Best Tunings for the different Keys

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Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Bob E » Fri Sep 29, 2017 1:09 pm

Apologies if you've seen this query before...
When I attend a musical group, say Banjo, Guitar, and Ukulele plus??.. I find my Mountain Dulcimer extremely limited 'cause I don't know which tuning I should use to play with the others...
I know there are a few Banjo tunings and Ukes nowadays seem to be invariably in GCEA.
Most melodies seem to be in G C F etc. and obviously different chords can be used which makes it simple to change fingering accordingly.
So to cut a long story etc..
Can anyone out there list the best tunings for a mountain Dulcimer for each of the musical keys ?
or am I asking the impossible.?
I'd really like to join in with the group.

Thanks in advance, any and all help most appreciated

Bob E
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby kwl » Fri Sep 29, 2017 1:48 pm

Hi, Bob. Yes, we have dealt with this before, but it we certainly do not mind sharing information like this. Dulcimers tuned either DAd or DAA are in the key of D. You can play in the key of G by retuning the middle string down to G from A in DAd. In DAA, if you tune down to CGG you will be in C. The key of A can be achieved by placing a capo on the fourth fret in DAD. That's a beginning. Others will fill you in on more details and tunings.

Ken
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Steve Smith » Fri Sep 29, 2017 6:30 pm

Since you mentioned chords and changing fingering, Bob, you should know that in D-A-dd tuning you can play in D and G as well as a passable A, and also in Em and Am. So if you tune down a step to C-G-cc you'll be able to play in the G, C and F you mentioned. C and F will be the easiest, but G is good, too.

Of course, there are lots of ways to pick up other keys by retuning individual strings, but changing keys without retuning or using a capo is easier than lots of folks think, as long as you're chording.

- Steve
Last edited by Steve Smith on Sat Sep 30, 2017 5:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Sam E. » Sat Sep 30, 2017 12:47 am

When I took up the mountain dulcimer, I made a strategic decision to focus on one tuning and learn it inside-out, and to allow myself to get extra frets. Adding a 1+ and 8+ fret will make keys like C and G much easier to play. (I also use a 0+ fret, which gives me lots of other possibilities.)

If you're willing to chord long with songs, another method is to bring a second dulcimer, tuned down a half-step, to C#-G-C#. Between that and a standard DAD, you can play in almost every key.

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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby dholeton » Sat Sep 30, 2017 10:14 am

Bob
If you look in the tablature section here on Everything Dulcimer, there are several chord charts posted by Steve Smith. Search under C for files that start with the word "Chord". The charts display the chords that are possible in DAD or DAA tunings. Maybe you can match some of those chords to some of the songs you hope to play.

If you tune to CGC or CGG, the same chord formations in the DAD or DAA charts will produce chords that are down one step (G will be F, D will be C, Em will be Dm, etc).

I hope the charts help.

Dave
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby strumelia » Sat Sep 30, 2017 12:25 pm

5-string banjo players who are oldtime clawhammer players experience much the same issues when playing in a multi-instrument jam setting. They are usually tuned to a key and must either re-tune a few strings or use a capo in order to play in other keys.
Many folk jams feature instruments that can change keys very quickly by: using capos, or being chromatically fretted, or using a standard tuning for all keys (fiddles, guitars, ukes, mandolins, keyboards, hammered dulcimers, etc). This often means when they go around the circle playing tunes, that the key can change for every tune. Singers in particular will choose keys that fit their vocal range (often Bb).. and guitar players can slap on a capo in 10 seconds and be ready to play in any key.
Because dulcimers are usually diatonically fretted and have certain frets missing, one cannot simply put a capo on any fretboard location and play- you'll have to have the frets you'll need for that certain key.
The previous posts have pointed out some of the best methods of 'covering' the most common keys you might encounter in a jam setting like that. And bringing two dulcimers tuned differently will virtually double the range of keys you can jump to quickly. But often the song will be already started while you are trying to change key.
My own partial solution to this situation whether with dulcimer or 5string banjo was to learn a second instrument that was relatively simple to play, for those moments when the jam group suddenly decides to lead something in F or Eminor, and you know they'll probably be in that key for only one song. At those moments it's great to be able to pull out a little pennywhistle, a small hand drum, the bones, a limberjack, or a ukelele, and play along quietly. ;) I can't recommend this 'secret weapon' highly enough. 8)
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Bob E » Sat Sep 30, 2017 12:53 pm

Thanks for all the replies...
So far I've looked at my copy of Mel Bays Dulcimer Chord book and carefully created the start of a "Chart" which might assist me ..
Here are the first two modes...

