Can You Make Progress Without Playing?


All too often, our busy lives prevent us from picking up our dulcimer or our hammers, and spending time in practice. I look on practice time as a gift to myself, a reward for being a good girl and getting everything done that needs to be done. But sometimes I get so busy doing the things I ought to do, time runs out before I even get close to playing my instruments.

First of all, if we were face-to-face, you’d probably tell me I need to re-order my priorities. And I know you’d be right. But even when my hands are busy doing other things, my mind should be able to get a little practice in. Believe me, the mind is a powerful tool and, when you put it in action, you will be amazed by the results you can achieve. 

In other words, mental practice can help you make better and faster progress.
Researchers have found that when you’re imagining an action, your brain sends signals to your muscles—subtle triggers too weak to make the muscles contract but ones that train the body to perform. In other words mental practice can create a blueprint in your brain, like an inner how-to guide for how to play a tune.  And you may discover, you can practice mentally for longer periods of time because you’re not constrained by physical fatigue.

Here are some things you could/should be thinking about, as you visualize a tune you are working on mentally:

  • Can you remember the fingering or hammering pattern?
  • Can you hear that tricky syncopation pattern in your head?  Tap it out on the table top, until it gets smoother.
  • Are there measures or entire sections you can’t remember? You may need to start there when you actually have your dulcimer back in your hands.
  • Can you imagine the actions needed to play the tune on your dulcimer while singing the melody in your head? At the same time?
  • Where would more dynamics make the piece more expressive?
  • What happens when you imagine an room full of people seated in front of you? Does your mind go blank? Do you actually start to shake physically?  If yes, start small by imagining just one close friend listening to you.

The first time you try practicing by visualization, you should do it somewhere quiet. As you get better at this type of practice, you’ll be able to do it just about anywhere. I recommend that you give visualization a try for 5 minutes every day next week. You might find this difficult to do at first but, I promise, it will get easier the more you do it.

Like me, I think you will find that this is the real test of what you know and what you still need to practice.

Happy dulcimering,



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