, after the house gets painted.

After taking a break from the 'harp to work on my new mountain dulcimer it was nice to come back at it. Some of the harder things I had been frustrated with are magically much easier. I'm completely convinced that picking up a new instrument has made me better at the old one, and appreciate it's attributes much more. Like the ability to stand up and walk around with it. My little dulcimer has a strap, but it's for keeping from sliding off of my lap. I've got a lot to learn before I figure out how to play it standing up.

My autoharp is for singing with mostly. I love the quality of it with my voice, and I'm learning a bunch of songs that I really love. But since I'm taking her out in public, I need to work on some more of my favorite sing-a-longs. Making music with a bunch of like-minded individuals is a very good thing, and I get to do a lot of it. It's mostly folk music I'm learning, of the popular '60's variety, and some traditional standards as well. There are still a couple of songs that I'm re-learning since I had my chord bars moved around last fall, but those are making more sense with the standard Bryan Bowers arrangement. Much easier for me to work with, and I recommend it to any player.
I'm trying to get a few sets of three songs, for the purpose of playing at open mics. I love the idea of having some kind of theme, but I need to learn a few more songs to round them out. I think I have a Wildflower Song Set almost ready to go with:
  • Wildwood Flower
  • Wild Mountain Thyme
  • How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower
I also am casually looking for another song with the word "damn" in it, as I have two already for my Damn Song Set. I am learning my second "death" song for my Death Song Set, "The Death of Queen Jane" and I still need to get the chords figured out for the third. Clearly I plan to be prepared for every eventuality at an open mic night. Who knows, if I get the hang of it, I might actually tell people in advance to come see me. Maybe next year sometime.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Few Words About Pixies

For some reason, maybe it's the Spring flowers in bloom, I'm all about pixies at the moment. Bear with me, there is a musical finish for the patient reader. Anyway, on my way to my ATS class last night, I decided to get my girlie girl on and get that tube of lipstick I've been planning on getting. Now you wouldn't think that lipstick would be a decision I would put off for months, but that was the case here, as it's a little more pricey than your average tube. But that's OK, because it's Vegan and Peta Certified Cruelty Free. Seriously, I'm going to be slathering my lips with this stuff every day, I don't want it to be filled with gross stuff by a company that tortures bunnies.

My beautiful new lipstick from the Elixery is named "Pixie" as in
The Pixies know no sorrow, the Pixies feel no fear... _ Nora Chesson, 19th century English poet

This now leads me to the second pixie, and the third and fourth. They are together, Tricky Pixie and have written some very beautiful and fun music together. I absolutely love the Dryad's Promise from their album Mythcreants, so I'm sharing that here:

Hopefully I will be in all the pixies good graces from now on. Because they can be very tricky at times. I really want to learn Dryad's Promise on either my autoharp or my dulcimer. I'll have to take a lesson or two with Karen and see if we can work it out together.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ghost Story

As I was practicing my dulcimer, just playing around moving up and down the scale, one of my favorite songs of all times has begun to appear. The melody is lovely, and the words reach into my heart the way few songs do. OK, more than a few because I'm a pushover. But this one touches me so deeply, that I weep just about every time I hear it. So the plan is to learn the tune on the dulcimer, and revisit it as often as possible, as my skill increases. It is called Ghost Story, by Sting. Of course I had to find a video for it so I'll post that last, first I have to share the lyrics that makes me weep so readily.

The moon's a fingernail
And slowly sinking
Another day begins
And now I'm thinking

That this indifference
Was my invention
When everything I did
Sought your attention

You were my compass star
You were my measure
You were a pirate's map
Of buried treasure

If this was all correct
The last thing I'd expect
The prosecution rests
It's time that I confessed
I must have loved you...

Words and Music by Sting
from A Brand New Day 1999

It's an incredibly brilliant piece of work. I just don't know what else I can possibly say about this one. All time favorite from one of the best albums ever made. So this is the video, watch it and weep.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Music as Tradition

Learning the mountain dulcimer brings up the prospect of learning traditional old time mountain tunes. Many are fiddle tunes that are now being played on the dulcimer, and it's interesting to learn about them. They have crazy names like "Old Black Cat Can't Catch a Rat" and part of the joy is the history. Learning the tunes on the internet takes a bit away from that history, it lacks the traditional feeling of passing them down from master to student. When I get some of the basics down I do intend to take some classes. One day, when I've learned enough to jam with other instruments, I will go to a folk music festival an see what's to be seen there.

