Forum Activity for @dusty

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/21/24 12:07:24PM
1,711 posts

My 40 year old box of harmonicas


Adventures with 'other' instruments...

Jim Yates:we each bought a harp and tried to sound like Sonny, with little success, until we read an article in Sing Out! magazine where Tony Glover explained cross harp, playing in the key of E with an A harp.  Suddenly it all came together.
 

I had a similar moment of realization about how to play blues on the harmonica.  I just couldn't figure it out and thought those great blues harmonica players were just really good at bending notes. But one day in college I was playing some blues on the guitar with some people and someone joined, playing blues harmonica really badly .  She was not good, but she was doing it, and on a break I asked to see her harmonica.  Indeed, @jim-yates, as you say, it was an A harp and we were playing in E. Aha!  dancecool Cross harp, what a concept! To play straight on the harmonica, your tonic is the 4th hole, but to get those blue notes, your tonic is the 3 hole.  I still can't play like Sonny Terry, but I can manage some amateur blues and have fun.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/15/24 10:49:24PM
1,711 posts

Ergonomics and Wrist Strain


Playing and jamming difficulties...HELP ME!

I'm only a tad taller than Wally, but when I have to sit in a chair that doesn't allow my legs to make a perfectly flat support for the dulcimer, I position the dulcimer comfortably by using a strap.  The strap not only provides some flexibility in sitting positions, but also enables me to angle the dulcimer a little bit so that it is not sitting flat on my lap.

That slight angle of the dulcimer also helps create a more natural angle for both left and right hand. When I first started on the dulcimer I laid the instrument flat on my lap and developed pretty painful tendonitis in the elbow of my strumming hand. Using a strap and changing the angle of the dulcimer cleared that up right away.

For your fretting arm, your entire forearm and hand should make a straight line pointing slightly down, with no angle at the wrist.

Take a look at Aaron O'Rourke here and notice both the way the dulcimer is propped up a bit off his lap and also the straight line of his fretting arm: https://youtu.be/EPClQt6v0Z0?si=08QnvmAx6vM0v60-&t=118 .

They always say there is no wrong way to play the dulcimer, but when I first started and developed tendonitis, and when you found you were straining your wrist, well those are clear signs that we were doing something wrong (at least for us) and needed to alter our approach.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/13/24 01:18:23PM
1,711 posts

Ergonomics and Wrist Strain


Playing and jamming difficulties...HELP ME!

Nate, I agree with the consensus here.  And I know you responded to my post elsewhere about exercises I'm doing to strengthen my fretting fingers.  Basically  the way you are fretting the strings, you are using your arm to push down on the strings rather than your fingers themselves. If you strengthen your fingers, you won't need your wrist or arm and can just have a relaxed hand, letting the fingers do all the work.  My daughter's old piano teacher (well, I mean ex-piano teacher; she's no older than I am oldman ) used to tell her to imagine that a delicate egg was under her hand.  The hand should be curved to protect the egg while her fingers hit the keys. I think the same principle works on the dulcimer.

Contact me by PM and I'll send you a sticker that should help:

curved finger 4 with blue lettering and RCD URL.jpg

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/13/24 12:02:08PM
1,711 posts

What Are You Working On?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

When you work on a song, you get better at that song. But when you work on your technique, you get better at every song you play.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/12/24 05:52:17PM
1,711 posts

What Are You Working On?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

I'm a total OCD dulcimer nerd right now. I tabbed out a few fiddle tunes that make for great finger exercises.  For 2-3 days I've just been playing " Harvest Home " over and over, forcing myself to use my pinky for anything on the first fret, middle finger on the second, and index on the third across all the strings. And that's the range of the arrangement, from open bass to third fret on the melody string. So the left hand never moves, requiring the muscles in individual fingers to do all the work.

Both A and B parts of the song have four consecutive triplets are really tough.  I'm forcing myself to use a metronome and play really slowly.  Maybe someday I'll speed up a little, but I'm not there yet.  Sometimes I only play that triplet measure over and over. 

My goal is not to play the song well (or event at all), but to use the song to strengthen my pinky and develop greater finger independence and flatpicking accuracy.

