New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby BoneDigger » Fri Jun 10, 2016 7:33 pm

I'm a guitar and banjo player. I love the dulcimer but have never tried to play one. On a whim, I bought a McSpadden dulcimer off of EBay, and it arrived a few days ago. It's a FT34W. I looked at their website and don't see this model, so I am assuming it's an older, discontinued model. It's teardrop shaped, appears to be walnut, and has four strings. It also has a flat peghead with standard guitar tuners. It has F-holes.

I record my own music, usually by overlaying guitar, banjo, etc. with my singing. I am looking forward to adding the dulcimer!

I have been having a blast playing around with it. Right now it is tuned to DAA. What I'm interested in is a very good overview of the dulcimer, including different ways to hold and play it, and how to tune it, how to chord, etc. Just watching Youtube videos has helped a little but even then there seems to be a lot of variability in how it's played. I don't know a lot about music theory, and most of my banjo and guitar playing is by ear or using tabs. When playing the dulcimer, do you only generally use the melody string(s) for lead, or all four (three really)? When playing in a different key (say G to match the banjo), do you have to re-tune, or do you play other keys out of standard tuning?

I don't mind buying a video or book if there is one that is highly recommended. If there is, let me know and I'll go on Amazon and see what I can do about getting it.

I'm looking forward to learning this wonderful instrument!

Todd
BoneDigger
Junior Mbr (0-50 posts)
 
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Jun 08, 2016 9:50 pm

Re: New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby kwl » Fri Jun 10, 2016 8:34 pm

Hi, Todd. Welcome to ED. It's good to have you aboard. One popular saying among dulcimer folks is: "There is no right or wrong way to play to the dulcimer." That should give you a hint about he answers to your questions. The FT34W model stands for flat head, teardrop, model number, walnut. I think the fret board on you McSpadden is a little too narrow to play four equidistant strings, so you are correct in that you have a 3 string dulcimer with a double melody string. You can retune to play in the key of G or you can use a dulcimer capo at the fourth fret. Playing in different keys is accomplished either by using a capo or retuning. Ken Hulme wrote an excellent introduction to the dulcimer and I'm sure he will chime in here soon with a link to it. Best wishes as you become acquainted with your dulcimer.

Ken
"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."
User avatar
kwl
Dulcified! (>2000 posts)
 
Posts: 17380
Joined: Mon Mar 18, 2002 5:25 pm
Location: Reedsville, PA

Re: New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby KenH » Fri Jun 10, 2016 10:53 pm

Hi BoneDigger! Archeologist? Welcome to our little corner of musical paradise. As The Other Ken mentioned, I wrote an article a few years back called I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What? It's an illustrated glossary of dulcimer terms, plus answers to many beginner questions about tuning, playing, care and feeding of our favorite stringed instrument. Here's the newly revised version of the article:

I Just Got A Dulcimer 2016.pdf
(1.07 MiB) Downloaded 89 times


Quick answers to your two questions:

1. When playing the dulcimer, do you only generally use the melody string(s) for lead, or all four (three really)?
The answer is a resounding YES! There are three major playing styles to produce notes: Melody-Drone, Noter & Drone, and Chord Melody. With Melody-Drone and Noter & Drone, the notes are played on the melody string(s) and the middle and bass strings just hummmm along, like the drones on a bagpipe. It's a very old sound... In modern Chord Melody style, the player frets strings across all three string courses to produce chords, but you don't get the complex diminished and such chords that you can with 6 or more strings.

2. When playing in a different key (say G to match the banjo), do you have to re-tune, or do you play other keys out of standard tuning?
Generally speaking, YES, we re-tune. Many Chord Melody players use a capo or reverse capo for limited key changes, but because of the diatonic fretboard a capo changes more than just the key. Those of us who play in traditional N&D or M-D styles occasionally use a reverse capo, but most often either re-tune or keep another dulcimer handy to play additional keys. Some players opt for a dulcimer with two fretboards (sometimes called a Courting Dulcimer) which allows lots of possibilities with only one instrument.
User avatar
KenH
Dulcified! (>2000 posts)
 
Posts: 10080
Joined: Fri Mar 15, 2002 7:16 pm
Location: Afloat in Fort Myers, FL

Re: New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby danc9 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 11:10 pm

Welcome, you've come to the right place!

