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Posts about dulcimercrossing lessons, free stuff, learning mountain and hammered dulcimers

Some Copyright Issues for Dulcimer Players of Music

Some Copyright Issues for Dulcimer Players of Music

by Steve Eulberg

May I offer a few musings on a recent conversation that has been seeded and is taking root in my brain?

Like many dulcimer players, I am just giddy when I discover that I can quickly play my favorite Jim Croce or John Denver, or Elton John or Blood Sweat and Tears tunes on the dulcimer I love!

And….I get very confused when I am told that I have to respect copyrights when I want to share this music with others.

Copyright Laws were created to protect the intellectual property of people who create things.  As one of those creators, I am grateful for that protection, which, according to the laws, is provided, whether or not the copyright is registered.  However, to defend one’s copyright effectively, registration with the Library of Congress is the best help.

Mechanical Licenses have been set up by Congress so that once something is created (e.g. a song is written) no one else can profit from that creation unless the owner of the copyright is compensated at a rate set by Statute, which is why it is called a statutory rate.  As a composer, I am tickled whenever someone requests a Mechanical License to record a piece I have composed.  I believe this is how Carole King probably imagined her career as a song-writer when she rented a studio in NY and began hammering out hits.  (The singer-songwriter model came a bit later.)

This all assumes that the composer of a piece of music is known, and holds the copyright.

Folk music is the music that has weaved its way, or seeped its way into the culture of a people and has been passed on by generations (usually by Oral/Aural transmission) and has survived because it has been embraced by people who learn and sing and play it, continuing the process.  This music is considered to be in the Public Domain.

Piano Sheet Music was the first “mass media” that enabled the distribution of the songwriter’s creations and was popular in the 1800s-1920s.  It was pretty clear that the creators (or at least the publishers) of the music were compensated by the sale of the sheet music.  And the way that the music was passed on was by learning to play it.  But there was no way to “capture” a performance–yet.

Radio in the 20th century has played a large role in this transmission process, as David Brose, the Folklorist and Ethnomusicologist at the John C. Campbell School in NC likes to demonstrate.  (A great many of us Boomers learned our “folk” music aurally from the radio, or from LPs.  Shoot, the Rolling Stones learned alot of their early blues music by wearing out both the needles and the LPS of their favorite African American blues artists!)

The first radio was live, but then with the advent of recordings (Wire, 78s, 45s 33-1/3s, Cassette, 8-Track, CD and mp3s) the performance of music could be “captured” and “exploited” almost endlessly.

The Performing Rights Organizations- PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) were created to protect the rights of and pay the creators of the music that was broadcast on radio.  (Disclosure:  I am a member of BMI and while my checks are not large, I am very grateful when they arrive!)

The Internet is the changed the transmission of recorded music in some never-going-back kind of ways.

File sharing (ripping CDs and sharing the music with one’s “friends”) turned into the piracy of sites like Napster which sought to give music away to anyone who had an account.  After the closing down of their original site, they have re-opened as a site that does compensate music creators (at a very low rate, but better than many!) for the download or streaming of the music they administer.

Streaming and Download Sites such as iTunes, Amazon.comSpotify and Pandora are just a few of the services that offer ways to listen to music which also compensate music creators (but at vastly different rates from each other!)

Now there are sync licenses (anytime one’s created music is used as a soundtrack to video–like a Youtube collaged of photos, for example.)

With the ubiquitous presence of electronic devices (iPods, mp3 players, phones, tablets and computers), there is a hungry appetite for more creative content which is leading to much discussion about both preserving the rights of those who create the music, and provide for their fair and adequate compensation for the use of their creation.

But how does this affect me, as a dulcimer player?

You are free to play any of the music you love, whenever and whereever you wish!  (Well, the middle of the night beside your sleeping partner might NOT be the best choice.)

If you play in a public performance, it is the responsibility of the venue where you are playing to have appropriate licenses in place.

