~ After years of enjoying the hammer dulcimer, I feel as though I’ve hit a ceiling in progressing in my skills. What should I do? ~Harry Headache

Dear Hard head – I mean Dear Hairy Head – oops – I mean Dear Mr. Noggin,

Everyone hits a plateau in their playing (hopefully not painfully). It usually occurs when you are stay­ing to yourself and not being exposed to other players, techniques, challenges, music, etc. So, 1st thing I’d do is quit my job, buy a pup tent and travel the US going from dulcimer festival to dulcimer festival! Not feasible? Then find out about all the festivals within your reach. Check out the calendar in Dulcimer Players News and join a couple of dulcimer clubs just to get their mailings. Plus ask about other dulcimer activities when you attend a festival. Sometimes there are workshops and concerts in homes, churches or libraries. Just go and watch a dulcimer player at a craft show or jam session. Just get exposed!

Next I’d remember to acquire a new CD every month or so. Be sure to try a variety of performers and styles. You don’t want to be just like someone else but get a little something from everyone. Also, there are lots of new instructional materials for both Ham­mer and Mountain Dulcimer players – get some! Of course, I believe every Hammer Dulcimer player at every level should own the Ultimate Hammer Dulcimer Resource Book.

Last, challenge yourself – give yourself a goal. Set up a place to perform for someone – family or friends or church or ??. Just fix a date to perform and prepare for it. Also, I highly recommend dulcimer contests. I know the idea seems scary to most but it can be really fun, certainly challenging and I promise it will push you to another level. Pick out four tunes and do everything imaginable to them. Automatically, these skills and embellishments will ooze over into your other tunes.

Now, if that’s not enough to give you a migraine, just holler back. I’ll scratch my head and come up with something more OR I’ll have Larry scratch his head a while and I’ll go catch a “flat head” catfish! Hey, that’s a great idea for a “head-strong” person like me! If I leave now, I’ll get a “head start” on everyone else!

Posted in: Ask Russell