Holiday Music Recommendations
General mountain dulcimer or music discussions
I saw a great show last night. Mollie's Revenge played a show as part of their annual "Wintersong" holiday tour. They are amazing musicians, playing fiddle, guitar, mandola, bagpipes, whistles, bodran and more. They play mostly traditional Celtic music on traditional Celtic instruments, but they do so with a hard-driving, rock-tinged edge. If you check out some of their videos on YouTube, you'll see what I mean. They were joined by vocalist Amelia Hogan and The Murray Irish Dancers. As soon as the piper came out with his bagpipes decorated like a Christmas tree, they had won me over. The music was exhilarating and I had a lot of trouble calming down afterwards to get to sleep.
Melanie, if you are following the tab of a song and a chord name is indicated on top, you are not supposed to stop playing the tab and play the chord. The chord is for another instrument (like a guitar or another dulcimer) to accompany you. The chances are, you are already playing that chord. For example, if you are stumming across the strings in DAd, and you move from the open melody string up to the second fret, and then to the fourth fret, you are already playing D chords. If you want to sing the song and play chords, by all means follow those chordal indications. But if you are playing tab, just play the tab.
For a long time I did not put chords in my tablature. But over time I got frustrated that people in my local dulcimer group could play 3-1-0 if it were in the tablature, but if I asked them to play a G chord, they had no idea how to do it! So I started putting the chord names in so that they would understand what chords they were playing when they followed the tab.
, if you are playing across all the strings and have a 6+ fret, neither DAA nor DAd is better. They are basically the same in the sense that you have exactly the same notes at your disposal. It is true, however, that these days more dulcimer tab and instruction is created for DAd, so you will have more support if you learn that tuning.
Drone style players need to get used to re-tuning to be able play tunes in different modes, but those of us who fret across the strings can usually get those modes without retuning.
Unless your dulcimer points its fingers at you and laughs whenever you make a mistake, there is no reason to be intimidated. Frustrated, yes, we all get frustrated. But not intimidated. I think your plan is fine. Learn some tunes by following tab written by others. But also take time to just find melodies by ear on your own. As you learn the chord shapes (there aren't that many of them) you will know what your options are for finding the right chord to play with a note. But you should also experiment. Once you find a melody note, try to find a note on another string that sounds good with it. You don't have too many options since your hand can't reach that far. Once you have found that one harmony note, see if you can find another on the third string. And remember that in DAA, the middle and the melody strings are tuned the same, so you can always use the same fret, and in DAd, the bass and middle are an octave apart, so you can always use the same fret.
Strumelia, my wife is the queen of chicken soup and often makes a new batch every day. You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm really not. And not just in the winter, but even in the summer, which drives me crazy and leads to arguments about the cost of air conditioning. Sometimes she makes what she calls vegetable soup, but she still uses a chicken broth. For that reason, when I make soup I tend to use vegetable broth to get a break.
Yes, miso has no expiration date. It's kind of scary how long it lasts in the refrigerator.
I've been told that honey is the only "food" that doesn't spoil.
I think I'll stay away from the frozen woolly mammoth meat, though. That stuff might have been infected with diseases that have been extinct for 10,000 years. No reason to bring it back.
Well the cold (for California) weather has set in, and after all the buttery, gravy-laden Thanksgiving grub, I thought I needed a cleaning. So last night I made a bit batch of one of my cold weather standards. I call it "hearty vegetable miso soup." I start with vegetable broth and toss in whatever vegetables I'm in the mood for. This time around I added onions, bell peppers, orange cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus. Seasoned with onion powder, garlic powder, and whatever else I'm in the mood for. I even added a teaspoon of a pre-made barbecue sauce and a couple of shakes of hot sauce. Get that up to a boil and then turn it down. Then add a big tablespoon or two of miso paste, which doesn't like to boil but needs to be really hot to dissolve easily. Once that's all mixed in I add some cubed tofu and top it off with a sliced green onion. I made enough to last a few of days, but when I have some later today or tomorrow I might add some chicken or salmon or some other protein. It's remarkably tasty and filling while still being really low in carbs and fats.
