Robert Force has been a performer on the American Appalachian mountain dulcimer for almost 50 years. His book on dulcimer techniques and styles, In Search of the Wild Dulcimer, published by Random House in 1974, sold more than 100,000 copies and, in the words of The San Francisco Chronicle, “helped set the standards for modern dulcimers.” Victory Music Review of Seattle reports, “His records, books, festivals and appearances have literally influenced thousands of dulcimer players.”
Robert has produced over thirty albums for other artists, has a dozen of his own, written several books and performed widely in the US, Europe and Central America. He has co-billed with such diverse headliners as Doc Watson, Kate Wolfe and even Zsa Zsa Gabor to name a few.
The Sounder Magazine of Washington State sums up his contribution: “A player par excellence, Robert Force combines warmth, wit and musical ability into an experience that leaves the audience uplifted and thoroughly entertained.”
“My passion is teaching people to play and hear the dulcimer in a contemporary manner. To those who are in the process of discovering playing music for themselves, I ask you to take a good long look at the words, “folk music.” This is the music of the people. Whether it is rock, reggae, country, raga, jazz or other traditional, all of these styles are music by people about people and for people.” What you choose to sing and play is important. You are the caretaker of culture.
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS by Steve Goodman (arr: Steve Einhorn & Robert Force) Intermediate
I consider this song a quintessential piece of Americana. Goodman uses ordinary, yet challenging in their progression, distinctive chord changes in three parts: verse, chorus, and bridge. My friend Steve, who has played with me for 40 years, used his great guitar sense to make an arrangement easily translated to dulcimer – or to any instrument – (ooh…that Bm to F#m is really fun!) yet still staying true to the tune.
The song tells a poignant story. In these times, it also shows us the recent, relative and historical footprints of a formative part of our culture while at the same time giving us a refrain for hope, “Good morning America, how are you? Don’t you know I’m your native son?” I changed one line slightly to reflect ALL children can have dreams of riding magic carpets.
TEKNEEK TIPS Intermediate
After 50 years, I have put everything I think is interesting and challenging about the way I play the dulcimer into a two-page handout. That’s concise! I use parts of the tunes published on the robertforce.com website to illustrate these techniques. Obviously, not everything is used on one tune! On the handout, the relevant passages are excerpted from the other works. I do not expect mastery from students. I DO want you to be aware of where I went with each of these and to have you give it a go. As Dylan said, “Take what you want and leave the rest.”
The topics are: the Moving Barre Chord (being the capo), The Vamp, Hammering-On and Pulling-Off, Percussive Backbeats, Full-Barre Slides, The Dulcimer Roll (a variation of the banjo roll – arpeggiated picking), Learning to “Walk the Strings” and using alternate melodic strings, Syncopated Grace Notes, 2-Stop Cords (for me this is the authentic dulcimer, Using Fungible Melrodic Phrasing, Counter Rhythm, Syncopation, a touch of Songwriting, the Circle of Fifths (and fourths!) and finally some hidden harmonics. Enough? Lasted me a lifetime!