Mode, tuning question

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Mode, tuning question

Postby DulciBob81 » Thu Apr 19, 2018 12:54 pm

When creating a dulcimer arrangement for a song, are there certain factors to consider in deciding what mode or key to tune your dulcimer to, or is it just a matter of personal preference?
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Re: Mode, tuning question

Postby Acmespaceship » Thu Apr 19, 2018 2:01 pm

Key doesn't matter as long as the strings don't break or get too floppy to sound good. If you're singing, pick a key that fits your voice. If you're playing with others, consider what keys work for their instruments.

Mode matters. Unless your dulcimer has a chromatic fretboard, the mode determines whether you'll have frets in the right places to play the melody notes. How do you determine which mode is right? That can be tricky nowadays because...

... many dulcimers have extra frets; that 6.5 fret allows you to play an Ionian scale in so-called "Mixolydian tuning" which confuses people to no end. If you have the 6.5 fret, you can arrange most major-scale tunes in Ionian or Mixolydian tuning, your preference. Only please understand that you are not actually playing in Mixolydian mode when you use the 6.5 fret instead of the 6 fret.

... modern tunes are not always modal. They often contain accidentals (sharps/flats) which means you will not find any mode that allows you to play all the notes. At least not in a traditional modal tuning, and not on a dulcimer with no half frets. There are creative ways to deal with this.

Here's how I figure out what mode to use: I play just one string and try to pick out the melody by ear. If I need a note and there's no fret there, I try again starting on a different fret. Eventually I find the scale that works. Or not. I happen to have a chromatic dulcimer which solves that problem, but there are chromatic tunings (like D-A-A#-d) and ways to bend notes or otherwise finesse the missing notes. Not to mention the option to skip that tune and pick an easier one.

Of course, all arrangements come down to your personal preference. There's nothing stopping you from tuning to Aeolian mode (DAc for example) and playing Amazing Grace by bending notes where the frets are missing. That's if you like doing things the hard way ;-)
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Re: Mode, tuning question

Postby asterhunter » Thu Apr 19, 2018 3:09 pm

That's an interesting question. For me, most of the stuff I play on MD is traditional and fits DAd tuning with 6.5 and 1.5 frets and a capo to get me a good variety of keys in major and minor, without re-tuning. Try playing your tune in different keys to see if one sounds better than the other. Many tunes can be played and sound equally well in more than one key, like D major and A major. But others might sound best in one key, like "Tater Patch;" to my ear that seems best in A. But often I take ease of playing into consideration. Sometimes a tune is easier to play in G or A (with the capo) than it is in D, sometimes the other way around. As long as it sounds good, pick a key or tuning combination that seems easiest to play in, that would be the best advice I could give.

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Re: Mode, tuning question

Postby Skip » Thu Apr 19, 2018 4:05 pm

Try working backwards. Each key encompasses ALL modes using the notes in that key, the mode depends on which note of the key is the beginning note of the mode scale. So start by identifying all the notes used in the song, then identify which key, if any, contains all of the notes, any note outside of a key is an 'accidental' and probably invalidates playing as a 'mode'. Place the identified key note on the third fret via appropriate tuning, ie., the the total notes used in the tune identify the key as A, then tune the melody string to 'A' on the 3rd fret. Then tune the drones appropriately, which could be EAe or DAe, etc
You may need to decide which string[s] will be used to produce each note, spread across multiple strings or just the melody. These choices will point you to a tuning.
I've probably missed/omitted something but you should get the idea.
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Re: Mode, tuning question

Postby KenH » Thu Apr 19, 2018 10:39 pm

As acmespaceship mentioned, compose your melody on just the melody string. No barre chords, no 3-finger chords, just the notes of the melody string. It really doesn't matter what the actual notes are at this point, just the sequence of whole and half steps. If the tune can't be played on one string with the standard frets (no extra + frets, or perhaps only the 6+ fret), you need to reconsider what the tune will be. Once you have a "one string melody" then you can play with the Modes to see how you want to "color" the tune -- minor key, major key, etc.
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Re: Mode, tuning question

Postby DulciBob81 » Fri Apr 27, 2018 2:49 pm

Thanks, everyone, for the advice.
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