April 25, 2014

Traditional Noter and Drone Style Lessons

by Linda Ratcliff

Traditional Noter Style


Many mountain dulcimer players play their instruments by pressing the fatty pads of their fingertips down on the strings to create the different notes. But there is another option.

The traditional, old-time way of playing a mountain dulcimer is to use a noter. Your noter can be anything from the broad side of a popsicle stick to a wooden dowel – or anything around the house that can be used to press down on the strings.

In this series of 14 videos, Steve introduces the traditional noter/drone style of playing, shows us some of the tools (noters) that he uses, and explains how to use the noter with different tunings. Listen to Steve play a spirited rendition of Golden Slippers with his noter and quill, and check out the titles of the videos right here.

Holy Manna, O Susannah, Joy to the World, Old Joe Clark and Shady Grove are used to demonstrate noter playing with different tunings.

DulcimerCrossing Festival Scholarships

by Steve Eulberg & Linda Ratcliff

At DulcimerCrossing.com we believe in supporting all the ways that students learn to play the music that is in their hearts.  Some people learn better in the privacy of their homes, some with an individual tutor, and some learn best when immersed in a setting that is chock-FULL of music, with people who are engaged in the same pursuit as they are.

For this reason, DulcimerCrossing has provided some full and partial scholarships to selected weekend and week-long dulcimer-learning events this year.

It has been our request that the scholarships be distributed and administered by each individual festival (and anonymously to us) but we requested that, if possible, they provide support for: a YOUTH participant, and a TEACHER to come and further develop their skills.

Please contact each individual festival or weekend to inquire about their application process for these scholarships.


The Colorado Dulcimer Festival (both mountain and hammered)


The Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering (mountain only)


Kentucky Music Week (both mountain and hammered)


Western Carolina University Dulcimer Week (mountain only)

New Lesson: So You Want to be Heard?

by Steve Eulberg

Amplifying the Mountain Dulcimer.

Steve adds a sample from a new lesson series about Amplifying the Mountain Dulcimer in the Mountain Dulcimer Skills section of the DulcimerCrossing website.

This sample lesson from that series that describes and demonstrates the use of a contact pickup and the combination of that pickup with a microphone.

A similar lesson series for amplifying the hammered dulcimer is in development.

Orphan Girl: New Chromatic Dulcimer Lesson!

Orphan Girl
by Linda Ratcliff

For Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Players
“Orphan Girl” was written by Gillian Welch, whose musical style combines elements of bluegrass, neotraditional country, Americana, old time string band music and folk into a rustic style that she dubs “American Primitive.” Gillian and David Rawlings included “Orphan Girl” in their debut album, “Revival,” in 1996. This song is somewhat autobiographical, as Gillian was adopted on the day she was born, and spiritual as none of us will be orphans when we finally sit at the Father’s table in heaven.

This lesson is taught by Erin Rogers on the chromatic mountain dulcimer. You can see the lesson descriptions here with a video of Orphan Girl performed by Scenic Roots (our own Erinwith her sister Amber).


Any New Year’s Resolutions?
Every year, my New Year’s Resolution is to practice my hammered dulcimer more often. How about you?

As always, if you have any questions, you can always ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,

What to Do….when you’re snowed in.

by Linda Ratcliff

snowedinMost of you know I live full time in an RV. At the campground where we stay, they don’t believe in plowing. And we live at the low end of the park. Early January, there was ice – on top of snow – on top of ice, with NO hope it would be cleared and we didn’t even try to get out. Now most of you would have used that gift of time to practice your dulcimers. But I began going through our lessons one by one, and found some ways to make improvements.

•Right now, videos are loaded in a jukebox style – such as you see in this screen shot of Orphan Girl.  In addition, I will be linking each video to its own webpage, to facilitate access for mobile device users.


•I found a better system for converting flash animations to videos for our mobile device users. One by one, I’m reformatting those animations.

•We have been building the Dulcimer Crossing website for 5 years now and, through trial and error, continue to learn better ways of presenting the lessons. We will be re-taping some of the early videos so all the lessons will have the same look and feel. This is a long-term project that may take a year. If there is a particular lesson you would like to see us revise sooner than later – give us a shout. If you want to see which lessons have already been revised, click here.

Angeline the Baker

•This week we added the tablature and animations for our D-A-A lesson on Angeline the Baker, taught by Steve Eulberg for mountain dulcimer players.

As always, if you have any questions, you can always ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering, Linda

End-of-Year-Moving INSTRUMENT SALE!

It is the end of the year, and we are moving, so there are some Instruments from our collection that need to find new homes since they will not be moving over the mountains with us in our Conestoga wagons.

Click on a photo to link to its page with more information.


Story & Clark Spinet Piano SOLD!





Indian Santoor

Indian Santoor





Vincent Bach Mercedes II Trombone

Vincent Bach Mercedes II Trombone SOLD!

Getzen Capri Short Model Cornet

Getzen Capri Short Model Cornet SOLD


FolkCraft Solid Walnut Mountain Dulcimer
(dog not included) SOLD


Banjo with resonator, chipboard case, strap and mute. SOLD


Carrot Creek Student Dulcimer by Steve Miklos SOLD

DulcimerCrossing Teacher Sighting(s)!

Steve Eulberg and Don Pedi, both teachers at DulcimerCrossing.com, play this Old-Time (Scottish-Heritage) tune at a Fort Collins House Concert in Summer 2013.  Miss McLeod’s Reel (aka “Have You Ever Been to Meetin’, Uncle Joe?” and “Have You Ever Seen the Devil, Uncle Joe?” and “Hop High, Ladies”) is played by them on mountain dulcimers with Vi Wickam playing fiddle.

