Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Mountain Dulcimer

As many of you know, I liked to tinker in the wood shop with my father. So as I began to learn many of the wood craft lessons from my dad, it just so happened that he also became a student around that same time. His friend and local guitar maker took my father under his wing and showed him how to craft a Mountain Dulcimer.

My dad was ecstatic about his new adventure, not just into furthering his wood craft abilities but he also took the lesson as a form to reconnect with our Appalachian ancestry. I listened to him many evenings talk about  the history and the personal meaning for him behind the mountain dulcimer. Our conversations made me nostalgic for this foreign Appalachian world that I have only connected to through birth right. He also intertwined the things he learned while constructing the dulcimer to the lessons he was teaching me in the wood shop at the house. I really enjoyed learning from the student. ;)

 There were many evenings that my father spent away working in his friends wood shop. He used a  piece of his favorite type of wood, chestnut and put his (our) signature design, (the deer tracks) across the face. He also embellished his mountain instrument with his hand crafted antler cross. The end result was a beautiful hand crafted meaningful instrument. After he brought the dulcimer home I couldn't wait to give it a try. I refrained as everyone had their chance at the strings. I was scared... Sucking at something especially in front of people is never fun.
My father has repeatedly told me how much he wishes that he had learned to play an instrument but failed to learn because he never had anyone to teach him. I sympathize. I have always enjoyed a wide variety of music but particularly listening to the acoustic guitar and banjo. I always wanted to learn but like him, I just never had anyone to teach me. Now both of my children are taking an interest in music therefor I feel like now is do or die time.

Lee has taken up the acoustic guitar. He says he isn't very good but if he IS truly bad, I cant tell. Even when he first started I found peace in his calm soothing melodies. I love listening to him play. Nothing puts me to sleep faster than hearing him strum Dust in the Wind. And when I say puts me to sleep I don't mean like on a Sunday morning sitting on a hard church pew while a long winded minister preaches about tithing. I mean every muscle in my body relaxes and every thought in my head is carried away by the sweet sound of each cord.I sleep in total bliss. I LOVE IT.

 Lee knows how much I love to listen to him. He has encouraged me to learn and has offered several times to teach me what little he knows BUT again I refrained. I think its because I had a boyfriend in high school that attempted to teach me once.... we broke up. I like to think it was because he was such a horrible teacher. I hoped it wasnt me but I am pretty sure that the blood dripping from his ears was an indication of whose fault it really was. Ever since then I have been a little intimidated by learning how to play anything that has strings. (By the way I was just kidding about blood dripping from his ears... it was so his fault- hehe)

Today I embarked on a new journey. I wandered into the depths of the unknown as I broke out the dulcimer. I have discovered amazing things just from my single youtube lesson. The first and perhaps maybe the most important... I AM absolutely horrible!!!!!!

Lee assured me this evening that the dulcimer is terribly out of tune and I should take it to his pal in town to get it tuned... I have to say what a wonderful guy my man is... Its not me its the dulcimer! HA

I am also going to talk to his buddy about getting a few real lessons. Not that youtube is a bad place to learn. Lee has learned a lot from his sessions, but I on the other hand am a different kind of learner. I need someone of authority standing over me stroking my ego or in this department, lack there of.

So yes once again, after a not so good lesson, I decided to take a break and blog (We all remember a few weeks ago when mom was attempting to teach me to quilt, right!?)... which brings me to my thought for the day "Those who cant, Blog"...

I'll keep you posted IF there is any progress. ;)


  1. hey leigh, way to go. I have zero musical ability but like your dad wished i had taken some lessons and learned to play something. I bought a dulcimer [beautiful instrument] from a tennessee gal a few months ago and as of yet have not attempted to do anything with it. I will though as this is on my bucket list and im getting way up in years. So you go girl, make yourself happy and your dad proud. They say if you can count to nine you can play the dulcimer, also if one learns the noter -drone style there are few bad sounds. Keep us updated on your progress-maybe you will jump start me- I hope so-----love your blog-------------Jim

  2. Lovely instrument. Maybe you and your Dad could take lessons together. That'd be fun for you both.

  3. I love it! & Had no idea your people were from the mountains. I picked up the resonator about 8 years ago (still play), had a failed affair with the fiddle, but always still defer to the 6 string (my comfort zone). Great to see somebody invested in traditional instruments.

