Sunday, February 11, 2024

Curating the Menu Part 11: Peanut Butter Pie

Fun fact = I absolutely loathe peanut butter!  I love boiled peanuts and I will occasionally eat roasted peanuts, but peanut butter flat our grosses me out.  Thus, Bing and our neighbors were the taste testers on this one. They all agreed it is a winner.   Can't wait to see what y'all think!

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

M.O.D.E. - The First 3 Steps

The M.O.D.E. Method is your passport to dulcimer mastery on the winding paths of musical exploration. Crafted with precision and insight, this method unveils a transformative journey from novice to virtuoso in seven meticulously curated steps. Embracing a holistic philosophy integrating hands-on learning, ear training, muscle-memory shaping, and essential music theory with insights on self-guided assessment and effective goal-setting. In other words, I help you to become the player that you desire to become!

Expedition Dulcimer is a 4-day retreat created for intermediate and advanced students who are ready to take their playing to the next level. Here is the start of our musical road map:

Step 1 - Ionian (Stability & Foundation) 

As the foundational mode in Western music, the Ionian mode, also known as the major scale, serves as a stable and conclusive musical structure. Its starting point in many musical compositions contributes to a sense of resolution.  The Ionian mode's emphasis on the tonic note provides a grounding effect, anchoring the listener in a specific key and creating a sense of musical home.

The first step of The M.O.D.E. Method is to make sure that students have a stable foundation upon which to build their music.

Level 1: Beginner

Music Theory:

  • Concepts: Basics of notation and rhythm. Introduction to major scales. Understanding simple time signatures.
  • Performance: Play basic melodies and exercises with proper finger technique. Demonstrate rhythmic accuracy in simple pieces.

Exercises and Studies:

  1. Rhythm Basics: Clap and count basic rhythms (whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth notes). Play simple rhythmic patterns on the instrument.
  2. Scale Exploration: Learn and play scales. Understand the relationship between scales and melodies.
  3. Reading Sheet Music: Practice reading and playing from tablature.


By the end of Level 1, students should have a solid foundation in basic notation, rhythm, and introductory scale concepts. They can play simple melodies and understand the fundamentals of sheet music.

Step 2 - Dorian (Creativity & Expression)

Known for its unique blend of major and minor elements, the Dorian mode exhibits a fluid and versatile quality. The Dorian mode's malleability, with its unique mixture of major and minor tonalities, reflects an openness to change and adaptability.

The second step of The M.O.D.E. Method is to begin building upon a solid foundation of melody and rhythm, adding harmony and layers of theory.

Level 2: Early Intermediate

Music Theory:

  • Concepts: Introduction to minor scales and key signatures. Understanding diatonic chords in major and minor keys. Basic knowledge of music intervals.
  • Performance: Play intermediate-level melodies with expression. Demonstrate a basic understanding of harmony.

Exercises and Studies:

  1. Scale Mastery: Learn and play major and natural minor scales in different positions. Explore scale patterns and fingerings.
  2. Chord Progressions: Understand and play common chord progressions in various keys. Practice transitioning between chords smoothly.
  3. Ear Training: Develop ear-training skills through melodic and harmonic dictation exercises. Identify intervals and basic chords by ear.


Early Intermediate students will build on Level 1 by delving deeper into minor scales, diatonic chords, and basic harmony. They will continue to enhance their ear-training skills and play more expressive melodies.

These first two steps bring students from novice to the early intermediate level of comprehension.  A good portion of my teaching over the years has focused on these core foundational areas of musical development.  The curriculum for Expedition Dulcimer begins with the third step in the method.

Step 3 - Phrygian (Personal Power & Will) 

Musically, the Phrygian Mode often conveys a sense of passion and intensity, evoking emotions that range from melancholy to fiery.  The Phrygian Mode is characterized by its distinctive minor scale with a lowered second degree. This unique tonality contributes to its exotic and intense sound.

The third step of The M.O.D.E. Method introduces chromatic music theory into the mix in preparation for the next step.

Level 3: Intermediate

Music Theory:

  • Concepts: Mastery of major and minor scales and key signatures. In-depth understanding of diatonic and non-diatonic chords. Advanced knowledge of music intervals.
  • Performance: Play intermediate-level pieces with dynamics and phrasing. Demonstrate more complex harmonic accompaniment.

Exercises and Studies:

  1. Scale Extensions: Explore melodic minor, harmonic minor, and modes. Work on scale extensions and variations.
  2. Harmonic Analysis: Analyze harmonic progressions in intermediate-level pieces. Experiment with creating variations in harmony.
  3. Advanced Ear Training: Identify and replicate complex melodies and harmonies by ear. Develop proficiency in recognizing chord progressions by ear.


