How to Fix It


I want to encourage you to learn a new tune regularly – at least once a month. But if you’re at home, practicing on your own, how do you know if you got it right, and how do you correct errors? 

Most of you will be able hear when something doesn’t sound right in your music. Personally, I find a recording of the new tune I am learning (usually on YouTube) and listen to it several times before beginning to learn just the melody. But if I’m not sure that I nailed it, I record myself and listen back to see where the differences are. Now some differences may be due to the fact that I am already hearing my personal arrangement come together in my head. But other differences are, plainly spoken, errors.

If you can identify any errors, I have some suggestions on how to fix them.

  • Errors in Rhythm:
    • Put down the instrument, and clap the rhythm while saying the counts out loud with a metronome.
    • Play just the melody line, one note only, on your instrument.
    • Now play it correctly strumming or hammering the chords with the melody.
    • Repeat a troublesome measure several times before moving on.
  • Issues with Coordination:
    Does your right hand have trouble staying in rhythm with your left hand. Is there a hand that is lagging behind the other. You’re not alone.
    • First, identify the measure or section where your coordination falls apart.
    • Practice the melody alone before adding the chords.
    • You could practice exercises away from your instrument, such as that old one of patting your head while rubbing your belly. No kidding – it will help.
    • Practice the measure with a different rhythm. After the suggestions in our first section on how to fix errors, it sounds counterintuitive. But it really helps. It takes more concentration and makes that section seem easier to play afterwards.
  • Tone and Balance:
    Early in my dulcimer career, I was told after playing a medley of hymns at church that I had added so much embellishment to my arrangements that the melody was lost. The pastor said he couldn’t recognize some of the hymns I was playing. (And he was a professional country singer turned pastor, so he knew his stuff.)  Aaaarrrrgh! That was a rude but necessary awakening!
    • Be sure to play the melody notes a little louder than the connecting, chording notes – so the melody stands out.
    • Record yourself and see if the melody can be clearly heard and recognized.
  • Changing Chords Smoothly:
    • Problems with shifts in chords on the mountain dulcimer are often due to awkward fingering. Check to be sure you are using the best choice and/or combination of fingers.
    • For hammered dulcimer players, it can be due to an awkward arrangement of left vs. right hand hammering as you play the chord. Experiment to find the best hammering hand with which to start the new chord.
    • Tension in the shoulders is often the cause of rough chord transitions. Keep relaxed and use natural movements of the arms and hands.
    • If you are reading tabs, always be looking at least one measure ahead so you’re ready for the next chord change.

If you can identify the problem, you can solve it. Remember, the continuous repetition of an error makes it stick in your head and hands forever. So take the time to get it right from the very beginning.

Happy dulcimering,



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