  4. The dulcimer would be a fun instrument to learn, and, like you, I would very much enjoy the connection to my deep-seated Appalachian roots it would give me. But just so you know, I have heard that it's VERY difficult to play properly. So, chances are very good that Lee wasn't just being nice (although I'm sure he is very nice), but that it really is the dulcimer ;).

    I've been teaching myself to play the guitar for nine years, and I know three chords ... but I figure I'm at least as good at U2. When they started, their guitar player could only play three chords ;). I learned to play the clarinet in high school, and I was good, but, like you, I've always been fascinated with string instruments.

    So, a few years ago, for Christmas, each of my girls was gifted an instrument, and last fall, they all started lessons. So, soon, we'll have a guitar, a violin ... er, fiddle, and a ukulele player. Deus Ex Machina plays the saxophone and I play the clarinet. Let's just say it will be an interesting family band ;).

  5. Way to go! As they say the first step is the hardest in any new venture. I bet you`ll be really good in no time!

  6. Thanks Jim! Lets do it! Lets learn how to play this thing!

    If I find anything that may help you I will forward you the link. ;)

    That would be fun... but don't you remember the blood dripping from the boyfriends ears!? I couldn't possible do that to my own flesh and blood! LOL

    We are West Virginia Natives, the true mountain people. ;) The resonator looks like and interesting instrument. After I get this down... I have my eye on a Banjo. :)

    It is nice to be able to expose your children to such a variety of instruments. 3 cords is awesome! Way better than myself... but hey I know what a noter is now. lol ;)

    Thanks for the support and enthusiasm... I'm going to need it! lol

  7. Oh yea, I forgot. Well, May you learn to play without leaving any deaf victims in your wake! ha ha

  8. What an absolutely GORGEOUS instrument. Wow. I don't play, nor do I have any real hidden, deep seated desire to, but I would LOVE to have that instrument over my mantle. What a treasure, and how lucky you are to have such a talented set of parents (the quilting lessons are also a true gift...)
    If it's something you want to learn, make it happen.

  9. Karen,
    Its doubtful but a risk I am willing to take. LOL

    Dog Hair,
    Thank you. I am very thankful to have such a set of uniquely talented parents. I hope I actually learn to play but if not... now I know exactly where to put it. ;)

  10. leigh-go to the web site --Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer------lot of good data there and all levels of player skills are represneted-check it out and tell us what you think-------Jim

  11. Leigh-
    I wanted to learn the guitar, too. It was going to be a summer project, but it seemed the kids and the house took my summer project time this year, so I will keep it on my list. Anything would be great. Playing flute in 5th grade until I broke my arm (a gift to the teacher!) and chorus and a neighbor got me reading music and picking a little on the piano. More playing by ear. Never had the room (or time)for a piano but I took a year or 2 of lessons in college from a local lady and I loved it. She knew I just wanted to play for fun. And I did. Been thinking more about music. I like you dulcimer idea. I'll be at my sister's in NC next spring after tax season...maybe we can get together and jam!! or you can just do a concert series!! My son is tinkering with the harmonica. I have hopes of a Christmas Carol!

  12. Glad you're giving this a go. I've had some fine teachers over the years and have done some teaching myself. I hope you stick with it. The fact there's some meaning behind your decision to learn the dulcimer suggests to me you will. As with anything, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it. And remember, if you're not enjoying yourself, don't play. Keep us informed of your progress.

  13. Jim,
    I will check it out this evening. Finally got the dulcimer tuned last night.
    Have you practiced on your dulcimer yet?
    If I find anything that can help me I will send it your way as well. Ill let ya know if I learn anything good. ;)

    Karen Sue,
    Ha, I have to have A LOT of practice!!! And I mean a LOT! But next spring is a good dead line for me to at least learn something. :)

    Wise words Kevin. I have a feeling sticking with it wont be the only hurdle I have to over come in this. lol I think one of the hardest parts for me is going to be finding the time to practice. I already started rearranging my schedule so I can work out in the morning before babes are up and then I am hoping to practice the Dulcimer at night while they are sleeping. This week is my first week of putting the "plan" into action. So far I am on track. ;)