It is a mystical little instrument, and I'm not sure how far that will take me, but I'm willing to find out. Today is Sunday, which means I have work to look forward to tomorrow. As jobs go it's a pretty good one, and I can't complain, but I envy the retiree student who gets to spend all their time puttering, practicing, and going off to folk festivals. At least I will have something to look forward to in 20 years or so. That's the dream anyway.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wishing on a Star

It is day seven with my Mountain Dulcimer, and after I went to see open mic night at the 42nd Avenue Station, I came home for my practice session. First I put the kitties to bed, and then I sat down and tuned my dulcimer. After playing for a week I was pretty out of tune, just getting the strings going here folks! I'm working on developing my personal version of "Bile Them Cabbage Down" and just getting to know "Liza Jane" so there's plenty to do. I find that I keep missing the melody string when I go fast, and some of my noting gets a little buzzy, so I decided to slow it down and just work through things methodically.

My fingertips are toughening up nicely, so much so that I can easily do slided with at least my left index finger. I'm also working on some L shaped chords so I can get the side of my thumb used to this business as well. After seven days of play I am getting some song-like things coming out of my little beauty, and I am still trying on some different names for her as well. Tonight I was playing around with noting, and I stumbled upon that old familiar tune "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" along the way. As I played I concentrated on strumming cleanly and gently, and getting a good tone with my left hand. The sweet melody was so pure and reminded me so much of summer days when I was a little girl it actually brought a tear to my eye.

Where once I was wishing on a star to get my dulcimer, now we wish together as I get to know her form and tone. My mountain dulcimer is my BFF for sure, it's no wonder the group I joined is called Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer! She is my constant companion in the evening, and when I'm ready I will share her with some of my other friends. I like what Bing Futch has to say on his dulcimer blog Nowhere,Nevada:
From the music made to the sights seen, with the spark of inspiration to the joy of being around folks that have tapped into this mystical little instrument and claimed it as their own personal totem...
Which is what she is quickly becoming. There is a spiritual quality to music, as is well known. It communicates and carries a message from one soul to another. Sometimes the instruments seem to have a voice of their own as well. Each dulcimer sounds a little different. The type of wood that goes into them makes a huge difference in the tone they give, and then every player plays a little differently too. We are creating a symbiotic voice, she and I. She really is a mystical little instrument. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Take Down the Dulcimer

"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

— Rumi

Well, if it's good enough for Rumi, it's good enough for me! Mornings for me are generally about writing in my journal. My morning pages keep me on track with my life, that way I'm reminded that I don't live to work. Work is a part of my day, not all of my day. In the evening I practice my music. By taking down my dulcimer, I am creating a space of beauty. The songs I am learning are really basic, beginning with some simple things so I can start building that muscle memory. Over time I'll get better, and the music will be more beautiful, and the melody will kneel and kiss the ground.

I do keep running across people online who have fallen in love with this instrument too. Today I found the Dulcimer Girls, and they really have a wonderful way of playing and singing together. The mountain dulcimer is a very welcoming instrument. It's like the girl next door inviting you in for lemonade and cupcakes, hard to resist and adding a sweetness to life. Time to practice.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My New Mountain Dulcimer

At long last my mountain dulcimer arrived safe and sound! When I heard the knock on the door I took the necessary 15 steps to get there and open it, only to see the FedEx driver running back to his truck. Naturally I ran outside and jumped up and down yelling "Hey" while flailing my arms. He pointed to the side door and I found the box.

At this point, I knew I wanted to record every step of welcoming my new instrument home. So I got the camera out, it was bright overcast that day, and it had sprinkled a bit in the morning. Friday May 13th was my lucky day! I grabbed a small knife out of the kitchen and carefully opened the box.

There it was in the hardshell case, and a flyer for the Indiana Dulcimer Festifal for July 23 & 24th 2011. My vacation time is already scheduled out for the summer, so I won't be able to attend. At this point I'm very glad I had the day off to get started on my gardens, that way my new baby wouldn't be sitting all lonely by the side of the house. Of course, since it was not yet noon, I figured I wouldn't get much gardening done!

She's even more beautiful than I could imagine, I love the way the sound hole vines & hearts seem to follow the grain of the wood. Five hearts on each side, it arrived on our fifth wedding anniversary. Cradled safely in her case, my new mountain dulcimer has come home as a welcome addition to our family. Since the fifth anniversary is the wooden one, David pitched in towards the cost. The rest of it is me spoiling myself rotten, but it's been my obsession the past few months, the mountain dulcimer.

