Friday, January 30, 2009

2 Online Dulcimer Thing-a-majobbers

One's a podcast and one's a real-time forum; both of which you should check out on a regular basis if you're a player of or are interested in mountain dulcimers.

First is Stephen Seifert's "Mountain Dulcimer Folk" podcast which is going into its third year. I'll be talking with Stephen live on Monday, February 2, 2009. The show starts at 8 PM CST / 9 PM EST.

Second is Jeff Hames' New and Young Dulcimer Players Forum, which is going into its second year - a discussion group that meets monthly in real-time with a panel of instructors where folks can post questions and get responses immediately. The topic for the next session is "Intro To Music Theory" and I'm one of the forum hosts - you know how much I love the music theory. That's on February 10th at 8 pm central time.

Both of these, you should frequent on a regular basis to get and stay plugged-in to the mountain dulcimer world.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mountain Dulcimer In The Band!

"Mountain Dulcimer In The Band (Book 1)" is now available! This instructional book features the music to 16 popular jam tunes and also comes with 2 CDs; one that demonstrates rhythmic and melodic jam techniques and another that serves as your own personal backing band for practice or live performance! A variety of different arrangements guide the player through song structure, soloing, strumming exercises, different time signatures, improvisation and tutorials on how to listen to the band. From Celtic and country to reggae and rock, it's a fun workout that's perfect for live performance preparation, solo with the backing tracks or with a real band! Songs include "The Boatman", "Road To Lisdoonvarna", "Amazing Grace", "Black Mountain Rag", "Rosin The Beau", "Mississippi Sawyer", "Hangman's Reel" and more! Click here to hear samples and order.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Circle Of Fifths

Interactive Circle of Fifths User's Guide
The Interactive Circle of Fifths ("the Circle" for short) is a tool designed to help musicians to:

* figure out the key of a piece of music
* easily transpose music to a different key
* compose new music
* understand key signatures, scales, and modes

In many of my workshops, I teach an intro to the circle of fifths as a way of beginning to understand basic music theory. This is an excellent expose' on the circle and some of the ways in which it can be utilized.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This may hurt a little - but it's COOL!

Rock's Holy Grail

"The most famous chord in all of rock & roll" -- Rolling Stone Magazine, March 2001

"quirky, arresting, unmistakably original - the musical equivalent of the song's title" -- Mark Hertsgaard, A Day In The Life: The Music And Artistry Of The Beatles

"A hijacked church bell announcing the party of the year" -- Guitarist Magazine, December 2000

"[the opening chord] pretty much defined the sound of an era" -- Guitarist, Dec 2000

"The opening chord of the song was like an amazing wake-up call" -- Joey Ramone, Guitar World, August 2000

And so starts The Beatles' classic song (and film) "A Hard Day's Night". The song needs no introduction - that chord tells you all you need to know. Within a second of its jarring onset, you can identify the song. Not only that, but that chord IS rock 'n' roll. Like Michael Lewis in "The 100 Best Beatles Songs", I'm glad they removed John Lennon's count-in to the song - it wouldn't have been nearly so effective! I don't think there is any other chord in history that has received so much praise, and has courted so much controversy.

It's undoubtedly fantastic... but what the heck is it?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sorry, little guy

Cold killed my catfish.

A plecostomus, to be exact; an algae-sucker meant for aquariums and ponds. A bottom-dweller. I dug us a pond last year and stocked it with about two dozen tiny goldfish and one large-ish pleco. The golds were about twelve cents apiece and were an experiment to test my ability to maintain a living aqua-system in our backyard. Life isn't cheap, whether you're a fish or a fowl, but placing expensive koi and carp into an untested hole in the ground wasn't first on my list of financial priorities.

The pleco was $11, but would serve a distinct purpose: to munch on the algae that was most assuredly going to bloom in the hot Florida sun. About 6" long and a giant among the other fish, he exhibited a ferocity indigenous to catfish in general and took a swipe at the nice lady who suggested him for my new pond. "He's a fighter," she said, slipping him into a bag with some water. Words that echoed in my brain every time I had to wade knee deep into the 900 gallon installation to fish out pump and fountain elements that had become happily disengaged from their connectors.