But I do feel like I'm getting a bit geeky nerd and losing touch, like Jack Nicholson huddled over his typewriter in The Shining krazy .

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/10/24 06:28:20PM
1,711 posts

Dulcimer Bag Lady Dulcimer Bags


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Sorry to hear that, @greg-gunner.  The website lists a phone number; have you tried calling?

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/10/24 12:48:38PM
1,711 posts

Is there an option to order replies from oldest to newest ?


Site QUESTIONS ? How do I...?

Newest on top is very convenient when you are an active participant in an ongoing conversation.  That way you can join and see quickly the comments added since your last visit. Easy peasy!

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/09/24 02:00:58PM
1,711 posts

general instrument question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

@wildcat, you click or tap the gear icon and then choose "playback speed." 

YouTube added this feature a couple of years ago. It slows things down but keeps the same pitch, so you can learn tunes really easily. 

On a PC, that gear icon is on the bottom of the YouTube screen, but on a cell phone it appears on the top right.

Edit: Woops!  It looks like @salt-springs types faster than I. 


updated by @dusty: 02/09/24 02:15:43PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/07/24 11:54:58PM
1,711 posts

general instrument question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

It just so happens that the next episode of Bing Futch's Dulcimerica (#687) will feature Bing Futch playing and teaching Shaving a Dead Man.  Check it out in a day or two whenever it drops.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/07/24 08:20:06PM
1,711 posts

general instrument question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

I don't think the song is under copyright.  It appears to have a long history as a clawhammer banjo tune, but at one time the title was different and included a racial epithet.  From what I can figure out, by the 1970s, folks were calling it "Shaving a Dead Man" or "Protect the Innocent."  There's lots of banjo tab out on the tune as well as discussions about playing it in different keys and tunings.


updated by @dusty: 02/07/24 08:20:37PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/07/24 02:36:19AM
1,711 posts

How precisely do you tune up?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Nate, this won't help answer your question at all, but you might find it as interesting as I do.  I am reading an ethnomusicology text, which stresses that in western culture, we tend to value pitch exactness. That is indeed what prompted your question here.  Like most of us, you try to get your notes as close to the exact pitch as possible.  But in certain other traditional cultures, that is considered ugly, and they aim for a shimmering or pulsing effect when the pitch of a note hovers around what you and I would consider the exact pitch.  Think of the way a sitar player uses tremolo, or the vocal stylings of Arabic music.  The text gives an extended example of Balinese gamelan, in which the tuning of the instruments themselves is intended to create that shimmering effect.

As I said, I find this really interesting, but it's not going to change my search for exact pitch.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/03/24 12:47:31PM
1,711 posts

How precisely do you tune up?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Nate, I think most of us don't know how to answer this question.  We use electric tuners (A= 440, as Ken says), so we generally accept the tuner when it says we are on pitch.  Of course, those tuners are not all equally accurate, though the Peterson tuner that Robin mentions is supposed to be one of the best.  One of the issues with tuners is their display. Even if the mechanism inside can be trusted to 0.05 cents, the display may not be that accurate.  If there are 10 LED lights equally spaced between C# and D, well, you can do the math.  If there were 20 LED lights, the display would be twice as accurate, right? We often think about how easy or difficult those displays are to read, but few comment on the relationship between the display and the accuracy of the tuner in practice.

I have a couple of really accurate strobe tuners which I use at home, but when I'm out and about I trust a D'Addario violin tuner which I keep attached to my dulcimer. 

My own ear varies.  Sometimes it is very sensitive and I can hear very small imperfections in my tuning, even when the tuner says I'm in tune.  Those times are not enjoyable because I never like the sound of my own dulcimer.  But other times my ear is a bit "lazy" and anything close sounds good.  That is a much more enjoyable space to be because I can just strum away in blissful ignorance.


updated by @dusty: 02/03/24 12:49:19PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/01/24 03:14:52PM
1,711 posts

general instrument question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

@Bob-Stephens really does use a floating neck that does not come in contact with the soundboard.  His dulcimers also have a false bottom, so both top and bottom are free to vibrate. You can see some pictures here on his website and also in some of the pictures he has posted to FOTMD . He uses a metal rod that runs the length of the neck to enhance stability and reduce the need for excessive bracing of the soundboard.