If you wish to record someone else’s music which they have released to the public, you need to compensate them in accordance with the Statutory Rate with a Mechanical License, as listed above. This can be done in an agreement directly with the owner of the copyright (often, but not always the composer), or it can be accomplished through an agency like Harry Fox Agency, which administers copyright permissions for the ones they have a relationship with.  This process is fairly clear.

If you wish to publish (in writing) an arrangement you have created of their music, you need to obtain their permission.  There is NO Statutory Rate for this and different people, companies have different rates and requirements.  This process is very murky, and many copyright holders are not familiar with this arrangement (in my experience.)

If something is in the Public Domain, then neither of these sets of permission are required.  HOWEVER, a great many songs which are assumed to be in the Public Domain are actually protected by a copyright. It is always more difficult to prove that something is NOT claimed under someones copyright, but searching the Harry Fox, BMI and ASCAP databases are a good first step.  Simply reading or writing “traditional” on a piece of music may not be sufficient.

disclaimer:  The author is not an attorney and can offer no legal advice. The contents of this blog post are from his own research and experience and are offered as guidance.  Your mileage may vary.


Posted by on May 7, 2014 in history, lessons, subscriber news



Odd Meters

Odd Meters

ClubFootedJibby Steve Eulberg

Playing traditional instruments in the western world, we get quite used to “square” or “even” rhythms and meters in the songs we play.

Marches and Reels are in (4/4) time; Polkas are in (2/2 or 4/4).  Even jigs (6/8) have 2 pulses in their measures.  Waltzes (3/4) have a strong beat on 1.  Slides (12/8 or 6/8) and Slip Jigs (9/8) have multiple pulses in their measures, but what all of these tunes tend to have in common is that they have a regular way to be counted based on the time signature.

There are other places in the world, however, where tunes with Odd Meters are considered normal or natural.  Key signatures of 5/4, 7/8, 11/8 feel odd to many of us, but odd can ALSO mean FUN!

Actually what happens in these tunes is the players or dancers sometimes sub-divide the counting into smaller bits to help keep the song together.

5/4 may be counted:  123 12

11/8 may be counted:  1234 123 1234.

7/8 may be counted several ways:  1234 123   or  123 1234   or 123 12 12.

Which choice is made is determined by the character of the tune itself.

The tune Club-Footed Jib is a tune that I wrote as an etude (a study) of the 7/8 time signature.  Each of the 3 sections of the tune has a different way of counting.  A new lesson teaching this tune and its exciting Odd Meter has now been posted.

Here is the hammered dulcimer demonstration of the tune.

Here is the mountain dulcimer demonstration of the tune.

Log in and learn to play this one as a tool for exploring an Odd Meter!


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Traditional Noter and Drone Style Lessons

Traditional Noter and Drone Style Lessons

by Linda Ratcliff

Traditional Noter Style


Many mountain dulcimer players play their instruments by pressing the fatty pads of their fingertips down on the strings to create the different notes. But there is another option.

The traditional, old-time way of playing a mountain dulcimer is to use a noter. Your noter can be anything from the broad side of a popsicle stick to a wooden dowel – or anything around the house that can be used to press down on the strings.

In this series of 14 videos, Steve introduces the traditional noter/drone style of playing, shows us some of the tools (noters) that he uses, and explains how to use the noter with different tunings. Listen to Steve play a spirited rendition of Golden Slippers with his noter and quill, and check out the titles of the videos right here.

Holy Manna, O Susannah, Joy to the World, Old Joe Clark and Shady Grove are used to demonstrate noter playing with different tunings.


Posted by on March 12, 2014 in lessons, mountain dulcimer


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DulcimerCrossing Festival Scholarships

DulcimerCrossing Festival Scholarships

by Steve Eulberg & Linda Ratcliff

At we believe in supporting all the ways that students learn to play the music that is in their hearts.  Some people learn better in the privacy of their homes, some with an individual tutor, and some learn best when immersed in a setting that is chock-FULL of music, with people who are engaged in the same pursuit as they are.

