Stop & Twist

One day I was hiking on a Colorado hillside with our oldest daughter, and she stopped by a funny looking plant with big droopy leaves. “Take a peek under the leaves,” she said. Well, it was awkward, but I got down on my knees and twisted my neck to check it out. Right there, under the leaves, was a gorgeous snow-white flower. Wow. I would have continued to charge right ahead down the path and missed that beautiful bloom, if we hadn’t stopped to do a little extra (and uncomfortable) reconnaissance.

What else have I missed? Do I miss things when I practice? And what about you? Are we making the extra effort it takes to find out everything we can about a tune and apply it to our interpretation of the song? For example …

  • Do we check out the background of a new tune? Many of the tunes we play were written in the mid-1800s, and they have quite an interesting story behind the song.
  • Do we check out the life of the composer? Some of those old-time songwriters have experienced hardships we’ve never faced, and the message in that tune takes on new meaning when you know the event that preceded it.
  • Do we check out the key the tune was written in, the time signature, the tempo in which it should be played? Or do you barge right in and check up on these little details later?
  • Do we break it down, circling tricky sections and perhaps attacking those first?
  • Do we play with a metronome, to keep our rhythm steady as we learn? One of my pet peeves is how too many will rush through the easy parts and slow down for more difficult sections. If you tend to do this, get a metronome app on your phone and use it.
  • Do we look for other versions or arrangements of the song on YouTube? I often do that after getting the basic melody under my belt, because I eventually will develop my own arrangement and the search helps spark my creative juices.
  • Do we memorize the tune as soon as possible? I hate to see how many folks are so tied down to their tabs. When you memorize a tune, you can get past the note to note rote playing, and begin to focus on expressing the meaning behind the melody.

My advice today is to stop and twist when you start a new tune, to find all the surprises waiting for you. It will increase your enjoyment and appreciation for the tune.

Happy dulcimering,



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