Tunes in the key of A major

Mary MacGowan
@mary-macgowan
3 weeks ago
5 posts

I just wanna chime in and say I've really enjoyed this whole discussion! And yeah I didn't know about the capo over the fret either - great tip!

dianapalmer
@dianapalmer
3 weeks ago
18 posts

Love the video, and the suggestion to put the capo over the fret. Who knew?

Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
3 weeks ago
434 posts

Brian, You said just about what I was going to say if I hadn't fallen asleep last night.  Indeed, it is a reverse mixolydian, just as DGd is reverse ionian.  

 


updated by @rob-n-lackey: 03/11/17 03:23:46PM
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,703 posts

Great posts, Dusty and Brian!!  This helps to explain a whole lot.

I find it fascinating that for dulcimers, any discussion about playing in a different key really sort of has to go into tunings/capos and available fret intervals/notes.




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Brian G.
@brian-g
3 weeks ago
95 posts

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:

  • built in A major and A mixolydian scales
  • plays an octave under fiddle, mandolin and capo'd dulcimers
  • the lower A sounds better to me for many tunes
  • it avoids the heavy boominess and reverbing bass drone string on baritone dulcimers and is much better balanced to my ears

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.


updated by @brian-g: 03/11/17 09:28:59AM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
859 posts

Technically, the fingering does change, in the sense that an A in DAd at the nut would be 1-2-4 or the lazy version I use: 101, and an A with a capo at the fourth fret is 0-0-6+, with those open strings really being the fourth fret where the capo is.

However, if you think of your chords as I, IV, and V rather than D, G, and A or A, D, and E, then your fingering doesn't change at all.

I just improvised a video showing how I use a capo in a DAd tuning to play in D, G, and A without changing any fingering.




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Jan Potts
@jan-potts
3 weeks ago
406 posts

No...Dusty is correct...the capo then becomes the nut and you use the same positions for your chords as you do without the capo.

Or am I missing something?  confusey




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Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,703 posts

Dusty Turtle:

The advantage of a capo is that you can use all the chords you've already learned.

But with the capo on fret 4, you won't have the same pattern of whole/half steps to use as you have in DAd...so how can you use the same chord fingerings as you do in DAd?  Won't you have to learn new chord fingerings anyway?

 




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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
859 posts

A big question that we haven't addressed is the style of play. An EAA tuning might be easier for a drone player, but if you play with chords you have to learn a whole new set of fingerings. It would be like learning a new instrument.  The advantage of a capo is that you can use all the chords you've already learned. And the limitation of not playing below the capo is less of a problem if you play across all the strings.

But look at how many options we've explored for playing in A!




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

"A good song makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think."
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Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,703 posts

I tend to agree with Rob- tuning to EAA would make it much easier to play in A.  Cross-tuned fiddlers do the same kind of thing.




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Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
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updated by @strumelia: 03/10/17 10:20:59AM
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
3 weeks ago
434 posts

Well, you do have a G$ on the melody string IF you are tuned to DAA and have a 6 1/2 fret.  For my work with a band, however, I'd rather re-tune.  EAA is my choice for playing in A; indeed, I have a book of tunes for EAA [shameless self-promotion there.]  For some tunes, however, I don't retune from DAd.  June Apple is one of those tunes, You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive is another.  Also, if you're tuned to DAd then you can tune the bass string up to E and have a great Am/A dorian tuning.  I don't like a capo because it cuts off lower frets.  I know, dulcimerroo, this hasn't really answered your question.  But do y'all re-tune or just play in one tuning?

 

Jan Potts
@jan-potts
3 weeks ago
406 posts

 Yeah...sometimes I'm switching between several keys and hate the bother of a capo.   grin

Since I use three fingers to barre, my fingers don't mind having something to do.  happydance

That's true about starting on the bass string.  So, yeah, you can start at the 4th fret on the bass string and go up a whole octave before getting to Do on the melody string.

We're probably driving some people crazy, Dusty!  krazyIt was probably a short trip for 'em, anyway.....




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Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
859 posts

What Jan is showing here is that you can play in A even without using a capo.  If you use a capo, though, it  can be even easier. All the 4s in her chords would essentially be open strings requiring no fingering at all.

 

Additionally, if you think of the Do as residing on the bass string, and you play across the strings rather than staying on that one string, you can go up an octave and a half without moving out of 1st position.




