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Reasons NOT To Get a Chromatic


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I am looking to purchase a new dulcimer and am considering getting a chromatic.  It seems the benefits of being able to play any note within the dulcimer's range is a big plus, but I am looking for reasons why I would not want to get a chromatic.  Can anyone provide some insight here?

For instance, does having a chromatic make it more difficult to play classic dulcimer songs, is it generally more confusing, etc...?

Convince me why getting a chromatic is not the way to go, and why a diatonic is better.

Thanks!

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Posted (edited)

It all depends upon your repertoire. Do you play mostly contemporary music? Do you want your dulcimer to sound like a guitar? Then go for the chromatic. Do you enjoy playing the old time modal tunes of the mountains? Are you able to retune your dulcimer to play in different modes? Do you enjoy the rich history of America's instrument? Then go with a diatonic fretboard.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Edited by KWL
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I started out with diatonic and have only dabbled occasionally with chromatic.   Being familiar with the fret pattern on a diatonic, I didn't have a lot of difficulty adjusting to playing on chromatic but there are tradeoffs.

The extra frets (there are only 4 more in addition to a diatonic with a 6+ fret) weren't a huge barrier for me, but they do require more precise playing.  I often play a little further back from the fret when playing some chords than I probably should but on a diatonic that's less of an issue as long as it's not buzzing.  Visually a chromatic lacks the wide/narrow spaces which can be a helpful guide.  Diatonic is a little more forgiving/intuitive there.

The biggest sound difference I notice is in slides.  On a diatonic all the notes except (6 or 6+) will be in the scale so slides sound a bit different on chromatic.  Often I think the diatonic slides sound better in the music I play.

For playing some genres like Jazz, being able to change to any key during the same song or getting 7th, diminished, 9th, etc. chords in any key is something that would be a struggle on a diatonic instrument.  It's possible to get some of it with alternate tunings on a diatonic dulcimer, but like guitar, chord shapes on a chromatic are completely movable and will play the same type of chord anywhere on the fretboard, which is handy if you might need to play in any of the 12 keys.

For playing fiddle tunes or Appalachian/European/Medieval folk music, the a diatonic is perfect for that.  Most of the repertoire usually stays within a key/mode, so at most you may need to transpose the music or retune the dulcimer.

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8 hours ago, KWL said:

It all depends upon your repertoire. Do you play mostly contemporary music? Do you want your dulcimer to sound like a guitar? Then go for the chromatic. Do you enjoy playing the old time modal tunes of the mountains? Are you able to retune you dulcimer to play in different modes? Do you enjoy the rich history of America's instrument? Then sit with a diatonic fretboard.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Can you not play songs written for a diatonic fretboard on a chromatic dulcimer?

That's the point I keep coming back to.  Having a chromatic dulcimer does not appear to limit the types of songs that can be played, so why wouldn't someone want one?

If a player currently plays mostly diatonic songs, they can still play those diatonic songs just fine on a chromatic.  But having the chromatic gives the option for playing non-diatonic songs should the player wish to do so in the future.

Admin made a good observation about slides sounding different on a chromatic.  That is a great point, and is exactly what I'm looking for.  Other arguments like, "it's not traditional", "it looks  or sounds like a guitar", etc... are not what I'm looking for as they don't actually explain why the chromatic is not the best choice from a purely technical musical point of view.

Any other input like the slide observation is highly appreciated, thanks!

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The OP Said 

"Can you not play songs written for a diatonic fretboard on a chromatic dulcimer?  That's the point I keep coming back to.  Having a chromatic dulcimer does not appear to limit the types of songs that can be played, so why wouldn't someone want one?

You can play diatonic songs on a chromatic fretboard.  BUT.  If you're playing from dulcimer tabulature rather than SMN, the fret numbering is completely different and finding the diatonic frets among all the chromatic frets becomes an issue.  You can't read tab fret nubers 3-4-8  and just count up 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6...  to find those diatonic frets on a chromatic fretboard.  Look at the picture:  

 


 

Dia-chromatic fretboard.jpg

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Dulcimaniac, of course you can play diatonic songs on a chromatically fretted dulcimer. If you play noter style, then are going to sound differently because the slides from one note to another will be interrupted by the chromatic fret. If you finger dance or play chords you will probably not notice any difference. It sounds to me like you want a chromatically fretted instrument. Don't overthink it. Just go for it.

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