My first dulcimer teacher was my dad – a fledgling mandolin player. For the first several years that I played dulcimer, I didn't even know any other mountain dulcimer players. I was learning from bluegrass musicians nearby who played guitar, banjo, and fiddle. Turns out, learning from other those other instrumentalists made me a better musician, overall.
It is wonderful to get lessons from masters on your own instrument – and thankfully, technology has made it much easier to get those lessons. It is also wonderful to sit down knee to knee with someone who does not play your instrument. Ask them to show you a lick or how they hold their pick. Ask a banjo player to teach you a roll pattern or a fiddler to show you a bowing shuffle. It is easy to feel intimidated when you are around musicians who are playing something unfamiliar to you. It has been my experience, though, that people are more than happy to show you how their instrument works and teach you something new.
I love that Great Plains Dulcimer Alliance focuses on teaching mountain and hammered dulcimer, but many other instruments are represented in each of our gatherings. It fosters a wonderful learning environment that helps everyone grow into better players. If you haven't already, do take advantage of all the musicians sitting around you at GPDA gatherings, local jam sessions, or music festivals you attend!
It is also valuable to listen to recordings with all different instruments. Particularly if you are trying to learn a new "standard" tune, it is helpful to listen to it being played in a variety of different settings with different instruments. These listening practices will help you identify the core melody, plus give you creative ideas to try on your own instrument.
Over the next few months, I plan to feature reviews of a few of my favorite instrumental albums that feature different instruments playing old-time tunes. I'd love to hear what your favorites are too! Write us a brief review and we'll share it in the newsletter.
Go forth and play tunes! :)
-Erin Mae Lewis, President