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Specialized Morning Class Descriptions

Master Class / Skills on Arranging - Aaron O-Rourke - Suitable for Level IV/V upper intermediate and beyond.

Two of the most common questions to be asked in advanced dulcimer workshops are, "How do I make a piece more exciting?" and "How do I make it my own?"

The answer to both of those questions can be found in one word: Arranging.

There's more to arranging than just knowing what notes to play. For an arrangement to communicate any kind of emotion, the way the notes are put together with rhythmic pulse and phrasing nuance is just as important as the notes themselves. In this class, we'll explore the various elements and tools that go into the making of a good arrangement including:

  • Intros
  • Dynamics that help an arrangement build
  • Mapping out different variations for every time you play through a tune
  • Using chord voicings that don't force you to sacrifice playing a melody smoothly
  • Melodic variations that keep the identity of a tune intact
  • Tying together chord substitutions, melodic variations, and rhythmic emphasis in such a way that those elements compliment each other
  • In-depth exploration of specific regions of the fretboard and what variations are best-suited to each region
  • Effective ways to bring your arrangements to a close

Generally, a "Master Class" is structured so that participants have an opportunity to play for the class and instructor in order to get individual feedback in a supportive atmosphere. After all, a "Master Class" is about mastering the music that YOU want to play. While there will be time set aside for individual feedback, this is also a skills class where new concepts and techniques will be introduced with ample opportunity for you to experiment and apply those skills. No class time will be spent addressing the skills you should already know as an intermediate level player.

Class size is limited, so if you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask. Send a note to Aaron O'Rourke at

Comfort and Caregiving of the Mountain Dulcimer - Lorinda Jones - Suitable for Level III intermediate group

This very special class, taught only at Dulcimer U, will provide guidance and protocol for those interested in sharing their music with residents at skilled nursing facilities, both in an individual and group setting.

Participants in this class should already know how to play their dulcimer at a level (3) and have had experience sharing in front of others with a repertoire that represents varying genres such as fiddle tunes, folk songs, religious/sacred songs and other well-known American songs. You should bring this music with you to class for the purpose of preparing a site visit.

In addition, when you register for this class, you will need to email the instructor at in order to receive a packet of music that will further prepare you for the class. Students will also be given the option of purchasing a binder of 100+ tunes appropriate for this particular population and setting. The cost is $20 and is separate from the tuition cost, payable in the classroom.

This class specifically explores:

  • Your relationship (self-evaluation) of your dulcimer playing
  • Learning basics of simple improvisation to be used as comfort playing
  • History of music and healing
  • Distinguishing the difference between music therapy and other types of arts in healthcare practices
  • Choosing and practicing appropriate repertoire for nursing facilities
  • What it means to be a volunteer artist (including guidelines)
  • Role playing and practice in the setting
  • Actual visit to a nursing facility and direct contact with patients/residents
  • Self-reflection and feedback
  • How to plan a program for your own community

Note: this course is taught by an experienced board-certified music therapist, but this week of instruction is an introduction only and does not satisfy educational requirements for a therapy certification or degree. It, however, may be credited if you are already enrolled in an MHTP course or may help you decide if you want to receive further training.

Each year, this class forms a very special bond, creating fond memories of each and every person that has enrolled and participated in this class. You will learn more about yourself, your playing and your peers in this special course.

More questions? Contact Lorinda at

Bass Dulcimer Skills Class– Elaine Conger - Appropriate for Level III+ players

The bass dulcimer is a magnificent addition to the mountain dulcimer family and adds a needed foundation and tonal warmth to standard dulcimer groups and music jams. Perhaps you’ve been intrigued with its sound but haven’t quite figured out how to best utilize it yourself to its maximum potential.
In addition to discovering the bass dulcimer’s qualities as a solo instrument, participants will explore its strengths as an accompanying instrument especially in mimicking the techniques used by the upright or electric bass player.
The class will first master the alternating bass line which fits the bulk of the traditional mountain dulcimer repertoire. Participants will continue each day with adding another type of bass line accompaniment to their vocabulary including walking bass lines and patterns that fit genres like blues, boogie woogie and rock ‘n roll.
Time will also be allotted for discussing how to perform as an accompanist for a solo vocal or as a duet partner with a standard dulcimer player.  At each stage of the process, time for practical applications of each skill will be incorporated including bringing in other instructors to play standard instruments for live practice on the bass.  Prerequisites:  bass dulcimer with 1+ fret, ability to perform barre chords efficiently, and knowledge of chord shapes.  Oh, and come expecting to have fun!   More questions?  Contact Elaine at

Dulcimer Building - Ed Gaunt- Everyone welcome - No dulcimer playing skills necessary

In this course, participants will build a McSpadden Sweet Song dulcimer. You can do this even if you have never done any woodworking! Ed will guide you through each step of the process and will provide all the forms, tools and materials needed to construct the dulcimer.