For this reason, DulcimerCrossing has provided some full and partial scholarships to selected weekend and week-long dulcimer-learning events this year.

It has been our request that the scholarships be distributed and administered by each individual festival (and anonymously to us) but we requested that, if possible, they provide support for: a YOUTH participant, and a TEACHER to come and further develop their skills.

Please contact each individual festival or weekend to inquire about their application process for these scholarships.


The Colorado Dulcimer Festival (both mountain and hammered)


The Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering (mountain only)


Kentucky Music Week (both mountain and hammered)


Western Carolina University Dulcimer Week (mountain only)


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New Lesson: So You Want to be Heard?

New Lesson: So You Want to be Heard?

by Steve Eulberg

Amplifying the Mountain Dulcimer.

Steve adds a sample from a new lesson series about Amplifying the Mountain Dulcimer in the Mountain Dulcimer Skills section of the DulcimerCrossing website.

This sample lesson from that series that describes and demonstrates the use of a contact pickup and the combination of that pickup with a microphone.

A similar lesson series for amplifying the hammered dulcimer is in development.


Posted by on February 16, 2014 in lessons, mountain dulcimer, subscriber news


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Orphan Girl: New Chromatic Dulcimer Lesson!

Orphan Girl
by Linda Ratcliff

For Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Players
“Orphan Girl” was written by Gillian Welch, whose musical style combines elements of bluegrass, neotraditional country, Americana, old time string band music and folk into a rustic style that she dubs “American Primitive.” Gillian and David Rawlings included “Orphan Girl” in their debut album, “Revival,” in 1996. This song is somewhat autobiographical, as Gillian was adopted on the day she was born, and spiritual as none of us will be orphans when we finally sit at the Father’s table in heaven.

This lesson is taught by Erin Rogers on the chromatic mountain dulcimer. You can see the lesson descriptions here with a video of Orphan Girl performed by Scenic Roots (our own Erinwith her sister Amber).


Any New Year’s Resolutions?
Every year, my New Year’s Resolution is to practice my hammered dulcimer more often. How about you?

As always, if you have any questions, you can always ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering,


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What to Do….when you’re snowed in.

by Linda Ratcliff

snowedinMost of you know I live full time in an RV. At the campground where we stay, they don’t believe in plowing. And we live at the low end of the park. Early January, there was ice – on top of snow – on top of ice, with NO hope it would be cleared and we didn’t even try to get out. Now most of you would have used that gift of time to practice your dulcimers. But I began going through our lessons one by one, and found some ways to make improvements.

•Right now, videos are loaded in a jukebox style – such as you see in this screen shot of Orphan Girl.  In addition, I will be linking each video to its own webpage, to facilitate access for mobile device users.


•I found a better system for converting flash animations to videos for our mobile device users. One by one, I’m reformatting those animations.

•We have been building the Dulcimer Crossing website for 5 years now and, through trial and error, continue to learn better ways of presenting the lessons. We will be re-taping some of the early videos so all the lessons will have the same look and feel. This is a long-term project that may take a year. If there is a particular lesson you would like to see us revise sooner than later – give us a shout. If you want to see which lessons have already been revised, click here.

Angeline the Baker

•This week we added the tablature and animations for our D-A-A lesson on Angeline the Baker, taught by Steve Eulberg for mountain dulcimer players.

As always, if you have any questions, you can always ask Steve or myself.

Happy dulcimering, Linda


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How to Choose a Hammered Dulcimer

How to Choose a Hammered Dulcimer

Criteria for Purchasing a Hammered Dulcimer

by Steve Eulberg & Linda Ratcliff


Steve playing a Prelude for an Ordination service.

We are fortunate to live in the midst of a sustained dulcimer revival!

Today, not only are there kits available for you to build your own, there are a good number of quality builders who have refined the process and are able to make instruments that are reliably good from instrument to instrument and who stand behind their work.

