by Steve Eulberg
All of us ask this question at some time or another.
What is my skill level as a musician? What is my skill level on THIS instrument that I am learning to play?
From a practical perspective, this is how many festivals and workshops ask us to assess ourselves as we enroll in classes and workshops. I learned this first hand when I started the Colorado Dulcimer Festival many years ago. This was the question asked both by the students and the teachers with whom we contracted to provide instruction as we asked them to aim their workshops to particular skills levels, so that all ranges of experience and abilities would be addressed, challenged and supported.
This is also the question which led us to create the Flow Chart above to help people navigate through all the many lessons we have at DulcimerCrossing.com to help them reach their musical goals.
At one level this question also boils down to: “How do I compare with other players?” (I personally feel this is a less important comparison than this:
“How do I compare with my desired goals as a player of this instrument?”)
But we’ll leave that philosophical discussion for the moment.
Below are the Skill Levels that I developed for the Colorado Dulcimer Festival and they continue to guide the lessons that we provide at DulcimerCrossing.com
About the Skill Levels
To help you pick the best workshops for your experience, all of our workshops are classified by the skill level of the material. Although you’re welcome to attend any classes you’d like (and there will be no test), you’re likely to get more from classes designed with somebody of your skill in mind.
Mountain Dulcimer (MD)
Absolute Beginner MD: No previous Dulcimer experience nor musical background necessary.
Beginner level MD: You know how to hold your instrument, and can strum and play some simple tunes. You may not feel confident yet, but you love the music that your instrument can make! These classes will help you learn some chords, gain more comfort with your instrument and your ability to find and play tunes by ear and from music and tablature.
Intermediate MD: You have the skills of the previous levels and you’ve learned the basics of strumming and reading tablature, you need to expand your playing techniques and musical theory. Learn to embellish your basic music with hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides; to adapt an arrangement with different chord positions; to play in and modulate to different keys with and without a capo or retuning; to flatpick and fingerpick a tune. You can find play in different tunings.
Advanced MD: You have the skills of the other levels plus the ability to play at least 4 chords in DAD or DAA tuning, to use 2-3 fingers (left hand), and be comfortable with at least 2-3 basic rhythms, utilize melody runs on all the strings using scales, then adding arpeggios and patterns from within chords, as well as a strummed chordal melody.
Hammered Dulcimer (HD)
Absolute Beginner HD: No previous Dulcimer experience nor musical background necessary.
Beginner level HD: You know how to hold your hammers, the basic layout of your Dulcimer and how to play within the box, and are comfortable playing some simple tunes by ear and/or music. These classes will help you learn some chords, gain more comfort with your instrument and your ability to find and play tunes by ear and from music and tablature.
Intermediate HD: You have the skills of the previous levels and you can play some simple chords. These classes will help you with ornamentation, finding those occasional weird chromatic notes, and hammering techniques.
Advanced HD: You have the the skills of the other levels plus the ability to lead with either hand, play by ear and/or music/tablature. You are very familiar with the layout of your dulcimer and can play in several major and minor keys.
What do You Think? Do these match with your understanding of your self-assessment? Do you have further suggestions? Please let us know in the comments below.