Capo positions, tunings, chords and other wonderful things
General mountain dulcimer or music discussions
You're close, Dana. Before we get to capos, let me explain something that didn't occur to me until I had been playing a year or two.
First, we call the open DAd (or DAA, but when we get to chords I'll be referring to DAd) as a D chord. Technically, it is missing the 3rd, so it can be D major or D minor. But if 0-0-0 is a D, then 1-1-1 is an E, 2-2-2 is an F#, 3-3-3 is a G, 4-4-4 is an A, 5-5-5 is a B, and so forth. And again, those "chords" can be major or minor, so a 1-1-1 will be an E in one harmonic context and an Em in another. The listeners' ears will fill in either the major or minor 3rd. But that principle alone will allow you to play all kinds of chords that you might not have thought possible.
Second, once we see that pattern, we can say that yes, when you put your capo at the first fret your open strings are in an E chord. And if we were playing a guitar or banjo, that would be enough. We could move the capo to any position and play as though the capo weren't there, making wonderful music in any key. But the dulcimer's diatonic fretboard means that even if our open strum is a given chord, we may nor may not be able to play a song we want because the frets are in different places.
However, there are two places the capo (mostly) works: the third fret for the key of G and the fourth fret for the key of A. Play a simple song you know toward the nut. Now put a capo on the third fret and play it again, using exactly the fingerings you are used to. You will see that you are now playing the same song, but in a higher register and in a different key (G instead of D). This will also work if you put the capo at the 4th fret, but you will have to be aware of the 6+ fret, which is now playing the role of the 1+ fret. It is also fun to put the capo at other frets and see the sounds you get. For example, many songs that are played in a DAC tuning can be played instead with a capo at the first fret (I am not suggesting a capo is preferable here, just pointing out the similarity).
For another discussion here recently I made the following video to demonstrate how I use the capo: https://youtu.be/MR-T9l7KiEg.
Again, what makes this complicated, Dana, is that on a dulcimer with a diatonic fretboard, a capo not only changes the key but also the mode, so when the capo moves to different frets you cannot necessarily play the same song in a different key. You have to find a different song that fits the mode created by the new fret spacing.
As for chords, please refer to that transposition chart I posted in the other discussion. IN the key of D, we use mainly the D, G, and A chords. When you put the capo at the third fret to play in G, you will be using the G, C, and D chords. However--and this is the beauty of the capo--you don't have to change fingerings. Just pretend you are playing in D, and your chords will magically be transformed (or transposed) to G, C, and D. That is what my video linked to above tries to demonstrate.
updated by @Dusty Turtle: 04/09/17 12:25:14PM