The technician and the artist
Chord/melody modern style playing discussions
Val and Robin - I hope you both feel better soon.
Hi Skip! I believe I accepted your follow request successfully, so please PM away. :)
long winded but I have found the best fingering for barre it to use the little finger. This leaves the thumb and index finger to move to different frets. Inversions are simplified using the thumb for instance to go to the melody string to the bass string with ease. Using the ring middle and index to barre leaves only the thumb to rove and the pinky is in never never land with nowhere to fret in most cases. This is taught by Joe Collins and Jeff Furman along with many other teachers.
The issue of how best to barre chords on a dulcimer comes up often, and in the end, I think either of the two methods you mention work equally well. My over-riding concern is what comes next and what's the easiest way to get there.I recently had (separate) conversations about this topic with two of my favorite dulcimer players (Linda Brockinton and Nina Zanetti). Nina tends to use her pinky, Linda tends not to. Both play wonderfully and each will admit that there isn't only one tool for job and that there are limitations and strengths with each method
I tend to barre with my index, middle and ring finger and can't recall an instance where this fingering was an issue. While it may seem intuitively obvious that barring with the middle, ring and little finger is "better" because you've got two more fingers to fret with if needed (thumb and pinky), I have found that it doesn't really matter. This is because you *still* have enough options with index-middle-ring (you are not left with only the thumb to rove): you can still use your thumb to fret on any string, yes, but you can also still use your index finger to fret along the bass string (which many people seem to forget). As for the ring finger, in a situation where your index finger and thumb weren't enough and you need to fret somewhere else on the melody string *while also fretting somewhere else on the bass and middle strings using your index and middle fingers*, then I've found the best move in that case it to play out of a new chord position (ie, no longer keep that barre).
Regarding chord inversions, I think they are also very easy to play out of the index-middle-ring barre, either by 1) rotating around the middle finger on the middle string (so for example, out of a barred 3rd fret, play a 4-3-2 chord index-middle-ring, and then play the 2-3-4 chord ring-middle-index) or by using the ring and thumb (Linda Brockinton's method, which can be more comfortable and may better set up for what's coming next in the tune - here you would take that 4-3-2 chord index-middle-ring) and play the 2-3-4 ring-middle-thumb).
So...long winded way of stating that either of those methods work, and work well. In fact, many players sometimes switch between them.
Hi Strumelia. PM sent. :)
I'm also going to plug EAA tuning here. I tend to be lazy and either play an A tune out of DAD if I can, or capo to 4, but the truth is, I hate capos at fret 4 for a number of reasons (two big ones - you lose about a third of your instrument, and the vsl becomes so short that the instruments generally don't sound very good to me) and much prefer EAA as it has a number of advantages:
I also want to respond specifically to Dusy's comment about it being better for drone players since chord players will need to learn all new fingerings - there is a "secret" (not really) that makes this very easy.
EAA tuning can be thought of as a kind of "reverse DAD" tuning in which you reverse what you would do on the middle and bass strings. For example - in DAD, if a note falls below the pitch of the melody string, you can normally get it on the middle string. In EAA, if the note falls below the pitch of the melody string, you play it on the bass string. So if the IV chord in DAD is played 0-1-3 (bass to melody string), in EAA it would be played 1-0-3 (bass to melody string).
UPDATED to give credit to Rich Carty, who was the first person to have the above discussion with me and made me aware of the possibilities of EAA tuning. I don't play in it very often, but when I do, I absolutely love it.
Hi all. Maria and Dusty - thanks for the plug for the Blue Lion 5-string chromatic I have for sale. It's still available, and for less than the amount I was originally asking in the ad Dusty linked to. I had recently brought 6 of my personal instruments to the festival Maria mentioned below to sell as I thin out my collection, and sold 5 of them. However, I realize that this Blue Lion is not exactly going to be an impulse purchase for anyone, given that it is fully chromatic and has 5 strings. :)
I'm working on adapting John Com Kisse Me Now to the dulcimer. This is a fantastic 16th century tune - you can hear it played by the world's greatest lutenist (in my opinion, of course, and this would be Paul O'Dettte) here:
Also, I saw Dusty and jenniferc were both working on Harvest Home. I love that tune also and had recorded a video of it a few years ago. In case anyone would like to see, it's here:
And Dana - when do we get to hear your For Ireland? I happen to know it sounds excellent. ;)
I just wanted to chime in and mention that Nonesuch is still available in various places around the internet, but perhaps the easiest way to hear it is via YouTube. A YouTube search for "Nonesuch for Dulcimer (1972)" will bring it up as of this writing. There are also a number of browser extensions and other programs that will allow you to save YouTube video or audio.
And in case people aren't aware of this, YouTube searches that include the words "full album" bring up many gems, especially in the world of folk music.
Very nice Dana! Now let's hear a tune. ;)
I still have a beautiful Blue Lion AJ 5-string fully chromatic for sale.
It's a gorgeous instrument. Rosewood sides and back, cedar top.
Hi Lisa. No, I still have it. :)
I also trim the string before I put it on, leaving about 2 inches past the tuner. A few of my dulcimers have self-trimming tuners (they have built in cutters and trim the string as you are replacing it), and they are absolutely excellent. I think they are D'Addario Planet Waves, but I am not 100% sure. But I went from being skeptical of them to a firm believer pretty much immediately:
Jennifer - yes, you can definitely just measure the string with a caliper to determine its gauge. As has been mentioned, there's nothing special about dulcimer strings; a regular old caliper or micrometer will work on a dulcimer string just as well as it will any other string. I had to do this recently for a harp dulcimer I acquired as I had no idea what gauges the harp strings were. :)
On the non-fiction front I took a break from work stuff and just started reading American Colonies: The Settling of North America by historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Alan Taylor. Fascinating stuff, and synthesizes much more than just the typical "13 colonies" accounts.