Intermediate students will achieve mastery of major and minor scales, delve into more complex chord progressions, and demonstrate a deeper understanding of harmony. They will play with greater expression and tackle more intricate pieces.

Intermediate players have established a strong foundation in music fundamentals. They feel confident while strumming, utilizing chords, and reading tablature. Whether playing from memory or sheet music, they're prepared to delve into more intricate rhythmic patterns, diverse chord progressions, and embellishments like hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. Intermediate players are also ready to tackle the challenge of playing in various keys and arranging songs creatively.  This is the launching point of each Expedition Dulcimer adventure.

It's at this point in the journey that many players begin to take real ownership of their music, doubling down on their efforts to improve.  It is the aim of each four-day Expedition Dulcimer retreat to provide plenty of opportunity, inspiration, and encouragement to grow, in an environment conducive to easy learning and retention of new concepts and ideas.  The schedule flows easily, smoothly, interweaving with home-cooked meals, breakout sessions, and personal time for reflection, sightseeing or naps!

Coming up, we'll look more at the workshops, and also at the next couple of levels that bring our advanced students into the picture.  But first up, Jae will reveal some more of what's been cooking in our test kitchens lately.  

Till the next!


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Curating the Menu Part 10: Chicken Fried Steak

 Good morning, everyone.  Hope your week is off to a great start.  Last weekend, we made Chicken Fried Steak in the taste test kitchen here at Casa de Milagro.  I ain't gonna lie ... this one was meh (even with the gravy on it).  Probably not going to land a spot on our menu. Next up, more desserts.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Curating the Menu Part 9: Grits & Sausage Bake

Good morning, everyone.  I hope everyone is staying warm in this crazy weather.  Nothing to worry about here in Orlando where it is currently 63 with an expected high of 70 today.  It is lovely!  Bing and I have a go-to breakfast casserole that we love, but thought we'd try something different this time.  This is a grits and sausage breakfast casserole and it is delicious!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Curating the Menu: Part 8 - Dutch Baby Pancake

Jae has been sharing some of the delicious dishes that she's planning for Expedition Dulcimer: Stone Mountain Manor, and I'd like to also share what's been cooking!

When it comes to breakfast delights, the Dutch Baby pancake is an eye-catching dish. Also known as a German pancake, Bismarck, or Dutch puff, this oven-baked treat is a cross between a pancake and a popover, resulting in a light, fluffy, and irresistibly tasty breakfast entree'.

Despite its name, the Dutch Baby pancake did not originate in the Netherlands. Its roots trace back to Germany, where it is known as "Pfannkuchen" or "Pfannekuchen," meaning pancake. The dish gained popularity in the United States under the name Dutch Baby, possibly due to the mispronunciation of the German word "Deutsch," meaning German.

For my first attempt, I went with a sweet option and added fresh blueberries to the batter. For my next go, we'll go savory with meat and cheese. Stay tuned for pics!

From the kitchen at Casa de Milagro,


Monday, January 8, 2024

M.O.D.E. - A Self-Guided Tour

Embarking on a musical journey is a rewarding endeavor, but the path to mastery can be intricate and challenging, especially when attempting to navigate it without a compass of self-awareness. The ability to self-guide through the intricate world of music demands a profound understanding of one's own strengths, weaknesses, and emotional responses to the learning process. Without the crucial skill of assessing one's own situation, aspiring musicians may find themselves adrift, unsure of how to plot a course that aligns with their unique needs and goals

Here are six key aspects of self-awareness, applicable to musical instances:

  1. Reflection: Example: After a practice session, a musician reflects on the challenges faced while learning a new piece. They consider how their emotions, such as frustration or excitement, influenced their focus and performance.

  2. Emotional Intelligence: Example: During a group rehearsal, a musician notices that they feel tense when receiving feedback on their playing. They work on managing these emotions, understanding that constructive criticism is meant to help them improve.

  3. Mindfulness: Example: A musician practices mindfulness by focusing on the sensations of playing an instrument. They pay attention to the touch of the keys or strings, the sound produced, and their breath, fostering a deeper connection to the music.

  4. Feedback: Example: Seeking feedback from a music teacher or peers, a musician learns that they tend to rush the tempo during certain passages. This feedback helps them become aware of a specific area for improvement in their playing.

  5. Values and Beliefs: Example: A musician reflects on their musical values and realizes that they are passionate about conveying emotion through their playing. This awareness influences their song selection and interpretation, aligning their music with their core values.

  6. Self-Concept: Example: A musician acknowledges that they excel in playing expressive and lyrical pieces but struggle with technical exercises. This balanced self-concept allows them to set realistic practice goals that address both strengths and weaknesses.

