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Beginner player starting DAA or DAd?

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Hi, everyone,

I just completed my first dulcimer build, a 4 string with the double melody, and now want to learn how to play it!  I have played acoustic guitar for about 3 decades, and a couple years ago picked up the mandolin.  Anyway, I have been reading about basically the two tunings of DAA and DAd. Wondering which you recommend for someone just starting out.  Do you use the same strings for tuning one way or the other, or do you need different strings for the two different tunings?  Any recommended first songs to start learning?  


Edited by Guitarpeggio
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I recommend DAd tuning to start as it's become the most common and you'll find more resources (tab/workshop/videos) for learning it.  Having the middle and melody strings tuned differently also gives access to more notes without moving your hand by playing across strings and allows for playing wider chord voicing.  On DAA the middle and melody string gauges are often the same.  For DAd, the melody is usually a lighter gauge.  

You can use a string gauge calculator to dial in the exact gauges for your instrument based on VSL, but some common sets of gauges for DAd are .024, .013, .011 or .025, .014, .012.  I'd lean to slightly lighter gauges on the double melody string as it requires twice as much pressure to fret as a single string of the same gauge.

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You use the same strings for DAd and DAA.    You'll find people passionate about BOTH DAd and DAA.   I've played for decades primarily in DAA but shifting to minor tunings like DAC and DAG when the tune calls for it.

Admin is right in that there is a ton of tab written for DAd.  However -- very little of that tab actually requires the use of the 6+ or 13+ frets so touted in that tuning. -- and those tunes can be play just as easily in DAA.

TWO factors you need to figure in to things.  
1.  What KIND of music are you looking to play?  Old time folk and bluegrass?  Celtic?  Hymns and other religious music?  Americana?   Some of the modern songs in those genres have very complicated structures.
2.  What TECHNIQUE are you going to use:  Modern 3 Finger Chord-Melody; or more traditional Fingerdancing or Noter & Drone

I recommend that everyone start learning the dulcimer by picking out on the Melody string(s) a handful of simple tunes imbedded in your childhood memory.  Tunes like Twinkle Twinkle, Frere Jacques, Three Blind Mice, etc.   Tunes you know.  Once you have half a dozen of those tunes down pat on the Melody string with the drones added in, then you can think about other things.

From the guitar and mando you are familiar with chords, but the Chord-Melody style is not the original, traditional sound of the dulcimer.  And from your guitar standpoint the chords are sorta weak -- only 3 notes not 5 or 6...    I admit to being a strong advocate for celebrating the dulcimer as a distinct instrument -- playing the dulcimer traditionally -- and leaving those chords to your guitar and mando.  

Edited by NoterMan
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There are advantages and disadvantages to both tunings. With the DAA tuning you seldom have to play any melody notes on the middle string as the "D" scale begins on the third fret. With the DAD tuning you can play chord/melody style in a more interesting manor than in DAA. You can play noter/drone style in both tunings but in the DAD you sometimes need to get your noter on to the middle string to get the melody note you want. Chords are not as rich and full as you find on guitar since they are often only two notes; sometimes you will get three notes in the chord.

Have fun with you dulcimer.


"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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