I was correct in that I did not get much gardening done that day, instead I starting going through the Fundamental lessions at thrilled with my new instrument. She sounds wonderful. A full sound loud enough to carry but not so loud that it competes with my voice. Just as I suspected it's the perfect compliment to it. It has some of the bell-like quality as my Kantele does as well, but better volume, and of course lots more notes to play with.

I took a few more pictures of her as well, so that all the details can be seen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When The Trees Dance

When the trees dance, they just may be dancing to Ruth Barrett playing her dulcimer. I had the great priviledge to hear her play at Sacred Paths Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota last Spring. That was before I was thinking of taking up the Mountain Dulcimer, and was studying hard on my Autoharp. My husband and I had heard of Ruth before, being fans of anything to do with Mother Earth. So it was natural that we would go to see her live. It was a wonderful performance, with a full house in an intimate space.

I remember being enchanted with the clear tones of the dulcimer supporting Ruth's strong voice wonderfully. She played songs that spoke to the time of year, which was an in-between time. Warm enough for short sleeves indoors, cold enough for jackets outside. Winter had passed, and Spring was arriving. After the show, our big decision was which CD to take home with us. We decided to with the new one "Garden of Mysteries" because we loved the picture of the tree with the green lights all around it. Lights that were not added by any kind of digital trickery, just the tricks of the Gentle People who dwell near the sacred trees.

When I got the CD home, I was so thrilled with it, the wide variety of songs were an absolute delight. There are two instrumentals featuring the dulcimer as well, which I love to listen to as I wait for my own teardrop dulcimer to arrive. I think one of my favorite's is Archibald McDonald of Kippoch, which is a wonderful traditional tune, and this version combines dulcimer, guitar, fiddle, whistle, viola, and concertina beautifully. Of her original tunes, I think I like New Crone Rising the best, as it celebrates a woman entering her wisdom. This album was new a year ago, she has now journeyed farther into the enchanted realms with "Songs of the Otherworld" which is next on my list of inspirational recordings, along with "A Dulcimer Harvest" of course.

The latest news on the advent of my own dulcimer is that it was released for shipping today, so hopefully I'll get a tracking number tomorrow so I can follow it's progress. This is so very exciting! The waiting has been an experience in patience for me. My fingers are itching to get their hands on the new instrument, and my eyes are longing to devour every detail.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Listening to the Spring Sampler

I got a little over-excited about taking up the Dulcimer. Other players understand what it's like to catch the bug, but my family is still a little wary about it. They don't know quite what to think or how long I will keep up my enthusiasm. With no dulcimer in my hands as of yet, I get by with what I can, by doing things like subscribing to the Dulcimer Players News. It came with a free CD too. Imagine that! A quarterly publication with great articles, dulcimer TAB, and a CD for only $30.00 a year? Well, of course I just had to subscribe right away. Then I got the latest issue right away as well. Sweet!

There are a full 11 songs on the sampler, and it includes hammered dulcimer tunes as well. I love the sound of a hammered dulcimer, I just don't think I'll ever learn to play one. I have plenty of work to do with the Autoharp and the Kantele...and soon the mountain dulcimer. Soon.

Sigh. Not soon enough to suit me, I grow a bit impatient with all this waiting. So the 2011 Spring Sampler CD is in the rotation on the stereo, along with Garden of Mysteries by Ruth Barrett which has two instrumentals with her on the dulcimer. The third and final CD that I use to keep me company while I wait for my new baby to arrive is The Wind that Shakes the Barley by Loreena McKennitt. Before I even realized I was going to take up the mountain dulcimer, I had started picking up CD's for inspiration. That last CD was one of those, because she goes back to her roots and sings a bunch of traditional Celtic songs. The music is lovely, but there are hardly any notes and no lyrics in the package, and I discovered that's one of the things that I love most about Loreena McKennitt's work. Her stories about the songs would transport me and help me share her perspective even as I find my own. Not on this one, I'm on my own.

