Dulcimer Tuning

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

Dulcimer Tuning

Postby Carol Keeton » Mon Aug 12, 2002 9:59 am

I currently have my dulcimer tuned D A D. However, I ordered a dulcimer book called "The Best Method Dulcimer Method Yet" and received this book this past week. It has all kinds of songs in it that I would really enjoy learning to play but the tab is not D A D. It is DAA. Does this mean that I will have to go back to the DAA tuning in order to play the songs in my new book or can I stay in D A D and play the songs? I am still kind of confused about the tuning. I will appreciate any information anyone can give me.
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Postby SMO » Mon Aug 12, 2002 10:30 am

You can play the tunes in the book in DAD. For everything on the melody string, subtract 3 from the fret number written to find the correct fret number (ie 3=0, 4=1, 5=2, etc. The 6 1/2 fret will go to 3.) For 0, 1, 2, 3, you can play them on the middle string. If you're only playing the melody string, you can also play them as written, but on the middle string and leave the melody string open.
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Postby Carol Keeton » Mon Aug 12, 2002 10:40 am

Thank you so much for your reply to my msg about tuning. What you said makes sense. I do have another question. I've been kind of experimenting back and forth between playing my dulcimer with a noter and using my fingers to fret the notes. I find that I really kind of like playing with a noter. If I'm going to use a noter, is being tuned D A D not a good thing? This is something else that has me a bit confused. Sure will appreciate any advice you might have about this. Thanks much.
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Postby SMO » Mon Aug 12, 2002 11:57 am

That is a big question and there are a bunch of posts here about it. You can play with a noter in DAD as long as you don't need to go below the D on the melody string (the open note on that string). If you do, you need to play the appropriate note on the middle string using your finger. I'll refer you to the other posts on that question for all the other considerations (sound, ease of playing, etc.). I personally don't use a noter, but I normally play full chords across all three strings. Good luck.
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Postby Carol Keeton » Mon Aug 12, 2002 12:17 pm

Thanks much. I will appreciate you referring to the other posts.
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tunings

Postby Gail Knapp » Mon Aug 12, 2002 3:06 pm

Carol, I am glad to see you are still asking your good questions and you will find that this bunch of people can answer your questions and put you at ease too. I have learned sooo much this year since Bruce started this web site. i just wish I had had it 4 yrs. ago when I started playing. I just learned things at a slower pace than you at this point. Keep learning...that is what it is all about.Wink GailK
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Postby Carol Keeton » Mon Aug 12, 2002 8:05 pm

Thank you very much for your msg. I feel that I am a slow learner. You are right that this is certainly a good website. I need to make up my mind about what I want my dulcimer tuned to and about using a noter or fingers. The dulcimer is most enjoyable.
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Postby bruce » Wed Aug 14, 2002 1:33 pm

Carol, Have you heard anyone finger-pick the dulcimer? It's a softer, mellower sound than the strumming. It's yet another method of playing this wonderful instrument. No kidding, it makes the dulcimer sound like a harp, plus other sounds (like slides) are possible. Check out any recording by Linda Brockinton. She's got some books and records in the Marketplace. Just give her a call. Bruce
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Postby Carol Keeton » Wed Aug 14, 2002 2:06 pm

Thanks for your msg. Do you mean using finger(s) to fret the notes rather than using a noter and also using fingers on the right hand instead of a pick?
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Postby Carol Keeton » Wed Aug 14, 2002 2:08 pm

One more thing. Do you like D A D tuning best?
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Noting/Chording/Fingerpicking

Postby Steve Smith » Thu Aug 15, 2002 11:09 am

(Carol emailed me, but said I could post an answer here. I hope it's of use to others. I just hope it's not too long!) If you are going to sing with your dulcimer and just want a backup instrument, using a noter works well. It is simpler and less obtrusive than using full chords. Most people think it is more traditional, too, but I've heard accounts going either way. Unless they actually want the unique sound of the wooden noter passing over the frets, however, I usually have people use their thumb as if it were a noter, and then they can add chords later, if they like. But the way I have them hold their left hand is as if they're holding a rubber ball, so that they press on the frets with the side of their thumb, and the rest of their fingers are positioned where they can use them to fret other strings, later. This also gets a harder and narrower part of your thumb pressing on the strings, giving a cleaner tone. There are plenty of tunes that work well in D-A-d with a noter (or single-finger fretting), but it's true that there are many more that would require going to the middle string. In our dulcimer club, I try to arrange tunes which let people play either D-A-d or D-A-A, with or without chords, all at the same time, and over the 13 years we've had monthly tunes, it's become more and more difficult to find tunes for the newsletter which fit these criteria! I do throw in some which require the D-A-d players to go to the middle string, but I try to avoid it. (Many of our tunes are on the EverythingDulcimer tablature section.) If you're doing more than accompanying singing with your dulcimer, though, you might want to give chording a try. There are players such as Don Pedi who do amazing things with noter-style playing, but they usually involve playing at supersonic speed! Otherwise, to make tunes more interesting, I think you need chords. In D-A-d, I think you have better chord options, but I've heard folks do beautiful things in D-A-A, too. The main thing I like about D-A-d is how easy it makes it to play in keys other than D if you're using chords. Finger-picking refers to using your right hand to individually pick strings, rather than strumming with a pick. I've never heard anyone do it while using a noter (with their left hand), but there's no reason you couldn't. But what I like about fingerpicking is playing the melody (usually with your thumb) while filling in the other chord notes with your other fingers, on the other strings. I also like the fact that I have more contact with the strings. Each time I pick a string, it sends feedback to my brain about where the dulcimer is, as opposed to strumming, where I'm constantly moving my hand away from the dulcimer and having to come back to it. I hardly move my right hand at all while fingerpicking, so I don't have to watch it or worry about strumming too high or low. At http://www.mp3.com/everythingdulcimer Bruce has three of my tunes currently available, with a couple of others on the way. Willie O'Winsbury is strummed, with a fingerpicked version on the way, and The Water Is Wide is fingerpicked. Hector the Hero, however, is both. It goes through once fingerpicked, and then a second time, strummed. It might give you an idea of the different sounds. (All are fully-chorded, with the tab available on this website.) I know other people have told you, Carol, but no questions are silly. We've all been there, and that's why we're here. Somebody answered our questions! (Of course, I should add the stock rejoinder that all opinions expressed herein are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire dulcimer-playing community!!!)
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Postby jakstall » Thu Aug 15, 2002 2:08 pm

Excellent post, Steve! You made a lot of good points. One of the real beauties of the dulcimer is its ability to adapt to players of virtually any skill level and still sound good. That facet comes out quite clearly in your post. Now back to the "favorite tuning" question: One thing that I like about DAD is the ease with which you can go from D to G by just tuning the middle string down to G (from A, giving you DGD). That's what I do when a song makes me go to the middle string for melody notes too much. In DAD the scale starts on the open fret, but DGD's scale starts on the third fret (the same as DAA or its G equivalent GDD). I think (my opinion only, others will disagree) that the DAD tuning gives a little richer sound. The flexibility of going to DGD when DAD is inconvenient in a song combines with that to make it my "base" tuning. I do believe that folks should try a variety of tuning schemes as their skills progress. I am also of the opinion that the choice between DAD and DAA for a beginner's first tuning is highly subjective.
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