A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Robin the Busker » Fri Mar 11, 2016 8:15 am

Lovely post Dave 8)

It was great to see those clips of the Farina's singing and playing. I was trying to spot all the tunes in the medley Celebrations for a Grey Day. So far I have: frera jacka, old joe clark, Arab theme (not sure where that's from but its used in old movies a lot!), Bonaparte's retreat, good king Wenceslas and there's a couple more I don't know.

The folk scene of the 60s/70s revived a lot of old folk songs but invariably moved the rhythm. Crooked tunes got straightened and, in many cases, rhythms swung. Rather than being 'folk' music I hear a lot of the stuff from that time as being more a 'fusion' of the 50s beat scene with old songs. Personally, I blame the guitar as the tool of homogenisation !!!! It bears the sole responsibility for killing off traditional music in the USA in the same way that the accordion trounced all the zithers in Europe :lol: :lol: :lol:

Robin

PS - Even if I was Catholic I couldn't go to confessional today because my wife is away - and she's the one who would write out the list of all my sins :mrgreen:
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby dholeton » Fri Mar 11, 2016 9:33 am

Thanks Robin
I had to look in my copy of The Richard Farina Dulcimer Book to find the tunes that are included in "Celebrations for a Grey Day". The tunes were introduced in the book as:
"The order: Frere Jacques-Traditional version followed by Farina's interpretation, Old Joe Clark followed again by a new type version, Bonaparte's Retreat "A" part, then the "B" part, Bonaparte's Retreat "A" then "B" part on the bass string, Good King Wensles, Swing And Turn Jubilee, Darlin' Cory, Bile 'Em Cabbage Down, and Frere Jacques." Wensles is the spelling in the book. Some notes are at the bottom of this post for downloading Richard's book.

I remember when I was in the dulcimer club in Denver in the early 1990's and we worked on "Celebrations for a Grey Day". I remember being totally uninspired to play it because it didn't have any chords. At that time I was mostly a chord melody player and usually didn't want to consider any melody-string-only arrangements. Oh well, live and learn.

The book shows many different tunings used by Richard along with encouragement for readers to make their own tunings (which were called modes in the book). I agree that the guitar had some influence in homogenizing music in the period. It could be used to play any chord if the guitar player could get the fingers to cooperate. Mimi and Richard are a good example of a guitar player and a dulcimer player making some really nice music. Mimi could play any chord that was necessary and Richard was all over the almost diatonic fretboard with a variety of tunings (and Mimi was patient while he retuned).


Neal Hellman made the book available online for free. The url below is Neal's "Liberating Richard" webpage.
http://gourdmusic.blogspot.com/2010/05/liberating-richard.html

At the bottom of Neal's discussion "Liberating Richard" is The Richard Farina Dulcimer Book in a yellow orange color. It is a link to 4shared.com and I recommend not using that link. 4shared presents a pop-up that wants to scan your PC. Be careful of the pop-up, it is not Neal's book. If you land on this site with the pop-up, you can click the X button in the top left corner of the pop up to close the pop up. Clicking anything else will go to a download that wants to scan your computer.

I put Neal's gourdmusic url in this post because Neal has some interesting history on Richard and Mimi. A way to go to the download directly (and bypass the hacker on 4shared.com) is the 4shared.com PREVIEW of the book at the url below. The download button didn't work on my computer at this 4shared.com page either but the book can be previewed and/or printed. If you have a "print to pdf" function on your computer, you can print the book as a pdf file. I tried this method and it worked this morning.

http://www.4shared.com/web/preview/pdf/xx2XcRvK

Dave
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Robin the Busker » Sun Mar 13, 2016 3:38 pm



Here's the instrument used in another genera.
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Robin the Busker » Mon Mar 14, 2016 5:01 am

One of the problems with the chromatic dulcimer is that for most applications where I may want to use one (sessions and gigs) I would to have to plug in. The contemporary dulcimer and modern playing styles produce a low volume output, so working in a rumbustious acoustic session is difficult. Older dulcimer designs, set-ups and playing styles I have found have more acoustic 'punch'.

