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EverythingDulcimer

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The dulcimer can be tuned to ANY of the 8 keys:  A, B, C, D, E, F, G and their sharps or flats.   However, any given set of string gauges will only allow the instrument to be tuned to 3 or 4 keys without strings breaking or being too floppy to sound correctly. 

Generally speaking, the instrument is tuned to a particular key by tuning the bass string to that note.  If you are playing/singing for yourself or with others who agree, then you all tune to the same keynote.   Most dulcimers are tuned and played together in the key of D -- the D just one note higher than middle C on a piano.   The middle drone and melody strings are then tuned relative to that bass string.  The middle drone is usually tuned a musical fifth higher than the bass.  In the key of D, that would be A.  The melody string can then be tuned to a variety of notes depending on the nature of the music being played.  Most commonly the melody string is tuned to A, or to d -- one octave higher than the bass D.  These tunings are expressed as DAA and DAd,  or as 1-5-5  and 1-5-8 which represent the spacings of the notes. 

Because of the diatonic nature of the fretboard, the dulcimer will do a great deal of transposing of notes from one key to another.  If you have the tabulature, or work out which notes to play for a particular tune in a specific key and tuning, then the same frets will play the song whether you are tuned to DAA or its other key equivalents.  AEE, BFF, CGG, DAA, EBB, FCC, and GDD  for example all play the same tune with the same fret numbers.   For example, the tune Frere Jacques can be expressed as:

3..4..5..3
3..4..5..3
5..6..7
5..6..7
7..8..7..6..5.....3
7..8..7..6..5.....3
3..0..3
3..0...3

Edited by NoterMan

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On thing of which you should be aware is that you may need to change strings to safely tune to some of the tunings. Going from D to G may require a different size string. Tuning up you may break a string. Tuning down, the string may get too floppy.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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