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Playing in the Dark

So, I was playing my dulcimer the other night as the wild, crazy, maniac, seven-year-old boys at our church camp were trying to settle down and go to sleep. It was working. Music does soothe the savage beast. I was playing in the dark with only the light from my tablet showing the music. Just when they were really getting quiet, as I was going from DAC to DAD, there was the always dreaded: SNAP!

The melody string broke. No way was I going to turn the light on to change strings and break the spell and wake them up again. Naturally, I did what any self-respecting diatonic dulcimer player would do; I tuned the middle string to D and played everything on two strings. No chords. Anything on the “A” string I just moved further up the neck, and of course the bass string notes stayed where they were.

It worked, kinda; and the boys went ahead and went to sleep.

This illustrates at least two things.

First, I highly recommend playing in the dark. I do this often. Of course, what comes out is not always performance worthy but it is fun and it greatly improves one's ability to play without looking. Playing without looking does increase speed and quality of sound. (Speed is highly over rated.) It is surprising how easy it is to pick up basic playing by doing nothing more than listening to where one finds the notes in the dark. Start out by feel and visualize the fret board in your head. If you are used to playing your dulcimer, your fingers will know where to go better than you may think! There will of course be mistakes but learn from each mistake. Make it fun and do not make it serious!

Which brings up the second observation about playing in the dark. By so doing, I think one gets to know the “sound” of their instrument. What I mean by that is any instrument will have its own unique sound. By becoming familiar with your instrument, you will discover before too long how to make your notes sound sweet as opposed to being squeaky or scratchy. I think that when one plays “by sound” one also gets “tuned in” to the subtleties of their particular instrument. Even dulcimers that are manufactured will have slight differences. Not all dulcimers play the same. By playing in the dark, I think one becomes acquainted with their instrument to the point that you will know what makes it sing. Believe me or not. Try it and you will see what I mean.


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