Dulcimer Days

days with a novice on the hammered dulcimer

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Beginning Interval Harmony

We really are all Novices on the Hammered Dulcimer.  I  am learning only a couple of steps ahead of the girls.  Then I turn around and teach the girls what I am learning about music using the Hammered Dulcimer.  In this video, you can see me starting the Interval Harmony for 10,000 Reasons.  I really enjoy the Interval Harmony style, not only because it is easier to do than chords but also the Melody never gets lost in the other notes being played.  Maybe this is just my Philistine ear for music.

While our music education might not be considered ideal, what I do value in this experience is that my children are seeing me as an adult learning something very new and outside my normal academic interests.  Math and science are my natural educational loves.  The girls both get to see first hand that learning is not regulated to childhood, that learning takes mistakes and practice for everyone, and that you don’t have to be an expert at a skill to enjoy your experiences.

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Mastering Basic Melody of 10,000 Reasons

After a couple of weeks of daily practice, the melody of 10,000 Reasons is mastered.  Notice that the last note played also includes an interval harmony note.  We are starting to introduce these little by little and the last note seems to be the one she remembers the best.  In this song with the last note finishing on Middle G her interval note is Low G.

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From Decoding the Music to Creating the Tune

In our last post we had just introduced the concept that each note is placed on the scale with a designation from A to G and with the hammered dulcimer we are given some sharps too.  Today, I wanted to record one of the girls using their marked up sheet music to create the tune on the dulcimer. In the first video she is roughly pounding out the pattern of notes as review.

In the second video, played a few minutes later she has ironed out her playing a bit and you can see she is well on the way to mastering the melody.  Of course this is recorded in a homeschool environment which is plentiful in extras including noise.

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Connecting the Coded Music to the Dulcimer

After the girls learned to decode the sheet music into its A to G designations, I thought it would simplify matters a bit to mark the notes on the dulcimer.  Of course, I didn’t want anything permanently done to mark the instrument and ruin its beauty.  The Post It Note Tabs were a great solution.  They are kind of like tape but not nearly as sticky and won’t leave a residue on the wood.  I wrote the letters on the tabs cut them to size and placed them under the strings in their appropriate location.

Image of Dulcimer with Note Notations

The Dulcimer with Note Notations

As a side note: I never realized that music notes follow the pattern A-B-C-D-E-F-G-repeat until playing the hammered dulcimer.  I had learn E-G-B-D-F and F-A-C-E.  Never realizing that the notes as they go up the treble cleft actually follow the alphabet order.  I know it is strange but it does demonstrate that sometimes simple matters can go unnoticed particularly to children and may be best just stated.

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Unlocking the Mysterious Code of Music

Yesterday I decided to introduce the girls to sheet music. Prior to this they have just played songs following a learned pattern on the hammered dulcimer and listening to the flow of the music.  Monday we printed out the sheet music for Mary Had a Little Lamb then using the Treble Cleft mnemonic decoder of Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and FACE; together we found the secret message of music in the diagram of sheet music. Then we located the notes and they read the code while I hammered out the notes and they connected the visual sheet music to the sound of music.

Today, I printed out sheet music for the chorus of 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman. This is a chorus both girls love. They decoded the music themselves; we learned about the F# and low and middle E, and then the girls beat out the music for themselves.  It was delightful to see their faces as their decoded notes turned into a tune they recognize. “I can hear it,” said my youngest.

Image of the Music

10,000 Reasons Decoded

These moments are what we love in homeschooling: a new world is just opening up to the child and you catch them looking out the window to this brand new world that they will soon be exploring.

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The Instrument

Hammered Dulcimer

This is our lovely Songbird Hammered Dulcimer

Dulcimers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Our dulcimer is a 16/15 a pretty standard size and shape. We started learning on a smaller dulcimer that was rented from an instructor but purchased this one at her recommendation about a year later.  This instrument is the Phoebe by Songbird Dulcimer.  We love the sound of our dulcimer. Even a simple tune played in a simple way is pleasant.  Listening to the girls practice is not the body cringing experience my parents lived with during my clarinet days.

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Why the hammered Dulcimer? Why not just have them take piano lessons?

I know that piano is a popular choice for music lessons for children. Personally, I was concerned that the piano would be both a musical challenge as well as a dexterity challenge for my girls.  Instead of just learning music with piano lessons, they would also be learning finger placement and potentially struggling more with where to put their fingers for a piece of music then actually hearing the music.  With the dulcimer, the girls just have to hit the correct pair of wires for the right note.  The skill needed to hit the correct wire set is minor in the early stages of dulcimer playing as you begin by hitting one hammer at a time to create lovely music.  Compare this with keeping track of 8 fingers and two thumbs on a piano.  I also found that the arrangements of the notes made intuitive sense on the dulcimer you go up or down depending on if the music is going up or down and mysterious black keys are found on the piano not the dulcimer.  Overall, my goal was to have them learn music in the most unhampered way possible where they could focus on the music and not get hung up on any physical difficulties. The hammered dulcimer allows the girls to focus on the music and listen to where the music is going up and down and how far up and down.  Even officially reading music can be delayed while learning the hammered dulcimer.  As the girls play they are learning the notes they are playing, they are associating the name of the notes with the sound of the note.  In some ways we have been able to start out learning the alphabet of music like “A” says “ah” versus learning to play and read music at the same time.

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The Novice Part

While I played the clarinet in high school and had access to a piano in my home while growing up, creating music by voice or instrument has never been a natural talent. Fast forward ahead 15 plus years and I am now homeschooling two girls who need music as a part of their education. The simplicity of the Hammered Dulcimer and its lovely sound appealed to me as an instrument that I would welcome into my home and would provide an excellent tool for teaching basic music and music theory to my grammar school children.  I don’t suppose the three of us will become masters of the hammered dulcimer and play onstage for thousands of people, at least in this lifetime.  However, we have found enjoyment playing the hammered dulcimer for our own interests and are learning about music along the way.

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