Don't Ride the Brakes


Have you ever been in the car with someone who constantly rides the brakes? The vehicle jerks forward and then abruptly slows down over and over, creating a bumpy ride. Instead of driving at a steady speed that would result in a smoother journey, the driver continues to speed up then tap on the brakes compulsively. Before you know it, your stomach begins to churn along with the lurching, prompting you to casually open a window for some fresh air to prevent any unwanted consequences.

What the driver has overlooked is the significance of momentum. Instead of constantly riding the brakes, they could be harnessing momentum to propel themselves towards an on-time arrival.

We tend to do this in our musical journey too.

We start to get a little momentum going toward learning a new tune, or set of tunes, but then run into a difficult measure, a challenging rhythm pattern, new chords to learn, sore fingertips. Instead of moving steadily forward, we’re inclined ride the brakes … sometimes bringing ourselves to a complete stop and setting the project aside.

Do you know what it is that leads you to ride the brakes when things get difficult? There may be a multitude of causes, but here are some common ones.

  • Fear of Failure: You are scared to keep your foot on the gas because you may fall flat on your face and if you fall flat on your face the people around you may hear the mess you’re making out of that tune.

  • Unfamiliarity: When you know a tune, like Boil ‘Dem Cabbage, you are brimming with confidence. But you flounder when it’s time to work on a new tune.

  • Lack of Commitment: You aren’t committed to the speed at which you are learning, or willing to turn on the cruise control and keep on keepin’ on, even when the going gets tough. Without commitment, you’re not going to power through those moments when it seems like it would just be easier to put on the brakes and come to a complete top.

The next time you’re faced with a musical challenge or obstacle that seems insurmountable, resist the temptation to immediately ride the brakes, slow down, or even stop. Rather than hitting the brakes, release the gas as you coast through the difficult section, no matter how daunting it may seem.

Once you successfully maneuver through that obstacle, you can accelerate again and use that momentum to propel yourself forward and make even more progress.

Happy dulcimering,



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