Questions about tuning acronyms

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Questions about tuning acronyms

Postby DigitalGee » Mon Oct 30, 2017 3:01 pm

Hi everyone,

My first post! I am a life-long piano/keyboard player, with modest skills. (I like what I play, but I've never performed for others.) A recent trip to Apple Country not too far from Sacramento, I discovered a vendor playing the hammered dulcimer and thought that might be something I would enjoy. I have Scottish and Irish routes and ancestors from the Carolinas, so no doubt they enjoyed the wonderful music of the area way back when.

Came home, and began to research hammered dulcimers, and learned they are just too expensive for me at this point - not being sure I would take the time necessary to learn. (I'm semi-retired now and comfortably lazy.) Then I stumbled on the mountain dulcimer and fell in love! To top it all off, I found there's a store in Reno, Nevada that specializes in dulcimers, banjos, cigar box guitars, mandolins, and all kinds of related things. Here's the link, if you're interested. I bought a beautiful TK O'Brien dulcimer and have been addicted to YouTube videos ever since, as I start to learn how to play it.

Ok, enough rambling. My question has to do with the acronyms (?) or notation for tuning the instrument. I came across DAD, Dadd, DADD, and so on and I'm confused. I think it is referring to what note to tune the strings to in this fashion: D = the "d" below middle C, A = the "A" below middle C, and the second D or dd refers to the "D" above middle C. Is that correct? And what's the difference between DAD and DADD? Is that just to indicate a four string dulcimer (like mine)? First initial is the lowest string, last initial(s) are the higher strings (closer to me), right?

One other thing: I read piano music easily and readily, and can pick out melodies on the piano from sheet music. Can I use this sheet music to play the dulcimer? I'm sure that's been asked and answered many times already, but in my own searching around this site, it's still not clear to me. Forgive me for asking just a beginner question!
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Re: Questions about tuning acronyms

Postby KenH » Mon Oct 30, 2017 3:52 pm

'Way back in the Dark Ages (1960s & early 70s) the notation for tunings listed the string notes in order, from closest to farthest -- AAD for example. Sometime in the 70s, for whatever reason, most dulcimer writers changed from that string order to bass-mid-melody -- DAA. Except for a few holdouts, this is the notation used today.

The dulcimer normally has 3 courses of strings -- bass, middle drone and melody. Any course can be doubled or even tripled. Although a dulcimer may have a doubled course, most people do not list the strings separately, unless the two strings are tuned differently. We mostly do not write DAAA for a tuning used on a dulcimer with a doubled melody string. If, however, the melody couplet are not tuned to the same note, then the individual strings are listed -- DAdA for example.

Upper and lower case letters... Octave lettering changes at C, not at the A at the start of an octave: A', B', C, D, E, F, G, A, B, c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c'

In piano notation, C4 is ‘middle c’. The low D which we use as the basis of all the D tunings, is D3 – almost an entire octave below middle c. The middle drone string we commonly use is A3 and the melody string high d we use is d4.

DAD would have both the bass and the melody string tuned to the same note in the same octave -- physically impossible unless the bass string and the melody string are both the same heavy gauge. By using the notation DAd we are telling the reader that the two Ds are, in fact, an octave apart and the melody string is not the same gauge as the bass string.

Of course you can use SMN (standard Musical Notation) sheet music to play the dulcimer (I don't, but that's me...) Being able to read SMN will give you an advantage in being able to assess the time, tempo and melody. Because I don't read SMN, I have to strumble through Tabulature, or listen to a song a hundred times or so until I can sing/hum/whistle the tune -- then I can pick it out on the melody string of my dulcimer...
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Re: Questions about tuning acronyms

Postby Skip » Mon Oct 30, 2017 4:13 pm

Welcome to our world.
All 3 are used and refer to the D Mixolydian tuning [the only C# is on the middle string unless you have the 6+/13+ frets], not the key of the tune. The conventional spelling is DAdd/DAd [4 strings/3 strings]. The 1st D is the bass [D3], 2nd is the middle [A3] and 3/4 is the melody [D4]. The small D is used to signify an octave change. If you had a bass MD then tuning would probably be spelled D'A'D or just bass DAd which implies an octave lower. This is called a 1-5-8 tuning [root, fifth, octave].
Piano SMN can be used, primarily for the melody/vocals. The chord names are there but the player, you, will need to work out how to include them.

Another online resource for the MD is FOTMD [Friends of the MD].
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Re: Questions about tuning acronyms

Postby kwl » Mon Oct 30, 2017 6:56 pm

Welcome to Everything Dulcimer, Digitalgee. Since you read SMN, you should be aware that many songs will need to be transposed to the key of D if you choose to play either DAA or DAd. Of course you can always retune your dulcimer strings to play CGG or for other keys. You may need to change strings to reach some keys. When you change tunings the notes on the fret board change; e.g., changing from D to C, the note at the first fret changes from E to D. In playing from SMN you need to be aware of the shift. Have fun on your dulcimer journey.

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."
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Re: Questions about tuning acronyms

Postby DigitalGee » Tue Oct 31, 2017 1:10 pm

Thanks, everyone. You cleared it up for me! Looking forward to many musical moments with my new dulcimer. :D
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