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Carolina Rockman

How To Become A Better Dulcimer Player - 3

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How To Become A Better Dulcimer Player 3

 

Finger Placement Economy of Motion

Is there a correct way to place your fingers when playing a song on a dulcimer? The short answer is, “Yes”. The long answer is, “It depends”. There are a number of factors that come into play when fingering a chord or melody note. First and foremost is the length of your fingers. Do you have long or short fingers? Although most dulcimers are of standard length, there are many out there that have a short scale fret board. This is ideal for people with short fingers. Most standard dulcimers come with a fret board length of 25”-27”. A short scale length can be 22”-23”. In order to achieve the greatest range of motion, one should use ALL the fingers of the fretting hand. Yes, that does include the pinky, which is almost never used by most players.

Economy of Motion

What is economy of motion? It is those techniques that minimize the motion/placement of your fingers when playing a song. Looking a sheet of tab and then playing that tab on your dulcimer requires you to look in two places. It is easy to get lost when positioning your fingers on the proper frets and then looking back to the tab. Memorization helps; however, you still have to place your finger/s on your fret board with an economy of motion. When playing a song for the first time, most dulcimer plays jump right in and start playing the tab in front of them. This is neither right or wrong. A better approach would be to determine which chords and melody notes you will be playing and how best to achieve economy of motion when doing so. Look for those difficult places in the tab and work out your finger placement before you tackle the entire song. We must ask ourselves, “Where should I place my finger/s to play this note/chord and where should I then place my fingers on the next note/chord by maintaining an economy of motion“. We are attempting to move our fingers as little as possible. As a general rule of thumb, I use my index finger when playing the 2nd fret on the melody or middle or bass strings and those frets below the 2nd. If I am playing the 2nd fret followed by frets above it, I usually use my index finger (sometimes my pinky) on the 2nd fret. This leaves my middle and index fingers and thumb to play frets higher than the 2nd .

 

Finger Placement - Chords

A good starting point for your finger placement would be on the first fret (1-1-1) I would suggest that your ring finger go on the melody string: your middle finger on the middle string; and your index finger on the base string. The leaves your thumb available to play up and down the melody string as far as it can reach, to include the middle and bass strings, again, as far as you can reach. This positioning will give you many combinations of frets, i.e., 1-1-1(Em),1-0-1(A), 1-1-0(E7), 1-2-1(Edim7), etc. etc. If your tab starts at the second or higher fret, use the same finger placement that you did at the first fret. You can form a bar chord, 2-2-2, 3-3-3 and work your thumb and other fingers up and down the fret board as far as you can reach. Same principle for higher melody notes. Finger placements and chord transitions should be as smooth as possible. This comes with practice.

 

Finger Placement - Melody Notes

If you have a run of notes that ascend the fret board, start with your pinky or ring finger at the lowest position and use your middle finger, index finger, and thumb to make your run upwards. Same principle for runs that descend. Use your thumb at the highest note followed by your index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. The dulcimer does not have a lot of sustain. To gain maximum sustain, where possible, keep one or two fingers on the fret board when transitioning from one note/chord to another. As an example: 3-1-0 to 2-1-0, keep your middle finger on the 1st fret, middle string. 3-1-0 to 3-1-1; keep your thumb on the 3rd fret, your middle finger on the 1st fret, and add your index finger to the 1st fret on the bass string. Summary Are finger/chord positions fixed in stone? Absolutely not! Whatever works for you will be just fine. My suggestions are just that: Suggestions. Your ultimate goal is to become a better dulcimer player. Perhaps my suggestions will help.

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