DulcimerCrossing & Music Education

bBoardNotes3As former public school educators, Linda Ratcliff and Steve Eulberg, have designed the DulcimerCrossing.com website to support Music Educators, students and Homeschool students and teachers.

The National Association for Music Education has created nationwide standards for musical education for the United States of America.

DulcimerCrossing.com lessons are designed to equip students to be successful in demonstrating their proficiency on 6 of these 9 standards.

You can read more about our goals here, or at the link below:


As always if you have ideas, suggestions and questions about using the lessons at dulcimercrossing.com, please contact Linda or Steve.

Comparing the Chromatic and Diatonic Fretboards

In this FREE SAMPLE LESSON from www.dulcimercrossing.com, Guest Instructor, Erin Rogers, compares the Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Fretboard with the (close to standard) Diatonic Freboard.

This is the first in Erin’s Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Lesson Series on our site.

And I just found this treasure:  David Beede, the maker of Erin’s Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer filmed some video on its actual “Birthday”!  Take a look:

Erin will be teaching in Winfield at the Warm-Up Picnic on Saturday, Sept 14, 2013 and Master Class Workshops for the Walnut Valley Festival next Wednesday, Sept 18th, in Winfield.  Then she and her sister, Amber, together known as Scenic Roots, will be featured Performers at the Festival!

How to Choose a Mountain Dulcimer

mcspadden6.5Criteria for Purchasing a Mountain Dulcimer

by Steve Eulberg

We are fortunate to live in the midst of a sustained dulcimer revival!

I used to host a list of builders across the North American Continent on my www.owlmountainmusic.com website.  John Sackenheim had begun compiling that in the late 1990s.  The list grew so large and had so many additions that it eventually became outdated and I let it return to the dust.

Today, not only are there kits available for you to build your own, there are a good number of quality builders who have refined the process and are able to make instruments that are reliably good from instrument to instrument and who stand behind their work.

In addition, there are also a good number craft or artisan builders who focus on building to order or one-of-a-kind instruments.

Finally, there is an active re-selling market from people who are trading up, trading down or simply desirous of others playing the instruments.

Here are the criteria I use and suggest to my students when they ask me what they should look for in purchasing a mountain dulcimer.

1.  Beware of DSOs!  (Dulcimer-Shaped-Objects)

At the beginning of the dulcimer revival in the late 1960s and 1970s many people began building instruments that were shaped like dulcimers but were ultimately unplayable.  How can you be sure you DON’T have one of these?

a.  The fretboard is straight and doesn’t wave from side-to-side or up and down.

b.  The frets play true.  (You can play the major scale from frets 3 to 10 and it sounds in tune.

c.  The tuning pegs or tuning gears are not stuck and can actually change the pitches of the strings, so the instrument is tunable.

d.  There are no buzzing frets.

If these criteria are met and you have some other issues, they are probably easy and inexpensive fixes.  Sometimes you can find an old treasure, but remember that you might have to sift through several that are better used as wall art than as musical instruments to find these.

2.  Vibrating String Length (VSL)

This is the length of the string from the nut (near the tuning gears) to the bridge.  Different builders tend to prefer different lengths.  Some are as long as 28”, some as short are 24-3/16”.  The VSL affects the dulcimer’s playing because the placement of the frets is based on mathematical measurements that divide the fretboard.  The longer the VSL, the further the low frets (by the nut) are from each other and the greater stretch is required by the players’ fingers.  The shorter the VSL, the closer the low frets are to each other.  Players with shorter fingers or a shorter reach sometimes prefer the shorter VSL for ease in playing.

3.  Soundboard (top) wood choice.

Generally a softer wood (tonewood) is chosen for the soundboard (or top) of the dulcimer when the player desires a warmer tone.  spruce or cedar are common choices.  Some players prefer a brighter or thinner tone and prefer hardwoods:  walnut, maple, or cherry.  This is a preference that is different from player to player.

4.  The Body of the instrument.

a.  Shape:  the two most common are hourglass or teardrop shape.   Some people describe tonal differences that are the result of the body shape.  In my experience, when playing standing up and reaching over the top of the instrument, the teardrop is easier to maneuver.  When sitting down, either is just fine.

b.  Wood choice for sides and back.  There are a great many options here that have less immediate influence on the voice of the dulcimer, but can have effect on the shading or coloring of the instrument’s tone.

c.  Depth of Sides.  In my experience, instruments with a deeper body can have a deeper tone or voice.  The resonating chamber is larger in volume.

d.  Placement of the bridge.  In older, traditional instruments the bridge is placed at or near the tail of the instrument.  Some contemporary builders are moving the bridge away from the tailpiece and directly over the soundboard to create a more articulated, guitar-sound.  Some people prefer this option.

e.  Ebony overlay on the fretboard.  Having a hardwood, like ebony, on the fretboard reduces the friction from the player’s left hand.  Some people prefer this option.

5.  Price.

I generally counsel people to buy as much dulcimer as you can afford.  I have found many more people who spent less money and were dissatisfied with the results than the other way around.  This is an investment in your musical journey and self-discovery.

Remember, Looks aren’t everything!  Sometimes the instruments that have proven to be the most playable and have the sweetest tone did NOT look like I thought I preferred.  There have been other ones that are gorgeous eye-candy, but did not satisfy my tone preference.

Your best bet is to play as many different instruments as you can!  If you are fortunate to have a dealer or a store nearby, play everything they have.  If you have friends or a club or a festival that you can attend, ask other players what they do and don’t like about their instruments.  And ask if you can play their instruments, too.  (They are often busting buttons of pride when they get asked this question!)

[Full Disclosure: Having won many of their instruments that I continue to play all the time, I became a McSpadden Dealer, and if would be glad to help you find the right one for your musical adventures!  Just drop me a line at steve@dulcimercrossing.com]