In the past, less concerned with carbs, I used to toss in some udon noodles. But that's how flexible this dish is. The soup is great for parties when different people have different dietary restrictions. You can make noodles, chicken, beef, pork, or seafood, and just have all that available on the side for people to add into their soup, which starts out vegan and gluten-free.
First, you should know about the Strothers String Gauge Calculator , which will calculate an appropriate string gauge once you enter the vibrating string length (VSL, or the distance between the bridge and nut) and the note you want to play. The calculator errs on the light side, so feel free to go one or two gauges heaver.
Second, can I ask how you play and why you want to tune this way?
If you play in a drone style, ADa is considered a "reverse ionian" tuning, meaning you would still be playing in the key of D, but the drones are reversed, with the root being on the middle string and the fifth on the bass string.
If you play chords and fret all strings, ADa is a common tuning for baritone dulcimers when the player wants to play in the key of D to play with standard dulcimers tuned DAd or DAA. In the case of baritone dulcimers, the middle string would be tuned to the same D as the bass string of a standard dulcimer, with the bass string a fourth below that and the melody string a fifth above.
The 3/4-size instruments such as the McSpadden Ginger or Ron Ewing's baritone dulcimette are sometimes tuned to A as well. They would be an octave above the baritone, with the bass string being the same as the middle string on a standard dulcimer.
Unless you are using the "reverse ionian" tuning to play in D, however, a normal tuning in A for either the baritone dulcimers or the octave versions of the baritone dulcimers would be AEE or AEa.
It sounds like you are trying to get the Ginger tonal range on a standard dulcimer. You can possibly do it, but you will need to identify the correct string gauges sing the calculator linked to above. But note that most people who tune that way use a smaller dulcimer, not a standard-sized dulcimer.
And I'm still curious why you want to tune this way.
Don, I don't use iTunes or Spotify, so I can't help you with those streaming services. But I would say that the most relaxing dulcimer music I've ever heard is Mark Kailana Nelson's CD Ke Kukima Polinahe: Hawaiian and Polynesian Music for Appalachian Dulcimer . That link takes you to YouTube, where you can hear the whole album. He also released a book of tab for the music on the CD, but I've never learned any of the tunes. I strongly recommend the album, though. Whenever I feel really stressed I put on that music, close my eyes, and relax on a breezy island in the Pacific.
His playing and singing are good enough (you gotta love the little smile as he sings the slightly bawdy lines) but the rhythms he gets with that striker are just amazing. I'm in awe.
Its amazing how things have changed. I wrote the original post that starts this thread when I was just starting out on the dulcimer and knew no one who plays. Now I have students who work with me weekly, a monthly gathering, and a couple of annual festivals. And through that entire evolution, I've relied on all the friends here at FOTMD to share our musical passion. Without all of you to share my interest in things dulcimer, my life would be genuinely impoverished. Thank you all.
I wish you all a peaceful Thanksgiving.
Just got an organic heirloom turkey from a farm about 50 miles away in the Sierra foothills. I'm sure it will be good, but I could have bought a student model dulcimer for the price! I probably won't get too fancy in preparing it. One year I brined the turkey for two days in an orange juice/Jack Daniels recipe I found somewhere, turning it every several hours. In the end it tasted like . . . well . . . like turkey. Nothing special. I'll probably just do a dry rub with salt and paprika and whatever else I find.
Don, it just occurred to me that if you were indeed trying to get the note of a 1/2 fret, you could do it by bending a lower string. So if you wanted an A#, you could bend your D string at the 4th fret. Or if you wanted a D#, you could bend the A string at the 3rd fret.
Don, I'm not sure what you mean by "at 1/2." If you bend a note at the first fret, you are actually moving toward the note you would get at the 1-1/2 fret. There is no way to bend an open string, so you cannot bend a string to get the note you would get with a 1/2 fret.
