The Humpty Dumpty Dilemma


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Humpty Dumpty was in bad shape physically. Who knows how many bones were broken with such a great fall. His shell was shattered, pieces scattered all over the ground. He knew it would be impossible to get back up and fix himself - all by himself. So he went for help. Mr. Dumpty went straight to the top - booked a flight to the White House and was granted an immediate interview with the president in his oval office, since this was such a great emergency. The president listened attentively and promised to take the issue to Congress. The “king’s men” quickly passed a new Humpty Dumpty law, but it didn’t work. Humpty still wasn’t put back together again.

Why? Because Humpty went to the wrong person for help. He should have gone straight to ER. They would have hooked him up with an orthopedic surgeon to take care of his broken bones. A plastic surgeon could have connected all the pieces of his shell they could find, and grafted new shell pieces where needed. He would probably have needed to go to physical therapy as well.

Now, we might be laughing at Mr. Dumpty, but do we do the same thing? Where do you go for help when you are broken, discouraged, frustrated with trying to learn to play your dulcimer? Do you …

  • … go straight to the swear jar and dump a bunch of coins in - because there’s going to be a lot of that going on?
  • … complain to family members who have no idea about how to play a dulcimer and have no desire to learn?
  • … play the blame game - blaming the instrument, your teacher or the videos, your age, your arthritis?
  • … give up, and pack up the instrument?

Well, like Mr. Dumpty, you’re going to all the wrong places. I think these are better options for when you run into a roadblock.

  • Drop back. Maybe you went straight to a Level 3 arrangement, and you’re still a newbie.

  • Connect with another dulcimerist. Now there’s a lot of ways to do this. You can hook up with a friend who already plays that tune. My go-to solution is to watch YouTube videos of others playing the same tune, since I’m quite isolated down here in deep south Texas. Well, to tell the truth, I always do that when I’m learning a new tune.

  • Find a dulcimer teacher. If there’s not a teacher within driving distance, many (most?) will teach you remotely using Zoom.  Also dulcimer festivals and workshops - both those offered locally and online - are incredible resources.

  • Sign up with Dulcimer Crossing. Lessons are rated by learning level, so you don’t get ahead of your headlights.

  • Memorize the tune. Often my (aging) eyes can’t keep up with my fingers, and I make too many mistakes. So I memorize difficult sections or the entire tune. The side benefit to that technique is that muscle memory kicks in, and soon I can play the difficult passage without thinking. My fingers do the walking all by themselves.

  • Activate all your senses. When you’re listening to a recording or watching a YouTube video of the tune, be looking at the printed music (the tabs) at the same time. Mouth the words silently while you’re listening and looking. I have played on my desktop or coffee table, to get my fingers limbered up.

  • Use both halves of your brain. The right hemisphere of your brain processes less concrete things, like the expression and meaning that goes with the tune. The left side processes tangible items like the strings, the printed notes, the rhythm pattern. Put them together, and you’ll create magic.

Just like a diet doesn’t work overnight, these suggestions usually don't fix a problem within a single practice session. But stick with it, and you’ll soon be all patched up and having fun with your music again.

Happy dulcimering,



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