Actually, since day one, I never saw him again until this fateful night. I sent the goldfish in first, sort of like floating canaries in liquid coal mines and when none of them rose, gasping, to the surface of the pond, I then released Sir Pleco into the depths, where he promptly slipped to the bottom and remained there. The still-clear water afforded a good look at his fearsome visage, blending almost perfectly with the rubber pond liner. As algae and other organic elements (most notably fish poop and uneaten food) began to make the area look more lived-in, I imagined that he must be quite happy, eating his fill and holding court somewhere in the three-foot depths of our mini-lake. In fact, I always imagined him growing to shark-size down there, popping up in my face whilst I changed the pump filter, prompting me to shriek and fall back exclaiming, "we're gonna need a bigger pond."

As time went on, however, I began to wonder if he had actually croaked down there, stuck in one of the unplanned crevices in the liner that had resulted from my poor excavation (it's still a nice pond, but there are things that would be done differently next time.) Or perhaps he was taken by one of the egrets that sometime go stepping across our lawn. That theory didn't hold water, pun intended, because the two dozen goldfish were imminently more interested in swimming near the surface where they could easily be eaten by egrets, cats or anything else that hung about, yet they not only thrived, but indeed multiplied in time, growing as large as I imagined the pleco must be.

But alas, tonight, after two nights of hard freezes, I went out to feed our little finned family and saw something lying on the bottom of the pond in the shallow end underneath the yellow glare of landscaping lamps. A white shiny belly was reflecting the illumination ever so much and I immediately thought "oh no." Grabbing the net, I shooed the monster goldfish away and came up with my dear pleco; freshly dead. There was no sign of life and he had not yet begun to bloat (or float, for that matter). His head was covered in a bit of algae, at least proof positive that he had plenty of the stuff to eat while down there. Living in Florida, I sincerely didn't believe that our pond would get too cold for him. In fact, the lady at PetSmart said that he was an incredibly hardy fish. A little more research revealed that plecos prefer water temperatures between 82°F and 74°F - neither of which have been the constant in our pond for the last couple of weeks.

"Oh well, little guy," I said. "I hardly knew ye."

He's been buried in the backyard, hopefully not to end up as fodder for our resident mole or possum (or as a stinky plaything for our dog, Bella.) As a living creature, I respected his life, his existence and wish him safe journey to where ever he may be traveling next. For the short time that he lived in our eco-system, I hope he had a happy life, happier than living in a tank in a big box retail store. And upon reflection, I suppose the wonder will always be there: did the other fish know him? See him? Enjoy his company? And better still, will they miss him?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


NAMM Show 2009 Video - Liunian Bian |
Attendees were treated to a moving performance on the erhu by Mr. Liunian Bian, who wrote the music for the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony.

We arrived in Anaheim on Wednesday night, checked into the Holiday Inn just around the corner from Disneyland and met up with Richard and Nick from Folkcraft, who brought my new axe along with them to the room. After drooling all over the fretboard, we headed out for dinner at Mama Cozza's (home of the world's largest fried cheese sticks) and then returned to the lobby of the HI where I got Annie and jammed for a while.

The next day, Jae and I met with her co-worker Michelle at the Grand Californian Hotel at the Disneyland Resort and enjoyed a nice character breakfast at the Storyteller's Cafe, where we enjoyed great grub and visits from Chip 'n Dale, Meeko, Koda and a swell bloody mary, among other beverages. Jae was well keyed-up for her visit and the character meet and greet was a theme for the day that sent her spinning back into early childhood; it was fun to see the park through her excited eyes.

We were there before park opening (thanks to Michelle and a special offer for guests of the resort) and closed the park down almost twelve hours later, with a side-journey into Disney's California Adventure, built on what used to be Disneyland parking lot. It pales in comparison to the original Disney experience, but we had some fun there, including free tortillas and the brightest green beer cups you ever saw.

