Common Dulcimer Jam Tunes

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Great suggestions, Ken, in part because I know all those tunes. I already added "You are my Sunshine" and will probably add the two "Valley" tunes as well. Maybe the rest will make next year's list.

Kenneth W. Longfield said:

Dusty, a few we do here in the east are Down In The Valley, Red River Valley and You Are My Sunshine. There is also Clementine, Rocky Top and Tom Dooley.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Geekling, when you speak of the "jam in front of the festival" do you mean the small group that plays right in the entry to the church grounds? That jam is indeed intimidating and is not really a jam; it is more like a group of friends who already play together. But the festival holds another all-instrument jam towards the end of the day in which people sit in a big circle in that big room where they have lunch. People of a variety of levels join in, and Leo Kretzner leads the whole thing in a really inclusive manner. When I first joined I passed when it was my turn to call a tune, but the next time around I called out Southwind or Rosin the Beau or some tune I knew pretty well. I also just listened during a bunch of tunes I didn't know, and played chords for those whose structure I could figure out but whose melody was too fast to learn on the spot. But as I mentioned, I did learn two or three tunes over the course of the jam and for my first one, I was happy with the number of tunes I was able to play along. Now here we are two or three years later, and I've created my own list of 40+ jam tunes and I know them all! It's amazing how many tunes I've picked up over the last few years!

You two would look so cute playing a courting dulcimer! I can certainly see why that would be on your wish list.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
3 years ago
492 posts

Dusty, a few we do here in the east are Down In The Valley, Red River Valley and You Are My Sunshine. There is also Clementine, Rocky Top and Tom Dooley.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Geekling, I think you give us too much credit when you say our Sacramento group is "well thought out." It has taken us over a year-and-a-half to evolve to the structure I describe above. But now I think it works really well.

I'm not surprised that you say you need to have a tune in your head even if you use tab. After all, tablature doesn't give us very much. Especially that sparse tab that just provides fret numbers tells us nothing about how long to play each note, for example, so the tab assumes you already know the song.

Robin makes some good observations about ensuring that beginners are encouraged to join jams even if they don't know most of the songs. There is nothing wrong with muting the strings with your left hand and just strumming for rhythm. There is nothing wrong with just playing the easy parts of songs. I often join only by playing chords and not playing any melody at all (though I understand that as a guitar player for the last 40 years hearing chord changes comes easier to me than most). As Robin suggests, these ways of joining without fully knowing a song accomplish a central goal of getting people comfortable just playing with their instruments. Beginners need to know that it is encouraged to join in these ways.

Here and there online are several guides to jam etiquette, but what is not really found is advice on how to join jams if you don't already know the music.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Two surprises: I forgot "Shady Grove" until Robin reminded me (it is in my mind the quintessential mountain folk song) and no one mentioned "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." I know that's not really a dulcimer tune so much, but it seems to be central to the whole notion of a tradition shared among generations.

I decided to create a page on the River City Dulcimers website for my list and links to tab available online:common dulcimer jam tunes. It's still a work on progress, but I thank you all for your comments so far and welcome any others you have.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Robin, I, too, have been starting to "read" SMN, although I am not very proficient at playing directly from it. But following my daughter's beginning piano lessons over the last few years has been a nice refresher course. When I was a kid I could read SMN but in a very practical manner. I played trumpet one year but was switched to the baritone tuba the next. Baritone music was written in the bass clef rather than the treble clef, but what made the transition easy was that the fingering on the valves was the same between the two instruments -- well, almost the same. I think the baritone plays a fourth or fifth below a trumpet. So the fingering I had learned still played a major scale, but in a different key. I never actually learned what the key was and never really learned the note names on the bass clef (I knew how to figure them out, but could never identify them quickly enough). But I learned the play the baritone from SMN only by noting the distances between notes on the staff and the corresponding distances in the notes I would play. It's possible that way of playing hearkens back to the days when the musical staffs were not standardized and could be centered on any note. But I also think that method is close to the way some professional musicians play.

As you suggest, they do not see a note on the staff, translate it to the corresponding letter, and then look for that note on their instrument. I think they see relationships among notes on the staff and also see those relationships on their instruments. (I would think that visualization is easier on keyboards and fingerboards, but I bet brass and woodwind players see them, too.)

