First dulcimer suggestions

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby dholeton » Sat Dec 09, 2017 10:12 am

The 1 1/2 fret just makes additional notes available.
In DAD tuning, F natural is available on the melody and bass strings on the 1 1/2 fret. C Natural is available on the middle string. It provides additional chord possibilities also and there are some tab files written for dulcimers with the 1 1/2 fret.

C Natural is available in DAD tuning on the melody and bass strings on the 6th fret. An F natural does not exist on a DAD traditional diatonic dulcimer without adding extra frets.

In DAD tuning, most music is arranged in the key of D, Bm, G, Em, and A. Many players use a capo on the 1st fret for Em, 3rd fret for G, and 4th fret for A. Many songs in DAD tuning that have a C chord are played using the 643 or 346 form (and there are additional chord forms available for C).

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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby KenH » Sat Dec 09, 2017 10:55 am

diachrom.jpg
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The traditional dulcimer fretboard has a diatonic arrangement of frets/spacing. As you can see, this is radically different that the chromatic fret spacing of a guitar/banjo/mandolin. The frets on a true diatonic fretboard represent the white keys on a piano.

Frets which are not on the diatonic fretboard, in the dulcimer world, are called "plus frets". The first plus fret added to the fretboard came about in the late 1970s with the 6+ fret -- half way between the 6th fret and the 7th fret, and often its counterpart farther up the fretboard, the 13+ fret.

There are two "camps" concerning plus frets: the traditional camp, and the modern camp. Traditionalists don't care for any plus frets because if you are willing to re-tune the dulcimer and really learn the instrument you can get nearly all the notes you'll ever need. Modern players, who started out with the 6+ fret keep wanting to make the dulcimer more and more chromatic. Are they lazy because they don't want to re-tune? Some are now claiming that the 6+ is the new standard, the new traditonal This traditionalist isn't saying :lol: :roll: There is a discussion nowadays about how many plus frets one needs. The 1+ and 8+ fret folks seem to be leading this new change. Truth be told, you do not need any plus frets. They may be nice, or useful if you play certain kinds of music and don't want to change to a more appropriate tuning, but they are not necessary to play anything from Twinkle Twinkle to the best of Shostikovich.

Bottom line is that if you are not interested in playing Chord-Melody style, and are interested in Celtic/Medieval/Rennaissance music, you do not need any plus frets.

The really big question is "When is a dulcimer no longer a dulcimer?" The definition of a dulcimer does not include a neck; so any of those Seagulls and strum sticks are not dulcimers, even through they have a diatonic fretboard. Nor does the definition include any specific shape or size of body or tuning(s) of the strings. But the diatonic fretboard is one of the major definers. The dulcimer is, more or less, the last diatonic instrument on the planet. How many plus frets does it take to make a dulcimer into a funny-shaped guitar? A hardcore traditionalist says " just one -- the 6+ fret". Others say it's OK to add the 1+ and the 8+ and it's still a dulcimer. Still other think its a dulcimer with a full chromatic fretboard.
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby Banjimer » Sat Dec 09, 2017 8:19 pm

KenH has provided a nice summary of the traditionalist perspective. I differ with Ken in only one respect. The majority of instruction, at least in the Midwest, has a heavy emphasis on the Ionian mode (major scale) D-A-d tuning with the 6 1/2 fret playing a key role. While you can play along in the same Ionian mode (major scale) without the 6 1/2 fret using D-A-A tuning, you will be playing at different fret locations for both your melody notes and any chords you may need. If you are part of a workshop or dulcimer group playing out of D-A-d tuning, you will need to internalize the differences (either in your head or by taking the time to change fret location numbers on the tablature). If you are one who can learn easily by ear, the transposition will come more readily because tablature won't be needed. However, if you are in the beginning stages of learning to play the dulcimer and you are dependent upon the tablature to get you started, changing tablature fret numbers can be confusing. It is much easier to play it in the same tuning as everyone else. If everyone is tuned to D-A-d and is using the 6 1/2 fret, you can watch what someone else is doing or someone sitting near you can easily show you.