A few years ago we used to have an invite only acoustic jam session at a pub in North Wales. It was a coming together of a few bluegrass players and gypsy jazz musicians. I played dobro mainly but was also asked to take my Galax dulcimer as it adds something quite different to the mix - basically top-end syncopated rhythm. The Galax dulcimer basically hasn't changed since the 1880s (or before), nor has the playing style - noter and whipped goose quill. The 4 strings are all the same gauge and tuned to the same note and the fretboard is diatonic. You'd think that playing is going to be very limited!!!! But this is not the case as long as you realise what job the instrument does - it's a 19th century beat box for dancers :lol: And it is LOUD. I have to really back off when I'm playing or the instrument will overpower the mix because it is so audible above other instruments. Here' a recording from one of those noisy pub jamming sessions; a mix of bluegrass, old time and gypsy jazz musicians:



I think a chromatic dulcimer may have struggled acoustically in that pub jam session? Even the Collins dreadnaught was having to be powered along with a fat jazz flatpick and heavy strings. It is great to have all the notes on a chromatic dulcimer, I'm just not too sure how practical the instrument is acoustically? At the session I played last week I took a Mawhee dulcimer (1870s design and another very LOUD dulcimer), dobro, banjo and mandolin and it was the mandolin that did the job where I may have used a chromatic dulcimer. So, for me (and I emphasise 'for me') I don't see a practical use for a chromatic dulcimer within the mix of instruments I use when playing sessions or gigs.

Robin
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Skip » Mon Mar 14, 2016 9:48 am

So adding frets to these same instruments somehow makes them 'different'?
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Skip » Mon Mar 14, 2016 5:17 pm

Strumelia;

I was in a bit of a hurry this AM. I agree with you. My point was adding or taking away frets is a relatively minor thing. Adding frets to a loud MD won't affect its volume any more than removing frets will affect a quiet one. I've also noticed nobody [I think] has mentioned 'Dulciborn' or 'stick dulcimer'.

All in all, I think I may take a bit closer look at the chromatic MD's [lap guitars] most folks call Dobros. :twisted: :lol: :lol:
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Dr_H » Mon Mar 14, 2016 5:40 pm

Robin the Busker wrote:... So I think the question should be 'why is the chromatic not popular?'


Hi Robin,

An interesting question, but the answer's probably not too mysterious. Fashions change over time, and music changes with them. It took 400 years for the guitar to gain it's 6th string, but when it finally did you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a six-string guitar. The seven-string guitar was wildly popular in Russia a hundred and fifty years ago; after the revolution, only 6-string guitars were made. In the US, up to about 30 years ago if you wanted a 7-string instrument you practically had to have it custom made; now you can buy one on Amazon any day of the week.

And yet... there are still people devoted to 5-course Baroque guitar, and there are still people devoted to playing Russian classical music on the seven-string G-tuned instrument.

Developing new art means we develop new tools with which to make it. But developing new art doesn't mean that you have to burn all the old art, or bury all the old artists.


The lack of frets may leave you stuck in one key but, boy, does it make that key easy to play!!!!! The shift to the contemporary instrument certainly eased playability and opened up the instrument to the broader 'folk music' being played in the 60s/70s. It was easy to play and sing 'Blowing in the Wind' from DAd on dulcimer if you could strum three simple 2 finger chords - and it sounded 'right'. For those folks who have tried, it is actually far more difficult the play a vintage Appalachian dulcimer tunefully that it is to knock out something sounding reasonable on a contemporary dulcimer in DAd.


This is not unlike what happened with the development of "equal temperment" intonation. This is how modern pianos (and most modern Euro/American instruments) are tuned. Before this development (around J.S.Bach's day), an instrument that sounded really good in one or two keys sounded wretched in most of the other keys, unless you retuned it. This could be quite a chore on something like two-manual harpsichord with a hundred or more strings. Wind players (trumpets; clarinets; etc.) had to carry around a whole suitcase full of versions of their chosen instrument, pitched in different keys.

Equal temperment (ET) made it possible to play in any key, relatively in tune. There was fierce debate over the use of ET, with opponents arguing that it in fact made instruments play relatively out of tune, in every key. Both sides were right, to a point. ET eventually came to dominate in the west, but even today the debate rages, and there are still many devotees of earlier tuning systems, instruments that support them, and concerts of music given using them.

