I used to play music all the time. I'm not going to say I was ever that good at it, but at least I did it. I was in two acoustic music clubs starting when I was in high school and played backup guitar for a square dance band when I was in college (in the 1990's. Square dancing is still alive and well in the Midwest, in case you wondered). Somehow, though, I've fallen out of it. One music club folded and the other . . . we just parted ways. They started meeting at a location that didn't work for me, and I had a job that required me to work late on a regular basis so I missed meetings, and they focused on an instrument and playing style that didn't interest me as much any more (this is not a complaint or a criticism; we just grew apart. I learned a lot from them and made a lot of good friends there).
My "good" instrument has always been the Appalachian dulcimer. Here is a semi-self-portrait with one of my dulcimers (I have two; the other one has f-soundholes like a fiddle):
Whether I'm actually good at the dulcimer is kind of relative. I'm pretty good. I'm not as good as I should be after twenty years. Dulcimers, as with many other instruments, have "competition" and "everyday" playing styles; ask a fiddler or flatpick guitarist about this and they'll know exactly what I mean. I'm an above-average everyday-style player, but I don't have the chops for competition. Mostly, I'll say, because I'm not interested in acquiring them. And that's fine. My problem is that my musical self wanted to be a fiddler or a flatpick guitarist but I don't have the talent and, after decades of playing and doing other stuff, my left hand will no longer cooperate well enough for me to improve beyond a certain point. How Willie Nelson made it to 75 before needing carpal tunnel surgery is beyond me.
I also have zero ability to improvise. Zero. Even if you give me a chord structure, I can't build a tune over it. Thinking on the fly has never been my forte in any setting or discipline. Don't get me wrong, though; I'm not letting modest ability and tendonitis stop me. I just know my limitations.
This lady is what is, in my area, at the high end of "everyday". My playing style isn't this smooth but it's reasonably similar:
When I say that, though, I don't mean that everyday playing is less than competition, just that they're different, and that she's really good in her style. Mountain dulcimers aren't a huge community; most competition players are also great everyday players, but sometimes people who can really nail enough competition licks to stay in the winnings have a harder time when they're dropped into a jam and have to figure out tunes they don't know, or tunings for keys that aren't normally used on dulcimer (I once had to play in B-flat), or other things that tend to happen when you play in mixed company.
This is closer to what we get as a competition style in Texas:
Let me be clear: This kid kicks butt. It's just not my thing. If I'm going to learn to play anything that intricate, I'm going to put my time into the fiddle.
Anyway, I really want to get back into playing music regularly. I got my guitars out where I hope I'll be more likely to pick them up once in awhile. I need to edit my dulcimer tab, too. I have a collection of probably 200 pieces of music written out in dulcimer tabulature, but I know some of them have mistakes, and some were written 15 year ago and I no longer play them as I did then. Some need to be rewritten in new keys, etc.
I've been working on "Spring Creek Gal" for a friend. You can hear the tune here; I like the chord progression. It's already in D, which is the standard dulcimer key in Texas:
And I recently acquired a recording of "Shenandoah Falls". You can hear it on YouTube (these adorable guys are Danish. Note the lead harmonica):
It's in A. I'll be writing it out both in A and in D.