He is a member here and has explained the evolution of his design principles elsewhere, so I won't go into more details (which I don't understand, honestly). One of those discussions is Floating Fretboards .

David Beede uses the same floating fretboard principle on his octave dulcimers.  (Or rather he did, until he stopped building.)  The fretboard is attached to the body with two or three metal dowels that drive sound vibrations directly into the sound chamber. I have one of these little dulcimers and am constantly amazed how much volume can emerge from such a small instrument. It's like the dulcimer version of Taylor's GS-Mini.  The "decoupled tailpiece" principle that David used on his full-size dulcimers is similar to a "discontinuous" fretboard to which Ken refers.

I have not yet played a dulcimer by Bob Stephens but I have a wooden, nylon-string dulcimer on order and will surely post a video or two after it arrives. (I have to specify "wooden" because he is now making dulcimers using 3-D printing for nearly everything but the top.)  I ordered one because I love the idea of a dulcimer specifically designed for nylon strings and look forward to exploring the different tonal possibilities of that instrument. Bob worked with Aaron O'Rourke on the nylon-string dulcimers and has been working with Butch Ross on the steel-string dulcimers. You can find them demonstrating those models on YouTube if you search for a moment or two. 

And here is Steve Eulberg demonstrating an earlier version of the nylon-string dulcimer .  When he turns the dulcimer on its side with the camera from above (1:17-1:27), you can see the space in between the neck and the soundboard.


updated by @dusty: 02/01/24 03:15:23PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
02/01/24 02:20:41AM
1,711 posts

Reasons NOT To Get a Chromatic


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

It's too bad that this conversation, which started with such a reasonable question (even if it demands a parallel conversation on reasons to get a chromatic) has descended into a series of diatribes in which people offer differing definitions of an instrument that has been innovative and evolving for its entire history.  None of this has anything to do with the original question.

Yes, as Nate says, "qualifiers."  

There are guitars, 12-string guitars, solid-body electric guitars, tenor guitars, baritone guitars, etc.

There are dulcimers, baritone dulcimers, octave dulcimers, chromatic dulcimers, electric dulcimers, etc.

No controversy needed.

The dulcimer is a young instrument. For its entire history, it has been evolving.  Those first dulcimers had frets only under the melody string.  Does that mean that dulcimers with strings across the fretboard are not dulcimers?  Those first dulcimers also used friction tuners.  Does that mean dulcimers with mechanical tuners are not dulcimers?  Those first dulcimers were likely made solely of local hardwoods.  Does that mean a dulcimer with a redwood top is not a real dulcimer? Any effort to define a dulcimer by a limited number of construction characteristics is random and denies the long history of creative innovation among dulcimer builders and players.

The Jean Ritchie model dulcimer (made in that great Appalachian state of California!) has a Honduras mahogany fingerboard, rosewood overlay, ebony nut and saddle, mechanical tuners, and a 6-1/2 fret.  Those first dulcimers on which Jean learned had none of those elements, yet she recognized that they improved the instrument and supported them.  The rest of us might do the same.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/24/24 09:10:20PM
1,711 posts

beginner strumming


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

There is no music you cannot play.  There is only music that you cannot play yet !

One thing I forgot to mention is that you can practice your strumming without playing songs and worrying about left-hand fingering.  Just lay your left hand over the strings to stop them from vibrating but not so hard as to get a tone out of them, and strum with the right hand.  Put on your favorite music and strum along with the beat.  You will just be making a percussive scratching noise with your dulcimer, but you will be able to concentrate solely on the right hand.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/24/24 01:16:50PM
1,711 posts

beginner strumming


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

The short answer is "yes."  You should strum inwards and outwards.  But you are right to ask because you will want to start in one direction until you get it steady, and then you can strum in both directions.