In addition, there are also a good number craft or artisan builders who focus on building to order or one-of-a-kind instruments.

Finally, there is an active re-selling market from people who are trading up, trading down or simply desirous of others playing the instruments.

Here are the criteria I use and suggest to my students when they ask me what they should look for in purchasing a hammered dulcimer.

1.  Beware of DSOs!  (Dulcimer-Shaped-Objects)

At the beginning of the dulcimer revival in the late 1960s and 1970s many people began building instruments that were shaped like dulcimers but were ultimately unplayable.  How can you be sure you DON’T have one of these?

a.  The soundboard isn’t warped or cracked.

b.  The tuning pins are not stuck and can actually change the pitches of the strings, so the instrument is tunable.

c.  Even more importantly:  The tuning pins can hold the strings in tune.  If an instrument cannot stay in tune, or requires you to re-tune it every few minutes will be one you will not play.

If these criteria are met and you have some other issues, they are probably easy and inexpensive fixes.  Sometimes you can find an old treasure, but remember that you might have to sift through several that are better used as wall art than as musical instruments to find these.


Linda playing at the Butterfly Palace

Our next piece of advice is to purchase as much dulcimer as you can afford.  Consider more than price alone.  You don’t want to get an instrument that you’ll grow out of too quickly.

The next criteria have to do with construction and design:

2.  Floating or Fixed Soundboard?

The soundboard is the piece of wood upon which the bridges rest and which transfer the vibrations of the strings to the rest of the instrument.  In the hammered dulcimer world there are two primary designs for this piece of the instrument.

A Floating Soundboard sits on top of the box which is the rest of the instrument and when the strings are removed, can be lifted off.

A Fixed Soundboard is glued to the body of the instrument and cannot be removed.

What is the difference?  Some builders and players say the Floating Soundboard results in a shorter length of sustain when the notes are played which helps with clarity for faster tunes.  I have played both kinds of don’t have an opinion on this design difference.

3.  Solid wood or laminate top?

A solid wood soundboard (or top) will improve the tone of the instrument with age and playing.  A laminate (plywood) top will have the same tone from the day it is built.  There is cost savings when using a laminate for the soundboard.

4.  Tone

There are many words to describe the tone or timbre of an instrument, but in many cases they are used imprecisely.  The type of wood chosen for the sound board, coupled with the wood choice for sides and back and internal bracing will be instrumental (no pun intended) in determining the tone.  I have heard people use these words to describe the tone of different instruments:  bright, dark, warm, sweet, muddy, thick, clear, thin, tinny, rich.  

In our opinion, this is the single most important criteria in choosing an instrument.

5.  Sustain

Hammered dulcimers are known for their sustain, or how long the notes ring after they are struck.  This is in part due to the sympathetic vibration of all the other strings of the same pitch, but is compounded by the sympathetic vibrations of the overtones of each pitch.

The type of soundboard, the design (floating or fixed soundboard), the internal bracing, the choice of hammers and the choice of tune type all have an effect on the amount sustain you will prefer.  In general, slow airs and hymns can sound wonderful on and instrument with more sustain, and faster fiddle tunes, jigs and reels will sound more wonderful with less sustain. Rick Thum has focused on building instruments for this criteria.

[Note:  Some people add the option of dampers to their instrument to be able to have more control over sustain while playing.]

6.  Number of notes/Strings per Course

The next thing that determines price is size:  how many courses of strings does it have (courses are sets of strings that are tuned to the same pitch. We have seen instruments that have between 1-4 strings per course.)
A smaller instrument will have 12 or 13 on the Treble (left) bridge and 11 0r 12 on the Bass (right) bridge.  That will give you about 2-1/2 octaves of the keys of G and A.  This is called a 12/11 or 13/12.
That Standard Sizes are 15/14 or 16/15 which give you about 3 octaves of the keys of D and E.
Then there are instruments that are called chromatic which have some bridge adjustments in the higher register to be fully chromatic for a longer range.
Finally, there are instruments that have 4 and more octaves which have a larger body size and have super bass bridges for the lower notes.

