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.