4 Things 2 Practice

Do you know the most important question that you can ask as a dulcimer student? I believe it is, “What should I be practicing?” That’s right! How you answer this question will determine your progress and enjoyment in making music. So I am sharing a solid plan on what to practice on your dulcimer (or any instrument, really) every day to become a well-rounded musician. This plan centers around 4 practice pillars:

  1. Technique
  2. Tunes
  3. Memorization
  4. Playing by Ear

If you’re looking for a practice routine that will take your playing to the next level, this will work. So let’s unpack the plan to see how it goes.

Pillar # 1: Technique

In music, technique refers to your ability to efficiently control your body’s movements so they produce the desired sounds. The key to developing dexterity in your fingers and hands is taking baby steps. I like to call that "Drills for Skills." You might …

  • Work on scales, making sure each note sounds clearly.
  • Learn basic chords.
  • Learn all the positions of each chord.
  • Work on special techniques, such as the hammer-on and hammer-off for mountain dulcimer players, and arpeggios or the multiple-bounce roll for hammered dulcimer players.

Pillar # 2: Tunes

Now where’s the fun of practicing techniques if not to use them to play songs you really enjoy. I like to divide my tune practice time this way.

  • I review old tunes, especially the “just-in-case” tunes I keep in my back pocket for when someone asks me to perform.
  • I polish tunes that aren’t quite ready to leave the house
  • I select and start new tunes so I feel challenged and don’t get bored.

Pillar # 3: Memorization

There are several reasons why you should memorize tunes.

  • You aren’t always going to have your tabs along, so it’s good to know some tunes by heart.
  • Memorization frees up the minds of performers so they can focus on things the more musical aspects of a tune and play with greater expression.
  • Memorization keeps your brain young, and we all need that!

Pillar # 4: Playing by Ear

This develops the ability to recognize the melodic and harmonic sounds and patterns by ear and play them without sheet music. I usually start by picking out the melody, and then add the chords to a tune I really want to learn. If I am having trouble coming up with a proper sounding arrangement, I might consult my keyboard sheet music to nail down a troubling chord progression. But I have found, the more you work out the notes on your own, the easier it will get.

So instead of scouring the internet for the tabs to a tune you want to learn, why don’t you just work it out for yourself. You will end up with an original sounding arrangement that will amaze even yourself!


Following these tips, you will be spending your time in well-rounded practice sessions in 2022.

Happy dulcimering,



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