3 Steps to More Fun on Dulcimer


by Steve Eulberg

I remind my students all the time that we don’t WORK music, we PLAY music. So here are 3 Steps to take to have more Fun:

1. Play What You Know

Humans are musical creatures—we are built for this! We are also playful creatures. Therefore, we are full of music which has been the soundtrack of our lives. All of us were born with the possibilities to use all the tools around us, and all of use learned everything we learned, at least for the first 5 years or so — by EAR and by PLAYING.

We are so chock full of melodies that with which we were cradled in the womb and later swaddled in arms: from lullabyes, and goofy songs, to playground and Sunday or Sabbath school songs, to ditties and advertising jingles to the songs and tunes we heard on the radio—all before ANY formal learning or schooling process.

Why not PLAY with these first and see how they work on our dulcimer?

Fun Activity for Step 1: Grab a pen or pencil and make a list of the songs, melodies and tunes that you have known since you were knee high to a grasshopper. I am willing to bet ON you: that you can either start one of these songs; or you can join in. And, I’m going to bet that if someone else is playing the song differently from how you know it, you can tell, even if all you know is: “that ain’t right!”

2. Touch your dulcimer DAILY—or, Dance with your dulcimer every chance you get!

When you see it wink at you, or when you hear it whisper your name...Practice saying,”yes” to your dulcimer’s invitation to dance with you. Keep it available, out of its case, in a handy location so you can’t give yourself excuses to avoid touching it—because it is “too much trouble.”

The other side of skill development is understanding how your dulcimer works, what are the best ways you can get the sound from it, and how you can make adjustments when you need to. Learning how to cradle and move together so you don’t step on each other’s toes. Pay attention to the pressure you use (fingers or hammers) and the location on the string where you get the most reliable, pleasing tone…all of these are what graceful dancers learn (about themselves and their partners) that help them “go with the flow” of the music that moves them. The key here is to Play Often!

Fun Activity for Step 2: Try starting a tune from your list on your dulcimer. Pick a fret or a course (hammered dulcimer—marked or unmarked) and have a go. (Write down where you started, so that if it sounds right, you’ll know where to start again, and if it sounds wrong, you’ll know where NOT to start again.) Pay attention to whether the melody stays the same, or changes. If it changes does it go up or down? If It goes up or down, does it do it by a step (the next fret, or the next course), or by a skip (it skips the next fret or the next course); OR, does it go up or down by a jump (jumping over two or more frets or courses)?

3. Stay Curious and Share. Be Open, Look for the Wonder—Keep a Beginner’s Mind

When we are beginners, we don’t expect to be perfect or without flaws the first time we do anything. We are prepared to “not know”, and even get it wrong. We understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn what else we could have done. It is only after we have some experience that the fear of mistakes tries to take over as we worry about looking silly or bad in front of others. But it is only when we SHARE what we do that we can demonstrate what we understand and uncover gaps in our understanding.

Be willing to be surprised: both by what you CAN do, as well as what distracts you; what delights you, as well as what gets on your last nerve; on the elusive melody or chord that you thought you’d never catch, as well as the open-mouth gasp when you actually do, and you can bask in the echo of the tones and timbres that YOU just produced.

Playing doesn’t mean there is a lack of effort—we still need to gain and then hone our skillset: understanding how songs work, being able to embrace it so that it is singing me. When I wake up from sleep and the tune I’ve been playing is on my mind, or was the soundtrack of the dream, or it is an earworm that I can’t shake...I get SO excited, because I can feel the song playing ME.

And that is FUN! (or as my little sister used to spell it: Fuhn!)

Fun Activity for Step 3: Share What you are Learning with:

Your family, your neighbor, your friend, your dog or cat...someone who is not you, and speak physically, with your own voice, out loud, because when you form the language, and when you hear yourself speaking, you are making what you are saying and doing more sticky, and therefore memorable.


Steve Eulberg holds a Master of Music Education degree from Boston University where his goal was learning to equip people to play folk music on folk instruments. He is co-founder and co-owner of DulcimerCrossing.com which provides video lessons and support for learners of mountain and hammered dulcimers, chromatic mountain dulcimer, dulcibro and fiddle.



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