I've also read two books to pass the time, my sister loaned them to me, along with a third. I think that's how I'll spend the rest of this evening as well. Reading and listening to music. I don't watch TV at all anymore. Why put up with the advertising when I can fill my heart with music and my mind with stories? With folk music the two combine as one, and I don't need anything else but others to share them with.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Puja Puja

I might have to rename my blog again. This time it might be Strum Pluck Drone & Shimmy. Tonight I went to my first ATS Bellydance class. The ATS stands for American Tribal Style, and I really love it! It's going to be an excellent work out for me as well, many of the movements are done with your arms over your head, which boosts the heart rate and works the shoulders at the same time. Here is a video of what I want to look like in a year's time:

I'll keep my red hair of course, but they look so majestic! That video has an interview with the founder of the style of bellydance. My teacher has a blog, Tasha-Rose: ATS is Religion, which deserves tons and tons of followers. Clearly I'll be going back again next week, as I had really fabulous time. I shook the dust off my hips, and lucky for me they remembered those shimmies I learned 5 years ago. This is going to be a delight!

Now I need to find some Mountain Dulcimer tabs for Middle Eastern music and I'll be all set. Since I've moved on to the Mountain Dulcimer, I did have a conversation with FolkCraft today. My dulcimer is built and they are working on finishing it, then it needs to be strung. It should ship in a couple of days, FedEx Ground, so there is a real possiblity I'll have it in my hands by the end of next week. Yay!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring is Here!

Spring is here in Minnesota finally, despite numerous instances of snowflakes spotted on May Day in Minneapolis. I am looking forward to many occasions to play music around a campfire this year. Tomorrow I am going to call Folkcraft and check on the status of my new Mountain Dulcimer. I really find it hard to believe that I've held out this long actually. Since I have the two days off of work BEFORE it is scheduled to arrive, I'll ask about maybe getting it a little earlier. Over the past month, I'm pretty sure I've watched all 186 episodes of the Dulcimerica podcast. At least that's what I tried to do.

Tomorrow I will post the result of my conversation, with the ETA of my instrument, and anything else I can think of regarding my Mountain Dulcimer.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sea Shanties

One of the funnest kinds of folk music out there are sea shanties. Maybe it's the influence of Shanty Man over at folkthyme radio, or it's just growing up with boats in the land of 10,000 lakes, but they hold a special place in my heart. I wish I could just sing while I worked, of course I talk for a living so that wouldn't go over very well. But I found a lovely sea song, which strictly speaking is not a shanty, and I just wanted to share it with you all.

She says that this is a work in progress, but to me it seems pretty much complete. It's a lovely and inspirational tune. She also appears to play the dulcimer left handed, which is interesting to see. It's a lovely song and one that I want to visit again and again, that's why I posted it here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Musings about Music

It seems like a day doesn't go by when I don't find myself contemplating music. Yesterday I put a post up about FolkThyme internet radio. I love having it playing while I write my blog posts, it reminds me how diverse and how meaningful folk music can be. But in this post I want to talk about my love for my autoharp, and about my history with it. When I was in grade school we had both a piano and an autoharp in the music room. This was back in the 70's and I lived in a nice suburb of upper middle class families.

I remember I had the opportunity to take the autoharp home and play it. I laid it out on the living room floor next to the piano, and pushed buttons and strummed away on it. I strummed and strummed with the pick until it leapt out of my fingers and right down the hole in the autoharp. From what I can remember I was pretty upset about this, tried to shake the pick loose, but it just didn't work. So I strummed and strummed some more with my fingernail until my little 9 year old fingers hands were sore from holding the buttons. As I recollect I only had it for the weekend. The other thing I remember was June Carter Cash playing the autoharp on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, holding it upright. When I asked my music teacher about playing that way at school, she told me that the correct way to play the autoharp was with it lying flat.

Remember when I said that I put it on the floor next the piano? Well, my first instrument was the piano, I think I was six when I first started taking lessons. It was fun at first, but later I was made to continue because I had to learn to commit to something. Some kind of life lesson my parents wanted me to know. I finally quit when I was about nine or ten. Then it was time to sign up for band, and I wanted to play the flute, but all little girls wanted to play flute so I was steared toward the clarinet. So for four years I played in band, but it was a small band and the Senior High band members were all also the schools marching band. This I did not want to do. But music was a part of me now, so I joined the choir.

Singing became my main musical outlet, and in my teens my sister and I each got guitars. I struggled with it with my soft girly fingertips. I loved my guitar for at least one whole summer, but I never took lessons, though my sister did. But I kept singing and my guitar collected dust, I wanted pretty long nails, which seemed more important to me. Later in college I flirted with the piano again as an elective class. I really liked it. A lot. But pianos are kind of big and expensive and hard to get up the stairs to an apartment. Then at some point I took up the twelve string guitar because I always loved the sound. I spent a good year with it, but only barely learned 3 songs though I practiced a lot. Again I didn't take lessons.