It's very true that "extra" frets can actually get in the way when playing certain kinds of diatonic music, and that certainly can be used to argue in favor of using certain configurations of instrument in certain circumstances, and different configurations in others.

More important to me than ease of playing, however, is that different configurations of an instrument will suggest different musical ideas to a player or a composer. Being primarily a guitarist/keyboardist myself, when I'm composing for orchestra I find myself writing very different chord voicings for strings if I conceive of them being laid out on guitar, than I do if I conceive of them being laid out on piano. And my approach to a solo on a diatonic instrument is very different than my approach to a solo on a chromatic instrument. You work with the tools you have, and try to make the most of them regardless of any perceived "limitations". Indeed, limitations are often a spur to creativity.

Evolution tends to happen to make certain things easier, as in this case, but there are gains and losses with each change. The 'gains' to be had from switching to DAd, equal temperament and adding the 6+ were far greater then the losses of altering older fret layouts because you could always continue to play in melody drone on the new instruments if you wanted to (although I think we have shown recently that melody drone on a contemporary dulcimer is a compromise). However, the gains to be had from moving to chromatic do not, for the vast majority of players, outweigh the losses of doing so - therefore I very much doubt that we will see the instrument 'evolve' into one that is chromatic in years to come.


You'll have both instruments co-existing, side-by-side. The electric guitar evolved from the acoustic guitar, but it certainly hasn't replaced it.


OK so lets get back to that thread title "A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer" Well, of course it is a dulcimer simply because that's what the musicians who play it call it; and within the folk instrument world it is the 'folk' who ultimately decide what something is called.


To some extent. There are also more objective organological reasons for calling it a "dulcimer". ET Fretted, Just Fretted, fretless, acoustic, electric, and 12-string are all still guitars. Pure diatonic, contemporary, and chromatic are all still dulcimers. The fundamental construction, and means of playing haven't changed.


So there you go. "They've put the extra note in. In a strict sense it has a different finger board, it's not quite a dulcimer anymore." For Jean, the addition of the 6+ changed the nature of the instrument to move it away from how she wanted to play. From her perspective the change to the fretboard was not 'evolution' but a new species.


As regards dulcimers, certainly no one is more entitled to their opinion than Jean Ritchie.

Still, I would note that evolution is how we get new species. Far from being mutually exclusive, the two concepts are intimately related.

Humans and chimps evolved from a common ancestor, and while we're certainly different species, we're nonetheless both still primates.

Now that's just my opinion, which of course is a valid opinion because it is based on empirical evidence :lol: :lol: :lol:


That's a pretty good basis, IMO. ;)
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Dr_H » Mon Mar 14, 2016 5:59 pm

strumelia wrote: and you'd definitely have a harder time playing jazz or Mozart on a fretless banjo than on a regular fretted banjo.


I dunno... violin players have been doing a fair job on both jazz and Mozart for a long time, without any frets. :)
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Ken Bloom » Mon Mar 14, 2016 6:04 pm

Thats because they get sustain and dynamics from the bow. Plucked instruments have more of a problem without frets when it comes to sustain unless the tension is rather low, like the oud.

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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Dr_H » Tue Mar 15, 2016 4:01 pm

Ken Bloom wrote:Thats because they get sustain and dynamics from the bow. Plucked instruments have more of a problem without frets when it comes to sustain unless the tension is rather low, like the oud.

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Just have to start playing that fretless banjo with a bow, then. :lol:
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby kwl » Wed Mar 16, 2016 9:13 am

Sam is a skillful player and plays many different songs on his 3 string chromatic instrument.

Ken
"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."
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Re: A chromatic dulcimer is not "really" a dulcimer?

Postby Woodcricket » Fri Apr 22, 2016 12:15 pm

I started out with a diatonic and now I have a chromatic. I love them both. One is old, the other new. But they're both great instruments. They're different, but one is not better than the other.

This is as silly as the argument over whether the Nigerian Dwarf goat is a modified pygmy goat or a separate breed. Believe it or not, people actually go into hysterics over that topic. :roll:
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