I had the extreme pleasure of playing with the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble on February 11 at the Hudson Public Library (near Cleveland, Ohio). Here is my solo on “Light Into Darkness” — a tune I’ve been tweaking for over a decade now. It’s got sort of a Minimalist – Baroque vibe if you can imagine that: VERY simple, very repetitive, yet always changing and evolving.
This Aussie comedy act is really amazing. Butch Ross told me about them in 2007 or 2008, when I was obsessed with my little four chord circular progression D – A – Bm – G… that I used for Light Into Darkness, Tapping at the Edge of Paradise, and Tapping Into The Light on electric dulcimer. I just found more and more melodies that went with these chords – and bass lines with chord inversions to make it WAY more interesting.
Now in 2017 it seems like new ideas are again coming forward when I mess with these chords. I even have a more detailed version now, with sub-cycles of chords on each of the four main chords.
Most of the work I’ve done directly on the mountain dulcimer, but its fun with guitar, keyboard (which I can barely play!), or whatever chording instrument is nearby.
So even if the mountain dulcimer is your main instrument, why not play around on a piano or little electronic keyboard and see what happens? I usually resort to the white keys when I work with keyboard, so in C you have: C – G – Am – F. Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!!
This time we’ll have a go at some variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I’ve been improvising over this one for decades, and it’s always fun. When you’re doing variations on a well-known folk melody like this, the process is a little “tighter” than improvisation: you are working with some of the main pitches that the original melody has, but you are connecting them with passing tones, sometimes moving them around a bit in the measure, and sometimes going up or down a 3rd (two frets on the dulcimer) for a bit of harmonic color.
Before we get to the two full variations on the pdf, I’d like to show you a little bit of the process I use — with just the first two measures in TAB on the melody string (tuning DAD):
one possible variation:
So it’s not really that hard: you just keep some of the main notes in place where they should be and throw in a few different ones of your own choosing—connect a few notes of the original with eighth-note connectors. Try it!! The sky’s the limit, really…..see what you can come up with!
Here are my two 12-bar variations in music and TAB, with a blank second page so you can continue on your own. Try playing this as slow and dreamy as you can: