Is the 3rd Time a Charm?


The phrase "third time's a charm" is a common saying that suggests that after two unsuccessful attempts, the third one is more likely to be successful or fortunate. While it may sound like a superstition or a simple play on words, history has supported the belief that the third attempt at something often proves to be the most successful.

When you are struggling with anything physical, whether it’s learning to play the dulcimer or ride a bike, there’s always this great source of pride and joy when you finally get it right.

  • How many times did you shoot for the basket before you got one in?  Probably more than 3 times.
  • How many times did you tip over on your bike before you made it to the end of the block?  More than a couple of times, I imagine.
  • How many times did you try to bake yeast rolls before you finally got a batch that rose higher than an inch? Yeast rolls are challenging, and my dad is the one who finally gave me the secret to success (after several flops.)

Humans are persistent folks. We tend to keep trying until we accomplish something. And when we do, there’s always this great feeling of joy knowing we finally conquered what seemed impossible at first.

Now what about your music. If you play something through once without making a mistake, have you arrived? Uhhh … hate to tell you this, but that was probably a MIRACLE! 

Well, you might say, what if I play it through twice without making a mistake. Have I mastered that piece of music yet?  Again … I hate to tell you this, but that, my friend, was just a coincidence. You have NOT arrived. Not yet.

Now what if you played it through correctly three times, maybe not three times in a row, but three times total. Well, you’re getting there but this is not time to put down the hammers or the pick. That was probably just a lucky break.

You might disagree, but I don’t think you’ve really “got it” until you can play it four times IN A ROW without making a mistake. Now you've got it.  You can move on.  But don’t be surprised if, when you pick up your hammers or your pick the next day, your playing has returned to ground zero. That’s okay. That’s normal. Your mind and your fingers are still trying to get in sync with each other. It happens to all of us.

Start again with the difficult passage that is giving you fits. I bet you can make it to the “played it 4-times in a row perfectly” scenario a lot more quickly this time. Then do it again tomorrow, and again the next day. Now you’re making progress.

Happy dulcimering,



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