by Steve Eulberg
Lucky Joe’s Sidewalk Saloon, in Fort Collins, Colorado, is one of the places I began honing my craft of performing in live venues at the end of the last century.
As soon as church was over in the morning, I would phone in to get my name put on the Open Mic list for what I hoped would be the prime time after the weekly Acoustic Open Mic began at 9 pm every Sunday Night.
Sometimes I was “lucky” and my name was earlier on the list, so I could listen to a few of the other players, play my set and get home to take my shower (this was before the local Clean Air Act banned smoking in bars in 2003). If I didn’t take that shower, my sensible wife would not let my smoky-smelling self sleep in the same bed! (I guess, twice lucky–the couch was none-too-comfortable for a night’s sleep.)
Other nights, the list was nearly full when I called in and I got to play much closer to closing time….which made the required shower much e-e-e-arlier in the morning.
Many of the performers were guitarists and singer-songwriters, although I do recall a stride pianist coming in and playing some mean Jelly Roll Morton, too. Sometimes I would bring my guitar and try out some new songs, to test them in front of a rather discerning audience.
Many other times, I brought my mountain or hammered dulcimer up on that little stage (which provided the host and sound guy the opportunity to learn how to amplify these feedback boxes on the fly!) to introduce their delicate and lively sounds to the beer-sipping audience. (To their intrigue and delight.)
I don’t know how the other performers used the time they were not performing, but this was a laboratory for me.
I studied them, their material, how they presented it, how the audience did (or didn’t) respond. I prepared my nervous heart to calm itself as my time slot neared and I tried to make my set up time be efficient. I listened to (and made internal comments on) everyone’s stage patter, and tried to edit my own in light of my quick reflections on theirs.
And I was lucky.
Joe (half of Lucky Joe’s) booked me to play for a couple of St. Patrick’s Day gigs and one year I rode on the saloon’s float in the pre St. Patrick’s Day Saturday morning parade in March (this is Colorado, remember, and March is one of the big snow-dump months every year!), playing my hammered dulcimer, wearing finger-less gloves as the float bounced down College Avenue.
But mostly I was lucky because I learned that all this preparation is what made me lucky.
(with thanks to Twyla Tharp for sharing E. B. White’s quote:
“Habitually creative people are prepared to be lucky.”
We keep adding to our Library of Backing Tracks which are available to our Premium Members.
The two newest are the chord progressions in the Keys of D and G which match the Albert Brumley tune: I’ll Fly Away. These were created for the new Bluegrass Dulcimer series taught by Steve Eulberg.
We are continuing to produce these and other resources to assist you in your goals to “Bridge the Gap Between What You Know and Where You Want Your Music to Grow.”
by Linda Ratcliff
…to play as bad as I do. —Woody Allen
Woody Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg) is a passionate fan of jazz, and jazz music has often been featured prominently in the soundtracks of his movies. He started playing the clarinet when he was a teenager and actually chose his stage name, Woody, after the famous clarinet player Woody Herman.
Woody will be 81 in December, and these days he is performing with the Eddy David New Orleans Jazz Band. They play every Monday night at the Carlyle Hotel.
What made me take a closer look at Woody was a quote by him about his own playing: “I have to practice every day to play as bad as I do.” I love his statement because it mirrors the way I feel about my own playing.We all need to practice – and not just to prepare for the next jam session or performance.
by Steve Eulberg
Which is more important in art:
Quantity or Quality?
Very often in the artistic world some believe we have settled this classic debate by choosing the benefits of quality over the benefits of quantity.
We want to have qualities of timbre and phrasing in music, quality of graceful movement in dance, qualities of taste and smell in cooking, qualities of joy and cleverness in humor, qualities of color, depth and placement in visual art.
So, choosing the end goal of this discussion as the most important can lead us into the mistaken of mixing up the ends and the means.
Because, as this story by David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking illustrates, the quality of the result may rest upon the quantity of production that precedes it.
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.
All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.
Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one— to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes—they “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
In my experience in learning, performing and teaching music, I have found the same to be true.
The only way I can perfect a phrase that I can never play perfectly once, is to try and play it 20 times….only to discover that out of twenty times I can play it perfectly three times; and then eight times, then fourteen times….all of which demonstrates the quantity needed to produce the quality I desire.
by Steve Eulberg
We play dulcimers, whose name incorporates the Latin word for “sweet” (dulce). So when I talk about sweet harmonies, in a broad sense, they are the beautiful tunes that we play on our lovely instruments.