The other comment you make that I think is especially useful for everyone learning to play is that you concentrate on phrases rather than individual notes. We learn language that way, after all, why not music, too? And little by little we start to notice that certain phrases repeat in various songs, just as chord shapes do.

Thanks so much for your comments.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
3 years ago
352 posts

Hi Dusty - I really enjoyed reading about the Sac dulcimer group. It sounds like you have found a great way to keep everyone involved and challenged. I do think that giving beginners a few strategies for jams really helps them get engaged. If as a beginner you know that its OK to just play parts of a tune or just the chords or mute the strings and strum along in timethen you'll feel happier to experiment hands-on in the moment. And it is that experimentation that will lead to their progress.

Regarding TAB - I feel the same way about it you do Frown.gif I need to hear the music to get a feel for it. What I have been doing recently however is teaching myself to readsimple melody lines offstandard music notation(most of the tunes I want to playcan be found in SMN on Google images Smile.gif). I say 'read' but what I actually am learning to dois to 'hear' the music on the page. TAB numbers are ugly to me - they tell me nothing about the music itself. But there is something magical about thenotes on the staff. I don't translate the dotsto note names, then find those notes on the dulcimer - that would be no better than writing out the TAB numbers. I've been working on hearing the tune as my eyes scan across the pattern. It takes me a while to hear a new tune. I have to use techniques like tapping my hand to get the timing right, or I may play a few notes on my dulcimer to get the pitch interval or a little phrase correct. But once I've got it I can then look at the music and hear the piece. I consider what I'm doing as learning to play by ear with my eyes Grin.gif It has proved to be a very useful skill to work on developing as so many of the old fiddle and folk tunes I want to play are available for free in SMN and I can learn by ear quickly as I can concentrate oneach littlephrase fast forward it, slow it down, repeat it, etc etc like I would with a recording but more instantly and just with my eyes scanning the dots.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Geekling, I think I remember that beginners jam. I walked briefly through the room and could see some difficulties there. In my opinion, a jam with experienced players can exist with no leader, with players taking turns calling a tune and starting it off. But beginners are exactly those who need a leader, someone familiar with the songs who can play them correctly and at a steady tempo so that others can follow along. Obviously, the leader in a beginners jam needs to be patient and play really slowly, but a bunch of beginners unsure of their own playing trying to make a go of it on their own just asks for trouble.

But your comments also reveal the different ways we learn. I honestly cannot learn songs from tablature. I need to hear a song played and get it into my head. During the jam at the Harvest Festival I probably learned three or four songs. The first time through I would just listen, getting a sense for the song's structure (AABB, ABC, whatever). The second time through I would try to find some of the important notes or phrases in each section. By the fourth or fifth time through I could get most of the melody. Then after that, I could go off on my own, use tab, and fill in the blanks. But I always fail to learn songs at workshops when everyone is handed a piece of tab and then they go through it slowly one note at a time. I never get the feel for a song that way.

In my opinion, the best scenario is an all-inclusive, beginners-welcome jam in which people go around a circle calling out tunes. The person calling the tune should ideally set the tempo and start playing. So a really advanced player might indeed start playing pretty fast, leaving others to just strum chords, play percussion on the backs of their dulcimers, or pick out a note here or there. But others will start playing at a slower, more approachable pace, allowing beginners to follow along. And there should be a leader to step in, so if someone starts a song but then gets a little lost, the leader can step in and take over. A lot of learning how to play with others is learning how to keep time and skip notes or whole sections of songs. When you play by yourself and you get stuck on the fourth note of a song, you can just stop and take your time to get it. But in a jam, the song keeps moving, and it's important to learn to play such that when you get stuck you skip a few notes or a whole section and pick a point in the future when you can jump in with everyone else. (Supposedly the great hockey player Wayne Gretsky used to say you should not skate to where the puck is, but to where the puck will be.)