The next musical transition was trading my twelve string for a flute. Because, you see, I wanted the flute not the clarinet all those years before. This time I did take lessons. It was really fun, and I wonder where my flute music went to. The flute is in a closet somewhere. You would think that I would learn something by now, get a smattering of music theory or something. Well, I can read music for the most part, but there are all kinds of complexities out there that are way above my head. I've got some pennywhistles lying around here somewhere which I have an audio tape and book.

Finally the Autoharp comes back into my life. I saw my friend Becca Leathers playing one with her band Riverfolk. Now, it had been some time since I'd seen live music. It's funny how time passes when you are dealing with trying to be an adult. It was so wonderful, and they are so good, that I fell immediately in love with their music and enchanted with the idea of taking up the Autoharp. That was June of 2009, and I'm still playing my Autoharp. Thanks in part to taking some lessons so I'd learn how to play it properly.

And here I have to say that I feel spoiled, priviledged, and honored to have the opportunity to take lessons from Karen Mueller: 1986 International Autoharp Champion & 2006 Autoharp Hall of Fame. While living in Lawrence, Kansas, Karen took first place in the Kansas State Dulcimer Championships in 1984 and 1985, and was a finalist at the 1985 National Dulcimer Contest in Winfield. She lives here in the twin cities and teaches at Homestead Pickin' Parlor. She travels all over doing workshops as well. And she gave me a mountain dulcimer lesson on her instruments so I could try before I buy. As I said in a previous post, I have signed up for The Dulcimer School due to financial considerations. But I'll take lessons from her again, when I get stuck and need some extra help with either the Autoharp or the Mountain Dulcimer. I'm on my own with the Kantele, but for the book and what I can find on the internet.

A long post, but I just needed to work through the steps in my journey through instruments as I stand on the verge of taking up yet another one. And I forgot to mention the doumbek that I took up for a while. Still have one, they're too fun not to have at a music party.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Finding Time for Folk

It took me ages and ages to check out the website, and I feel really guilty about that, Shanty Man, I really do. But I'll try and make up for it by writing a recommendation here online, in my blog, where it can exist to influence anyone with the great good fortune of stumbling upon it. And I really do mean great good fortune. Because is the place you want to go to get your fix for good folk, bluegrass, and blues. But mostly folk of a great variety. The DJ is a friend of mine known in folk and burlesque circles as The Shanty Man. It is now my favorite soundtrack while I blog.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Details about my new Mountain Dulcimer

I need to share my excitement about how beautiful my new mountain dulcimer will be. Because I didn't want to purchase a McSpadden, mainly due to the use of plywood and no hard shell case, and it was a little bit more money, I went with Folkcraft to build my first dulcimer. I made the best decision I could based on my online research and a few tips from Karen Mueller. Karen actually recommends the McSpadden by the way, and it is played by Stephen Seifert, who teaches Mountain Dulcimer at To be honest, I had already fallen in love with the beautiful things due to Bing Futch's playing on them, and his recommendation of them as well. He has a gallery of his dulcimers on his website, many of which were made by Folkcraft.

Since Karen said I shouldn't get a dulcimer with a lacquered fretboard, that ruled out the ready to ship FSH models. I was really concerned about that as well, so I contacted them and they said it would be no problem to build my dulcimer with a waxed fretboard, which is an option on their fully custom model.
She also mentioned that having a tuning head that is flat like a guitar would make it easier to change the strings than the more traditional scroll. Because I have a tremor, I did opt for that $50.00 upgrade, because stuff like that can be difficult for me at times. The Build Your Own option for the FSH model has lots of options to choose from, including sound holes. I couldn't resist the old folkie beauty of the hearts & vine option that is pictured at the top of this post. Hearts are traditional, and I love growing things. The fine woodburning around the pattern just adds another layer of texture.

Then there were the wood choices, just three to choose from, they did have a nice description on what the different tones would be like on the page:

The FSH Folkcraft teardrop dulcimer is a superb instrument for those that are budget minded. The black walnut creates a fat, mellow tone with great resonance. Or, you can select northern cherry which creates a bright full sound that has slight ringing overtones. Plus you can select the tone hole style that fits your personality. The FSH model is perfect for the beginner.