Bending notes at the first fret is harder than elsewhere. I generally push in on the melody string and pull back on the bass and middle strings. It also helps to use more than one finger, so you might fret and bend a string with three fingers until you build up the strength to do it with just one.
Hi . When I first started playing the dulcimer I played with a double melody string because, well, that's how my first dulcimer was sold to me. I was advised by more experienced players to remove one of them because it would be "easier" to play with just three strings, but I arrogantly ignored that advice, thinking that since I had played mandolin and have a 12-string guitar, the double strings would not be a problem for me. One day when putting on new strings I decided to leave the extra melody string off to see what it would be like, and I immediately knew I liked the sound better. A single melody string just makes for such a cleaner and less cluttered sound. I never put a second melody string on a dulcimer after that moment.
There are other benefits to a single melody string which you point to: it is easier to perform hammer-ons and pull-offs. And it is nearly impossible to bend strings well with a double melody since the two strings do not bend at exactly the same rate.
Luckily, you don't have to make this decision permanently. Switch to a single melody string, play for a while, and see how you like it. If you don't you can always put the extra string back on.
I understand that noter/drone players enjoy zinging up and down the fretboard, and supposedly the double melody strings create a better balance between the melody and the drones. But if you fret across all the strings, using a single melody string actually creates that balance since all strings play the melody more or less equally.
If you search through the past discussion here at FOTMD, you will find that several address this very issue. Here is one of them . (And looking through that old discussion, I realize that I posted nearly the same comments I added here. At least I'm consistent.)
I did find this noter/drone version by Cecil Moody , but the melody seems to be a simplified version that misses out on the more eerie, minor-sounding parts that you here in other versions by Joan Baez or, most recently, Chris Thile .
I also found some lyrics sheets with chords , which are (happily) in the key of D. I haven't worked through the whole tune yet, but at least the beginning can be played on a dulcimer tuned DAA or DAd. If you play noter/drone, tune DAA, since the melody begins on that A note for "Don't" and then moves up to E (either 4 on an A string or 1 on a D string) for "songs."
I may work out a version of this tune over the next few days. If so, I'll post again.
Ronald, you are actually asking two questions here. The first has to do with traditional dulcimer styles and the second about modern, chord style players.
As Ken has explained, traditionally, the dulcimer was only fretted on the melody string and the bass and middle strings were left to drone. Many fine players still play in that style and achieve the haunting, ancient sound of traditional folk music. In that style of play, the tuning of the melody string has to change depending on the mode or scale on which the melody of a particular song is based. DAA and DAd are the two "major-sounding" tunings. Before the addition of the 6+ fret, DAA was the only tuning that could be used to play songs in what we call the major scale, so it was more common. The addition of the 6+ fret allows us to play that same scale in DAd, but as Ken mentions, if you only play on the melody string, DAA allows three notes below the starting note of the scale.
But if you play in the traditional drone style, you don't just keep one tuning all the time. The tuning is determined by the melody. In the key of D, Angelina Baker can only be played in DAA. Going to Boston can only be played in DAd. Shady Grove can only be played in DAC, and so forth.
Modern chord players who fret across all the strings and also have a 6+ fret can often (though not always) get those different melodies without retuning. But both DAA and DAd have exactly the same notes, so neither one has an advantage in that light. Rather the difference between the two has to do with chord voicings. Chords in DAA are more compact and chords in DAd have greater range, meaning the notes might come from two different octaves. But one is not better than the other.
At some point a few decades ago, dulcimers tuned DAd with a 6+ fret became a kind of standard for modern dulcimer players. That is how I play, but there is admittedly something rather arbitrary about it. Had most people tuned DAA when I started playing, that would probably be my main tuning.
Ronald, the Kens have already highlighted the most important obstacles: the chromatic fretboard, the placement of the bass string, etc.
I think the biggest obstacle you will have is string spacing. The strings on the guitar are placed much closer together than are the strings on the dulcimer. If you are going to play in a modern chording style in which you fret across all the strings, string slots that are next to each other (say the G, D, and A strings, for example), will be too close together for you to get your fingers in there. And if you choose string slots further apart (say the B, D, and low E strings), they will be too far apart and will make chording difficult.