Friday and Saturday, Jae was on her own as I went into NAMM and demonstrated mountain dulcimer at the Folkcraft booth. Each day, I played for about six hours, but it didn't seem that long at all, in fact, time went rushing by as folks stopped by. Friday morning, I attended the free NAMM breakfast and witnessed a performance by Liunian Bian on the erhu, which had been outfitted with a pickup from Roland Corp. As you can see and hear from the video, this was a stunning display of virtuosity and it whetted my appetite for more. However, besides catching a few snippets of demos here and there, I pretty much remained in the booth the entire time, save a couple of breaks to stroll with Jae, and didn't see much of the show - which was alright, because a good portion of the show seemed to come by our booth and see me. I made some decent connections, met some old and new friends, sold some CDs and got to play Annie a whole bunch. No complaints here.

Our plane was scheduled to leave on Sunday morning (Jae didn't realize that there was so much more NAMM going on - but it's just as well, might've spent a bunch of money that we didn't have) so we had a wonderful last night's dinner at El Torito (Mexican food rocks!) and hung out, playing music, in the HI lobby for awhile (the staff had asked me every night to come and play again) before bidding everyone a fond adieu.

Already, I'm looking forward to Summer NAMM in Nashville - and this time, we'll be hanging out for all of the days! Check out the many photos and videos on the NAMM website to see just how awesome this show was!

Playing to your audience

Playing To Your Audience - A Lesson From An Enterprising English Busker —
We couldn’t believe it. Surely he knew the lyrics? While it is possible he didn’t, the quality of his singing, guitar playing and unmistakably being in England all suggested our busker should be familiar with the song. If he knew the full song, why not play it all the way through - why repeat the verse?

Thought Bubble Light Bulb CartoonThe answer I believe is this: Playing the first verse over and over again was more profitable than playing the full song.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Annie's Song

Annie has arrived and she's already seen many music miles (is that how you gauge something like playing non-stop? Mileage?)

She's a sweet and wonderful instrument, making her debut this week on the Dulcimerica podcast and on-stage at O'Doherty's Irish Pub. I'll post some sound samples in a little while.

At NAMM, she was a big hit with folks who stopped and stared, walked over and listened for a while. I was playing through a L.R. Baggs acoustic amplifier that was pretty wicked and brought me one step closer to deciding on a decent sound rig. If only they made a battery-powered cabinet. I was told about something called the Dawn system that also sounds mighty interesting. With two inputs, it's $400 less than the Bose L2 that I've been lusting after for awhile (Folkcraft will get me a unit at dealer cost, which helps.)

Of course, money would help greatly in aiding the decision-making process.

Dulcimer around the world

Fujii Takako

The page is mostly in Japanese, but there are plenty of links to this young singer/songwriter and guitar/dulcimer player!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ears to hear

Good Ear - Online Ear Training Site
For a musician ear training is one of the most important tasks.

Good Ear helps you to develop good ears. It works within your browser.

This is an awesome resource. If you're wanting to understand intervals and chords better, this is a great way to go.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sean Carney Band

I met these guys last year and have had the privilege to catch their show a few times now. Winners of the 2007 International Blues Challenge in Memphis and a seriously awesome blues trio, they just got back to the states after a two-month tour in Europe and their last stop was at McWell's in Orlando last night, no opening act; none needed.

Not only do they smoke, but they're all some of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet - and that goes a long way in this business.

Enjoy the time off, guys - and thanks for the great show!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sleep When You're Dead

I've been up all night working on a new project and, I think you can relate with me, when the flow is flowing, that is the route in which you are going. Right. Right?

The project is a CD full of backing tracks for dulcimer players - popular jam tunes - an exercise to get them thinking about playing at certain speeds and with certain approaches. More instructional than entertaining, though it will still be very entertaining for people, since they'll be able to use these tracks in performance for any situation.

