Using a noter or fingers on Mountain Dulcimer

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

Using a noter or fingers on Mountain Dulcimer

Postby Carol Keeton » Tue Jul 30, 2002 10:12 pm

I just recently got a new mountain dulcimer and am enjoying learning to play it very much. However, I am having trouble deciding if I should use a noter or my fingers. I am trying it both ways. My fingers get kind of sore, but it seems like my dulcimer has a better sound than with the noter. I am just wondering which way would be the best. Also I'm a little uncertain about the tuning. Right now, I am tuned DDAD. Any help anyone could give about all this would be much appreciated.
Last edited by Carol Keeton on Tue Jul 30, 2002 10:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby spoonsman » Wed Jul 31, 2002 8:06 am

Well, you have asked a pretty loaded question. Your fingers will toughen up; give it a couple of weeks of playing at least one hour a day. That's just part of the process. Whether to play note or fingers depends on what kind of sound you want. Using both can get wonderful music. Probably using your fingers opens up using chords and playing across the fret board. But, again it depends on the sound you want. I've worked with people who liked the sound a noters produces while others don't want as much drone. IMHO--DAD is by not means the only tuning; but the important thing to learn the basics and to enjoy the music. If people in your area play in the key of D or A or G and dulcimer players are playing in DAD, keep with it. Many like AAD for various reasons; that works well with DAD players and may be easier for beginners. If you are with a lot of people who sing in C, G, or F, you might want to tune to CCG or CGC. But since you are in DAD now, it think I would stick with it to learn the basics and then experiment.
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Postby Carol Keeton » Wed Jul 31, 2002 8:49 am

Thank you for your reply to my msg. I kind of like using the noter. The main problem is that I get some buzzing or squeaky sound when I use it. I'm probably not doing it right. I believe I was reading where if you use a noter, you have to tuned to (e.g. DAA). Is this right? I play my dulcimer strictly for my own enjoyment. There are no groups that I play with now. I can pick out songs pretty good by ear.
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Postby jakstall » Wed Jul 31, 2002 11:07 am

You can use a noter when tuned to any mode (tuning). Some songs may go below the open fret of the melody (paired) strings. When this happens, you need to fret the middle or bass string which is more difficult when using a noter. The further up the fret board the scale starts, the less likely this is to become a problem. Most songs tend to use a major scale. This is commonly represented as "do re mi fa so la ti do." This common note progression is called the Ionian mode. Two very common dulcimer tunings to render a major scale are DAA (bass string tuned to D) and DAD which puts you in the key of D. In DAA tuning the scale starts with "do" on the 3rd fret, giving you three notes below the scale before you have to finger another string. For that reason, DAA is well suited to using a noter. The scale does not use the 6+ fret. In DAD tuning the scale starts with "do" on the open (or unfretted or 0 fret) melody string and the 6+ fret is the seventh (ti). Because of that you frequently have to use the middle string for some notes in a song. That can be difficult, but is not impossible, with a noter in your hand. One way is to just fret the first three strings (double melody strings and the middle string) when you need to play the middle string. Another common major tuning is DGD which, like DAA, starts on the 3rd fret. It puts you in the key of G. The other tunings I mentioned are the key of D. It is an easy way to change keys with minimal retuning. You only have to retune the middle string when starting from DAD. Of course, you don't have to tune to the key of D. CGG or CGC tunings would be the key of C equivalent of DAA and DAD. Whether or not to use a noter is a personal decision. Just decide what you like to do. It is also not a permanent decision. I used to play almost exclusively with a noter, but have evolved to a point where I rarely use one now, even though I don't do a lot of chording. I can change notes more quickly using my fingers instead of a noter. I know of others who say the opposite. I hope this helps.
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Postby Carol Keeton » Wed Jul 31, 2002 1:35 pm

Thank you very much for your reply to my msg. It was very helpful. I kind of like using a noter on my dulcimer except I think I might not be doing something just right with it because I tend to get a sort of squeaky like sound sometimes when I use it. I like using my finger to fret the notes too except they get kind of sore. I'm glad you told me that with my noter that I could fret the first three strings (double melody strings and the middle string) when I need to play the middle one. I had not thought about doing it this way. Thank you also for telling me about the different tunings I could do.
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Postby jakstall » Wed Jul 31, 2002 2:34 pm

