Mode/Tuning to Begin Learning

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

Postby spoonsman » Thu May 16, 2002 8:51 pm

I typically play in DAD and for Aeolian I capo at the first fret. Aeolian tune is great for Renaissance and Irish tunes.
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Postby spoonsman » Tue May 28, 2002 8:32 am

I started in DAD, but played around a lot in the first few years with AAD or DGD or CCG. I really don't understand why instructors start with AAD and say it is easier to begin with and easy to then change over to DAD as one progresses. Some people who play in AAD get down right offended at people who suggest they switch. Also--modes are interesting to me, but have very little to do with actually playing IMHO. Early instructors identified the mode--I guess because that is the way they were taught. I think now, we talk about string string arrangement and key.Rolled Eye
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I'd have to..

Postby KenH » Tue May 28, 2002 11:04 am

...disagree Spponsman. Modes are what the dulcimer, with its diatonic fretboard, are all about. Understanding Modes helps understand how the fretboard works, and vice versa. It also helps when trying to transpose a song from one key to another. One of the main reasons many of us prefer GCC or EAA is that we're not high tenors LOL! Seriously though, Ionian mode (in any key) has the big advantage that many, many of the songs we play have one or more notes below the Key note; and Ionian mode is *the* major mode with the most notes below the Keynote.
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Postby spoonsman » Fri May 31, 2002 8:49 am

Ken--I agree about Ionian tunings. I have found that a strumming style will cover up the notes that go to the middle string if one is tuned to DAD (or some similar arrangement). But I don't understand how learning about modes helps one understand the fret board and helps with transposing?
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Value of Knowing Modes

Postby jakstall » Fri May 31, 2002 9:40 am

Please forgive me for jumping in the middle of Ken and spoonsman's discussion, but I'd like to take a shot at this. Understanding modes helps you understand the fretboard because you start to realize why the 1/2 step frets are where they are and it is easier to "hear" tunes in non-Ionian modes when we realize that not every scale is do-re-mi... At least that's how it works for me. Transposition of written music is easier if you understand modes specifically because you understand where the 1/2 steps need to fall. Performance transposition (without a capo) on a dulcimer is not really aided by knowing about modes since you basically just shift your tuning. I don't know if I said that very well, but that is how I think understanding modes helps ME. I can't speak for anyone else. BTW, I don't think you have to formally understand modes to become a good player, but the good players I know seem to have an inate understanding of modes even if they don't know the words.
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out of the mouths

Postby KenH » Fri May 31, 2002 12:09 pm

Jak said it as well as I couldEEK!
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Postby spoonsman » Fri May 31, 2002 4:16 pm

Jack and Ken-- I can agree with part of the third paragraph of Jack's response which refers to performance transposition. I guess that is what I had in mind. Am I correct in interpreting Ken to really be talking about the absolute mode or true mode--that a mode starts on one note and only one note? So if you keep your dulcimer tuned one way and you are playing a tune in with a different note relationship --a mode--and starting at one place, you do need to know the fret board, or at least each note on your fret board and where the relationships for that scale/mode can be found, on one string or cross strings. But I am still unclear how knowing modes helps you know the fret board--I would think it is the other way around. OR am I missing something.
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Postby jakstall » Mon Jun 03, 2002 10:12 am

Spoonsman, I've thought about your question and am at a loss to explain any better than I already have. I agree that understanding the fret board helps you understand modes. I also think the reverse is true and that understanding modes (where the half steps fall in the scale instead of getting hung up on pitches) helps you understand the fretboard. I know that is true for me and some others. I had one of those "Aha!" moments when I finally started to play around with different modes and I suddenly understood why my fretboard worked the way it did and why the scale for some songs started at a different fret than others. I've known others who felt the same way. Sorry I can't explain any better. It likely doesn't work this way for everyone. After all, different folks have different learning styles. I know people who seem to intuitively know the modal scale relationships but have never heard the words "Ionian" or "Aeolian." I also know some who know a lot of music theory and shun any discussion of modes while still others rely heavily on modes. My $0.02, FWIW.
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Postby spoonsman » Fri Jun 07, 2002 7:30 am

OK--I haven't visited modes for several years. May be your point will come to me as I experiment. When I started playing, all books and workshops went into modes in great detail. Now I don't hear so much about them.
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Postby jakstall » Fri Jun 07, 2002 8:52 am

Spoonsman, Thanks to you and Ken for what has been a thought provoking discussion. It made me think hard about the way I think and do things on the dulcimer. That is a good thing. Like you, I have noticed that you hear a lot less talk about modes than when I started playing in 1982. That seems to have been coincidental with the proliferation of the 6+ fret and increasingly common use of DAD tuning for playing in a major key. Now with people increasingly adding a 1+ fret I expect the trend to continue.
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less modal rant

Postby KenH » Fri Jun 07, 2002 11:12 am

I agree. I think the lack of 'modality' Rolled Eye has been caused by those who keep trying to turn the dulcimer into something it never was - a chromatic instrument. These are the folks who think the only way to play is with finger chords, and who think a dulcimer is useless without a 6+ (and preferably a 1+, 9+ and 13+) fret.Sneaky Half of those think the only possible tuning is DAd, and they don't recognize that this is a mode tuning! Don't get me wrong... I'm not totally against innovation, but don't make it chromatic and call it a dulcimer... call it a "lap mandolin". The essence of the dulcimer is its diatonic nature. If folks don't like that diatonic-ness, if they aren't willing to work within the challenges of the nature of the instrument, maybe they should take up mandolin or steel guitar or dobro or some such chromatic instrument...LOL! LOL! Ken - climbs down off his high horse....
Last edited by KenH on Fri Jun 07, 2002 11:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby spoonsman » Tue Jun 11, 2002 9:46 pm

Keep on your high horse Ken. I'll defend your right to hold to tradition. But I must confess, every dulcimer I have had has already had a 6 1/2 fret when I got it. After attending MT View, Folk Center, Ark. Summer workshops for several years--the four day thing, I was introduced to the 1/ 1/2 fret by N. Gaston. He had a Irish tune that was much easier to play with a 1 1/2. I have experiemented with a 1 1/2 all the way across, only under the middle string, and under the middle and bass strings only. I like my last experiment. I don't like a 1 1/2 fret because I want to make a chromatic dulcimer, but because many people I play with sing in C and I really would like a true F chord. (I'm tuned to DAD, but have a fondness for DGD and DCAD. I would hate to impose DAD tuning on anyone or everyone. One has to find the tuning that suits his/her playing experiences.) For many dulcimer players, an attempt to chromatisize (?) a dulcimer is unnecessary; and you are spot on--takes away for learning and appreciating the dulcimer as a diatonic instrument and learning what it can really do. It is not a mandolin or a guitar or any other chromatic instrument. I think something will be lost when a person chromatisizes his/her instrument. But may be idea or ideal of a dulcimer player more closely resembles a traditional folk artists than a rock or pop fan. I think too often people go to workshops or festivals, hear some innovations and rush out to try and use it. I often have said that dulcimer players are like fly fishermen, going after the latest fly or rod or line that they think will catch them more fish. Dulcimer players look for the latest innovation that will make them better players rather than developing their skills by learning the instrument and practice, practice, practice. OK--so I rode my high horse along with you for a while. Wink Smile
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