DULCIMER Modes and Chords

Mixolydian DAdd 1 - 5 – 1
A or ( A Modal?) Am Am+9 A maj9 A7 A7sus4 Amsus4 A6 A+9
B7 Bm Bmaj Bsus4 Bmsus4
C Cmaj Cm C#m C#maj C9
D Dm D6 D7 D9 Dmaj
E Em Em6 E7 Em7 Em9 E9 E sus4 E dim
G Gm Gmaj7 G6
F#m F#maj F#m7 F# sus4 F#maj sus4

Ionian DAaa 5 - 5 – 1
A Am A7 Am7 Amaj +9 Amin9
B Bm Bsus4 Bm sus4 Bm7 B7
C C6 C# C#m
D Dm D7 D6 G Gm Gmaj7 G9
E Em E7 Em7
F#m F#7 F#m7
G Gm Gmaj7 G9

The idea is that for any song I can look at the chart and see if it can be played in the Mode..
(I'll get back to it and the next mode asap.)

But is there a glaring error in what I'm attempting to do?
Comments welcomed Bob E...
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Skip » Sat Sep 30, 2017 4:00 pm

I feel you're getting way deeper than needed [too much info is about as bad as too little]. I recommend you decide which keys are the most useful first, A, C, D, E, F, and G and their major chords to start with, then break it down to what you can do with various tunings and string setups. Then learn the chords to fit. For example, Janita Baker has some tunes where she tunes 4 strings, equidistant, to DAA#d, which gives her a chromatic setup [helps for Bb also]. There is also DF#A or equidistant DF#AA [good for full 7th's] and others. All those chords in the chord book are nice but you probably won't use them much.
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby strumelia » Sat Sep 30, 2017 5:11 pm

I kind of agree with Skip... perhaps way too much to bite off in the beginning. That can prove to be quite discouraging.
Keep in mind that the most common keys used in multi-instrumental folk type jams are G, D, A, and C. Maybe best to not worry just yet about keeping up with singer/songwriters who constantly jump around between their favorite singing keys. Start with the chords for playing in D, then move on to figuring out the key of G.... :)
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Acmespaceship » Sun Oct 01, 2017 6:39 pm

If you're going into a jam with one non-chromatic dulcimer, you will not be able to play in every key. Even if you were willing to re-tune between songs, you'd need encyclopedic knowledge to manage every possible combination of keys and modes. The answer is to pick a few of the keys that are most common and learn them first.

Which keys get played most often in your group? Guitarists tend to like the keys of D and G, which work nicely with a DAD-tuned dulcimer. As others have said, DAD works well for the keys of D, G (capo on the 3rd fret), E-minor (capo 1st fret) and A-minor (capo 4th fret). The capo is optional once you get the hang of moveable chord shapes and knowing where your scale is. If you have a 1.5 fret you can also play basic chords in the key of C (C, F and G).

Ukulele players do a lot of songs in the keys of C and G. My solution for this is a Ginger (or baritone) dulcimer tuned GDG. This tuning makes it fairly easy to play in G, C (capo 3rd fret), A-minor (capo 1st fret) and D-minor (capo 4th fret).

In a mixed-instrument jam, I think it very unlikely you'll have to worry about modes. You'll either be playing a major tune (Ionian) or minor (Aeolian, possibly Dorian). Play the chords and you'll be OK. Forget about playing melody unless you know the song in this key. If you take an instrumental solo, you can improvise around the frets you don't have.