There are both "in" strummers and "out" strummers, but what that means is which direction you strum on the main beat.  Most of us who started on other instruments such as guitars or ukuleles are "out" strummers, whereas many who started on the dulcimer are "in" strummers.  Neither is better than the other. What is important is that you develop a steady beat and that you eventually learn to strum in both directions.

Start by strumming once per quarter-note beat:  1 - 2 - 3 - 4.  Whichever direction you choose, do that for every strum.  Do not change direction.

Once you can do that steadily and smoothly (which may take an hour or may take 6 months), you are reading to add strums in the other direction.  Now you will count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.  You will still strum in the direction you chose on all the numbers, but you will strum in the opposite direction on the &s.  Again, do not vary.  Either go out-in out-in out-in out-in or in-out in-out in-out in-out.

Eventually (as in years from now) when you are really smooth with that eighth note strumming patters, there will indeed be exceptions when you can vary from this pattern, but for the foreseeable future, stick to the pattern.

Let me add that while it is important for you to learn to strum steadily--first in one direction and then in both--that does not mean that when you play a song you have to strum on every beat.  You should be able to do so, but you will also want to skip beats to vary your playing.  You're not there yet, but you will be soon!


updated by @dusty: 01/24/24 01:27:58PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/24/24 12:57:14PM
1,711 posts

Looking For Tuner Recommendations


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

Definitely get a chromatic tuner, not something called a guitar tuner or dulcimer tuner.  There are lots of affordable models in the $10-20 range, but some are better than others.  I agree with John that the Snark is one of the better ones in terms of accuracy and ease of use.  Because of their low profile, I personally use the D'Addario tuners.  One is a headstock tuner that can work on a flat head.  But on my scroll-head dulcimers I use the same D'Addario tuner that's for violins or violas.  I attach it across the fretboard just left of the nut, where a lot of people keep their capo.  If you look at any of my videos when I play the McCafferty dulcimer, you'll see it right there.

If you want to spend a little more, perhaps the most accurate clip-on tuner is the Peterson Robo-Clip.  It uses a simplified strobe display that is much easier to read than older strobe tuners.  I use that on my guitar.

I also have an app on my phone called G-Strings, which is free and very accurate.  The only downside is, like the handheld tuners, it won't work at a jam or whenever there is significant ambient noise.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/15/24 01:58:06PM
1,711 posts

Traditional role of the mountain dulcimer.


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Just yesterday I enjoyed a presentation by Aubrey Atwater at the Dulcimoon Virtual Dulcimer Festival on the playing styles of Jean Ritchie.  One important point that emerged was the way Jean accompanied her singing.  She neither played the melody on the dulcimer nor strummed chords (obviously), but played a "counter-melody."

Watch her play "Lord Thomas" here , paying attention to what she is doing on the melody string while she sings.  She is not playing a harmony in the way we understand it in modern pop music with parallel thirds or fourths that follow the melody, but rather a different melody, one less elaborate than the melody, but a different melody entirely that accompanies (or runs "counter" to) the song's melody.  If you keep watching the video to hear "The Cuckoo," you'll hear the same thing.

The counter melody style of play is similar but not identical to our modern use of harmony; it plays a role similar to chord play in hinting at harmonic changes underlying the melody; and it often offers "filler" licks in the interstices of the song's main melody. In other words, the dulcimer is playing three different roles as we define them in modern music.

This is quite a difficult style of play to master, and it has mostly been lost in modern dulcimer playing.  When we say that a traditional role of the dulcimer was used to accompany singing, I think it important to point out that it was done in this manner that is strikingly different than the way we use the dulcimer today. 

I would also like to point out Jean's right hand.  She is picking (mostly with her thumb), sometimes plucking only the melody string, sometimes plucking all the strings one-at-a-time, and sometimes strumming, either all the strings or the two drone strings after having plucked the melody string.  This style of play is far more varied than modern playing in which people assume you have to strum all the strings all the time.


updated by @dusty: 01/15/24 08:18:12PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/11/24 07:37:31PM
1,711 posts

Reasons NOT To Get a Chromatic


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

I think of diatonic and chromatic dulcimers as two roads that lead to different kinds of attractions along the way. One will mainly take you to traditional music, both modal and pentatonic, and the other leads you to pop, blues, and jazz.  Both can cross over a little bit, but they have different emphases.