I'm sort of giddy right now - for so many reasons, one important factor being lack of sleep. Ahhh. Sleep is overrated. Are we guaranteed tomorrow? Hell no! Better get on the tarmac today!

Friday, January 09, 2009

What's this Twitter thing all about?

Flat World Schools SWOT: Twitter Tutorial
Twitter "is a free social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time. Each message is 140 characters or less in length, and is called a tweet." Tweets can be sent from computers, mobile phones, iPod/iTouch, etc. Using Twitter, you decide who to follow and allow people to follow you.

I wasn't exactly sure what to do with Twitter when I first signed on - but in the past 10 days, it's become more clear as I've done some research and gotten active. It's a lot more than typing "I'm eating pasta."

5 Tools For Musicians and Bands = Easier Life! Reinventing the Music Industry: 5 Tools for Musicians & Bands to Make Your Life Easier
It's hard enough being in a band these days, why not take advantage of some useful shortcuts? Here are some that we found particularly useful:

This is a great read for solo musicians as well; many of us spend so much of our time doing the administrative stuff that our music suffers as a result. Marketing and promotion, web design, etc. - it can all add up to lots of time spent sitting in front of a computer rather than practicing your craft.

This blog offers some solutions in the form of web-sites that take care of some of that for you. Sweet!

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Folkcraft Double Neck Dulcimer, Custom Series, Black Walnut Body, Butternut Soundboard, Dolphin Tone Holes, Fishman Prefix Pro, Galax Back - Folkcraft Instruments, Inc.

In case the subject line needs some 'splainin'; that's me screaming like a little girl.

As part of my endorsement deal, here's what the fine folks at Folkcraft custom-built for me. She'll be waiting for me in Anaheim when Jae and I fly out there next Wednesday.

If I had a Delorean and some plutonium, it would be Wednesday in about two minutes.

Coming Up

Stephen Seifert is, in my opinion, the best mountain dulcimer player on the planet and it was through his helpful advice in 2005 that I finally got plugged into the festival scene. Since then, we've become friends and colleagues and really enjoy the times that we get to geek out over tech stuff and music.

Steve has a great show called "Mountain Dulcimer Folk Podcast" that is back after a hiatus; every Monday night at 8 pm CST/9 pm ET. I've called into the show a few times, but on February 2nd (Groundhog Day!), I'll be the main guest, talking with Steve and sharing about music, love, life and, probably, Waffle House. Check out his archives for many great shows featuring a literal who's who of the dulcimer world!

In Theory

Dolmetsch Online - Music Theory Online Contents

Another great site dealing with music theory. Sort of scary at first. But well worth the perusal.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Found on the internet » Blog Archive » For Jan
I could say that it doesn’t get much cooler than Bing Futch when it comes to hot electric dulcimer action. But I’ll let you decide for yourself.

It never fails to warm my heart when someone digs my music. It's also a kick to even be mentioned on a blog called "".

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick....

How to use a metronome?

A metronome is a practice tool that produces a steady pulse (or beat) to help musicians play rhythms accurately. The pulses are measured in beats-per-minute (BPM). Most metronomes are capable of playing beats from 35 to 250 BPM. Common uses of the metronome are helping you to maintain an established tempo while practicing, and learning difficult passages.

There are different schools of thought on the use of a metronome for practice. Some say that the unerring pace of the beat is an unrealistic substitute for the ever-subtly fluctuating tempos of live performances. Others counter that the rigidity forces you to play smoother, cleaner and with more consistency. Personally, I find that a metronome trains me to be more accurate with my rhythms and also encourages me to keep a steadier tempo rather than speeding up, especially during slow passages. It's good to have a metronome in the house, and they don't have to be fancy (or antiquated like the one pictured here.) There are even a number of metronomes online and this is one of the coolest I've ever seen.