At the local dulcimer group here in Sac that I started about 18 months ago, we now divide our time into three sections. The first is a beginners lesson in which the beginners get together in a very small group of two or four with a more experienced player and go over some basics. During the second section we all get together and play through our small but growing repertoire of songs, mostly arrangements by Ron Beardslee, Paul Furnas, or myself, which are pedagogical in nature, meaning we arranged a tune in order to work on some aspect of playing. (For example, I arranged a version of "Shall We Gather at the River" specifically to work on slow, steady, back-and-forth strumming. My arrangement of "Beach Spring" centers on the use of left-handed techniques such as slides, pull-offs and hammer-ons. Ron has arranged several songs that teach chord positions, so each song is based on a single chord shape that moves up and down the fretboard.) We all play those songs together, and usually between 4 and perhaps 10 times each one. The idea is to play them long enough that people can really start to learn them. But we also stop and talk about how to play difficult sections so that there is some clear learning going on. And the third section of our gathering is a true song circle where we take turns playing songs. Some choose songs for everyone to join in, but this section of our gathering is also for more advanced players to "show off" the more complex stuff they're working on. The advanced players get practice performing in front of a small (and adoringSmile.gif) group and the beginners get exposed to music and playing techniques that they would never see if they only stayed in beginner groups. Interestingly, it was the beginners who requested the song circle, for they wanted to see what Ron and I were playing when we were not teaching them songs, but I have to say I've really gotten a lot out of it, and knowing that I'll have that small audience encourages me to keep working on new stuff and really try to get whole songs down pat.

Maybe this is a long-winded way of saying that I think beginners would get a lot more out of a jam with patient leaders rather than a jam with no leaders and only other beginners.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Wow, you guys are great! The challenge for me has been to resist just listing songs that I know and like to play. And as I said, I've only once been to a dedicated dulcimer jam but have a lot more experience with bluegrass jams, old timey jams, and just plain old campfire sing-a-longs. It is likely that some tunes (Saint Anne's Reel? Whiskey Before Breakfast?) are on the list for their ubiquity more at bluegrass jams than at dulcimer jams. But I like most of your suggestions (there are a couple that I never heard of!), and all of them that I already know will be added to the list.Grin.gifA few (June Apple, John Stinson #2, Columbus Stockade) will be added to my "to learn" list and may get promoted if I learn the tune in time.

My plan right now is basically to do what Robin and Ken suggest: to list the tunes with links to the main two or three websites (ED most obviously) that contain tab. There is also a copy machine at the venue, and I think it might be good to have some hard copies of tab for people who don't plan ahead or drop in at the last minute or can't play at all by ear. If I get super-ambitious I might make several copies of tabs for each of the songs, but I can do that at work and pass the cost on to my employer. Since I mostly telecommute I end up using my own cash for ink and paper and stuff like that on a regular basis, so it seems like a fair trade.

Rob, I am sure you are right about regional variations, but the list I've come up with was based on my sense of common tunes that I've seen online either here or on a couple of the jam tunes lists at various other websites from around the country. It's kind of funny, but I think here in Northern California the only regional variation is that every jam has to include a Grateful Dead tune or two. Seriously, last year at this same event I attended a song circle at the end of the day. A few of us were playing many of the songs on the list above, but there was also a group of listeners who just sat quietly with smiles on their faces. Then someone started playing and singing "Ripple" and everyone in the crowd began singing. I mean these are old (and yes, I mean old) deadheads who probably can't remember what they had for breakfast, but they know every word to "Ripple" and have been singing it for 40 or more years! (I commented elsewhere that they used to take acid and now take antacid, but the song remains the same!And for the record, I'm not knocking the Dead; I attended more than my fair share of shows, too,69.gif35.gif43.gifand especially like their acoustic stuff, not surprisingly.)

Thanks, everyone, for your advice and suggestions!




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
3 years ago
434 posts

Dusty, I think you have a good list. There's a lot of regional variations in tunes played at dulcimer jams. There are several on your list that aren't played around here. Up here you'll also hear "Needle Case," "Petronella," "Columbus Stockade Blues," and "You are my Sunshine."

Jan Potts
@jan-potts
3 years ago
405 posts

Angel Band, Hard Times, John Stinson #2, June Apple, are some that I might add. This is a great list!




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Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
3 years ago
1,397 posts

Robin's got a great idea there. Publish, as it were, the jam list, including links to where folks can get the tab for themselves. It would get pretty darn expensive to make 30 or 50 copies of tab for each of those tunes -- money the festival organizers will be loathe to spend...