To summarize, in most solo situations no additional frets are needed if you can easily retune your dulcimer and play primarily by ear. However, the 6 1/2 fret is a great addition if you are trying to conform to what others are doing in a group situation or if you are dependent upon tablature to get you started.

In the case of the beginner, it doesn't really matter whether or not your first dulcimer has additional frets. Frets can always be added later if you find they are needed. However, if you are going to join a club, session, or group where everyone else is doing it one way (for example, D-A-d tuning with 6 1/2 fret), there is no reason to make the beginning stages more difficult by trying to play it out of a different tuning with different fretting locations. Go with the flow.
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Sun Dec 10, 2017 8:22 am

Very informative and interesting replies - thank you gang. I can certainly see how having more than one instrument with different options can be useful. I do have to admit to being a traditionalist at heart. I have always applied this thinking with all my musical interests and playing styles. However, good points were brought up where a bit more modern scenario will allow the modern embellishments to take role. With having learned all this one thing I do know is that if the dulcimer sticks with me, and I am sure it will, I will own multiple dulcimers - none of them being the same.

Now, the thing is which one to start with :) I'm thinking traditional as I mentioned above has a place in my heart. Though I haven't looked to much into it, I don't know of any groups or circles in my area. I live in a pretty rural part of town. I'm sure there may be groups in the larger surrounding cities, but they are over an hour away and it seems my work and family schedule is always filled. I am trusting my 40 years of musical background will pay off for transposing from D-A-d to D-A-A. I have transposed on other instruments for similar applications. I can see how the dulcimer is going to be a great instrument!!
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby KenH » Sun Dec 10, 2017 9:17 am

Most secondhand dulcimers you find will undoubtedly have the 6+ fret. Not to worry, you can still play Traditional Fingerdance or Noter & Drone style. Transposing between DAd and DAA is as easy as adding and subtracting:

If you have DAd tab and are tuned DAA, simply add 3 to each DAd melody line number. If there's a 6+ shown in the DAd tab, play fret 9 instead.

Here's another article you might find interesting. It's my article on Noter & Drone style playing, called Get Noter-ized.

http://www.everythingdulcimer.com/files ... _Hulme.pdf
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Mon Dec 11, 2017 11:56 am

Thanks for the additional pdf link, KenH - I did indeed find it very useful!!
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bret » Mon Dec 11, 2017 4:13 pm

bonefamily wrote:As all can see, one of these has the 1 1/2 fret. My dulcimer beginner thoughts are that with the extra fret, more notes and combinations of notes are possible. You mentioned that these instruments may be played differently? How so? The 1 1/2 fret allows that string to have an accidental flat or sharp, no?


Yep, it'll give you a couple extra notes. One minor difference that might be obvious is that slides crossing the 1 and 2 frets will sound slightly different with that extra note in there.

I think the advantage to not having the 1 1/2 is an easier to read fingerboard. I've played a little bit of ukulele and guitar, but I never got comfortable with the note locations (overload!). The dulcimer has been a godsend in that department. Mine all have the 6 1/2, but that's important for DAd tuning and I can handle 1 exception. I've tried playing on a couple dulcimers with a 1 1/2 fret and it just confuses me :) Maybe in the future as this becomes more concrete.

That said, if you were comfortable with the ukulele and mandolin, I don't think that extra fret would give you any trouble.
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby bonefamily » Thu Dec 14, 2017 3:04 pm

Thanks for sharing, Bret!
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Re: First dulcimer suggestions

Postby HD-Luers » Mon Dec 25, 2017 10:28 pm

Not sure if you are still monitoring this or not. Perhaps, you have already got one, but if not here is .02 cents. Another vote for Dave at Sweet Wood's. His Student is what I started out on and still have. I just bought a Teardrop from 86 a Folkcraft for 100 bucks that is all solid Cherry and sounds more like Walnut, but you have to be kinda careful and know what to look for when buying online. You bet I kept Dave's and play it in a different key. Sounds as good as many solid wood ones. Bill Berg is well respected. Then you have the McSpadden's, Folkcraft's, Blue Lion's but are middle to higher priced. Dollar for dollar, I haven't played a Berg so I can't speak in terms of it but Dave is gonna be really, really hard to beat.
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