Try practicing a piece of music that you know at a slow, steady pace. Force yourself to stay in time with the beat. It's more difficult to play accurately at a lesser tempo than when the b.p.m. (beats per minute) accelerate. Want to learn a particularly difficult fiddle tune? Start off playing it slowly, not missing any notes, and when you've got it down, increase the tempo on the metronome slightly and then continue. Keep speeding up until you hit a snag and start messing up. Then, kick it back a notch and keep pressing forward. Before you know it, you'll be playing faster with better precision and can always adapt to a live environment when playing with others!

New Axes and NAMM

Spend Your Time Wisely at the 2009 NAMM Show: Use NAMM's Online Resources to Map Out Your Days in Anaheim |
Planning your days at the NAMM Show is simple—visit the show site to find out about NAMM University Breakfast Sessions and the Idea Center schedule, the PLAYback Supplement listing of events and performances, discounts for badged attendees and other general information. Log on now to plan ahead and help ensure a positive, successful show experience!

Dude, I am so getting excited about NAMM Show in Anaheim. Jae was pointing out some of the folks who are going to be demoing there and it's just insane. Insane, I tell you! Yngwie Malmsteen, Dick Dale, Atreyu, Michael Anthony, Nikki Sixx, Papa Roach, Pat Travers, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Snoop Dogg, REO Speedwagon, Alice In Chains, Skid Row, Corey Feldman (huh?) and some of the cats I met in '86 including Johnny Vatos and Alan Holdsworth. I haven't been since then when I demoed for Suzuki and that was a trip (played for Eddie Van Halen, met Lita Ford and Steve Bartek!) Now, I'll be demoing for Folkcraft Instruments and, to be honest here, I'm probably more excited about what Folkcraft president Richard Ash told me today on the phone; my new axe is almost ready.

Folkcraft has never built an instrument like this one before, but as part of my endorsement deal, they said to shoot for the moon. Whaddya do? Go conservative? Richard said that the final coat of lacquer went on today and that they're putting strings on it tomorrow; it's going to be waiting for me in Anaheim. It's gonna be a long week.


Key West Dulcimer Fest
I know it's a year away, but did you see how fast last year went slipping by?  January 28th-31st, 2010 is the date for the 1st Annual Key West Dulcimer Fest and I'm very, very stoked.  Take one of my favorite places in the world and combine it with my favorite instrument in the world, some of my favorite performers/instructors in the world and a whole bunch of my favorite people in the world - I just don't know if I'm gonna be able to contain my joy over the next year.

Thankfully, I get to skip down to Key West a few times this year, including our annual May stopover, which will be a big fifth wedding anniversary and vow renewal blow-out for Jae and I.  We were married in Key West and so it really does hold a special significance for us.  And even if it didn't, the place just simply rocks.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Backyard chillin'

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Simon Brothers Mercantile: The Real Deal!

Roosevelt, Texas « A Landing a Day
Travelling through the westernmost stretches of the Hill Country on Interstate 10, the speed limit is 80 mph through Kimble county. But 18 miles west of the city of Junction, release the cruise control, take the Roosevelt exit onto Loop 291 and stop to experience Simon Bros. Mercantile, a general store containing a picturesque post office, antiques, cafe, gasoline and much more.

Well talk about stumbling upon something. This story from Fall of 2007 by Wanda Blackburn was reposted last month on "A Landing A Day"; a weblog by graywacke. Now, I didn't know this, but apparently the lyrics to "Simon Brothers Mercantile", which I wrote back in 2001, are actually posted on the Simon Brothers website.

It all brings back rather nice memories of the place - the song still hasn't been recorded by a full band, but I've performed it in a few places and, sure enough, a video from a performance at Jerry Rockwell's SEODFest in Ohio (2006) is also posted on the Simon Brothers site. The web truly makes this a small world (and an even smaller country.)

Gotta stop in and say "howdy" to Clay next time I'm driving down Interstate 10 - maybe this summer. And hopefully, the Back Door Cafe will be open this time!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Can't find the right rhyme?