Of course, I mainly play a dulcimer with 6+ and 1+ frets, so I've chosen a kind of middle path.  I play mostly diatonic music but can occasionally add blue notes or switch keys in ways that would be much more difficult on a truly diatonic instrument.

I would like to caution us all not to assume generalizations hold for everyone.  I played the guitar, mandolin, and ukulele before discovering the dulcimer, and the diatonic fretboard did not make the instrument easier to learn.  On the contrary, the fact that I could not play so many of the songs in my head was very frustrating. It took about 2 years of playing everyday for me to get a sense of what melodies could be found on the diatonic fretboard and what couldn't.  (It may be true that there are no wrong notes on the dulcimer, but that doesn't mean that all the right ones are there!) 

And chording on the diatonic fretboard is more complex.  On a chromatic fretboard, a chord shape will be the same type of chord as you move up and down the fretboard, but on a diatonic dulcimer, that chord shape changes between major and minor.  That fact significantly slows down the development of dulcimer players who wish to play chords.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/10/24 01:51:38AM
1,711 posts

Oscar Schmidt OS21C my axe (autoharp)


Adventures with 'other' instruments...

Hey, @motormike.  I have an autoharp as well, a diatonic G/D that my uncle made for me. I should play it more often. The autoharp is such a magical instrument.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/08/24 02:22:36PM
1,711 posts

I bought a Sunhearth!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

That's a beautiful dulcimer and you got it for a very fair price.  If your buyer's remorse is strong enough, just send the dulcimer to me and ease your discomfort. grin

I can understand wanting the original tuners, if indeed it originally had tuning pegs.  But the problem is that you don't have those tuning pegs, so replacing the mechanical tuners would represent another modification. And mechanical tuners are indeed much easier to use.

Perhaps @Dwain-Wilder of Bear Meadow would know what kind of tuners the 1975 Sunhearth originally had.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
01/03/24 07:44:13PM
1,711 posts

Robert N. Lackey, rest in peace


OFF TOPIC discussions

Very sad news.  Thanks for letting us know, Ken.  I just posted on the funeral home website and I encourage others to do so.  I only knew Rob from FOTMD and YouTube, but I will miss our interactions greatly.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/31/23 10:45:07PM
1,711 posts

6 1/2 in ionian mode


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

@tonyg, if you are tuned Ddd (or DAd for that matter) and play a song in the ionian mode, you should be using the 6-1/2 fret.  The 6 fret would be mixolydian.

If you did not have a 6-1/2 fret, you would have to tune your melody string to A to get the ionian mode, and your base or tonic would be the 3rd fret.

The reason is simply that the songs you have chosen employ the major scale or ionian mode.  Other songs--most obviously Old Joe Clark--employ the mixolydian mode.  Some songs are actually pentatonic, and only involve a 5-note scale. Those can usually be played in either the ionian or the mixolydian modes.  But truly modal melodies can only be played in one mode.

In the key of D, the ionian mode makes use of the C# (the 6+ fret on a D string) and the mixolydian mode makes use of the C natural (the 6 fret on a D string).

To play modal music, dulcimer players get accustomed to changing tunings.  Or, they add frets.  The main reason for the popularity of the 6+ fret is that it lets dulcimer players play in both the ionian and mixolydian modes without changing tunings.

I hope that clarifies more than it muddies.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/29/23 01:46:30AM
1,711 posts

Introduce Yourself!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Nice to hear from @Doug-Jones and @Jeannie-in-Paradise. l consider both of you local friends.  And Jeannie, you are the reason I am here. You found me at the original Everything Dulcimer site and encouraged me to join here. I will be forever grateful. flower

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/29/23 01:43:03AM
1,711 posts

Modern Mountain Dulcimers?


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

It's certainly sad for the dulcimer community that David is no longer making dulcimers.

