Mode/Tuning to Begin Learning

Help for new mountain dulcimer players of all ages!

Postby SMO » Wed Jun 12, 2002 8:06 am

Well, guys, here I am, the two-headed ogre. I'm one of those horrible people you have been talking about. Yes, all my dulcimers have a 6-1/2 fret. Yes, I even have a couple that have a 1-1/2 fret (including a bass dulcimer, also an abberation). Yes I do play almost exclusively in DAD. Yes, for the music I play, a dulcimer without a 6-1/2 fret is basically useless. Yes, I play using full chording. No, I do not use a noter. No, I do not feel my dulcimer is chromatic, nor is it a 'lap mandolin'. And, if you want to get really technical, the dulcimer I usually play is a six-string, which gives me more bass for all those full chords. Do I want to, and do I play traditional music? Yes, I do. That's where this instrument started and I don't intend to leave that. However, I do not intend to be limited in what I do and play only 'dulcimer music'. One of the real joys of the dulcimer is that it is so versatile that it can be used for a great many things and in a great many ways. I prefer to use it to express the beauty in many different forms of music and not just to demonstrate a traditional style of music. I want to see where the instrument can go and I don't feel a couple of innovations are corruptive. I think you'll find the vast majority of the top flight players are using that horrible 6-1/2 fret and doing some very interesting things with their instruments. C'mon folks, there's enough griping going on between us and those people who play 'real' instruments, we don't need more here. I am very happy there are people who want to keep the traditional approach alive, we really need you. Just don't tell me that I'm wrong for not doing the same. We're all different. And although I'm there right now, be careful of high horses. They can sometimes buck.
Last edited by SMO on Wed Jun 12, 2002 8:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby jakstall » Wed Jun 12, 2002 9:15 am

I guess I fall into both camps at times, and I don't see them as incompatible. Instruments are made to be played and enjoyed. If doing that means they evolve over time, so be it. Some people will always stretch the limits, often making adjustments to the tools to facilitate that. That is a good thing. However, one of the beauties of the mountain dulcimer is that is easy to play for even a beginner largely due to its diatonic nature. I believe it is Bob McNally on his Strum Stick site who says this means there are no wrong notes. If someone wants additional frets for their instrument I don't have a problem with it unless and until they proliferate far enough that the beginner or less talented player is intimidated and kept away from the instrument and the resulting joy of making music yourself. I've seen some really neat things done with instruments using the additional frets and a variety of chording techniques. I admire those who use them and really like a lot of the results. I've also seen people do amazing things without any chording and sometimes on dulcimers without even a 6+ fret. I saw Lloyd Wright at a dulcimer festival in Louisiana and it was very encouraging to notice that a national champion didn't always use chording and his dulcimer was pretty much a traditional instrument (he did have a 6+ fret), especially considering the amazing music he produced. I do like to see performers, advanced players and especially workshop instructors use more or less traditional dulcimers and techniques in addition to whatever "fancy" stuff, whether additional frets or chording, they use. It keeps the novice and less talented from feeling like they have to do all of the extras to enjoy the instrument. Most dulcimer folks I've seen are really good at helping others and making the music accessible. My point is that there is room for everyone in the dulcimer tent, but let's be careful to keep the tent flap open. Music is meant to be enjoyed. Music is enjoyed most through participating in the music. Dulcimers and other "simple" instruments help promote that participation.
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Postby spoonsman » Thu Jun 13, 2002 8:32 am

This is turning into an excellent discussion--maybe bringing up ideas that people ought to think about. Not so much to choose a side but to expand perspectives as to what could be done. One term that makes me cringe is "dulcimer music." I don't think there is such a thing. There is music played on the dulcimer and music played on the dulcimer can have a different flavor than let's said the same music played by a dance band. Some kinds of music are better suited for the dulcimer, but not dulcimer music.Wink I agree the tent should be broad enough that we can all share and grow as players or whatever we want to be called. Just as an historical note. A few years ago my father-in-law in Nebraska found and bought to roughly make dulcimers. Supposedly they were made in the 1950's by someone in Arkansas for a man in Nebraska. They are set up for four equal distance strings. The fretting under the melody and first middle strings is diatonic and only extend under those strings. The fretting under the second middle string and bass are the in between notes. Thus the dulcimers are chromatic. I guess the point is that making a dulcimer chromatic is not a new idea.Wink
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Chromatic Diatonic Dulcimers