It can be easy to get lost within the notes on the page. We just have to always be aware that the notes may end up on the page, but they start within the body. Someone felt it and wrote it down, or recorded it, so we could feel it, too.

Finding guidance outside of yourself is fairly simple compared with self-guiding through a quest to level-up. Self-motivation is just the beginning, we have to figure out what to work on, in what order, for what reason, and how?

These are some of the areas that we'll explore at Expedition Dulcimer, with the idea that you'll not only indeed level-up skill-wise, but that you'll also become even more aware of your connection to the music, and bring a new mindfulness to every moment that you spend in practice.

Here's to the future!


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Curating the Menu: Part 7 - Kentucky Burgoo

This dish is heavily associated with the Kentucky Derby in the South.  We liked it, but it is too similar to Brunswick Stew which we liked more.  Probably not going to make the menu for Stone Mountain.  Have you ever had burgoo?

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

M.O.D.E. - Knowing the Why

Why do we make music?  Why is becoming a better musician something that we desire?

By showing curiosity, and desiring the gift of music, students are already invested in the How when they seek out more information, sign up for online classes, and attend in-person workshops at week-long music camps.  Just about everyone at these camps is there to learn How to do something or How to do it better.

Pinpointing the Why will be different for everyone, and on multiple levels for some, but it's important to identify the core reason you've committed to learning music.  Once that's established, you'll have realistic expectations of your journey and more time to enjoy the fruits of your labor along the way.

There are no wrong answers, and it may be kinda complicated.  No mistaking, though, that music exists at the point where objectivity (science, fact) and subjectivity (emotion, creation) meet.  

I work with students individually on exploring, and identifying, their own Why at every step of the journey because the Why can change for many reasons and no reason at all.  Knowing Why provides a calming place of confidence amidst the challenges of the classroom environment.  The Why is your reminder when you don't want to practice anymore, and it's your motivation to continue when you feel compelled to drop back.

Expedition Dulcimer
is not just a retreat; it's a sanctuary for self-discovery and growth. I am committed to working closely with each student. Together, we will assess your musical journey, and I'll provide tailored suggestions to help you actualize your personal goals.

Looking forward to many future expeditions,


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Curating the Menu: Part 6 More Desserts!

 Henlo frens (that was doggo speak from Roscoe)!  It's been a busy week here getting ready for the holidays, but I did get some more baking in.

First, I made a peach dump cake.  I've never made a dump cake before.  Why? This was so easy and so amazingly good!

Next, I made blueberry muffins.  Scrumptious!

Man oh man.  I'm on a roll!


Monday, December 4, 2023

A M.O.D.E. For Success

Expedition Dulcimer is a four-day retreat designed to help up to 15 intermediate and advanced players find their path to success on the instrument. The M.O.D.E. Method is something I've developed over the years, and it breaks down into two basic areas: 

 1. Building a solid skill set of fundamentals through exercises, repertoire-building, and improvisation. 

 2. Learning how to find your balance with music, to set positive goals, and to enjoy the journey.

I call it The M.O.D.E. Method because it takes inspiration from the seven modern modes; Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. In turn, the seven steps of the method are related to specific chapters in your musical development such as:
    • Stability and Foundation 
    • Creativity and Expression
    • Personal Power and Will 
    • Harmonious Interconnectedness
    • Effective Communication
    • Intuition and Self-Reflection
    • Transcendence
    In the coming weeks, I'll be sharing some insight into these areas of study, and how I'll be working them in together with the lore and culture of each of our ED locations!

    By the way, M.O.D.E. is an acronym that stands for, "Mastering Our Dulcimer Experience", and that's what we all would like to do, right?  

    We have a reason that we play the mountain dulcimer, something drew us to the instrument in the first place, and now we're pushing the boundaries a little, and digging deeper, noting improvement, and still wishing to soar higher.  We are the pilots of our dreams, and we can go as high, and as far, as we wish.

    The M.O.D.E. Method is as much about the fundamentals of music as it is about your relationship to those fundamentals.  Is it a hobby, passion, destiny, or curiosity?  Being thoughtful in the process of learning music helps us to make choices that lead to us reaching our goals.  Retreat attendance was kept small to ensure that I have time to work with everyone on their personal timelines.

    We've reviewed hundreds of retreat locations based on many criteria, including an earthy, welcoming space in which to hold our informal sessions, spacious accommodations, and plenty of peaceful areas perfect for relaxing, practicing, meditation, or nap-taking.  In some locations, I'll have an assistant to ensure that all students' needs are met.

    Watch this blog for more insights into the themed courses, and more of the menu courses, for the inaugural year of Expedition Dulcimer!

    See you soon - 


    Introducing Expedition Dulcimer: Stone Mountain Manor! March 28th to 31st, 2024

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