I have a MMD made entirely of lacewood that I got from Aaron O'Rourke.  It has the lowest action of any dulcimer I've ever played.  That's the instrument that helped me develop what passes for my flatpicking technique.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/19/23 02:04:20AM
1,711 posts

What Are You Working On?


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Hey folks. I just want to resurrect this fun Discussion that has been dormant for a couple of years.  Please share what you're working on: a new song? a new build? a new technique?

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/18/23 01:39:29AM
1,711 posts

How do I create a new forum discussion?


Site QUESTIONS ? How do I...?

@Rachel, yes, on a lot of social media platforms such as Instragram, Facebook, and YouTube, and even business software such as Teams, the @ symbol is a way to express that your comment is specifically a response to one individual. At FOTMD, if they allow notifications, members will receive an email when someone identifies them in a discussion.  You may receive one when I post this comment. happys But if you have subscribed to the discussion, then you would get one anyway.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/16/23 12:33:52PM
1,711 posts

How do I create a new forum discussion?


Site QUESTIONS ? How do I...?

@Rachel, I'll do my best to respond here, but for the most part, I think you got it.  And I certainly appreciate you making the effort to learn how the site is organized rather than just posting willy nilly all over the place.  Thank you! flower

Groups, as you say, pertain to specific interests.  Importantly, you have to join a group to see all the posts. There is no cost to join nor a vetting process, but the idea is that group conversations are more intimate in that they only involve those with that special interest.

Forums are available to all members of FOTMD and address more general issues than those handled in Groups.

Inside a given Forum and inside a given Group are Discussions on specific topics.  In either a Group or a Forum, if you find a Discussion on a topic you wish to engage in, you can post in that Discussion thread.  If you look around and there is no Discussion on a topic you wish to talk about, you can create a new one.

In fact, this Discussion thread is specifically about how to create a new Discussion in a Forum, so if you scroll to the beginning you will see efforts by Strumelia and me to answer that question.

Admittedly, there is some overlap between the Forums and the Groups.  Beginner questions, for example, seem to pop up everywhere.  But in general, keeping things organized with clear titles for Discussion topics organized in the appropriate Group or Forum makes it easy to find old conversations.  When I first joined as a beginner, I had dozens of questions, but most of them had already been asked and answered in Forums or Groups, so scrolling around the site allowed me to find those answers right away rather than post a question and then wait for someone to read my post and answer.

I will also admit that some of the Groups are pretty quiet.  You can see tumbleweed and hear crickets when you pop in there.  We could probably weed some out, to be honest, but sometimes all it takes is one person to pose a question or make a comment and activity starts percolating again.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/06/23 11:13:04PM
1,711 posts

How to train my ear


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

@austinpmckenzie, that's an interesting piece on functional ear training. Having just skimmed it once, I don't know for sure that I fully understand it, but I do think that the way my ear hears music is similar.  I know what a I chord sounds like or means in a song. I know what a V chord means.  So I can hear in a piece of music when that chord is being played by the function it plays in the song.  The V chord creates tension that wants to resolve to the I chord, for example.  The same can be said of a melody.  Certain notes of the scale function as resting places, other notes as passing tones, and some create tension that needs to be resolved.  There are only 12 notes in a chromatic octave and 7 in a diatonic octave, so it isn't too difficult to get to know the notes from which you can choose to play a melody.  

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
12/05/23 12:05:10PM
1,711 posts

Traditional role of the mountain dulcimer.


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

In my opinion, the best (meaning accurate and short) history of the dulcimer is the piece written by Dr. Lucy Long and available at the Bear Meadow website: https://www.bearmeadow.com/smi/histof.htm .  Most of us know this story by now.  Dr. Long explains what @robin-thompson notes, the variety of playing styles that characterized the dulcimer from its origins:

The traditional repertoire of the dulcimer included the full range of repertoires found in the mountains, including traditional British balladry and hymnody, dance tunes, and play/party songs [ . . .]  Because of its soft volume, the dulcimer is thought to have been used either as accompaniment to singing or for instrumental solos, but it was also used in string bands and instrumental duets where it functioned as a melody instrument and also provided harmony and a rhythmic background through the slapping of the pick against the strings.