This is an excellent opportunity for spouses of mountain dulcimer players or anyone interested in learning the mountain dulcimer construction process. In addition, students will receive the satisfaction from playing an instrument that they personally built. You will end up with a well designed, easy-to-play, great sounding instrument that will give you years of satisfaction.

This course will require both the morning and afternoon sessions each day to complete the dulcimer. Due to space limitations and sharing of tools, the class will be limited to the first eight students to enroll.

In addition to the class tuition and other expenses, each student will pay a $200 fee to cover the cost of materials, supplies, tool usage and the forms on which to build the dulcimer. This fee will be paid to the instructor on the first day of class.

If you have any questions regarding this course, Ed can be contacted at

Fingerstyle Dulcimer Skills & Techniques - Janita Baker - Level III Lower Intermediate and Up.

This class will explore techniques and styles applicable to fingerpicking the mountain dulcimer; it is designed for Level III (Lower Intermediate) skill level on up, and students should have some experience with fingerpicking. With a primary focus on melodic fingerpicking, the repertoire will cover a wide variety of musical genres, including Celtic, classical and traditional songs. In addition to working on improving both the left and right hand fingerpicking techniques, we will look at ways to approach playing arrangements that allow for better sustain and musicality, both of which are essential to the fine art of fingerpicking.

The majority of the arrangements will be for three strings, but we will also be looking at a few four equidistant string fingerpicking arrangements as a simple way to make playing an arrangement easier (yes, really!) and more harmonious in terms of chord voicings and arpeggiations. We will also spend some time exploring what makes for an interesting arrangement, how to avoid having an arrangement sound repetitious (pattern picking), and how to turn a strummed arrangement into one appropriate for fingerpicking. Students are welcome to bring tablature for a song or two which they would like to turn into a fingerpicking arrangement.

It is essential that your dulcimer have a 6 1/2 fret and it would be helpful if it can be strung both as a three string (or double melody) and a four equidistant string instrument. Please bring your instrument(s), a pencil with a good eraser and, of course, your fingers!

Questions that were not answered here? Contact Janita at

Our Beautiful Dulcimer and Folk Song Heritage - Aubrey Atwater - Suitable for skill levels II, III, IV and V

What a wonderful way to celebrate our love of the dulcimer! This class will explore traditional songs, tunes, and playing styles, particularly those of Jean Ritchie and the Ritchie family from eastern Kentucky. Aubrey has spent a great deal of time with Jean and other traditional players and has traveled extensively for decades, studying dulcimer and folk music history. This class will blend technique and repertoire with a lively exploration of dulcimer history and culture.

This class will also address how the dulcimer has evolved since the moment Jean Ritchie brought it to New York City in the late 1940s. Aubrey will come prepared with many songs, handouts, and book to explore, as well as compelling video clips. Students are welcome to start thinking about an optional, personal project. For example, posing a question, doing a bit of research, and presenting findings or a song at the end of the week. In general, come prepared with your own thoughts, ideas, and questions. Part of the fun will be the chemistry between teacher and participants, so we won't know quite what we'll do until we do it!

Regarding technique and repertoire, the dulcimer will be approached from a variety of angles both traditional and modern: singing and playing in different tunings covering Ionian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Dorian modes, using the traditional noter, strumming, fingerpicking, playing chords, and using the dulcimer as a harmony voice. Tab and lyrics will be provided for each piece.

Come with a dulcimer in good playing condition, flatpick, fingerpicks if you wish, noter, electronic tuner, and an extra set of strings. You may bring a recording device and record and video as much of the class as you wish. Participants will leave the class amazed with themselves and full of new songs, depth, and ideas! Feel free to contact Aubrey at or 401-392-1909 if you have questions.

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