Jethro Amburgey #110
General mountain dulcimer or music discussions
Gotta love a happy ending.
Kimberly, I would also suggest checking with the Dulcimer Bag Lady. I have a very large dulcimer by Rick Probst that has a custom hardshell case, but I was told the single bag made by the Dulcimer Bag Lady is the only bag out there that would fit it. If not, as says, maybe they can make a custom bag for you. Since they handmake all their stuff, it is possible they can accommodate you.
Why do you need the case? One option might be rifle cases with customizable foam, like this one at Amazon. Basically the foam is pre-cut into hundreds of little cubes, and you just remove the cubes to fit your gun (or dulcimer) snugly inside. The only drawback is that you will never be able to check your dulcimer as luggage when flying, since TSA obviously does not want people transporting their guns around.
A lot of this discussion addresses the challenges facing people used to a diatonic fretboard who switch to chromatic and need visual cues (position dots, gold frets, etc.) to help them adjust. In other words, the answer to the question is YES, you can play diatonic music on a chromatic fretboard, but you may have to overcome a hurdle in learning the layout of the fretboard.
In my mind there are two distinct reasons to play a chromatic instrument. One is to play modern music like jazz and some pop/rock for which the dulcimer was not originally intended. A good example of that is . I don' think you could play Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" on a diatonic, but Sam pulls it off swimmingly on a chromatic! Another reason is to play in different keys, and a good example is . She basically plays diatonic music, but because she often plays in multi-instrument jams where the keys change rapidly, she uses a chromatic. No need to re-tune. No need for a capo. Have dulcimer, will travel.
For any individual out there attracted to a chromatic dulcimer, I say "go for it!" In the long run, your understanding of music--even diatonic music--will be enhanced by the fact that you can visualize an entire chromatic fretboard and see the diatonic patterns therein.
But as a community, I think dulcimer players should still embrace the diatonic fretboard both as the historical origins of the instrument and also because of the simple learning curve. Beginning players can learn the dulcimer quickly because of the relative simplicity of the fretboard. That doesn't mean the instrument is limited to simple music, but merely that this humble instrument is more approachable than, say, the violin, which takes a year or two of serious practice merely to play badly. The accessibility of the dulcimer is one of its most attractive attributes. It is a big part of what makes the instrument so special.
Adobe now offers something online called Adobe Express . I believe it is free. It is basically a scaled-down version of the full Adobe Creative Cloud, so it includes the ability to create and edit pdf files.
It's true that 6 String Dulcimer group hasn't been too active recently, but remember that you have to actually join a group to see the responses to all the discussions.
I'm sure there are as many responses to this question as there are personal musical styles, but I'm happy to chime in, not with specific song suggestions, but with types of songs and techniques that might be useful.
There are two different attributes to your dulcimer that might suggest special consideration. First, it is an octave instrument. You can play the same tab as everyone else but will be one octave higher. Sometimes, you don't have to do anything special and will blend really well. I sometimes take my dulcimette to my monthly dulcimer club and pull it out when we play Southwind, for example. My dulcimer really stands out from and complements the rest because of the higher register. But that higher register--and the shorter VSL that allows it--also means that the instrument has less sustain. The strings just stop ringing (or get really soft) much faster than those of a standard dulcimer. So one trick is just to play tunes that have lots of notes. I actually find it easier to play fast fiddle tunes on my smaller dulcimers. But if you choose tunes with half notes and whole notes, you will want to play a lot of arpeggios, basically playing chords one string at a time to fill in the spaces in the melody. To see what I mean about using arpeggios to fill in the spaces, check out the version of Raisins and Almonds I posted a while back.
But your dulcimer is also a six-string dulcimer. I have a six-string baritone dulcimette, and tend to play songs with a lot of strumming. Fingerpicking doesn't work as well, but fast strumming is really fun with all those double strings. Think of the rhythmic role of a mandolin in a bluegrass band. Remember, however, that you can also take off the extra strings and have a 3-string instrument. My baritone dulcimette is currently strung only with three strings and is nice for softer, quieter tunes. In a sense, you have two instruments in one.
Good luck. I'm sure you'll find a bunch of tunes and develop your own style of playing them, something unique to you and your dulcimer.
That's a beauty, for sure!
Patricia, I just listened to the episode and want to congratulate you and Wayne once again for your stellar work. You did a great job of framing the episode but allowing Ashley to really shine. Her enthusiasm not just for dulcimer music but for the dulcimer community really comes through. And ending the episode with Joellen's "Dance and Sing" is just a perfect way to reinforce the way music can bring us together in such a joyous way.
And I can attest--since I was there--that Ashley is correct: the Berkeley Dulcimer Gathering was indeed the first online dulcimer festival, although by the time it happened, several others were in the works.