And @nate's point about innovation characterizing the dulcimer from its very origin is spot on.  Both the construction of the instrument and its use was still evolving in the early 20th century when, as @ken-longfield explains, it emerged from isolated Appalachian communities and gained some degree of commercial exposure.  At that time, interestingly, it was already being romanticized as an "old" instrument associated with an imagined Anglo-American past, even though the instrument was very new and was still evolving.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
11/13/23 12:13:16PM
1,711 posts

Introduce Yourself!


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Hi @matthewlyon and welcome to FOTMD.  Glad to hear you've come back to the mountain dulcimer again.  And certainly, playing a dulcimer with really high action would be more comfortable in a noter style.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
11/12/23 12:17:12PM
1,711 posts

Maple, and only maple, for a dulcimer?


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

You do indeed see lots of dulcimers made entirely of a single hard tonewood, most commonly walnut, but cherry and maple as well.  They are not as common as dulcimers with  one of those woods for the back and sides and soft tonewood such as spruce, cedar or redwood for the top.  The top plays a bigger part in the sound than do the back and sides, so an all-maple dulcimer would, as Strumelia says, have a bright, crisp tone. Additionally, it would likely have exceptional sustain. I believe Linda Brockinton mainly plays an all-maple McSpadden specifically for the extra sustain to enhance her soft, fingerstyle play.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
11/03/23 05:54:50PM
1,711 posts

Basic Tuning Question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Brad Richard: Just out of curiosity, why is DAD tuning so popular?
 

I think there are two questions there, Brad. The first is why tuning to D became standard and the second is why DAd (or 1-5-8 or the mixolydian tuning) is so common.


I'm pretty sure that once upon a time, people would tune a dulcimer to whatever tone resonated most saliently in that given dulcimer.  They would "hoo in the hole," literally hum into the soundhole, find a tone that sounded really special, and tune to that.  Later on, I think tuning to C was most common, and to be honest, I wish we still tuned to C because it would make explaining music theory so much easier.  But I think around the time of the dulcimer renaissance in the late 60s or early 70s, people began tuning to D to play with fiddles, since there are so many fiddle tunes in D (and A -- It's those pesky guitar and banjo players who like playing in G).


In traditional drone play, you have to change the tuning of your melody string depending on the mode or scale of the melody you are playing.  In the key of D, the four most common tunings are DAA, DAd, DAC, and DAG.  The first two sound major and the latter two sound kind of minor.


When the 6+ fret became common--and it's pretty standard these days--a player could play in the mixolydian (DAd) or ionian (DAA) modes without re-tuning. How convenient!


You will often hear that chording is easier in DAd than in DAA.  I do not believe that the simple act of playing a chord is easier in one tuning than the other. And I actually prefer the sound of chords in DAA better than in DAd. They are more compact and more coherent.


This is only a theory, but I think playing melody & chords together is easier in DAd because out of one chord position you can reach a greater range of notes, basically three frets' worth.  The whole trick to chord/melody style is to be able to capture the melody out of chord positions with a minimum of hand movement.  And DAd simply gives us a greater tonal range out of any one hand position.  Anyway, that's my theory.


I happen to play in DAd 90 percent of the time because that was the most common tuning when I first started playing and I want to be able to play by instinct as much as possible, so that a musical idea goes from my head (or my heart) to my fingers with no hesitation, something that is much easier if you stick to one tuning. I also have a 1+ fret on my main playing dulcimers and find that with the 1+ and 6+, there is rarely a melody I can't get.