DAN
www.dulcimore.com
User avatar
danc9
Super Mbr (501-2000 posts)
 
Posts: 538
Joined: Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:04 pm
Location: New Tazewell, TN

Re: New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby philips » Sat Jun 11, 2016 12:40 am

Hello Todd, once you become a bit more proficient on the dulcimer, and if you feel the need to do so, I'd recommend a fully chromatic dulcimer, which offers some advantages for the purposes you intend to use it for. The diatonic dulcimer can be very limiting if a player wishes to progress beyond basic traditional styles and sounds. The roots of the dulcimer come from related instruments from Europe, and the design of the instrument was altered a bit in the 1800s in the Appalachians in our country but one thing remained, the diatonic fretboard. This ideally suits simple "strumming" type techniques suitable for 18th and 19th century folk type melodies, where the dulcimer is played with a noter or just 1 finger on 1 string. After listening to a dulcimer played with this basic technique I usually fall asleep after 2 minutes :D ha ha. The technique is worthwhile, has it's place and is suitable for certain types of approaches.

Imagine how restricted your banjo or guitar would be if one third of the frets were missing. With a chromatic dulcimer there's no missing notes. A chromatic dulcimer plus a capo gives you even greater choices.

Now for the right hand. You don't just have to "strum". Strumming is a traditional approach, and has it's place for some people, but is only part of a very diverse musical story. Using a flatpick you can pick the strings individually, or 2 at once, or 3 at once, or combine all these approaches in one tune. You can pick across the stings in patterns, infuse the melody into the patters, play counter melodies, do bass lines whilst playing the melody at the same time---the choices are endless. You can also pick the strings with thumb and 1 finger, or thumb and 2 fingers. A dulcimer played fingerstyle like this by a good player can sound spectacular and highly musical.

Constant re-tuning is something I did when learning the dulcimer, because I needed to play in different keys. I quickly realized the solution was a chromatic dulcimer and a capo. I play violin, piano, flute, classical guitar and there's no need at all for me to constantly re-tune those instruments in order to simply play in certain keys. My chromatic dulcimer gives me the exact same freedom regarding the dulcimer.

I mention all these variations because you wrote you play the dulcimer with other instruments. A chromatic dulcimer allows for more compatible playing with other instruments without the need for constant re-tuning. Also, for tunes that don't adhere to "strict" scale modes, you'll find there's no missing notes on a chromatic dulcimer.

Oh yes, there's one thing I forgot to mention. The string order does not "have" to be bass treble treble ---- it can be treble treble bass. Yep, you can reverse the string order, so that it more resembles the banjo or guitar or most other stringed instruments. The traditional dulcimer string order was designed solely for noter drone strumming.

So, if you're happy with old time strumming playing only, then that's great. If you prefer to go beyond that, then the options are certainly there. Most builders will build you a chromatic dulcimer. It's all about choice and suitability for purpose, and all choices are equally valid.
philips
Member (51-100 posts)
 
Posts: 94
Joined: Tue Feb 26, 2008 9:12 am
Location: Dallas

Re: New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby strumelia » Sat Jun 11, 2016 9:30 am

Hi Todd, welcome!
Mountain dulcimers are very versatile and can be played in a whole lot of ways!...depending on what your tastes and goals are musically. No way of playing and no repertoire is 'better' or 'more advanced' than another. In ANY style of playing, on ANY instrument, or with ANY repertoire, you can keep it simple or take it as skilled and complex as you want to go. There are no boundaries. :D

Do you only like to play by yourself at home, or do you anticipate playing with other non-dulcimer musicians?
What kind of music are you interested in playing on the dulcimer? (this can change of course, but it's good to have an idea to start out with)
Truthfully, you can really play all kinds of music on just about any kind of dulcimer!