Postby Steve Smith » Thu Jun 13, 2002 9:39 am

There are other ways of making 'real' dulcimers chromatic, too, just by changing the tuning. I play with four equidistant strings, normally in D-A-d-d. If I change the tuning to D-A-C#-d then I have a fully chromatic dulcimer without having any extra frets than the now-commonplace 6-1/2 fret. This tuning allows some very beautiful chords, albeit not ones found in traditional fiddle or bagpipe tunes! It also allows me to find any (chromatic) note on the melody strings, even though it's a diatonic fret layout. Janita Baker sometimes tunes in D-A-A#-d for 'missing' notes, although most of what I've heard her play only uses the A# for occasional individual notes, not as parts of chords. (Not exactly on the 'Tuning to Begin Learning' topic, I suppose, but we're all learning, aren't we!)
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Postby SMO » Thu Jun 13, 2002 3:56 pm

I used the term 'dulcimer music' because I have heard people use it for the type of music they play. They tended to stay with the music they had started out with and hadn't looked for different styles of music. I have also known of groups that tended to stick to one style of music and insisted it be played only one way, even to the individual song. I think both things are a true shame.
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roots

Postby KenH » Thu Jun 13, 2002 6:31 pm

Lots of folks use the term "dulcimer music" for Appalachian ballads etc that came over from Scotland/England/Ireland, and both black and white religious music, and were modified by time and distance -- songs such as those in the movie Songcatcher and to a certain extent those in Oh Brother Where Art Thou... After you've heard Bob Force doing modern American folkrock, plus others playing blues, jazz, Carribean/island tunes, Bonnie Carol's South American influence, etc. "dulcimer music" as a phrase ceases to have any meaning except in the sense of "any music you can play on a dulcimer"EEK!
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tunings

Postby Guest » Tue Jul 30, 2002 10:25 am

Hi All, I play mostly in DAD and CGC. I started in DAA but soon started looking for something else. As I looked through books I noticed that about 90% of the stuff was in mix. so thats where I started. Then I learned all the chord shapes and am really comfortable playing in this style so rarely change. There are certain songs but not many. I think if I played in DGD awhile I could get that chord pattern down, but just havent. I love harp tunes and Irish tunes which are most often in D and G anyway so Mix is fine for me there. As for the major /minor question. It is a little confusing playing the dulcimer with numbered frets. But in a scale do,re me,fa,so,la,ti,do the 1or do, the 4 or fa, the 5 or so, and 7 or ti are all M, 2-3-6 are m. But on the dulcimer the fret numbers are different because open is one. So the majors are open,3,4,6 and the minors are 2,3,5 and 6+. I use my baratone in AEA for singing or sometimes my Ginger in GDG. So if I need a different key I just capo of on one of these because once you learn the chord shapes , they are all the same when you put a capo on so no thinking involved , which is good for me,lol.
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Postby lindabrockinton » Tue Jul 30, 2002 10:31 am

Hi yall, That last post was from me, got messed up , sorry. Linda Brockinton
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Postby SMO » Thu Sep 05, 2002 3:57 pm

True, you will lose the frets below the capo, but that's not really a problem because we very rarely use the extreme high end of the fretboard as it is. The capo gives you a new key without losing that much range. The major reason for using a capo is to change keys in a matter of a few seconds instead of retuning two or three times between a few songs. This especially makes a difference while performing. You don't want to waste time between songs retuning. Our club and performing group uses capoes at least once if not two or three times a performance and several times when jamming.
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Postby missy » Fri Sep 06, 2002 7:09 am

plus, if you are in a jam with other instruments, you'll be playing in the keys of G and A a lot, and the jam isn't going to sit back and wait while you retune between songs. The only real drawback of using a capo is you loose a little of the sustain of your instrument, but I've never found that a real problem. If you are anywhere near, come to Harmony Harvest festival put on by the above Mike Oliver on Sept 21st in Lancaster, OH (free plug - eh, Miike?!). Tom and I will be teaching a class on using the capo to play songs in different keys. Missy
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Postby SMO » Fri Sep 06, 2002 8:00 am

Thanks, Missy, I appreciate that. If anyone is around the Lancaster, Ohio area Sept 20-22, come on over to the fairgrounds. It's posted under the events section.
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Postby Steve Smith » Fri Sep 06, 2002 9:42 am

I just have to put my two cents in, again, for using chording to avoid having to use a capo. It lets you change keys on the fly, and you don't lose any of the notes ''below'' the capo. Quoting from a post I made on another thread: I tend use a chord where I would have put a capo, and then use mostly my thumb for the melody. I do change the chord where appropriate in the song, but still use my thumb for the melody notes. An advantage to this over a capo is that you can now go lower that you could with the capo. For example, when I'm playing in G (tuned to D-A-dd) I start with a basic 3-3-3 chord. But when the song calls for a D chord, I can go down to 2-3-4 or some other variation, all the way down to 0-0-0. If I were using a capo, the lowest D chord would be 4-3-4.
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