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Dusty T., Northern California
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Jan Potts
@jan-potts
3 weeks ago
406 posts

This is really long (and boring to a lot of people), but you might find it helpful.

Coming from a background of playing by ear on the piano, I like to just move my hands to a new starting place on the fretboard--as much as possible--rather than retuning or using a capo.  The folks I play with in Tucson always play "Boil 'Em Cabbage Down" first through in D, then G, then A and then back to D again with nary a measure or a rest in between.  Of course, that's a pretty simple tune, but it got me familiar with all 3 keys.  Now I often play in A when I'm at a jam with a bunch of fiddlers or other people that want a tune played in a particular key.

If you're just playing 3 chords,  the I chord (A) is  barred at 444 or else played 44 6+  (I start with the bass string when I write the numbers and 6+ is 6 1/2.).  You can play it higher up as 6+78.   The octave is barred at 11.

The IV chord  (D) is 457 or 757.  Higher up, play it with 779.

The V chord (E) is 545 or 86+8, or barre it at 888.   There's no G# when you barre at the 8th fret, but you can let your brain fill in "what's missing" here....the brain actually does that very well!

A scale of the I, IV, and V chords  plays them in this order:  I   V    I    IV    I    IV    V     I .   Try playing the three chords and singing up the scale...you'll see it harmonizes very nicely.  (also try it in keys of D and in G)

To play a scale in the key of A going all the way up from Do to Do (an octave), you'd play:

444     545     446+     457     6+78       779     86+8     11 11 11

  I         V           I            IV        I             IV         V           I

Do       Re       Mi           Fa      Sol          La         Ti           Do

 

Notice that except for "Ti" the melody string plays do re mi  right up the scale when you play the chords this way.  "Ti" is played on the middle string.

Does this help?  I mostly play by ear, so I'm not "classically trained" in any instrument, but this sounds pretty good to me.

My apologies if I wasn't supposed to capitalize Do Re Mi...

If the order of the I, IV, and V chords seems impossible to remember, it's a little easier when you realize that Do, Mi, Sol, Do  are all I chords.  Or, in scale degrees, that would be 1  5  8  1  or the interval a singer always seems to sing when they're warming up (at least in cartoons!).

The next thing that I think really stands out is that the V chords are played Before and After Do--at both ends of the octave.  So you'd use a V chord if you're going up FROM Do, or up TO Do (the octave).  And likewise, if you're going down FROM Do or down TO Do.   If it's next to Do, play a V chord!!!

The others are IV chords.  In my mind I think of the scale in three sections:

I     V            I    IV    I    IV            V   I          The I and V chords look kind of like bookends holding up 2 pairs of alternating books. 

Hey!  I'm a very visual person, too!   I hope this hasn't all been lost in formatting glitches.  If you want this sent as an email, just let me know!

Hope it helps!     Jan Potts

 




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updated by @jan-potts: 03/10/17 01:32:15AM
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,703 posts

Good info Dusty, thanks!

So, I guess a capo at 4th enables one to play some tunes in A but not others, while needing to get the G# on the middle string. I think chords would be a bit of a bear to work around, and the lack of G# on the melody string would really bum me out.  krazyhair




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Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
859 posts

Strumelia:

Dusty, if you capo on the 4th, you also won't have the G# available on the melody and bass strings- you'll only have a G natural on those outer strings- it'd be like not having the 6.5 fret.

That's true, but if you need it, you can get the note on the middle string.


Quote: (Kitchen Girl and Road to L. both sound more like minor, not major tunes to me?- with no sharps?)

Kitchen Girl has a minor part and a major part.  And Road to Lisdoonvarna is indeed in a minor key.  But with the capo at 4, the 6+ fret functions as a 1+ fret, giving you the minor third note of the scale.


Quote: Dulcimers have certain whole/half fret placements that mean you can't just move a capo up and down to get any key you want- unless it's a chromatically fretted instrument like a guitar, banjo, or a chromatic dulcimer.

Definitely true, which is why it is so difficult to play in other keys out of a standard dulcimer tuning.  I generally retune to get other keys.   But the capo can help for G and A.  The very first tune I ever saw played on the dulcimer is Stephen Seifert's Whiskey Before Breakfast video on YouTube.  He plays the song with the capo at the 4th fret, putting him in A major. I regularly play Indian on a Stump and Booth Shot Lincoln in A using the capo at 4.  It may not work for every tune, but it works for a lot of them.