I'll second Strumelia's recommendation about bringing a second instrument. There's another secret weapon that's even more versatile: you don't have to play on every song! Play the keys that work for you and sit out the others. I wish more people would sit out tunes they can't manage to play (sigh). :roll:

The best secret weapon, IMHO, is very easy to implement although I admit it is not cheap: get a chromatic dulcimer. Slap on a capo or learn your bar chords and now you can play all the modes in all the keys. Traditionalists can complain all they want, but traditional dulcimer players didn't often play with capo-wielding guitarists who call a tune in C and call the next in E-flat! :lol:
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Skip » Sun Oct 01, 2017 9:55 pm

Acmespaceship wrote:The best secret weapon, IMHO, is very easy to implement although I admit it is not cheap: get a chromatic dulcimer. Slap on a capo or learn your bar chords and now you can play all the modes in all the keys. Traditionalists can complain all they want, but traditional dulcimer players didn't often play with capo-wielding guitarists who call a tune in C and call the next in E-flat! :lol:


And the chord shapes stay the same, as long as you use a capo also. :twisted: :D
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Re: Best Tunings for the different Keys

Postby Robin the Busker » Tue Oct 03, 2017 10:06 am

........Traditionalists can complain all they want, but traditional dulcimer players didn't often play with capo-wielding guitarists who call a tune in C and call the next in E-flat! :lol:


I'm not complaining - but that statement is comparing apples to pears :roll:

Firstly, I'll agree traditional dulcimers players (late 18th C) didn't often play with capo wielding guitarists. The guitar was a far later addition to the Appalachian communities than the dulcimer. However, they did play with fiddlers and banjo players. And they were unlikely to have played in D exclusively because: 1. no one was at concert pitch 2. the fiddle and banjo moved tunes to keys that suited them. And Galax players could certainly switch between D, G and A as fast as you can on a modern chromatic with a capo.

Secondly, we are now in a period where a few of us work the dulcimer using traditional methods (noters and stiff strummers such as quills, wood splints or thumbs) and prefer a traditional repertoire but do not call ourselves 'traditionalists'. We are contemporary players who happen to use traditional instruments and playing styles and play mainly the traditional repertoire.

Thirdly, let's talk about fitting the instrument to the music. The aspect that drew me to traditional style playing was the 'fit' of the style when playing old time sessions. I started my dulcimer playing career in DAd chord melody, I still play DAd chord melody and I teach DAd chord melody and I've had a couple of chromatics pass through my hands. But chord melody playing (ie the post 1970s DAd dulcimer) just doesn't cut the mustered when playing at old time sessions - and that is one of reasons you don't see dulcimer players playing around the park at old time events. The dulcimer gets lost in the mix as it is too close in timbre to the guitar but not such a good instrument (it was never designed to play chords up and down the fretboard), the chord changes are too 'hard' sounding or the wrong inversions, the out-strum rhythm is often too contemporary and any attempted melody far too quite. Noter drone playing however gives the instrument a unique timbre and separates it in the mix. You can use a higher action, heavier strings and stiff strummers, worked from an in-strum lead - this combination gets the most from the instrument and you realise just how loud the early dulcimer actually was! The use of traditional designs such as the Galax in high d,d,d,d tuning or the Mawhee in G,d,d further enhance the instrument's timbre as being unique. Noter drone is a highly practical, pragmatic approach to playing with other instruments at old time/Celtic trad music sessions. I bet I can get my old Leonard Glen dulcimer (wood pegs, no 6+ and natural intonation) to fit in at a session in a pub with a fretless banjo player tuned a quartertone above F smoother than you could get your DAd tuned chromatic to fit - and I could play the melody! 8) I can also hit all the accidentals using a noter ;)

Now, if you are talking about playing Dylan, Bowie or Miley Cyrus etc when sitting around a campfire with guitar playing friends - then I use my Ginger. The higher pitch sits it's timbre above the guitars and the G,d,g tuning and a capo is a very useful starting point ;) BTW you can always ask your guitar playing friend to shift their capo a fret up or down too 8)

Robin (not a traditionalist but a musician who sees the pragmatic benefits of playing in traditional styles when at trad music sessions)
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