So I went with the Northern Cherry because one of the qualities I love about the dulcimer is the silvery tones of it over the mellowness of a guitar or the twang of a banjo. And that's the final picure I have is of the wood:

I think I compiled this entry for myself more than anyone, so I can come back and remember how I made my decisions, and so I can look at my options and imagine my new mountain dulcimer for the next few weeks. I am also collecting Dulcimer TAB that I will be adding to my music book. There will be many songs to learn.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Practicing the Autoharp

With all the excitement of the Advent of My New Mountain Dulcimer, I've neglected my Autoharp. Sad but true, it had been sitting in a chair cheerily waiting for me to pick it up for the past couple of weeks. Over the weekend I went into Dulcimer Input Overload, and I just can't bring myself to watch another dulcimer video for a few days. For a while I was practicing my Kantele, an essential part of toughening up my fingertips in preperation for the dulcimer. So my autoharp languished in it's chair expectantly waiting. Tonight I decided to at least tune it, then I had to make sure it was in tune by playing a song. I frustrated myself by playing one that I don't have the cord changes down completely, and then I played one I new a little better, and another, and another. Before I knew it an hour had gone by.

Yes, I still love my autoharp, and I need to get a couple songs down better over the next few weeks, because when my dulcimer arrives, it will have to take a holiday again. I am impatiently waiting, and feeling a little frustrated. I am taking a couple of long weekends in May, to get my gardens in order and then finally, finally, play with my new Mountain Dulcimer. I'll add details about that in my next post. A girl needs to gush about her new toy after all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Learning More about the Mountain Dulcimer

I am approximately 23 days away from holding my new dulcimer in my hands. After spending time on Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, and reading some recommendations of other beginning players, I decided to sign up for Dulcimer School. It's the closest thing to Hogwarts I can find for learning to play my new Mountain Dulcimer. After spending a few hours watching the foundational videos, I'm certain I made the right choice. The classes are taught by Stephen Seifert, who is one of the worlds foremost instructors on the mountain dulcimer, and I love watching him play.

So far I've learned how to hold the dulcimer, how to change strings, tune, and play a melody note. Of course it will be much better to have the instrument in hand, but for me, I really do like to watch it through one time before I try a technique any way. I did think long and hard about taking classes with Karen Mueller at Homestead Pickin' Parlour. She did give me a lesson on her instrument so I could try it out to see if I would really like it, and of course I LOVED it. My decision was made mostly due to budget and time considerations. Starting out I really wanted to have the information I needed right in front of me, and this is a way for me to do that, and one month is less than one half-hour private lesson.

Based on my history with learning the Autoharp, I would tend to focus on it in spurts, practicing constantly some weeks, and very little or not at all other weeks. With the online school I will be able to work with that kind of eratic learning curve and really take advantage of my energy curve when it comes to learning. If I ever get stuck on something, I can always take a drop in lesson with Karen as well. This is going to be a really fun spring and summer I can tell you!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Venues

When I was searching YouTube for Autoharp inspiration several months ago, I ran across the Dulcimerica podcast. Now mind you, when I was thinking of taking up the autoharp I was also considering the Mountain Dulcimer. Both looked easier to learn than the guitar, which I tried picking up a couple of times only to give up in frustration after practicing for months and only learning a song or two. I watched a couple of episodes and stored it in the back of my mind, until one day about a month ago, I decided to look at it again. Then I was hooked.

The instrument that I thought was mostly a kit for woodworking hobbyists to put together has become my new obsession. I've watched episode after episode on YouTube, joined in on Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, subscribed to Dulcimer Player News, and ordered a dulcimer from And in case there are any doubts, this is a spectacular instrument which as easy or hard to learn as you want it to be.

Tonight I went to visit an open mic night at the 42nd Avenue Station, a coffee shop a quick 10 minute drive from my house. I didn't play myself, I'm not ready for that kind of behaviour yet. But I was really delighted when a mountaint dulcimer player got up and played Arlo Guthrie's "Garden". He was playing a McSpadden that he got from a friend of his who had it shut away in a closet. Primarily a guitarist, she wanted it to go to a home where it would get used. Now he has the mountain dulcimer bug and I showed him my copy of Dulcimer Player News which just came in the mail today.

With the new focus of my life, on music and the growing family of zither instruments that I'm playing, I'm glad to have found a new venue to see live music every week. Maybe someday I'll get the courage to stand on the other side of the mic. But for now, I'll just be a good audience and get to know some more musician folk.