But I would never say that one tuning is superior to another.  DAd happens to be the most common these days, and that's why I started with it.  Now it's comfortable.  When I tune to other tunings, I have to think about what I'm doing, and who wants to do that?!dancecool


updated by @dusty: 11/04/23 02:35:53PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
11/02/23 11:56:52PM
1,711 posts

Basic Tuning Question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Brad, I would suggest not using a chromatic template to map chords for the diatonic fretboard.  It might suffice for now as a quick reference to find a specific chord, but it will hinder your long-term understanding of the fretboard.  As I mentioned early on in this discussion, one of the challenges with chord shapes on the dulcimer is that they change from major chords to minor chords as you move up and down the fretboard. In order to begin understanding why that happens, you have to see where those fat and skinny frets are.  Using a chromatic template will make it harder to learn the layout of the fretboard and how those chord shapes work more generally.


updated by @dusty: 12/16/23 11:57:21AM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
11/02/23 12:45:09PM
1,711 posts

Basic Tuning Question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Brad, I'm having trouble with your chord chart since you appear to be using a guitar template.  I can get past the 6 strings, but that chart shows chromatic frets.  Are you playing a dulcimer with chromatic frets?  That changes everything.

You might just Google "dulcimer chord chart DGd" and see what you get.  Here is one chart and here is another. I'm sure there are others out there.

And remember that the easiest way to get your I - IV - V chords on a dulcimer in an open tuning is to use the bar chords.  So if you are tuned DGD, then 000 is G,  333 is C and 444 is D.  Of course, those are only partial chords, but they can help when you're in a jam. (Like that pun?nerd2 )

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
11/01/23 11:29:54AM
1,711 posts

Play Music On The Porch Day 2019


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

@shanonmilan, try playing the banjo on your porch.  That will have the neighbors begging you to play the concertina! laughlaugh

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
10/31/23 07:21:46PM
1,711 posts

Basic Tuning Question


General mountain dulcimer or music discussions

Brad, if you are tuned DGD, you are in what is basically an open G tuning.  It will be pretty easy to play common tunes in G.

You can also play common tunes in G in a DAd tuning, but you have to pay attention.  If you don't have a 1+ fret, you can't play a C chord down by the nut and will have to play 3-4-6 or 6-6-8 or something like that.

However, I regularly play in G out of a DAd tuning with a capo on the 3rd fret.  You can also put the capo at the 4th fret to play in A. And if you have to play in C, you can quickly tune down to CGc (another reason to play with 3 strings and not 6 is the ease of tuning!)  This approach allows you to play in the 4 common keys (C, D, G, A) at folk, old timey, and bluegrass jams.

A few years ago I made this video demonstrating how to play in G and A with a capo tuned DAd.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty
10/31/23 02:39:27PM
1,711 posts

6 String Dulcimer Too Much For Me


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

Brad Richard: what happens when you change to a different chord in a progression, like G-C-D-G?

Brad, the short answer is that in traditional drone play, there are no chords.  The first and fifth notes of the scale of whatever key you are in ring out throughout (or drone) on the bass and middle strings and you play the melody on the melody string.


Take a look at Robin Clark playing "Coleman's March" .  In DAA tuning, he starts the song going from the 3rd fret to the 5th fret.  At that point he is actually playing a D major chord (D on the bass, A on the middle, F# on the melody).  But then he moves to the 6th fret (G note).  If you were chording, you would switch to a G major chord there, but in drone style, there is no chord change.  The bass and middle are still D and A even though there is no A in a G major chord, and yet the song sounds sweet, doesn't it?


updated by @dusty: 10/31/23 02:40:27PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
10/31/23 03:00:56AM
1,711 posts

6 String Dulcimer Too Much For Me


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

Brad, I have a six-string dulcimer that I only play with three strings now.  I much prefer the clarity of sound with the single courses. And certain techniques (like bending strings) just can't be done with those double courses.

If you are used to other chromatic instruments, you may get frustrated with the way chord shapes work on the dulcimer since they switch from major to minor depending on where on the fretboard you are.

They way I taught myself chords, and the way I encourage students to do so now, is to find some 3-chord songs.  Don't worry about playing the melody, but just strum to accompany yourself singing or humming or whistling.  Figure out those 3 chords by the nut, perhaps sticking to the first 3 frets.  When you have those down and can play them without having to concentrate on where to put you fingers, find different versions of those chords around frets 2-5 or so.  Do the same thing, strumming chords there until you get them down. When you fingers are comfortable there, find those same three chords around frets 5-8.

In the end, you've just been strumming chords and singing songs, but you've learned where to find the main chords you need up and down the first octave of the fretboard.

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