Thanks so much for all you do!
Lisa, I'm just going to repeat what other have said, but phrase it in a different way.
Forget the strings. Look at the grooves in the nut and bridge on your Mize. Do they look the same as those of the Blue Lion? If so, the instrument can be strung as a traditional 3 course dulcimer with either 3 strings or 4 (with a double melody string). If not, then you may be correct that it can only be strung as a 4 equidistant instrument. If that is the case, then you might consider replacing the nut and bridge rather than buying a new instrument.
Having said that, Blue Lions are wonderful instruments, and if you can get an affordable used one, you might want to do so. I would only caution you that Blue Lions have a floating bridge, meaning it is not glued to instrument. If it sounds off when you first play it, the bridge probably needs to be adjusted. If you change the strings, do so one-at-a time so the bridge doesn't move.
Interesting dulcimer. Is it an optical illusion or is the upper bout wider than the lower bout?
Homer, you seem to be asking a couple of different questions.
One is just how to maintain your repertoire. Ken has one strategy that works if you have a good memory of the songs and just need a reminder of the beginning to get going. I keep an active "set list" of no more than a dozen tunes that I play regularly. The set list is constantly changing but represents the tunes I enjoy playing the most at any given time. And I try to keep up on those, allowing others to get rusty.
But maintaining a repertoire is not the same as practicing in order to improve. Personally, I enjoy playing scales and arpeggios and spend some time with both as often as possible. When you practice a song, you get better at that song. But when you work on technique, you get better at every song you play. There are also some songs I play as exercises with no intention of actually performing them. I used Pig Ankle Rag like that for years, forcing myself to use my pinky as often as possible to strengthen that finger. I also use a metronome for songs like that and when doing those scales and arpeggios.
But I also spend time just playing the songs I am working on, focusing on the problem areas. I just wrote a song recently that I really like, but there is a two-measure sequence of all eighth notes that moves over several frets and two strings, and I sometimes just play those two measures over and over.
Importantly, I end every practice session playing a song I enjoy and can play well. So the emotion I leave with is one of contentment with my playing rather than the frustration that accompanies learning new stuff. And I always make a point to take some time to just to play, without any interest in the metronome or the occasional buzz from inaccurate fretting, or whatever. You have to have fun, after all. As Steve Eulberg says, we call it "playing music," not "working music."
Beautiful. Two instruments. Two voices. Infinitely joyful.
I've had good experiences with Howard Feed N Wax , but if there is tangible grime like adhesive on the instrument you might want to try to get rid of it first.
I think we can all agree that how to name an instrument is not the same as how to classify an instrument in terms of its organology. An autoharp, a hammered dulcimer, and a mountain dulcimer are all zithers, yet they are played in completely different ways. So that classification is useful for museum curators but not very practical for musicians.
Although what is commonly called a "stick dulcimer" is not technically a zither and therefore not properly a dulcimer, that term tells us exactly what the instrument is: a diatonic instrument with three courses of strings that stretch over not only the box, but also a neck. The term is therefore simultaneously technically wrong but also extremely accurate.
In terms of how one would play this instrument, the fact that it has a diatonic fretboard and three courses of strings, the highest of which is doubled, means that the instrument resembles a dulcimer far more than a guitar or lute. I would avoid guitar or lute in the naming for that reason.
I like the idea of giving it a name reminiscent of geographical features of the Nashville area and then describing it as a "dulcimer-like instrument" shaped like a guitar with a diatonic fretboard and three courses of strings. If you have different models, perhaps they can be named for different bodies of water, or different neighborhoods, or different railroad lines, or whatever.
A lot of people who use straps tile the dulcimer slightly upward so that the bottom doesn't sit flat on their lap, thus enabling the back to vibrate more freely. That makes a noticeable difference in volume, and perhaps a slight difference in tone as well.
Hey , you've discovered a great solution that is, in fact, a pretty common one. When I went to my first dulcimer festival there was someone there giving out pieces of the shelf liner for exactly that purpose.
My only advice is that when you store the items in your case, make sure they are not in permanent contact with the wood of the dulcimer. They sometimes leave a mark on the dulcimer's finish if left in contact for too long, especially in a case with little air flow.
Nice to hear of such a satisfying ending to this story.
I gather you are not talking about the part of the capo that presses down on the strings, but rather the parts that hold the capo tight on the dulcimer, correct?
It might not look too nice, but you could get those little felt pads that are made to put under furniture so they don't scratch hardwood floors. They are sticky on one side and have a soft felt on the other. They come in so many sizes and shapes, I'm sure you could find some that would work. And they're not expensive.
Welcome to FOTMD, . Peruse the forums and join any groups that interest you (you have to join to see all the discussion posts). Ask questions whenever you please. We'll be happy to offer answers -- and some of them might even be correct!