If you want to play in a traditional droning style that string placement will be less of an issue because you will only be fretting (either with a finger or a noter) the string closest to you, so the strings won't have to be equidistant.
But regardless of how you proceed, as Ken states, the slots that exist in your nut and bridge may not work for dulcimer string gauges.
I would suggest another option. Keep your guitar in playable condition as a guitar. Find yourself a cheap cardboard dulcimer. None of them are that loud, but some of them are ridiculously nice and make me feel silly for spending so much money for fancy dulcimers made of fancy woods. Backyard dulcimer makes a kit and so does Folkcraft. They take about an hour to put together, or you can pay a little extra and have it pre-made. You can sometimes find used ones as well. Those cardboard dulcimers are more than adequate to get you started while you wait for your winter dulcimer.
Yeah, this is really good stuff. I wish we could separate the audio and hear each instrument separately. Or maybe just get a camera solely on the dulcimer's fretboard. The dulcimer is not playing exactly what the fiddle is, sometimes a simplified melody and sometimes pure accompaniment. I know it's not traditional, but I like the use of the bass string that begins around 1:14. It really adds a nice contrast to the fiddle.
Indeed, they put on a great show. Glad you guys got to see them. Aubrey's clogging just blows me away. And I don't even understand how she can clog while also playing the banjo.
Several months ago I attended a house concert featuring the superb Irish fiddler Gerry O'Conner . He was accompanied by a guitarist who played only in DADGAD tuning. I was particularly intrigued because he played some chords that you rarely hear in Irish or Celtic music. But when I talked to him after the show he confessed that he doesn't always know exactly what chord he is playing because he often lets the highest strings drone. Note that the highest strings are A and D. In other words, he was playing the same drones that we do on a dulcimer tuned to D! And according to Tony McManus , the DADGAD tuning originated as a slight variation of an open D tuning, so it makes perfect sense that Robin would have found the pairing of the two instruments to work so well.
P.S. I get dizzy just looking at that picture of Robin atop the rock on Lundy Island.
, Ken is correct that DAd and DAA are equivalent in terms of the notes and chords available. Chord voicings are a bit different; they are more compact in DAA and a bit more expansive in DAd. But you have exactly the same notes available to you in those two tunings, so any claim that one is better for chords than the other is pure nonsense.
There are two main limitations with either tuning. The first is key, for you can only play in a handful of keys (D and Bm are easy, G and Em are doable, A and F#m are a stretch, and anything else is near impossible). The second is that you still have a diatonic fretboard (which is why the keys are so limited). Fretting across the strings allows you to get around some of the limitations of the fretboard, but not all of them. Personally, I play dulcimers with both a 6+ and a 1+ fret to allow a greater variety of notes, chords, and keys. You might consider adding those extra frets as well.
The answer to your question is that it doesn't really matter. Most of us who play modern music tune to a 1-5-8 tuning such as DAd, so you will find more resources for that tuning. That might be reason enough to tune that way.
I would suggest you listen to the dulcimer players who play the kind of music you want to play and ask them how they are tuned.
Patricia, I like the poetic interpretation, and can even imagine singing the song while holding a baby and then placing the baby into a crib as you sing "down will come baby." However, I always assumed that in the same way that the old folk tales really were about starvation and death and infanticide (and in the case of Little Red Riding Hood, incest and bestiality), "Rock-a-Bye Baby" was about the dangers that beset infants in the pre-modern era, perhaps even infanticide, which was often due to "exposure," meaning babies were just left outside in the woods (maybe even in a treetop). In the end, we don't really know, do we?
Another sweet episode, Patricia. It's an honor to be associated with you guys and the Hearts of the Dulcimer Podcast.
I have to count myself among those who was never enamored with "Rock-a-bye Baby" because of the image of the baby falling from the treetop. I don't know if I'm entirely convinced of Julia Soto Lebetritt's interpretation, but she has me thinking about it.
