Thank you Dusty for you very prompt and easy to understand reply. So would I be right in saying that back in the day when the ladies and gents were sitting on their porches playing ND or melody drone, whether they new it or were playing melody and chords? and does this mean that the Dulcimer is not just a melody instrument but also a chordal instrument?
Val, I think the answer to that would be "not really," though it depends on what you mean. Yes, it is true that anytime you play three notes at the same time you are playing a chord and that happens when you play melody/drone. However, the true use of chords involves chord changes or chord progressions and not just the occasional chord. For an easy example, if you play "Bile Dem Cabbage Down" in DAd, you are indeed playing a D major chord at the beginning when you play 002. But when you move to 003, a true chording player would play 0-1-3 to get the G major chord. But if you are droning, you stick with the drones and don't make that chord change. Similarly, when the melody moves to the 1st fret, a drone player would play 0-0-1, but someone playing chords would play 3-0-1 or 1-0-1 to get the A or A7 chord.
So yes, traditional melody/drone play involves the occasional chord, but it does not follow the chord progressions that serve as the harmonic structure of songs for those who employ them systematically.
An obvious example is Old Joe Clark. I learned the song on the guitar, and in the B part of the song in the key of D, a C chord is used. It is really pronounced and defines the second part of the song, in my mind. But dulcimer players usually skip that chord if they play in a droning style or replace it with an A chord, which does not have nearly the same dramatic effect. To my ears, skipping that chord is inconceivable since it defines the B part of the song, but it is really only easy to play if you have a 1-1/2 fret. If you think of the song as the melody, missing that chord means nothing. But if you define it by the harmonic structure (chord progressions) then the C chord is essential to the song.
So your question, Val, is whether you are sometimes playing chords when you play in a droning style, fingering only the melody string.
The short answer is yes. Anytime you play at least three different notes at the same time, you are playing a chord.
a) some groups of three notes sound good and some don’t.
b) often you are actually playing “partial chords” with one or more notes missing.
Let’s think about this for the key of D and the DAd tuning.
A major chord is made up of the 1st (or root), 3rd , and 5th tones of the major scale. In the key of D, that would be D, F#, and A.
In a DAd tuning, we get those notes when we fret the melody string on the second fret. The bass is D, the middle string is A, and the melody string is F#. That fingering 0-0-2 is a full D major chord since all three notes are played.
Dulcimer players also consider DAd to be an “open tuning,” meaning the unfretted strings play a chord. However, technically, we only have two notes there, so 0-0-0 is a “partial chord.” The same is true with 0-0-4, where we have D, A, and another octave of A.
This notion of “partial chords” is important for the dulcimer. Fancy chords have more than three notes. A D7 chord, for example, includes the main three notes of the D chord (D, F#, and A) but adds the lowered seventh note of the scale (C). How can we play four notes on the dulcimer? We can’t! We can only play partial chords. For D7 in DAd tuning, we play 0-0-6. In that case we are missing the 3rd note of the scale. I sometimes play 2-3-6, in which case we have F#, D and C. In that case we are missing the 5th note of the scale. Sometimes we use 1-0-1 for an A7 chord, but we are really only playing 2 of the 4 notes needed for the full chord.
This is a long way of saying that as you move up the melody string, you are occasionally playing chords, but more often you are playing partial chords. And while it is pretty easy to figure out that 0-0-6 is a D7 chord, other chords may be harder to identify, especially if one of the notes left off is the root.
What I find interesting about this is that our ears will usually fill in the missing notes given the context. Let’ use that open tuning as an example. In DAd we have two of the three notes of the D major chord. The F# is missing. That 3rd interval determines whether a chord is major or minor. If we were to play an F natural (not found on the diatonic fretboard tuned DAd) along with a D and A, we would have a D minor chord. So the fact that we are leaving off the 3rd from our D chord means the “partial chord” could be a D major or D minor. Each barre chord up the fretboard has the same dual possibility. 1-1-1 can be E or E minor, 2-2-2 can be F# or F# minor, 3-3-3 can be G or G minor, and so forth.
And other possibilities exist with other configurations of partial chords. Let’s go back to our D7 chord, which I initially suggested could be faked with 0-0-6. What if I played 6-0-6? Then I would only have the C and the A. In a D7, that would be the 5th and 7th notes of the scale, and if I were playing a song in D major and moved to that fingering when a D7 were appropriate, everyone’s ears would fill in the D and the F# and hear a D7 chord. But C and A are also notes in an A minor chord, and given the right musical context, listeners would hear that A minor rather than the D7 when those C and A notes were played.
I don’t know how much of this is helpful to you, and I don’t know that it makes sense to try to break down each chord that you play. I think your own sense that sometimes a group of notes sounds “good” or “right” together is all you need. I am currently arranging a bunch of lullabies for a workshop I’ll be teaching in a few months, and at one point I use a 3-4-5 chord. I am not sure what chord that is, and I would bet that I’m missing a note or two, but all I know is that given the musical context, it sounds pretty good.
Val, this is a nice piece about the Choctaw-Irish connection:
I had no idea. . . Thanks for pointing me in that direction!
Greetings Val, please see my note in your INBOX- thanks! :)