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The More You Play... the Better the Sound

I remember recently having a conversation with one of our club members about the sound quality of a certain Mountain Dulcimer. I remember stating a comment, which at the time seemed to make perfectly good sense, and then once I said it; I realized there was quite a double entendre.

I remarked, “You know, I think I've discovered that some instruments sound better the more that you play them. In other words, an instrument that is neglected does not seem to have as good a sound as an instrument that is played all the time.”

At least that was my intended meaning when I said it.

However, once I said it, I realized what I really said. Of course an instrument sounds better the more we play it! Because, the more we play it: the better we get. It may not necessarily be the instrument itself, but it certainly is our playing of it.

Now, I do believe that there is something about playing an instrument that causes it to have better resonance and therefore better sound. In a way that I don't understand; I am sure it has something to do with the constant vibrations and combination of wire and wood. Yes, I know that such a discussion is perhaps going too far in the direction of the weirdness. Yet, is it not true?!

This then brings me to another but yet, related point. Over the past few days I've been in email conversation with a woman in Pennsylvania regarding an older dulcimer which she recently acquired. This dulcimer was not expensive or of particularly good quality. It was very simple and very basic in its construction. One might even say it was quite utilitarian.

Through research, I found that this particular model was not known to have a good sound. Yet she remarked that it sounded nice to her and that she intended to use it to teach her granddaughter. It turned out that this woman was fairly accomplished in her playing ability. So, although this poor little dulcimer was not known to be great, she made it sound good. Yes, it is true.

Sound quality comes from the hands of the musician and not necessarily from the instrument. In the same time frame I saw this acted out in another artistic medium in conversation with our daughter regarding woodworking.

I related to my daughter something that I have known for decades. There is a wide range of quality in woodworking tools yet the woodworker must learn to make the best use of whatever tools are available. The sign of a true artist is the person who can make true art regardless of whatever tool is present.

I think something similar applies musical instruments.

Now granted, I am quite aware that some instruments will indeed sound better than others simply because they are initially a better instrument at the onset! There is no discussion there.

Yet consider this: original dulcimers were made from firewood, nails and wire. And, they were played with turkey feathers as a pic. Compare that with any dulcimer made today. What is the difference? Don't answer that question from an academic perspective. Answer that question from an artistic perspective.

Perhaps you’ll see what I mean?

Keep on pickin’

Gary Bell

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