I'm happy to have Matt's respect and also to be corrected. Just don't tell my wife I was wrong.
Of course one can play chords on a bass dulcimer, just as one can play chords on a bass guitar. But generally, the purpose of a bass is to, well, play the bass part. The fiddle weaves the melody, the guitar provides the chords, and the bass plays the bass lines. I certainly don't want anyone to be locked into those small roles, but it does seem that most of the time, that is what we'll be doing. It is more important to be comfortable playing chords on a standard dulcimer than a on bass dulcimer, but of course you can do it on both.
And by the way, if you really want to prove me wrong, send me a bass dulcimer. I promise to play lots of melody and lots of chords on it. I'll gladly admit to having been mistaken.
Lorilee, I would think a bass dulcimer should have a pretty big box, but that could be achieved with depth, allowing the dulcimer to be on the shorter end of scale length. I believe the New Harmony baritone/bass model only has a 25" or 25-1/2" scale length.
But remember that with a bass dulcimer you are most likely going to play bass lines, not chords, so even an instrument such as Blue Lion's 27-1/2" bass should be playable even by those of us who are vertically challenged.
Good for you, ! The builders here might want to chime in, but I would guess the cigar box material is a softer wood (they were traditionally built of cedar), and you might want a harder material for a bridge. You might consider using your cigar-box bridge as a template and making another out of a harder wood or bone or a hard plastic resin or something. You will likely get a crisper sound.
That's a fine looking dulcimer, by the way. Congrats!
Hey , I would think a Fluke would be a great beginner ukulele. They are made with a composite body, which keeps the cost down and also makes them almost indestructible. The wood top ensures good tonality. And they are made with excellent intonation. There are lots of cheap ukuleles out there, but a lot of them are unplayable. The Fluke is reliable. And hey, you don't need a stand since it can stand up on its own!
Although they cost a little more, I prefer the models with wood fretboards. The sound is noticeably warmer than those with the polycarbonate fretboard.
Even if you continue playing and eventually want a fancier, solid wood instrument, the Fluke makes a great travel instrument-- something you can be comfortable taking camping, for example--so it will always have a use.
Crosspicking is a specific type of flatpicking.
Flatpicking is merely the technique of playing runs of single notes using a flatpick. (Technically we also strum with a flatpick, but usually flatpicking is seen as an alternative to strumming.)
Crosspicking involves the use of flatpicking patterns across several strings. Check out this demonstration of Molly Tuttle crosspicking "Wildwood Flower." You can see that by imposing her picking pattern across several strings, she adds rhythmic complexity while not only carrying the melody, but also offering harmony (chords) as well, without strumming at all.
If you are just starting out, you will want to master the basic back-and-forth picking of flatpicking before getting into the more complex rhythmic patterns of crosspicking. If you search these terms on the internet, you'll find lots of stuff for guitarists, a little for mandolin players, and almost nothing for dulcimer players. Among dulcimer players, the most prolific at both would be Aaron O'Rourke and Gary Gallier. Stephen Seifert is clearly capable of the technique as well, as is Erin Mae, but they tend to strum a lot more than is usually included in crosspicking.
Edit: In that Molly Tuttle video, she doesn't play the song until 12:52. She begins teaching it at 7:48. The first 7+ minutes is her explaining the crosspicking pattern she uses.
Douglas, as I think you know, the dulcimer was originally a diatonic instrument. Some time around the early seventies or so, the 6-1/2 fret started to become pretty common. It is now the most common configuration of frets on a dulcimer. It allows people tuned in what was a mixolydian tuning to also play the ionian mode or major scale. The second most common "extra" fret is the 1-1/2 fret, which you are referring to as the minor 3rd. I like that extra fret because in a 1-5-8 tuning you get the lowered third on the melody string and the lowered seventh on the middle string, so it's conducive to playing the blues.
A while back I posted a piece called " What are Half Frets and Do I Need Any ?" It will likely answer your questions.
Hey Douglas and welcome to FOTMD.
The go-to book for chords that includes more tunings than you will ever utilize is Neal Hellman's Dulcimer Chord Book , originally published by Mel Bay in 1981. You can probably find pretty inexpensive used copies, but even new it only goes for about $10.
We have a group here specifically on Dulcimer Making . Go ahead and join that group, peruse the existing conversations, and start a new one if you have a question that is not already answered somewhere.
Ken accurately enumerates the many variables that affect the sound of an instrument, and you have two very different instruments here in terms of size, design, wood, etc. You even tune them to different keys and different modes! In short, they should sound different.
In general, most luthiers have a consistent feel and sound, but within that consistency is room for variation depending on the specific model, the woods chosen, the bracing, etc.