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Dusty T., Northern California
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updated by @dusty-turtle: 03/10/17 12:22:24AM
dulcimerroo
@dulcimerroo
3 weeks ago
6 posts

Sorry Strumelia, just reread your post. We usually only use the capo if we need to play in a minor key but also for one or two tunes in G. As you point out it does not work for A tunes well.

dulcimerroo
@dulcimerroo
3 weeks ago
6 posts

Thanks again for the comments Strumelia and Dusty.

Trying tunes in A is more of an exercise in finger dexterity in reaching for the G# and also seeing what can and can't be done, we play melody and drone for the most part and play melody only if with other instruments. But endless tunes in D with the occasional G gets boring and retuning in the middle of a session out of the question. 

I play with an Old Time String band and we often play A tunes, as Dusty pointed out, for the most part I play melody and chords only when the melody is too fast or too difficult, but I play by ear and could not honestly tell others what I do it just comes natural and if what I do sound bad I change it. When pitted against a room full of guitars and banjos mistakes on the Dulcimer go pretty much unnoticed.

Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,703 posts

Dusty, if you capo on the 4th, you also won't have the G# available on the melody and bass strings- you'll only have a G natural on those outer strings- it'd be like not having the 6.5 fret.

(Kitchen Girl and Road to L. both sound more like minor, not major tunes to me?- with no sharps?)

You can capo on 3 to get the key of G successfully IF you have the 6.5 fret because that gives you your needed C#.  But unless I've missed something obvious, capoing to 4 won't give you the right whole/half steps to play in A major.

Dulcimers have certain whole/half fret placements that mean you can't just move a capo up and down to get any key you want- unless it's a chromatically fretted instrument like a guitar, banjo, or a chromatic dulcimer.




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updated by @strumelia: 03/09/17 11:22:39PM
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
859 posts

So the easy answer here is indeed to capo at the fourth fret and play everything you know for the key of D. You'll be playing in A.  Folks do that sometimes to match the keys of standard tunes at old timey or bluegrass jams.  Kitchen Girl, for example, is usually played in A, as is Salt Creek. Sally Goodin', Sourwood Mountain, and more.

What I don't get is the motivation here. Are there songs you want to play in A or do you just feel like playing in A for the fun of it?

Gary Gallier has arranged a few tunes in A out of a standard DAd tuning. But those are some pretty fancy tunes with very careful picking.  Since the D note is found in both the D and G chord, that low string sounds OK when you play in D and G, but it will be out-of-place in A, so you have to be really careful and only hit that bass string when you are playing a D chord. When you are playing an A or E chord you cannot hit that open bass string at all.

See Gary's arrangements of Kitchen Girl and Road to Lisdoonvarna from the tablature page of his website.

Personally, when I want to play in A I use a baritone dulcimer tuned AEa.  Simple, huh?




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Dusty T., Northern California
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Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,703 posts

I'm not understanding how that's going to work on DAd tuning.  Are you planning to make chords on all your strings, or just pick out the melody on one string?  
How do you plan to make the needed I,IV,V chords in A major on a DAd tuned dulcimer?
And if you capo on 4 to get to the key of A, you won't have the needed G# on the melody and bass strings.




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Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
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updated by @strumelia: 03/09/17 10:34:26PM
dulcimerroo
@dulcimerroo
3 weeks ago
6 posts

Thanks for the responses all! nod

To explain we tune DAD and have 6 1/2 frets that gives us a G sharp on the middle string, so we have just short of two octaves starting on the open middle string to the 2nd fret and then working up the melody string. I am fortunate in that I play by ear and can pretty well play any tune I can hum or whistle, but some of our group need tabs to play. Not wishing to make work for myself I hoped to find tunes in A major already written out saving me the chore.

Mary MacGowan
@mary-macgowan
3 weeks ago
5 posts

I have D-major-itis... After a few years of fretting over the situation (pun not intended) I decided I was fine with playing almost always in D Major.

That said, Strumelia asks a good question!

Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,703 posts

Have you addressed how you all will tune and/or capo your dulcimers in order to play in the key of A major?




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
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dulcimerroo
@dulcimerroo
3 weeks ago
6 posts

Can any one point me to tunes in score and tabs in the key of A major? Our group has vast numbers of tunes in D fewer in G but we would like to try our hand at the key of A.