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 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!


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