Online Rhyming Dictionary for Poetry and Songwriting

Who says nothing rhymes with "orange"?

Ten Ways To Improve Your Playing in 2009

Happy New Year! As you can see, it's taken me a few days to get posting because I've been reading manuals for new software and doing lots of jamming. Many people make their resolutions in December and pledge to keep them, whether they involve a new diet or financial goals or getting rid of bad habits. One of the many good habits you might've decided to embrace for 2009 has to do with your music; I know I did! This year, as any other year, I want to work towards being a better player and if you're with me on that, here are ten ways to improve your playing in the new year:

1. Set aside time - we all get busy and this year will be no exception. However, in order to improve anything, you need to invest time. Make your music important enough where it doesn't fall by the wayside. Schedule a "date" with yourself as often as possible to let the music flow.

2. Join a group - playing by yourself is always rewarding, but so is joining a local dulcimer group where you'll be able to exchange ideas, pick up new tunes and learn to play well with others.

3. Study theory - I know, it sounds like a number of things including "boring" and "stressful", but music theory doesn't have to be a painful experience. In fact, I tell my students that we all know music theory, we just don't know all the fancy words. Interactive sites like teorĂ­a - Music Theory Web are painless ways of getting into the basics of theory and allowing yourself to build up the tools necessary for better, stronger playing.

4. Exercise - many of us like playing tunes, either through tablature or by picking out notes by ear. This is great for learning songs. Couple this with practicing technique, simply running scales up and down the fretboard or playing licks using a number of ornamentations like hammer-ons and pull-offs; this is kind of like working out in the gym before the big track meet or game. Hand-in-hand, exercises and tunes equal better playing!

5. Listen - whether on YouTube or one of the many tune sites (such as The Session), we often improve by imitation. By expanding our horizons towards music that we may not be familiar with, we also increase potential for getting more music out of ourselves and instruments.

6. Book A Gig - nothing gets you in a preparatory mode like practicing for an upcoming gig. Book something semi-casual, like performing with a group at the library, or by yourself for a hospice home. Heck, next time someone in your family has a birthday, volunteer to sit in a corner and strum. With ears listening, you will be focused on playing your best.

7. Take some workshops or lessons - whether in person or online, having an instructor lead you through your paces is a great way to improve your playing. Self-discovery is, of course, all part of the deal. But it helps to have someone who can watch your hands as you play and suggest things to consider as you continue your journey playing mountain dulcimer.

8. Be tough, but loving - Any successful player knows that you've got to enjoy what you do, take your successes as victory, just as you continue to challenge yourself with things that are more difficult. In all of your practice-times, rehearsals and gigs - be sure to appreciate what it is that you've done well! At the same time, be sure to always push for the next level. That's the only way to insure growth.

9. Treat yourself - you've worked hard! Nothing says "I'm worth it" more than a new axe, er, dulcimer. Just like certain cars ride better than others, some dulcimers just play and sound better. If you've been plinking away on that old starter dulcimer for years now, perhaps this is the year where you save up and get yourself a next generation model. The reward will be in how great it sounds and how great it makes you feel - a worthwhile investment.

10. Channel You - nobody can play what you can play, so channel everything you've got into your music. Even if you're performing with others, there is a unique voice that you bring to the table through your interpretation of the notes and rhythms. Don't be afraid to be different in that respect - it's a gift that only you can bring!

I'll let you in on a little secret. Instructors sit behind closed doors and do the same things that you're doing; pushing to improve, working hard to get rid of bad habits and stressing over certain seeming inabilities. I was tweeting with a player recently who said that he was a little green in playing the dulcimer. To which I tweeted back "as players, we are all varying shades of green." I got news for you. There is no "top of the hill." Even the best players in the world are finding new challenges every day to keep them motivated, whether it be goals for playing or for communicating ideas and emotions - if you find that you've run out of challenges, chances are you've stopped growing as a musician! So enjoy the journey, take the victories and embrace the rough stuff. It's kind of like life, isn't it?