Dusty Thorburn


Dusty Thorburn grew up strumming guitar and singing “Kum Ba Ya” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” before it was a cliché. A professional historian, he sees traditional music as a way to connect with people from the past, especially those who left few written records of their lives. A guitarist and occasional mandolin player, Dusty discovered the dulcimer several years ago and has been obsessed ever since, entranced by the simple beauty of the instrument’s design and sound. He founded River City Dulcimers, a group of musical friends that meets monthly in Sacramento and is also a Moderator at the immensely popular website Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer. Dusty has been a regular at music events around Northern California, having taught workshops at the Redwood Dulcimer Day in Santa Cruz and the Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering and performed at events such as Petaluma’s Art in the Park festival and Old Sacramento’s Gold Rush Days. He currently offers private lessons at The Strum Shop in Roseville and just finished his first book of tablature: Lullabies from Around the World arranged for the beginning mountain dulcimer! His lessons, arrangements, and compositions combine a respect for traditional sounds with a modern, blues-influenced sensibility.

Worshops taught include:

Mountain Dulcimer 101 (Beginner): This workshop is for the absolute beginner; no experience with any musical instrument is necessary. We will learn the parts of the dulcimer, how to position the dulcimer on your lap, what to do with the right and left hands, and how to read tablature. We will then begin with multiple versions of a song or two, starting very simply and slowly adding new elements until lo-and-behold, we’re playing music together!

Beginning Repertoire for Mountain Dulcimer (Beginner): In this course you’ll learn some good tunes to build on what you learned in the Intro class. We’ll start with basic melodies and add some interesting rhythm and basic chords. You will also receive material to work on at home and some resources for finding tablature and videos of other dulcimer players.

Lullabies from Around the World (Advanced Beginner): Lullabies are almost always pretty, gentle, and slow, making them perfect for the dulcimer and accessible to beginning players. We will learn a French lullaby, a Zulu lullaby from South Africa, a Spanish lullaby, an African-American lullaby, an Indonesian lullaby, and more if time allows. A few arrangements involve (optional) intermediate-level left-hand techniques but all are a within the range of a beginning player with minimal experience playing simple chords. All can be played either fingerstyle or with a flatpick. Warning: you may find yourself longing to curl up in your mother’s arms once again.

Fiddle Tunes that Sound Good Slow  (Advanced Beginner/ Intermediate): Slow jams are a traditional way of learning songs in Irish and bluegrass circles. We will not only play slowly, but concentrate on fiddle tunes that sound great at slow speeds. Learning fiddle tunes obviously builds up your repertoire, but is also a really fun way to develop both right- and left-hand technique.

Keepin’ it on the Down Low (Advanced Beginner/ Intermediate): Ever lose your place on the fretboard? One of the challenges for beginning players at workshops is keeping track of the fingerboard. This workshop centers on standard tunes played in the lower register, moving across the strings rather than up and down the fretboard, so that we can play many common tunes staying below the fourth, and often the third fret. In other words, your left hand doesn’t have to move! For some tunes, you’ll be given tablature for a second version up the fretboard, so that you can work on your own arrangement incorporating multiple versions of a song.

"44 Pistol Under My Head": American Murder Ballads (Advanced Beginner/Intermediate):

This workshop examines a handful of traditional American murder ballads. We will approach each one in two ways: strumming chords to accompany singing and also playing basic melodies with minimal chordal accompaniment. We will also examine one song in depth to find ways to personalize the songs by adding filler strums and short rhythmic licks. Among the songs will be the ballad “Banks of the Ohio,” the blues “Frankie and Johnnie,” the Louvin Brothers’ “Knoxville Girl,” Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louis Collins,” and more if time allows.

Not Just O’Carolan (Intermediate): Celtic tunes work especially well on the mountain dulcimer. This workshop will examine some of the more accessible Celtic tunes that have become standards in the mountain dulcimer repertoire. We will concentrate not on the faster fiddle tunes, but on some of the slower songs and airs. 

Melodies from the French-Speaking Americas (Intermediate): Exploration of songs and reasonably-paced fiddle tunes from the French-speaking areas of the Americas, including Louisiana, Haiti, Québec, Acadia, and more.

Songs of Old Albion (Intermediate):

An exploration of music from the British Isles dating from the 16th through the 18th centuries. Tunes examined may include the Irish ballad “The Boys of Wexford,” the Morris Dance tune“The Rose Tree,” the English Ballad “The World Turned Upside Down,” O’Carolyn’s “Planxty Hewlett,” and more as time allows.

Songs and Exercises for the Aspiring Flatpicker (Intermediate): Did you ever notice that you can follow the tablature of a more accomplished player and yet you don’t sound so . . . well . . . accomplished?  In our obsession with following tablature for left-hand fingering, we too often forget the right hand. Yet it is the right hand that determines how fast or slow and how loud and softly we play, whether we strum all the strings, two of them, or just one, whether we play exactly on the beat or just ahead or behind it, and more. In short, it is the right hand that makes music! This workshop presents songs and exercises that will help you develop a steady flatpicking technique. We will examine skipping strums, accenting strums, muting strums (with left and right hands), playing single note runs, and playing with "swing."

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