The good news is that most dulcimers can be bought for much less in general than most guitars, banjos, mandolins, or fiddles for example. Compared to those other instruments, mountain dulcimers tend to be substantially cheaper. So, you needn't be afraid of eventually buying more than one, to use in different musical goals. Most dulcimer players do wind up owning more than one type of dulcimer in the long run...mostly cause it's fun to experiment! ;) Unless you already know specifically what your dulcimer goals are, I'd recommend that you start out with a regular standard type of dulcimer (a diatonic but with the 6.5 fret is considered 'standard' these days) -in a lower priced student range but made by a reputable maker. You can ask for some suggested names here. Be wary of buying cheap ebay dulcimers without knowing much yet- some are badly made, hard to play or keep in tune, or need repair.
You're going to have fun! :lol:
User avatar
strumelia
Super Mbr (501-2000 posts)
 
Posts: 1761
Joined: Wed Feb 24, 2010 4:05 pm
Location: Upstate New york

Re: New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby BoneDigger » Sat Jun 11, 2016 11:36 am

Thanks everyone! Instead of quoting each of you, I'm just going to try and answer some of the questions that were asked.

First, yes I'm an archeologist. I've been doing it for many years and now own my own company here in Texas. It's a lot of fun and decent money.

Okay, now on to the dulcimer... My playing style would probably be called more Americana than anything else. I play a lot of bluegrass type songs, but I also play folk and have a few electric guitars to add to the mix as well. I'm a big fan of Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Earl Scruggs, and Tony Rice to name a few. But, I also love to listen to Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, John Prine, JJ Cale, and Mark Knopfler. So, as you can see, my joys are varied! I very rarely play in a group/jam session. When I do, it's usually guitar or banjo. I'm adding the dulcimer because I love the sound and because I think it can add a new dimension to my recordings. When I sing and record new songs, generally it's going to be in D, A, A#, G, or G#. I also have a long neck banjo that I play in the key of E or D#. I'll need to figure out how to play the dulcimer in those keys, or at least in some of those keys. I'm not big into music theory, though I certainly understand the nature of a fret board and note progression/scales.

I think the McSpadden I bought is a pretty decent instrument. I love the tone! My issue right now is I think the strings are a little high. I used the method that Ken (thanks for the PDF!) posted in the PDF, and it looks like they may be pretty close using the nickel and dime method. But, I still feel they may be slightly high. Is it possible to sand the nut down, or are these nuts not removable? I know the slots can be deepened, but since it seems to be all strings, it seems like sanding it down would be easier. But, again, I know nothing about how the dulcimer is actually buil;t and haven't changed strings yet.

The chromatic dulcimer seems interesting. If I really get into this I can see me getting one of those!

Todd
BoneDigger
Junior Mbr (0-50 posts)
 
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Jun 08, 2016 9:50 pm

Re: New to the dulcimer, and new to the site.

Postby KenH » Sat Jun 18, 2016 7:17 am

Yes, you can certainly sand down the nut and/or bridge to lower the action. Slack the string just enough to remove the piece. Use a piece of 60 or 100 grit sandpaper on a flat surface, and make half a dozen strokes. Re-install and try the action. Rinse and repeat until you get what you like.

In the dulcimer world the Key is generally the open note of the bass string, rather than the first note of the scale. The two can be the same or different. This sometimes confuses my guitar playing friends when I am tuned Ddd and start the scale on the third fret - g.

When we talk about "playing style" we are usually referring to fretting techniques, not repertoire. Your Americana repertoire sounds similar to my guitar partner's. The three "playing styles" of dulcimer are Noter & Drone, Melody-Drone, and Chord-Melody, which I explain in my article.
User avatar
KenH
Dulcified! (>2000 posts)
 
Posts: 10080
Joined: Fri Mar 15, 2002 7:16 pm
Location: Afloat in Fort Myers, FL


Return to Mountain Dulcimer Beginner's Area

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests