Forum Activity for @robin-clark

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
01/21/16 07:17:25PM
237 posts

How to tune wooden pegs


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Here's a couple of thoughts:

Try and get the string windings going from the middle of the peg towards the thicker peg head side.  That way the peg is pulled into the peg holes taper rather than outward.

I tune up a fraction higher than the pitch I want (just a few cents) then gently pull the string to lower the pitch a shade.

The bass string is the hardest to fine tune, so set this first and then tune the other strings to it.

Regarding your short scale groundhog - it may well sound better and be easier to tune with lighter strings tuned up to G (G,d,d) rather than heavier strings tuned down to D (D,A,A)

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
01/20/16 04:44:00PM
237 posts

Banjo tuning aAEAE to match cross-tuned fiddle


Adventures with 'other' instruments...

Thanks for the info Robert and Sean - much appreciated.  I love your A scale banjo Robert.  My banjo is a Essex and Cammeyer from around 1895 that I was given.  It has a short neck but 26" scale so the bridge position is a little closer to the tail than usual.  It was in a right mess when I got it but I've fixed it up so it's playable.  It will tune to a'AEae without a capo coz I've just done so!!!  I've just had a noodle around with some major and minor tunes in various modes from the tuning.  I'm starting to find my way around the tuning a little and it seems quite intuitive to play.  Here's a little medley I've just recorded to show its versatility (not smooth yet as I've only been paying the tuning for a day!):

 https://soundcloud.com/robin-clark-937720894/example-of-aaeae-tuning-20-jan-16

 

 


updated by @robin-clark: 01/20/16 04:47:17PM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
01/20/16 12:32:27PM
237 posts

Banjo tuning aAEAE to match cross-tuned fiddle


Adventures with 'other' instruments...

Strumelia:
aAEAE... you are talking about on the banjo?   Tuning the first and third strings both to the same note in the same ocatave?  Tuning the 4th and 2nd strings to the same note in the same octave?   Are you talking about generally in the same octave as standard banjo tuning, or an octave lower?   On the dulcimer I think cross tuning variations of GDGD/AEAE etc is not so unusual?  I'm confused as to whether you are asking about tunings for the banjo or the dulcimer.

Hi Strumelia,


I'm talking about banjo tuning (which is why I put the post in Adventures with Other Instruments).  The tuning is a'AEae  From standard A tuning aEAc#e (g tuning with capo at 2nd fret) the 5th string stays at a'; the 4th string goes down from E to A (quite slack); the 3rd string goes down from A to E (quite slack); the 2nd string goes down from c# to a; the 1st string stays at e.  Basically, the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings are an octave lower than each of the strings on an AEAE cross-tuned fiddle.  It is no different to the Dwight Diller tuning g'GDgd for Yew Piney Mountain, but capo'd up a tone to the key of A - although I could probably get into it without the capo on my banjo.



Randy - Thanks for your dulcimer clip and tunings info.  I expected that you had been all over this tuning for years !


 


Robin

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
01/20/16 06:31:25AM
237 posts

Banjo tuning aAEAE to match cross-tuned fiddle


Adventures with 'other' instruments...

I know that there are a few good banjo players here on FOTMD and I'm interested if anyone knows more history about or has played banjo in aAEAE tuning basically to match a cross-tuned fiddle.

I stumbled across the tuning yesterday.  last weekend a friend sent me a link to Dwight Diller playing Yew Piney Mountain in gGDGD so I retuned and had a go at catching the tune.  Last night another friend said he played the tune on fiddle so I went round to his place and he had the music (not sure whose version?) in the key of A for cross tuned fiddle AEAE.  So I said I'd simply re-tune my old banjo to match his fiddle and try and play along.  After messing around with the tune for a while I asked what else he could play in cross-tuning.  So we set off on Cripple Creek, June Apple, Cluck Old Hen, OJC, Shady Grove, Buffalo Gals and a couple of others.  What struck me was how simple it was to find those melodies from this banjo tuning (basically it is the same fingering as fiddle or the top two strings on mandolin with drones behind) and, more interestingly, how the tuning 'worked' for major, minor and mixolidian mode tunes because all the open strings were just root and 5th.

In looking on the internet for information on this tuning I found this on Zeppmusic:

aAEAE

A-minor modal tuningShorty Ralph Reynolds, Want to Go to Cuba But I Can't Go Now ( "Old-Time Banjo in America" ). On sleeve notes for this recording, Art Rosenbaum says that Reynolds learned this archaic tuning, dating from the Spanish American War, from his father.

I'm not sure that the description 'A-minor modal tuning' is really correct as the tuning is neither major or minor?  I think it is quite interesting from a traditional dulcimer perspective as I certainly saw opportunities in the tuning because of my experience playing the dulcimer.  If I was an Appalachian fiddler and banjo player I think that I would also drift towards a tuning that would be so familiar to me.

Have any of you used this tuning or have any more information about it?  As I managed to 'accidently' find aAEAE simply because I was sitting in with a cross-tuned fiddler I'm darn sure that many, many other players would have stumbled on it too (I found one guy on banjo hangout who use it).

Robin

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
01/08/16 04:59:02AM
237 posts

How to tune wooden pegs


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

I use wooden pegs on many dulcimers and enjoy the kinaesthetic process of tuning. It sort of connects me to the instrument before I start playing. I tend to tune by ear as it is easier than using a tuner. Most of the instruments I have are not in equal temperament so a tuner is not accurate anyway.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
01/01/16 01:26:18PM
237 posts

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL FOMTD MEMBERS!


OFF TOPIC discussions

I got to spend New Year's Eve with a few friends in a cabin up in the woods a few miles above our village.  A lovely place to see in 2016 !!!!

Happy New Year to you all HUG

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
12/15/15 05:15:33AM
237 posts

Tinny sound


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Hi Terry,

Getting natural sounding recordings is not easy and, unfortunately, it seems to be that we have to spend some money to do so.  It has taken me a few years of trying out (and wasting cash!) on different systems to get something that I'm reasonably happy with.  My system will not suit everyone because I wanted something portable that gave a clean, clear, strong initial WAV track that was warm and not too coloured by the initial recording chain.  The goal for me was to get a perfectly natural initial recording that then required just minimal mixing/mastering.

The system I use at present is a Rode NT1a mic through an in-line Phantom Fethead pre-amp (20db of ultra clean lift) into a Zoom H5 Handy recorder in mono WAV that also supplies the 48v phantom power for the mic and pre-amp.  I mount the mic' at roughly the same position my ears are so what I'm hearing and the mic is hearing is the same.  I have the Zoom H5 pre-amp turned down to around 3 or 4 on the dial and never above 5 - that way I don't introduce any noise floor.  I process the track in audacity on my laptop which usually involves normalising the level, splitting the mono track into stereo (or using a pseudo stereo plug-in) and adding a little compression (saving as a .mp3 for upload to SoundCloud also adds compression).  The only e/q I tend to do is to roll a little off the top but I actually think that the headphones I'm using at present for mastering are a little top sensitive so they are the next item due for replacement!  Ideally I'd use monitor speakers for mastering but I need to have the kit portable so it has to be headphones.  Unlike the recording of 'Clocks' above where I really played around with the sound during mixing, the end result I'm usually looking for is as natural a sound as possible that's good and strong but with a very low noise floor (no hiss or rumble at all in the background).  Here is a track I recorded in my lounge using exactly this process a couple of days ago.

jrSoundCloud_embed: item_id parameter required

Like I said, what I use is not going to suit everyone, and I am constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of the recordings I produce so it is an on-going project.  There is a group here on FOTMD concerning home recording and it is worth looking through that to see what other folks have used and had success with:

http://fotmd.com/flint-hill/group/33/home-studio-recording

Robin 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
12/14/15 06:32:38PM
237 posts

Tinny sound


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Terry Wilson:
Hello, I am hoping someone can offer me some help on this subject, a tinny sound or perhaps a ringing sound, on the middle and melody string on my McSpadden dulcimer.   I've tried different tunings, strumming and picking up and down the fret board, and not stroking the strings (or string) as hard.   I just made a video this morning that I am waiting to finish posting on You Tube, then I plan to post it on the forum under videos.  The song is Shenandoah.  The chords are so pretty, but the tinny or ringing sound of the strings mentioned ruins the whole process.  It's kind of funny, when I play this song I don't hear the bad sounds, and my wife says the same thing.  But when I record, it's very obvious.   Perhaps I should change strings?  Strings are about a year old, with lots of playing.  If it makes a difference, the strings are the same kind that McSpadden installed when new.   I would appreciate any suggestions.  Maybe when the video posts this will help. Merry Christmas, Terry

I've just listened to your video Terry.  Lovely playing!!!

...The chords are so pretty, but the tinny or ringing sound of the strings mentioned ruins the whole process.  It's kind of funny, when I play this song I don't hear the bad sounds, and my wife says the same thing.  But when I record, it's very obvious....

What I hear Terry is a awful lot of compression on your recording and a loss of highs and lows - plus some unintended reverb.  It sounds like your mic'/camera has an automatic volume system that is levelling off all the dynamics and perhaps messing up the timing between the channels.  So basically the little noises the strings make are being amplified and the loud noises squashed.  If the instrument sounds OK to you when you are playing it then the problem lays with your recording system.  All sound recording systems have their own 'voice' as do all playback systems (headphones or speakers).  Add to that the fact that the dulcimer is very difficult to record due to its timbre and lack of acoustic volume and you have quite a few problems to overcome.  It just isn't that easy to get good recordings of a dulcimer - and when you do you have to make choices about how you want it to sound.  For example: Here is a recording of a McSpadden that's pretty much the same as yours.  I actually recorded it on a small hand held recorder balanced on the end of my bed - but then mastered it afterwards in audacity.

jrSoundCloud_embed: item_id parameter required

Now that McSpadden doesn't sound like the recording and if you were sitting next to me when I recorded that track what you hear in the recording is not what you'd have heard live.

When we hear a dulcimer played live it will sound a certain way but as soon as that instrument is recorded the sound we hear is coloured by the recording device, the processing and the playback device.  Basically it is your recording device and (unwanted) processing of the recording that is effecting what you hear when you record your instrument.  The instrument itself, when listened to live and acoustically, may be perfectly OK.

Robin


updated by @robin-clark: 12/14/15 06:47:29PM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
12/14/15 09:48:02AM
237 posts

Warren May Dulcimers, Feedback?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

John Shaw:
I'd like to add my voice to those praising Warren May dulcimers.  I bought a 1990 one (all poplar) just over a year ago.  Mine is also in just intonation (very similar, though not identical, to the fret spacing on my Homer Ledford), and has the most glorious, rich sound - mellow, but fairly loud by dulcimer standards.  It's also, by some distance, the lightest dulcimer I have - 1lb 2oz!  Like Robin says, it's really made for DAA or other 1-5-5 tuning, though it also likes unison "bagpipe" tuning, DAC and DGD. I love it - dulcimers just don't come better than this!

Hi John,

Those other tunings also working in JI is not a surprise.  The only 'problem' with just intonation (well it is a problem for DAd players) is changing the first fret from being the 6th of the scale, which is how it is set for DAA, to it being the second of the scale in DAd.  That's because the pitch between the nut and first fret is 182 cents but it would need to be 204 (200 in ET) for DAd to work.  For a similar reason DAG dorian will not work but DAC Aeolian is fine.  DGD simply reverses the drones but leaves the Ionian scale starting at the 3rd fret.  And bagpipe tuning still is Ionian starting at the 3rd fret but with 5th drones.  Mixolidian in bagpipe tuning is quite interesting because it doesn't sound 'bad' but the intervals are very different from Ionian.

One thing I've still to work out is if each of the modes has its own just intonation with only Ionian and Aeolian correctly 'fitting' the same fret intonation, or if they all should sound as they play from Ionian just intonation?

 


updated by @robin-clark: 12/14/15 09:49:26AM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
12/14/15 05:38:29AM
237 posts

Warren May Dulcimers, Feedback?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

I have one from 1980, which has the 'old' scale.  The frets are set in just intonation (like older Homer Ledford dulcimers) and so the scale is just beautiful in DAA tuning for either melody drone or some DAA chord playing.  It is my very favourite fret intonation.  Beyond that, the whole instrument is wonderful.  A lovely light built, great workmanship and a rich, resonant tone - truly a musician's delight to play.  Some folks don't like wooden tuners, the generally higher actions on these instruments and the intonation of the earlier May's which will not play in DAd.  Consequently, the prices are often lower than they should be for a musical instrument of this quality.

Whether the instrument has the older or more contemporary fret scale it is worth having one in your collection - just tune and play it accordingly.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
11/30/15 12:35:34PM
237 posts

I just bought a 27 year old dulcimer and I have some questions


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

It is difficult to tell from the photos but you may have the melody strings a little twisted where they pass over each other.  Getting as straight a line as possible from the white string spacer to the tuners may smooth up things a little.  Also, those tuners are not that easy to use.  They work on friction and the little screw on the ends of them sets how stiff they are to turn.  You need to set them so they turn easy but will still hold the strings at the pitch you want.  It takes a little trial and error to get that screw tension correct.

The first fret is actually a 'zero fret' - this is quite a common set-up on dulcimers.  The white 'nut' just spaces the strings correctly as they cross the zero fret.  All in all, the instrument looks lovely and should play just fine once you have the tuners sorted to the correct tension.  If you continue to struggle with the tuners then a guitar luthier should be able to swap them for either guitar or banjo tuners with gears.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
10/28/15 10:08:31PM
237 posts

Tell us about your VERY FIRST dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

This was my first dulcimer - a TK O'Brian.  I played it for a couple of years and then used it as a loaner.  Eventually, someone I loaned it to fell in love with it and bought it from me.  I found out that the dulcimer was actually built for TK O'Brian by the Hagan family in Ozark.  That dulcimer had proved such a good starting instrument for me that I asked the Hagen's to make the Red Kite model for my shop.  I think we are up around 120 folks having now started out their own dulcimer playing journey over here in the UK with Red Kites.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
09/26/15 04:10:49AM
237 posts

Newbie String Questions (and Hello!)


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Regarding an unwound bass string - Noter drone players may use an unwound bass string of 18-20 gauge plain steel (guitar, banjo or piano wire).  This string is never fretted but used as a drone.  And used this way a plain bass string produces the high silvery timbre many noter drone players want from certain instruments in their collections.  I use plain gauge bass strings on some of my noter drone specific instruments (usually made from piano wire).  If you do intend to fret a thick plain gauge string at a relatively low tension then the intonation will be poor to awful earplug   Thick plain gauge strings also have reduced sustain compared to their wound counterparts - so if you intend to fret the string up the fretboard you'll tend to just get an out of tune 'thud'.

Regarding back fretting noise:  A slightly higher action at the nut or using a dampening finger kills this.

Regarding an octave lower bass - You can do this but will need quite a thick string (around 0.054) and higher action, plus wide nut and bridge slots.  However, the dulcimer body itself is not capable of producing the fundamental low frequency D2 (or D3 for that matter!!!!)  So the string will sound 'boxy' rather than rich.

Basically, the mountain dulcimer, at the body size, shape, VSL and pitch we use today was never designed for playing chords in DAd or CGc.  Our modern instruments are based on the size and shape of older instruments that were played in noter drone style with a different set-up, tunings and strings (for which the box size and shape sonically work well).  So contemporary chord melody playing is always going to be a compromise.  As you say, it is not expensive to play around with string gauges and set-ups so it is well worth you experimenting to find out the set-up that will suit your style of playing the best.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
09/13/15 07:54:04AM
237 posts

Positive game-changers in your progress


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

I started playing chord melody style in DAd, like the vast majority of players coming to the instrument.  The game changer for me was discovering pre-revival dulcimers and their playing styles.  I'm not a 'traditionalist', it is just that I love the aesthetics of playing with a noter and pre-revival strumming styles, particularly on old instruments specifically designed for melody against drone playing styles.  I've loved discovering all I can about early players and working on their styles to incorporate what I can into my own playing.  There's such a depth of musicality to this style of playing - and the moment of realising that noter drone playing was not limited to being 'a beginner's way to play' was the game changer that started my journey down this path.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/31/15 08:41:21PM
237 posts

Blackest Crow - Looking for a variety of versions


Dulcimer Resources:TABS/Books/websites/DVDs

I worked up an easy noter drone version of the tune in DAA a couple of years ago to play at the local open mic as a duet with the daughter of some friends - Ella Morgan.  We recorded the tune as we were learning it, to see how it was going.  I think I used my small bodied Ed Thomas repro strung with piano wire and played with noter and thumb strum to try and get as trad a sound as possible for the dulcimer part.

http://k001.kiwi6.com/hotlink/jvdd6bucnv/blackest_crow_-_ella_31_oct_13a.mp3

I've attached a TAB for this version.


The Blackest Crow .pdf - 22KB
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/27/15 06:20:23AM
237 posts

Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

In some respects you are right that a chromatic dulcimer would solve some tuning issues and give quite an element of flexibility.  But playability and timbre would still require different tunings.  Perhaps thinking about the banjo is a good comparison.  The 5 string banjo is a chromatic instrument and, in one style of playing, bluegrass, is pretty much always tuned to the key of G with a set tuning of gDGbd.  Bluegrass players will normally stick with this tuning and either use a capo or closed chord shapes to play in other keys.  Old time players however will use a LOT of different tunings on 5 string banjo - and most of that is to do with timbre and playability to get the sound and ease of playing for a particular tune.

 

And in many respects the dulcimer is like that.  some player will work everything from the one tuning (and a chromatic or extra frets could have an advantage there) whereas others will want to move the timbre around.  Personally, as noter drone player, extra frets get in the way of the timbre I want to produce and mess up the clarity I want.  Folks do comment that my playing sounds precise, and some of that precision comes from not having extra frets.  Also, the old dulcimers I play often dictate the tunings I use.  I have a staple fretted Ledford with wooden pegs which is fretted in just intonation and so it really is only happy with noter drone style of playing and in certain tunings.

 

The contemporary mountain dulcimer with full width frets, equal temperament and the 6+ is a great compromise and a very useful layout that is easy to play in a variety of styles and tunings, which is why it has stuck around as the 'standard' for mountain dulcimers for the last 40 years or so.  For something to last that long it has to have something going for it!!!!


updated by @robin-clark: 08/27/15 06:25:03AM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/27/15 04:51:08AM
237 posts

Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

5kwkdw3:
So for a thread with a life of it's own and to keep up with the OP, I have a question to those who are more familiar with the different tunings:  On an tuning where there might just be one string changed (I've seen some that I thought looked familiar, but the last string was changed to a C for instance in an otherwise key of D or G, or maybe A?),  What exactly does that do for a player?  Is it that one additional song can be played or chords achieved (I saw mention of greensleves being played courtesy of a alternate tuning) by tuning down or up that one string?  Or did I miss something and players are playing off of the very same tab, but now with a detuned string or sharpened one and the differing sounds that are produced?  Much like playing a song in G major but with the strings tuned in such a way as to allow a Bb to show up and make it sound in a minor key?  Is the later one a viable reason?

You can think about tunings changing in 4 ways - to shift the key, to shift the mode, to shift the timbre, to change the playability.

Many of the tunings folks have mentioned in this thread are simply a shift of key from another tuning.  In these instances all 3 strings are retuned by the same amount from the start point (from DAd to CGc for example) and the same TAB/fingering can be used to play a tune - the only difference being that you will now be playing in a different key.

Some of the tunings mentioned so far in this thread only re-tune the melody string from a start point (from DAd to DAC for example).  This is a shift in mode, and now you will need different TAB and different fingering to play tunes - also, you will have changed some of the scale notes available to you.  For example DAC allows us to shift the notes available from the D major scale (DAd) to the D minor scale (DAC) on the melody string.  Noter drone style players are the ones who tend to retune just the melody string most often to change mode.  Chord melody players can achieve a similar modal change using a capo - for example DAd (D major) with a capo at the 1st fret becomes an E minor tuning.

Some of the tunings mentioned in this thread are for the purpose of shifting the timbre of the instrument.  For example I use A,E,G, which is a very slack stringed low tuning to play some of ID Stampers tunes in order to get the string rattle and noter zip found on his recordings.  Or I may tune up to D# to get the attack that Jean Ritchie achieved on some of her recordings.  Many folks do find that certain tunings give their dulcimers quite a different tonal flavour, so rather than changing key or mode or inversion for the sake of singing pitch or to play with other instruments they will make the change because it achieves the 'sound' they are after on that particular dulcimer.  (Note: an inversion refers to switching the middle and bass string notes - often called a reverse tuning).

A few of the tunings mentioned in this thread have the purpose of changing the playability of instrument.  Marc (above) has mentioned some 1-3-5 tunings he uses.  These types of tunings will require very different chord shapes, and some will only work with certain playing styles (such as fingerstyle or flatpicking) that avoid some strings at certain points in a tune.  The advantage of some of these tunings however is that accidental notes (those not usually found on a particular scale) become available and so enable some classical or jazz or pop tunes to be played that are not possible in DAd or other more usual tunings. 

So there are a number of reasons why folks may choose to re-tune their dulcimer.  Some of these new tunings may effect the key, the mode, the timbre or the playability, or any combination of these factors.  And there are also a good number of expert players who will work with just one tuning.  And finally, understanding tunings doesn't make you a good player but it can help you create the music that you want to play.

 

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/26/15 12:01:37PM
237 posts

Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Linda Jo brockinton:
Now lol Robin I can't go that far...... 

Hi Linda,


I think that the fret layout is one of the most facinating aspects of the instrument in terms of tuning the darn thing!  The more frets the less retuning required and the more versatility at your fingertips.  Although (going straight back to the OP) personally I like the 'playability' of having a pure scale.  This is because once I'm tuned to whatever pitch or mode I'm using the instrument becomes that tuning.  It's a little difficult to explain but I'm sure you get the concept.  The other instruments I play are chromatic (guitar, banjo, mandolin) or have no frets (dobro, fretless banjo) but I've never been drawn towards a chromatic dulcimer.  I'm not sure why that is because, logically, a chromatic dulcimer makes a lot of sense.  I certainly can't say that I'm the sentimental type or tied to 'tradition' - I think it is simply because I love playing old dulcimers and old dulcimers have diatonic layouts - for the most part.  I'm more than happy to have a 6+ on my Galax dulcimers (a pragmatic solution for old time session playing in the keys of D, G and A).  And, going back to the OP, the tunings I like to use for galax are d,d,d,d and e,e,d,d which gives me the key od D, G and A (mixolidian and dorian).


 


Linda Jo brockinton:
.....I have a old one that was so off that I had to have fret one and two moved. It was surprisingly on from 3 up but 1 and 2 was a good quarter of an Inch off... 

That doesn't surprise me Linda.  Again, in terms of the tunings that we like to use, if your scale is starting at the 3rd fret (as in DAA) then the position of the first two frets (the 6th and 7th of the scale) can be quite a bit flat of equal temperament and still sound OK.  However, if the same dulcimer is tuned to DAd then those first two frets will sound well out of tune, particularly when playing chord shapes near the nut.  A lot of old dulcimers don't sound too good tuned to DAd because of the flattened first and second fret positions.  I have noted on the Leanord and Clifford Glen dulcimers that I have seen how the position of the first two frets moved over the years.  On their early dulcimers these frets were placed for the natural scale starting at the 3rd fret.  On the later dulcimers (once chord playing were begining to take a hold) the first two frets had moved to equal temperament but the rest of the dulcimer scale was still in a more natural intonation.  Another factor is that the action on older instruments tends to be quite high at the nut and bridge (fine for noter playing) and if this action is lowered to enable chord melody playing in DAd it can throw out the intonation on the lower and higher frets necessitating the frets to be re-possitioned.  Some makers, like Homer Ledford had very unusual fret placements.  Ralph Lee Smith has had the frets repositioned on his Ledford to match his chordal playing style and I know a couple of other players who have done the same and believe so have many others.  I've left my Ledford as it is because I really like the original Ledford layout (which is in just intonation) for certain tunings and it suits my playing style - If it didn't suit my playing style then I'd probably have moved the frets too.


It is actually a struggle to find any two vintage dulcimer makers who actually used the same fret intonation - or even ones who were consistent from dulcimer to dulcimer!!!!  Today, we can be a bit blasé when we talk about tunings and modes that we like to use on our dulcimers as pretty much any mode or tuning will work due to contemporary fretboards using equal temperament.  I have quite a few old dulcimers that only actually work in certain tunings and it does make me think that there was probably a lot less re-tuning going on pre-revival than we use today.


So the tunings I like to use are the ones that work best for my playing style on the dulcimer I happen to playing.  And I have a passion for playing old dulcimers, which means I am more than likely applying those tunings to a pure diatonic fretboard that's not in equal temperament.


 


Robin


 


PS - In between writing this post I'm TAB'ing out tunes in DAd chord melody for 3 workshops I'm running with Geoff Black over the weekend.  I've had to go searching for a dulcimer with a 6+ that I could tune to DAd - I have some new ones in stock for the shop but have realised that, despite owning about 15 to 20 dulcimers in my personal collection, I don't actually have one with a 6+ capable of being tuned to DAd for chord melody playing at present!!!! blinders


 


 


 


 


 


 


updated by @robin-clark: 08/26/15 12:05:20PM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/26/15 05:40:17AM
237 posts

Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

If a dulcimer has a 6+ then that's one too many frets for me grin

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/25/15 03:59:31AM
237 posts

Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Here's a bit of a dulcimer history myth buster!

Although we have a folklore that pre-revival dulcimers were generally played in the key of C, I've yet to find any early recordings or pre-revival design features on the instrument that holds this to be true.

Jean Ritchie's 'The Dulcimer Book' is written in C but in all her early recordings (prior to the book) she in tuned a tone and a half or so higher to suit her voice.  And an Ambugy (Jean's early dulcimer used for her first recordings) does struggle to produce any volume in C with 2nd and 4th banjo strings (or any other strings for that matter!).  The recordings and articles I've found from Virginia, WV, NC, Ohio are not in the key of C.  The keys of D, G, A (often mixolidian) or a little higher being prevelant - with the majority of old dulcimers being built and played around the key of G.

The Hindaman School may have had an influence on the development of our belief that early dulcimers were in the key of C.  Edna Ritchie apparently used that key (possibly due to her vocal range or because she played other instruments too) and the explanation given to beginners that ".....the dulcimer frets are set to a 7 note scale like the white keys on a piano..." could also have influenced teaching books to use the C scale to make explanations easy.  You can tune a dulcimer down to CGG, and some will sound and play OK but that 28" Kentucky scale (less in other areas) on the smaller bodies of older dulcimers means they struggle to perform well at that pitch. 

There's a great video on youtube of Ralph Lee Smith playing his original Prichard dulcimer.  In it he is tuned up to E (E,B,B).  I emailed him nad asked why he did that and he said that the dulcimer didn't find its voice until it was tuned up a little.  And I have to say my experience of playing older dulcimers mirrors that finding.

One of the 'problems' with DAd is that the high 'd' on a 28" scale is not ideal so we need quite a thin string gauge to comfortably work that VSL at that pitch.  It is difficult to raise a 28" scale dulcimer much further in 1-5-8 - say up to EBe or FCf without breaking strings.  Whereas from DAA is is simpler to push the tuning higher towards something that may better suit the physics of the instrument - and use strings at a more appropriate gauge for the physics of the instrument too.

Contemporary DAd dulcimer players struggle with lack of volume - the dulcimer has become a quite instrument.  Early playing styles, set-ups and tunings often meant that this was far from the case - in many regions the dulcimer, like its European predecessors, was loud enough for dancing.  It has not always been a solo, sit on the porch at dusk instrument for singing to the moon.  Jean Ritchie was a unique player and a remarkable innovator on dulcimer.  The tunes she played and sang were old but her playing style was her own.  She was hugely influential in the growth of the dulcimer and conclusions about the instrument's history drawn from listening Jean play have fallen into folklore.  And yet no one plays like Jean today!

So feel free to innovate on your own as that's as much a part of the history of the instrument as anything.  I can't think of two pre-revival players I've heard who actually played alike.  DAd and contemporary playing has to some extent homogenised the instrument more than at any time in its history - So feel free to break away from the mould and see what music you can discover inside our little boxes of delight!

  


updated by @robin-clark: 08/25/15 04:09:07AM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/24/15 08:12:30AM
237 posts



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don't throw your broken Snark away!  The head itself will pick up the string vibrations.  So just lay it across a sound hole and tune - it is way easier to see than when one is clipped to the headstock.

 

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/24/15 06:23:25AM
237 posts

Tuning question difference between DAg and DAc


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Jan Potts:
Robin--and not just what sounds best, but you can also consider what fits your vocal range!

Very true Jan.  For those of us who like to sing in Bb and F (not uncommon at all) then banjo, mandolin and dulcimer do present a few 'challenges' doh


 

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/24/15 04:56:23AM
237 posts

Tuning question difference between DAg and DAc


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Hi Nancy,

The 6+ fret sort of gets in the way of displaying the true difference between the 2 tunings of DAC and DAG.  DAC is the Aeolian scale (play the 6th fret not the 6+ as this will give the Dorian scale) and DAG is the Dorian scale (again use the 6th fret not the 6+ as this will give the Mixolidian scale).  It is all far more obvious to see the difference on a dulcimer without any extra frets. 

Regarding the better tone you are hearing in DAG:  Every dulcimer and set-up is different in this respect.  We do tend to be a little stuck in our ways by always tuning to the key of D and DAd in general, whereas tuning to a key a little higher to say D#, E of F (careful not to break strings) or a little lower to C or B can bring out a different voice from your instrument.  Also, as you have found, using different modal tunings can bring out different voices from our little box of delights!  If you are not playing with other folks then it doesn't matter what pitch you are tuned to, so you can play around and find out what sounds best on your particular instrument.

Robin

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
08/21/15 03:00:42AM
237 posts

Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

marg:
My dulcimer handbook, i revisited and went over it's info on tunings and it's starting to make sense. Any idea how many tuning there are, or could be? When I was playing a song in DDDG,  I notice the melody line tab was also DAd.  Haven't checked yet if it was just that one song or you can play with either tab.

Yep - following DAd TAB would work every time in DDG for the melody (not chords) on the melody and middle drone string.  You are playing in the key of G from the open melody string as 'do' against 5th drones.

Regarding how many tunings there are for dulcimer - the answer is both complex and simple (or is that the other way around?)  There are hundreds of tunings if you count every variant repeated at every pitch and every inversion of that variant.  You could drive your self mad trying to count them all.  However, tuning the dulcimer actually follows some very simple rules.  Here are the rules for noter drone playing:

Rule 1 - Where is the root note on my fretboard for the tune I want to play (the mode)?

Rule 2 - Is that root note at the pitch (key) that I want? - if not, then I need to retune the melody string.

Rule 3 - Do the drones blend with the melody string's root note of my tune in the timbre I want? - if not, then I neet to retune the drones to the root note and/or the 5th note of the melody string's scale that I'm going to play.

Every noter drone tuning configuration follows these 3 rules.

You could do something very similar to produce rules regarding chord melody tunings.

 

 


updated by @robin-clark: 08/21/15 03:02:21AM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
07/09/15 01:37:09PM
237 posts

Dulcimer Strings


Instruments- discuss specific features, luthiers, instrument problems & questions

Hi Chuck - If your Riverlark bass string was old and your Elixir new, then the new string will sound 'brighter' at least while it settles.  Elixir are not as brash when new as some other makes but conversly they do not dull off so quick.  Different makes do have different sounds.  And new strings are always a little harsh for the first few hours of playing.  Nickel strings don't have the bass undertones that phosphor bronze strings have, if fact they have less overtones too.  You can certainly get an impression of a richer, more 'bassy' sound from phosphor bronze but you do need to let it loose its initial brashness first.  Personally, I usually fit nickel wound bass strings to my older dulcimers as I want both less bass and less brightness for noter drone playing.  For chord melody I usually choose phosphor bronze.  This is not a hard and fast rule - quite often my dulcimers get whatever spare strings I have on me!!!!!!

Regarding the effect of string gauge on tone - Usually a heavier string will give a stronger (louder) sound but sometimes less sustain particularly on the higher frets.  So very heavy strings can end up sounding quieter because they are all 'thud' and no 'ring'.  If you put a new slightly thicker string on your dulcimer it may well sound louder but brasher than the old one you took off.  You do need to give the string a chance and let it settle for a while before deciding if you want to swap it for another make, size or composition.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
07/08/15 04:00:00AM
237 posts



Hi Travis - there has been some great advice here on how to get around different keys when sitting in with a band smile   It is a fantastic to have the opportunity to play and enjoy music with others.  The best thing about playing with other musicians and with singers is that the sum output is greater than the constituent parts - in other words you can be a part of something that is creating music way beyond what you can produce on your own.  So once you have the technicality of the key sorted the next question to ask yourself is 'What can I add that will enhance the mix of sounds in the moment".  It is all too easy to sit in with a band and 'play for yourself' just as if you had the band on CD and you were sitting at home playing along.  Like singing along to radio in the shower - you may be enjoying yourself but your not actually adding anything to the music that others are going to want to hear earplug   So have a good think about the role your instrument is going to play for each tune and at every moment within that tune.  Think about what you are going to add to the collective creative package.  The golden rule is that if you cannot enhance the music at a particular point, or worse still if you will detract from the collective sound, then don't play.

The mountain dulcimer can do a number of different jobs within a band, rhythm, lead melody, counter melody, fills, starts and ends etc so have a good listen to each tune the band plays and decide how you can enhance each one.

Another issue for you may be how to work the instrument acoustically in a band situation.  This can be a problem because the mountain dulcimer, played in contemporary chord melody style, carries far less acoustic volume than other instruments.  I don't know how big the gospel band is that you are joining or what other instruments are part of the band but you may want to consider how you are going to sound balance your dulcimer in the mix.  Personally, although you can work different keys from one instrument you may find it handy to have something like a McSpadden Ginger in your bag - a small bodied short scale dulcimer tuned up high to G.  Sometimes a smaller dulcimer fitted with slightly heavier than standard strings wound up to a high tension will cut through a mix and also place you above the guitar and banjo in your own sonic space.  You can then work the instrument more like a mandolin, providing choped rhythm and fills in the upper register.  It is a very effective way to play in a band or session situation where a standard VSL dulcimer tuned to DAd would be drowned by the guitar (as they are both trying to fill the same sonic space - and he is bigger than you!!!)

Playing with a band can be a wonderful experience and can really quickly improve your own playing.  With a little thought you can make the dulcimer an elemental part of the collective sound - and have a great time together. grin

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
06/19/15 08:04:01PM
237 posts

Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

One of the lovely aspects of playing old dulcimers with wooden pegs and 'by ear' frets or staples (I have quite a few!) is that you can forget about switching on an electronic tuner (it wont do you any good - in fact, it will drive you mad) and basically ignor any tuning 'rules' you find in dulcimer books.  All the tunings I use are really simple.  They will involve finding a root note that sounds OK somewhere on the melody string (depending on the mode of the tune) and then blending in the drones to that note.  The drones will be some sort of combination of the root and/or 5th of the scale that I'm playing on the melody string at that time.  I'll pick the pitch of the scale and combination of the drones depending on the timbre I want for a particular tune. 

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
06/16/15 04:56:41PM
237 posts

Friends of Don Neuhauser Needed


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

 

I have one of Don's instruments.  It is a Galax dulcimer in the Russell style in spruce and cherry.  It has a massive sound and is unbelievably alive; you can tell the dulcimer was made by a true artisan.  I use it for old time and bluegrass sessions playing at festivals and in our local pubs here in Wales.  I love Don's dulcimer, it is such a great workhorse and the first instrument I grab when heading for a gig or session.

 

I'd be more than happy to write something for the Galax dulcimer page.  Perhaps talking a little about the background to these dulcimers and the playing style, then going on to describe why the Neuhauser instruments are so good!


updated by @robin-clark: 06/16/15 05:02:18PM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
04/22/15 02:01:59AM
237 posts

My New Just intonated dulcimer. Thank you Robin Clark & Bob Reinsel.


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your comments and the demonstrations of your JI dulcimer. I think that the term 'calming' is very apt. For 1-5-5 and 5-1-1 and perhaps 1-5-7 then JI works very well (1-5-5 being 'perfect'). However, for those looking for more flexibility then 1/4 comma meantone or ET are going to be a better option. I would probably recommend that newer players go with ET as it is the most adaptable and easiest to tune to using an electronic tuner. The dissonance of ET is subtle and it would take many years of musical experience to be able to distinguish the difference between the temperaments. For my personal playing I'm pretty used to working with as many different temperaments as I have old dulcimers, as they are all different And most of those old dulcimer builders were not consistent instrument to instrument. But you can hear from the recordings I have posted (up around 100 now I think) that, for noter drone playing, the notes of the scale can to some extent 'drift' yet the instrument remains perfectly playable as long as your tuning matches the instrument in front of you.

And that I think is the major point of all this - it really is worth spending time getting your open strings tuned to the best possible match foryour dulcimer, whatever its fret temperament. The delight of JI is that the open strings can all be blended perfectly for 1-5-5 and then everything up the scale is also perfect - just don't take an electronic tuner anywhere near the dulcimer

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
03/16/15 11:29:40AM
237 posts



The shallow bodied, slope shouldered, tapered scrollClifford Glen dulcimer in what is known as the 'North Carolina' patternis my absolute favourite dulcimer shape. It does surprise me that none of the larger workshops has ventured into this pattern as, in my book, it beats the Kentucky hourglass hands down for aesthetics

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
02/17/15 05:18:43PM
237 posts



Thanks Babs That's a great find!!!! It looks like noter drone players heaven It is always exciting to find new tunes - I'm just having a go at Bonnie Tammie Scolla. I wish I'd noticed your post earlier this evening as I would have recorded a tune or two but it is a bit late now - I'll have to work one up for tomorrow.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
02/07/15 01:33:42PM
237 posts

Look what I've been up to! BEWARE - dulciporn


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

WOW that's amazing Well done - what a great experience leading to such a wonderful outcome

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
02/06/15 03:26:19AM
237 posts

Which bridge compensation for A ginger


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Hi Monica,

The Ginger is generally offered in two different set-ups by McSpadden, which are Dadd or Gdgg (4 tones higher). I don't want to complicate matters for you too much but it could be this difference that Jim Woods is talking about. The dulcimers requires completely different strings and bridge compensation for each of these tunings.

Most folks buy the Ginger in Gdgg tuning as the short scale suits having the instrument pitch up higher - it is very sweet in this tuning and packs quite a punch for its size (in the same way a that mandolin can be heard above a guitar). The key of G is also very useful when sitting in with guitar players as many popular tunes are generally played in that key or can bemoved to that key on guitar. Luckily for us dulcimer players the tuning Gdgghas the same intervals between the strings as Dadd - so we can playany DAdd TAB and it will work (but be in the key of G rather than D).

A number of folks do have their Ginger set up for DAdd so they have a smaller travel dulcimer in the key of D. This requires thicker strings for the instrument. However tuning down to DAAA would require thicker melody strings again as, due to the shorter length, the melody strings are not as flexible to different tunings as they are on a longer scale instrument. So if you wanted DAAA on a Ginger dulcimer you would need a different melodystring pairthan for DAdd or be prepared to compromise on playability.

I would think that it is for these reasons that Jim Woods strongly suggesting you think about which tuning you want to work with as he will have to use a different set up for each one.

The Ginger is a lovely instrument and I have one that I take on trips. I keep it in Gdgg as, for me, the higher pitchsonically suitsthe shorter scale and smaller body. And it is handy to have a dulcimer in high G when sitting around a campfire on holiday with other musicians knocking out pop songs

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
02/01/15 07:44:36PM
237 posts



Hi Chuck,

The song was written by Dick Farrelly in 1950 - EMI hold the copyright which is why your having trouble finding a simple score for it. The film was 'The Quite Man'I have it on DVD

The tune has some accidentals which is why it is difficult on dulcimer.

You'll hear some refrains of the tune from the film score here

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
03/05/15 09:17:13AM
237 posts



A slightly taller zero fret would be useful for a noter drone style dulcimer as it would allow slacker drones without buzz (giving a wider range of potential tunings).

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
09/04/14 09:27:37AM
237 posts

How does one know what chords to play?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Hi Patty,

I start with playing the tune againstthe open strings- and when it sounds a little 'harsh' I know a different harmony note or notes on the open stringscould be needed (chords). In the key of D those chords are going to be D, G, A or possibly Bm. So it is not difficult to try them all against that phrase of the melody and see what works!

Robin

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
02/27/15 03:18:14AM
237 posts



I find the 'under the thighs' strap system is much firmer than the 'round the back' system for contemporary playing styles (chords and out-strum lead) - it also allows for more 'aggressive' positioning and strumming. For traditional playing technique (noter and in-strum lead or thumb strum) the dulcimer sliding around is not so much of a problem. Many of the old dulcimers I have are quite rough on the back andtwo small pieces of shelf liner or chamois leather sorts out those that are a bit slippery.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
06/15/14 05:19:29AM
237 posts

Why do they measure fret positions from nut to fret?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

It is all a bit of compromise anyway Brian. Measuring from the nut is the easiest option and fret calculators are usually multi-instrumental. There are a lot of instruments made where the freboard is fretted before it is attached to the instrument, such as guitars, so there is no actual bridge to measure from when the slots are cut and frets installed.

Even so, it still seems to me, that the most accurate way to set fret positions, would be from the bridge, as the length of the vibrating string determines the frequency of sound produced and whether a note played from a set fret position is in tune or not.

That's not the whole story Brian, you have missed out the string tension, which, as Ken says, gives rise to intonation difficulties. A thicker string or one tuned to a higher pitchor one set to a higher action (ie closer to the bridge) will pull sharper than a thinner string or one tuned to a lower pitch or one set to a nower action (ie further from the bridge). So, ideally, if youwere measuring froma straightbridge rather than the nutyou would need to compensate each fret. It is simpler to put in straight frets and compensate the bridge.

Even so, fretting is always going to be a compromise because it is done in equal temperamentbecause frets are sounded against each other when playing chords (every fret can become a new nut which is played against other new nuts - so each string then has a different scale length). If you were building for noter drone where just one string (or unison tuned melody pair) are fretted and played against the pure root and perfect 5th drones then you would be best off not using an equal temperament fret calculator and not measuring from the nut, or bridge for that matter, but centring your fret layout from the true 3rd fret root note position forthe melody string and the string gauge,pitch and action you will use - then you could workwith a more natural scale like quarter comma meantone, which would be more 'accurate' in this situation than equal temperament. Or, more simply, just set the frets by ear If you are going to play chords then you can't really set the frets by ear, you need an equal temperament pattern where every fret is just a little 'off' from the natural scale. Of course, according to an electronic tuner every equal temperament fret is 'true' because the tuners are also in equal temperament Natural notes themselves are not consistent, for examplethe 'B' note in the scale of A major is actually different than the 'B' note in the scale of G major by about 10 cents. A fiddle player (no frets) will naturally adjust the position of notes for each scale they play - a piano player or guitarist or dulcimer player cannot, so we use equal temperament.

Like I said - it is all a compromise!!!!!

I bet you wish you'd never asked now

Robin

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
05/02/14 04:15:48PM
237 posts



Ken is right - the chords your wife will need to learn to strum along to your playing would be the same chord names that you are playing on dulcimer. She is most likely to need the guitar chords D, G, A and perhaps Bm. Any simple guitar chord chart will show her the fingering for those chords on a standard tuned guitar.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
05/01/14 07:06:45PM
237 posts

BBC video on unusual ancient instruments


Adventures with 'other' instruments...

This is a great article - thanks for posting it Lisa.

Last month during my ski trip across the Skarvheimen in Norway, by chance, weskied tothe Geiterygghytta mountain hut on its 100th birthday and a local Hardanger fiddle player turned up in the evening and played for us It was wonderful to hear local tunes being played on the instrument right on its home turf. We had skied from the Hardangervidder that day. Janet Crane, who is a great old time fiddler, was with us on the trip so she got to play some Appalachian tunes on the Hardanger fiddle on a snowy winter night in a Norwegian mountain hut - how cool is that

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