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
3 years ago
352 posts

Buffalo Gals (easy sing along) - Shady Grove (may require capo or re-tuning though)

Pre-event jam lists are a good idea. The TAB for most of those tunes must be on the ED TAB list? So you could save yourself a lot of time and effort by picking tunes off the ED list (I think there are a couple of dulcimer clubs that also have on-line TAB sections?) and just pointing folks towards the TAB. Then if they want to learn some of tunes before the event they will have the opportunity to do so - or if they want to download it after the event.

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Thanks for the suggestion, Geekling. Since "Rhody" is one of the songs that people sometimes learn as their first one, it makes sense to add that. To be honest, I don't expect a whole lot of beginners. The jam I am running will be concurrent with one of the workshop sessions, so I would think that most beginners would be more comfortable in an actual beginner workshop rather than an open jam. But later in the day will be a formal song circle, so maybe this list can help guide both sessions.

I initially got the idea for a song list from the Harvest Festival of Dulcimers. Before the one year I went (when I met you and Keith) I worked specifically on some of the songs on their list.But that Festival includes hammered dulcimers and the jam was open to other instruments. The Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering is only for mountain dulcimers and I doubt other instruments will show up. I don't plan on linking each song to a specific tab arrangement, but I will provide links to two or three websites where people can find tab for almost all the songs there, and if I get really ambitious, I'll try to show up with several copies of tab for at least some of the songs. When I was at the Harvest Festival, the person who sat next to me at that jam had gone through their list of songs with a copy of Stephen Seifert's Join the Jam book, and flagged each song on the appropriate page, so when people called out songs she just flipped to the right page in the book and had her own tablature.

Patty, I already added "Turkey in the Straw," as a matter of fact, and "Sourwood Mountain" is a good one, too. I think I learned that from a video that Robin T posted here, so I'll review that video, re-learn the song, and add it to the list.

I'm sure the jam will include some singing, too, so I know we'll be singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene," The Grateful Dead's "Ripple," John Prine's "Paradise," and more. But I wanted to provide a list of some of the more typical dulcimer jam tunes. And I've been really surprised how many of these tunes I already knew even if I don't play them regularly.

Thanks for the suggestions!




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Patty from Virginia
@patty-from-virginia
3 years ago
276 posts

That's a great list and I'm going to try to learn these. I know some of them. At Wartz, Sour Wood Mountain was popular. Turkey in the Straw if you need a "T" tune. I do believe the Wartz official theme song is Father Halpin's Topcoat, LOL. You do have a great list and I wish I lived close enough to join you all. I'll bet it's going to be fun!!!Smile.gif

Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Robin. I am trying to stay focused on typical tunes for dulcimer jams rather than just list tunes that I like to play.




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger
Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
3 years ago
841 posts
I'd say you've got the bases well covered, Dusty, and I'm sure it'll be a fun jam!


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Robin T
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 years ago
859 posts

I have been asked to host a jam room at the Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering on May 17. It was suggested that I provide a list of common dulcimer jam tunes that people might expect to play there. I plan on keeping things open and letting folks "call the tune," but I still thought it would be helpful to create a list.

The problem? I've been to only one true dulcimer jam. Most of the jams I've attended included other instruments and involved people singing from Rise up Singing as much as playing standard old timey fare. So I need help creating the list. Below is what I wrote down off the top of my head. Since I am the host, I probably need to know each song listed, and so far I either know the song or have a close enough idea that I can prepare adequately in the couple of weeks before the event.

My question to you: am I missing any obvious tunes that one would expect to hear at a dulcimer jam? I am not interested at this point in an exhaustive list (I would just copy the contents of Stephen Seifert's Join the Jam if I were) but the most common tunes played.

Amazing Grace
Angelina Baker
Arkansas Traveler
Ashokan Farewell
Bile Dem Cabbage Down
Black Mountain Rag
Bonaparte's Retreat
Cripple Creek
Elk River Blues
Going to Boston
Golden Slippers
Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm
Hangman's Reel
Liberty
Liza Jane
Mississippi Sawyer
Old Joe Clark
Redwing
Rosin the Beau
Saint Anne's Reel
Shall We Gather at the River
Si Beag Si Mor
Simple Gifts
Soldier's Joy
Southwind
Westphalia Waltz
Whiskey Before Breakfast
Wildwood Flower




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
-- Pete Seeger

updated by @dusty-turtle: 06/11/15 07:40:34AM