However, in a more specific way, there are harmonies that reflect the intervals between notes that, at least to Western ears, trained to expect Western harmonies, that are “sweet.”
The space between two notes that are played simultaneously, or one after the other, is called an interval.
In the diatonic scale (the 7-step, or “white-key” scale around which both mountain and hammered dulcimers are organized) the intervals are a series of whole and half steps between each note in the scale.
The interval between do and mi in this mode is a Major 3rd. It is composed of 2 whole steps. It is this interval which determines that the scale or mode is considered a Major scale or mode. In the scale of D, a Major 3rd from Do=D is F#, two whole steps away. This can be called a 3rd harmony. And this is in close voicing.
If we play these same notes further apart from each other, for example, playing F# and then the D above that one, the interval between the two notes is a 6th and can be called a 6th harmony. The notes have the same name and same sweet feel, but their relationship to each other is separated and so their is some more space between the notes.
If we play that first D and then skip and octave and play the F# in the next octave, then we have a 10th interval.
When I talk about “sweet harmonies” then I’m talking about harmonies that utilize this interval.
Which songs do you use that feature these sweet harmonies? Do you tend to prefer the closer 3rds or the more distant 6ths?
Which harmony are you “sweet on?”
At DulcimerCrossing we are always trying to improve and reduce confusion that is the friction that can slow down the process of learning music.
We have a new log-in procedure that will direct subscribers to choose their level of membership: Basic or Premium with a single log-in button for both.
Here is the video that describes this:
In addition, this video is the first of several from our brand new FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions Page) to help our subscribers answer their questions faster so they can spend more time playing dulcimer.
by Steve Eulberg
I remember the question from the cardiologist I visited on my 33rd birthday.
I was there because my heart was skipping beats periodically and heart disease runs in my family.
After the stress test failed to produce any abnormalities they concluded that the source of this anomaly may be just day-to-day stress, rather than being physical activity-induced.
So their strategy was to be certain that I was building a strong physical system that could withstand the mental, social and emotional stressors of an inner-city pastor.
But still the question made me pause….
“In what forms of exercise do you regularly participate?”
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I remember how to spell that word: e-x-e-r-c-i-s-e.”
(There were NO forms of exercise in which I was regularly engaged.)
The following week I began a program of swimming, which has always been my preferred method of exercise: low-to-no impact, aerobic and using many muscles groups, in addition to focusing on breathing. That program has continued to this day. Everywhere I have lived and travel, I do my best to find a swimming pool and make being there regularly and often a priority in my schedule
So, by now you might be wondering what this has to do with music?
Usually when we speak of exercises in music, we are playing a fingering pattern, or developing a hammering pattern, or becoming more dextrous with hammer-ons or pull-offs, or learning bends and releases, not something aerobic like, well, swimming!
Patrick Gannon, PhD, in an article written for the International Musician (journal of the American Federation of Musicians), borrows from the world of sports psychology to help the kinds of mental training needed to deal with performance anxiety.
He begins with Exercise As Medicine for Your Music. (This short article is full of tips for how exercise can help you relax and learn more effectively!)
Just this week, as I began to feel the weight and pressure of decisions and preparations and deadlines and schedules that I face, I decided to take his advice and increase the length of time I was swimming in my daily swim sessions.
Wow, the sense of calm and centeredness, the depth of sleep without anxiety of dreams, were very noticeable.
So now, my question is for you:
In what regular exercise do you participate?
Coming soon from the DulcimerCrossing editing bay:
A new lesson series with coaching and suggestions for playing along with a Blues Backing Track.
Using the example from the Backing Track Library in our Premium Membership section, Steve Eulberg demonstrates the power of the Pentatonic Minor Scale as a strategy for playing along with recorded music (without any written tablature!)
If you really want to dig in deep and understand what is going on inside the blues and how the mountain dulcimer is particularly well-suited for playing blues, you might be interested in Steve’s book/CD: Playing the Blues on the Mountain Dulcimer
This book/CD is available as an interactive PDF (useable on your iPad or tablet) available as a download or as a hard-copy in spiral binding (the traditional way!)
All of these resources are designed to help you play your blues into the corner for awhile!
We are excited to unveil a new 30 second explanation of what DulcimerCrossing is all about! Watch below:
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