Thanks for all you do!
Some years ago I bought a limberjack from Keith Young and another (more expensive one) in the shape of a dog from someone on Etsy. As Ken says, there are several sellers on Etsy, but the search engine there keeps changing "limberjack" to "lumberjack," so you might do a Google search for "limberjack on Etsy" or something like that.
Ken, I wish I had the time to juice all these pomegranates. The trees are really bursting this year and we can't possibly consume them all.
I have too many limes as well right now. For some reason our Meyers lemons ripen in the winter but the limes peaked a couple of weeks ago.
Thanks for the tip, . I am still hopeful that what I'm experiencing is not arthritis . Ever since I discovered the dulcimer and realized that playing it could provide enjoyment the rest of my life, I've had a deep-seated fear that I would develop arthritis, ruining my plan. The pain I'm experiencing is not associated with a joint, and I'm hoping that I just tweaked some tendons or ligaments in my hand and because I've kept playing through the pain it never had a chance to heal. Still, your advice of a paraffin dip sounds interesting and I'll definitely give it a try if I don't get some relief in a few days of rest.
I've been feeling minor (and hopefully short-lived ) pain in my fretting hand recently which has not gone away, so I decided it needs some downtime to heal. I've taken this moment to do some maintenance on my instruments. I took the strings off two dulcimers today and treated them with some Howard Feed N Wax. In a little bit I'll wipe 'em down again and put new strings on. Tomorrow I'll tackle another couple of instruments. Maybe I'll get really ambitious and put new strings on the 12-string guitar. I might even tune up the autoharp.
Gotta take care of the instruments if we want them to take care of us.
, you might want to contact . He is a luthier who had been making steel-string dulcimers for a while but recently developed a nylon-string model. I think he tried unsuccessfully to simply put nylon strings on his older models so he designed a new model specifically for nylon strings. I don't know enough about instrument construction to understand the differences, but I think his nylon-string dulcimers have many different design elements, from bracing inside the box to the way the fretboard connects to the rest of the instrument.
I won't enter into the fray about the origin of the scheitholt, but at least we know the epinette des Vosges is from, well, the Vosges.
Proedrick, the issue with the terminology is not a big deal. If the strings sit on top of the box, the instrument is in the zither family (like the dulcimer or autoharp). If the strings extends past the box, we call that a neck, and the instrument is in the lute family (like a guitar or mandolin).
In the picture you posted, the head of the dulcimer extends past the body, but the fretboard sits on the box itself, so technically it has no neck.
Incidentally, this is one reason why purists don't consider stick dulcimers to be dulcimers. The "stick" is the neck of the instrument, so from an organological (fancy word, huh ) point of view, the instrument is in the lute family rather than the zither family regardless of whether it has a diatonic fretboard or not.
Hey Phroedrick, I guess you have to call this a time-consuming lesson. I have no knowledge of lutherie, so I would have no idea how to fix fret buzz. But when I've brough an instrument in to a shop for that reason, the luthiers always eyeball the fretboard first, looking to see how flat it is. I would think that actually working with the frets would be the last adjustment to make. I'm sure it's been frustrating for you.
And hey, River City Dulcimers is meeting this Saturday in Roseville if you want to make a drive. I know it's a schlep, but you'll have folks to commiserate with. You're more than welcome to join us.
Hi Gale. I am interested. Not only to I have a "thing" for little dulcimers, but I think this would be a good way to experiment with a chromatic fretboard. I'll send you a personal message right now.
Sounds delicious and comforting. Your words remind me of that Greg Brown tune "Canned Goods" .
Let the wild winter wind bellow and blow
I'm as warm as a July tomato.
There's peaches on the shelf, potatoes in the bin
Supper ready everybody come on in
Taste a little of the summer
Taste a little of the summer
Taste a little of the summer
Grandma put it all in jars.
By the way, I hear Juneau's paying $50 now.
Honestly, it's a great tune, Butch. You gotta find a way to keep it alive.