You're welcome Ken. I understand this deal wasn't available when you were looking, but I thought it might help others if they wanted to actually go to a store and play with the stuff vs buying unseen/unheard. I hope someone finds it useful. :)
Hi all. I just wanted to mention that Guitar Center itself is also doing a similar deal package deal on the Loudbox mini for $329.95. Only real difference is the microphone:
Audio-Technica M4000S Handheld Dynamic Microphone
Gear One Lo-Z Mic Cable 20 Feet
Musician's Gear MS-220 Tripod Mic Stand with Fixed Boom
Fishman Loudbox Mini
As far as fiction, I just finished reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It's considered one of the greatest novels of all time, but somehow I managed not to read it until now. I just started reading The Dead, by James Joyce.
For non-fiction, thanks to the nature of my job, too much to list, but it includes lots of cardio-renal and oncology stuff for health authorities, medical journals, things like that.
While I completely agree with Rob’s bottom-line point (don’t be afraid to challenge yourself) I have a couple comments I’d like to make. :)
The first is that just because you *can* play a 29” or 30” VSL dulcimer doesn’t mean you *prefer* to. In my own dulcimer journey, I’ve played instruments with many different VSLs, from little micro-instruments to those with a 30” VSL. As I’ve done this over the years, I’ve slowly come to the realization that, although I *can* play instruments with VSL’s ranging from micro to 30”, I much *prefer* to play instruments with VSLs between 25.5” and 27”.
The second is about the idea that a dulcimer with a longer VSL will have more volume and deeper tone. This has been stated more than once in this thread, but from my experience, this does not have to be the case. Yes, that’s true when comparing against tiny travel instruments, but full-size instruments with shorter VSLs tend to be louder and more resonant than their longer VSL cousins and typically have more attack (likely due to increased string tension). It’s been my experience that if the instrument is otherwise full-sized, you really don’t lose anything with VSLs down to about 25”. Beyond that and I think sustain and the tone at frets above 10 or 12 start to audibly suffer.
My loudest and most resonant instrument by far is a Gallier Starsong, with a 26.25” VSL (it’s actually the loudest dulcimer I’ve personally ever heard, and I’ve heard a bunch). My second loudest and most resonant instrument by far is a Modern Mountain Dulcimer with a VSL of 25.5”. These are in another league entirely compared to the bunch of other dulcimers I own, including custom instruments with 29’ VSLs, or other Modern Mountain instruments with longer VSLs. I recently spoke to a friend of mine who is a distributor for David McKinney’s Modern Mountain instruments, and he told me (unsolicited) that it’s very common for the shorter VSL (but full-size body) instruments to be louder and more resonant. I've experienced the same thing with McSpadden's 26" VSL (but full-sized) dulcimers compared to their standard dulcimers with a VSL of 28 1/2".
I also think the idea of VSL is, in general, probably less important to chord/melody players (for whom the "small hands" idea is most relevant) than it is for noter/drone players. When you're playing noter/drone, you've got open strings that are actually vibrating along those longer lengths. When chording, this is clearly not the case.
To me, the issue reminds me of economy of motion. Just like a player should theoretically be moving his/her hands no more than necessary to get the desired result on the instrument when fretting, strumming, etc, there’s also no need to stretch farther than you need to “just because”. There are no bragging rights because you can pull off an A chord on a 30” VSL instrument. If you can get the tone and volume you like out of a shorter scale instrument, I say go for it.
Hi Garrett - I have tried to send you a message, but your name comes up as invalid. I'm not sure what the issue is here...
Doulce - bass configuration (DADAD). Thanks for your interest.
This instrument cost more than the price you mention above, but yes, it's still for sale, and if you are seriously interested, let's try to work something out. Please send me a private message to discuss further. I did not see your post here until just now.
Thanks and kind regards,
Yes, the tab book to accompany Elizabethan Music for Dulcimer was published by Kicking Mule Music in 1982. You might want to try them directly.
And Guy is correct - these arrangements are *quite* difficult. His playing of the tune, for example (as beautiful as it is) is a much simplified version of Randy's arrangement as written in his book. I have a version of Bonnie Sweet Robin (audio file) that Linda Brockington sent me a couple years ago - it was on her first CD in 2000 and even she admitted that she made mistakes on it. That should give you an idea of how tough these arrangement are. :)
As Rob has said, Randy Wilkinson put out a book accompanying the CD. It is out of print and hard to find. I've been looking for some time. From what Guy Babusek has told me, the arrangements are really tough, and coming from him I take that to mean the arrangements are REALLY TOUGH! The book of classical guitar exercises is supposedly more approachable but no less easy to locate.
Barry Taylor's traditional tunebook used to be a great resource for folk tunes. His site appears to no longer be on the Web, but you can still find parts of it. This page will take you to a mirror of the Canadian Tunes section, where you'll find about 156 tunes in MIDI format.
If you have a program like Noteworthy Composer, TableEdit or similar, you can use those MIDI files to create dulcimer tab or standard notation if you wish.