7.  String Spacing?

Another factor to consider is the spacing between the courses.  Some builders build with a broader spacing (e.g. David Lindsey), some with a tighter spacing (e.g. James Jones).  The tighter spacing usually requires hammers with smaller heads in order to be more accurate.  The broader spacing can be more forigiving, but generally adds more size the the box of the instrument.

8.  Weight/Heft

The weight of the instrument is a definite consideration, depending upon the size and stature of the player, whether or not this will be a “parlour” or stay-at-home instrument or one which travels to lessons and festivals and vacations.  The larger the instrument (which gives you more notes to play) usually the heavier the instrument is.  Some builders have been pioneering lighter and lighter instruments, (Masterworks is an example of a builder who is doing this) so shop around.

9. Tuning Scheme

In the United States we have encountered the following Tune Schemes:  5th Tuned, Octave Bass, Piano Dulcimer, and Chord-Based tunings.

5th-Tuned is by far the most common at this point in history across much of the USA.  The relationship of the notes between and across the bridges is is the interval of a 5th.

Octave Bass is more common in Michigan.  Bill Webster builds a lot of these instruments.  The Treble bridge is 5th tuned but the Bass Bridge has notes an octave lower than those on the right side of the Treble Bridge.

The Piano Dulcimer is one of two chromatic tunings that is gaining a foothold.  Sam Rizzetta designed this style (built by Dusty Strings.)  The bridge caps match the white and black keys of a piano and the tuning is chromatic in a linear fashion.

The Linear Chromatic (designed and built by James Jones) seeks to achieve a similar purpose, but is designed like a 5th-Tuned instrument with the chromatic notes included between the expected diatonic ones.

Chord-Based Tunings are those used by our teachers Linda Thomas and Bill Robinson, where the Bass bridge is tuned to notes that help with playing certain chords.


These are several of the criteria to balance when choosing an instrument.

LindaHDBlueMorphButterflyWe suggest that you play as many instruments from different builders that you can.  Festivals are an excellent chance to see the instruments from many builders.  Talk with every hammered dulcimer player there.  Ask them:

“What do you love and not love about your instrument?”

“Which instrument do you dream about and why?”

“Can I play yours please?”

In our experience, dulcimer players LOVE to talk about their instruments and allow other players to try them out.

In the end, you’ll need to save your shekels and purchase the instrument that can help you play the sweet music in your soul.  If we can help, let us know!


Posted by on December 13, 2013 in hammered dulcimer, lessons, subscriber news


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DulcimerCrossing & Music Education

bBoardNotes3As former public school educators, Linda Ratcliff and Steve Eulberg, have designed the website to support Music Educators, students and Homeschool students and teachers.

The National Association for Music Education has created nationwide standards for musical education for the United States of America. lessons are designed to equip students to be successful in demonstrating their proficiency on 6 of these 9 standards.

You can read more about our goals here, or at the link below:

As always if you have ideas, suggestions and questions about using the lessons at, please contact Linda or Steve.


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Comparing the Chromatic and Diatonic Fretboards

In this FREE SAMPLE LESSON from, Guest Instructor, Erin Rogers, compares the Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Fretboard with the (close to standard) Diatonic Freboard.

This is the first in Erin’s Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer Lesson Series on our site.

And I just found this treasure:  David Beede, the maker of Erin’s Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer filmed some video on its actual “Birthday”!  Take a look:

Erin will be teaching in Winfield at the Warm-Up Picnic on Saturday, Sept 14, 2013 and Master Class Workshops for the Walnut Valley Festival next Wednesday, Sept 18th, in Winfield.  Then she and her sister, Amber, together known as Scenic Roots, will be featured Performers at the Festival!


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