I'm glad my response was helpful and (hopefully) not too confusing. As Spoonsman said earlier, your fingers will toughen up and quit hurting. You will also learn just how much pressure to put on the strings to produce a clear tone with practice. I think most newer players tend to press harder than necessary on the strings and that contributes to sore fingers. Keep playing and enjoy the music. I kind of ignored your squeak comment in my earlier reply because I was focused on tuning. What you are experiencing could be several things. If you are hearing a squeak as you move your noter or finger from fret to fret I don't think you have a big problem. This squeak is pretty common and the result of friction between your noter/finger and the string. If you listen to acoustic music you will likely hear these squeaks, especially on slower songs. One way to reduce them is to use a string lubricant such as Fast Fret which is available in almost any instrument store. There are other brands as well. When using a noter, you might also try either a smoother finish or a smaller diameter. A lot of people use a piece of small dowel, but I think that increases squeaking unless you sand it very smooth. You also used the word buzz. If you are hearing a buzz when playing a string fretted at certain frets you may have a high fret problem or the fret board may not be flat. If a fret is too high or the fret board is not flat, you get buzzing because the string is vibrating against a fret further down the fret board from the one you are fingering. If the buzz is happening on most frets, it may be more the height of the action and possibly coupled with technique. The cause is still a string vibrating against unintended frets. If you don't know much about instrument repair, these problems are best left to someone else. Perhaps your instrument vendor can help you or direct you to help. Good luck and keep having fun with your music.
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Postby spoonsman » Wed Jul 31, 2002 10:28 pm

I always thought the squeaks and slides were kind of cool and gave the songs a more authentic flavor.Wink
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Postby jakstall » Wed Jul 31, 2002 10:55 pm

Yeah, I kind of like them, too. They add a kind of homelike feel to the music.
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Postby Carol Keeton » Thu Aug 01, 2002 8:54 am

Thank you so much for all of your help. I may get a string lubricant. I think that you are right too about maybe pressing my fingers down harder on the strings than necessary. Still cannot quite decide which I like best - using a noter or my fingers. Right now I am doing both. I'll play a song using the noter and then play the song again using my fingers. Once my fingers begin to toughen up, I might prefer that over the noter. Just not quite sure yet. The noter that I am using is a small piece of dowel 4 inches long, 3/8" dia. Do you think something else might be better? One other question I have is about dulcimer capos. I don't have one of those and was wondering if it would be a good idea to maybe get one and if so, what kind might be best. I will appreciate any advice you might have about this. Again, thank you so much for all your help. I am enjoying my dulcimer so very much.
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Postby jakstall » Thu Aug 01, 2002 10:02 am

What kind of noter is best? Now you've opened a can of worms! Tongue Some prefer a fairly large diameter noter while others like a small one (1/8"-3/16") and everything in between. I've also seen lengths from about 2" up to about 4" used. I think a little longer is easier to hold and control. My wife uses one of those fancy turned ones which is pretty small diameter and about 4" long. We found it at a festival years ago. In your place I would try different diameters of dowels to see what is most comfortable. That's pretty cheap to do and just as functional as the fancy ones. I would take some very fine sandpaper and smooth it up, especially since you have been concerned about the squeaks. As far as capos, you can make one yourself. Someone talked about this on the list not too long ago. Perhaps they'll remind us what thread it is in. I know of three commercially available capos. The Sweetwater (about $10) is ABS plastic, functional and pretty basic. You might want to pad the clamp faces that touch the side of your fretboard, though. Ron Ewing makes a wooden one that goes for $15-16. It is bigger than the Sweetwater and I think it is easier to use. All surfaces that touch the dulcimer are padded with a piece of leather. The Cadillac version is the Dudley capo ($35-40) which is brass and quick release. I've seen but never used one of those. All are available from most of the dulcimer shops on the net or can be had from vendors at most any festival. While we're talking about toys to go with your dulcimer, you might be interested in an electronic tuner. These can be had for $25-30 up to as much as you have in your bank account Smile The nicest tuner I've used is the Intellitouch. It clamps onto your instrument and needs no mic or anything and works even in a noisy room with other instruments going. The regular one goes for $45-50 (retail is $70) and they recently introduced a bare bones version with no backlight on the display that sells for $30-35 (retail $40).
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Postby Carol Keeton » Thu Aug 01, 2002 10:58 am

Thank you very much for your reply to my question about noters and capos. It might be a good idea to try some different diameter dowels and see what feels most comfortable. You mentioned getting some fine sandpaper. The little wooden dowel I have now actually feels pretty comfortable to hold. I could probably sand it down smoother. I'll have to do some experimenting. I would like to read something about making a capo. I don't consider myself a very creative person so don't know if I could make a capo, but I'd like know how it is done. I have an Intellitouch tuner and a Korg CA-30 electronic tuner.
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Postby bruce » Thu Aug 01, 2002 1:33 pm

Here's how to make a capo: http://everythingdulcimer.com/discussio ... hp?TID=119 Hope this helps! Bruce
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