Folks, do you have pending 'Followers' left hanging...!?
Site QUESTIONS ? How do I...?
I just unchecked that box. ;)
I just unchecked that box. ;)
Thanks for this Strumelia, but is there perhaps something else going on here? I ask because I took a look and noticed I had 6 or so followers to approve, yet I had the tickbox in the my profile tab set to automatically approve followers.
Hi Folkfan. I don't think I knew David was having health problems (that could be because I spent much of the last few months in the hospital/ICU myself with a rare and life-threatening disease). Regardless, I hope all goes well for Dave and that he is feeling 100% in no time.
Ken - thanks for that info. Much appreciated!
Joe, what is your definition of a "properly constructed instrument" with a scalloped fretboard such that it doesn't warp? I'm curious as to the construction differences that differentiate it from those instruments whose scalloped fretboards do warp.
I'm going to to disagree with Ken here. I haven't owned scalloped-fretboard instruments long enough to notice any issues, but I can think of three people I know, very well respected in the dulcimer world, who have been playing instruments with and without scalloped fretboards longer than I've been alive, and it is their opinion that over time, those scalloped fretboards do (and in the case of some builders, WILL) warp. And they each told me that independently, over the years I've known them. In fact, it's not even an opinion; two of them have shown me examples.
I have a lot of fun with Arkansas Traveler. It's ridiculously fun to play, in fact - a simple tune you can do so much with. Great sections for hammer-ons and pull-offs, stumming, cross-picking...it's one of those tunes that can take a lot of abuse and still come out sounding really good. (And it's just fun physically to play.) It also seems to be one of the first tunes to come out of any new dulcimer I pick up for the first time. :)
Dana, I am very happy you are enjoying the instrument. :) (I told you it was a good one!)
If using the same gauge strings, those on a dulcimer with a shorter VSL will require less tension to reach a given pitch than one with a longer VSL. This helps playability not only because frets are closer together making it easier to chord down at the first few frets, but also because bending notes is easier, vibrato is easier, and playing in general is just easier with less string tension.
But there *are* definitely well-known effects on sound as well. String tension and length affect overtones and harmonics. The greater the string tension, the greater the higher overtones produced. Longer string lengths also give more space for harmonics and overtones to “breathe” (ie, sound separate). With shorter scale lengths there is less separation. As a result, longer VSLs will give more brightness, clarity and definition in the tone, while shorter ones will give a “sweeter” sound with more warmth/darkness, less clarity and fewer overtones. Longer VSLs and their increased string tension tend to give you more volume and attack also, and more of that twangy “silvery-ness” traditionally associated with a mountain dulcimer.
Many guitar builders will tell you that the tone begins with the string and everything else is a modifier; that you start with the scale length and then go from there, choosing woods, body shape, body volume, type of pickup, etc. to get the tone you are looking for.
Incidentally, if you don't want to believe me, there are plenty of well-respected dulcimer builders who have written about scale length and its effect on tone before (Jerry Rockwell and Janita Baker come immediately to mind, for example).
I'm unfamiliar with Cube Jam, but I will have to investigate it now. :)
Hi Marg. As you know, this amp comes with a few effects and also presets to emulate the sound of some classic guitar amplifiers of the past. I mostly use it on "acoustic", and with a little chorus and a little reverb. When used with no effects and on "acoustic", the sound is just that - it just sounds like my dulcimers, only louder. For what this little thing is (and the price I paid for it), I love it.
I own one of these and use it with my dulcimers. It's a great little amp.
Jill - I'm so sorry; I did not see your below message to me until now. I've followed you and also sent you a PM.
As for this thread's topic, I am working on arranging a great 16th-century lute piece called "John Com Kisse Me Now". It was a well-known song then and it's quite pretty - a series of increasingly difficult variations on what is, at its core, a pretty simple tune. It's been a bit of a challenge, but I've got about half of it down so far.
long winded but I have found the best fingering for barre it to use the little finger. This leaves the thumb and index finger to move to different frets. Inversions are simplified using the thumb for instance to go to the melody string to the bass string with ease. Using the ring middle and index to barre leaves only the thumb to rove and the pinky is in never never land with nowhere to fret in most cases. This is taught by Joe Collins and Jeff Furman along with many other teachers.
The issue of how best to barre chords on a dulcimer comes up often, and in the end, I think either of the two methods you mention work equally well. My over-riding concern is what comes next and what's the easiest way to get there.I recently had (separate) conversations about this topic with two of my favorite dulcimer players (Linda Brockinton and Nina Zanetti). Nina tends to use her pinky, Linda tends not to. Both play wonderfully and each will admit that there isn't only one tool for job and that there are limitations and strengths with each method
I tend to barre with my index, middle and ring finger and can't recall an instance where this fingering was an issue. While it may seem intuitively obvious that barring with the middle, ring and little finger is "better" because you've got two more fingers to fret with if needed (thumb and pinky), I have found that it doesn't really matter. This is because you *still* have enough options with index-middle-ring (you are not left with only the thumb to rove): you can still use your thumb to fret on any string, yes, but you can also still use your index finger to fret along the bass string (which many people seem to forget). As for the ring finger, in a situation where your index finger and thumb weren't enough and you need to fret somewhere else on the melody string *while also fretting somewhere else on the bass and middle strings using your index and middle fingers*, then I've found the best move in that case it to play out of a new chord position (ie, no longer keep that barre).
Regarding chord inversions, I think they are also very easy to play out of the index-middle-ring barre, either by 1) rotating around the middle finger on the middle string (so for example, out of a barred 3rd fret, play a 4-3-2 chord index-middle-ring, and then play the 2-3-4 chord ring-middle-index) or by using the ring and thumb (Linda Brockinton's method, which can be more comfortable and may better set up for what's coming next in the tune - here you would take that 4-3-2 chord index-middle-ring) and play the 2-3-4 ring-middle-thumb).
So...long winded way of stating that either of those methods work, and work well. In fact, many players sometimes switch between them.
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:
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.
I'm working on adapting John Com Kisse Me Now to the dulcimer. This is a fantastic 16th century tune - you can hear it played by the world's greatest lutenist (in my opinion, of course, and this would be Paul O'Dettte) here:
Also, I saw Dusty and jenniferc were both working on Harvest Home. I love that tune also and had recorded a video of it a few years ago. In case anyone would like to see, it's here:
And Dana - when do we get to hear your For Ireland? I happen to know it sounds excellent. ;)
I just wanted to chime in and mention that Nonesuch is still available in various places around the internet, but perhaps the easiest way to hear it is via YouTube. A YouTube search for "Nonesuch for Dulcimer (1972)" will bring it up as of this writing. There are also a number of browser extensions and other programs that will allow you to save YouTube video or audio.
And in case people aren't aware of this, YouTube searches that include the words "full album" bring up many gems, especially in the world of folk music.
Very nice Dana! Now let's hear a tune. ;)
I also trim the string before I put it on, leaving about 2 inches past the tuner. A few of my dulcimers have self-trimming tuners (they have built in cutters and trim the string as you are replacing it), and they are absolutely excellent. I think they are D'Addario Planet Waves, but I am not 100% sure. But I went from being skeptical of them to a firm believer pretty much immediately:
Jennifer - yes, you can definitely just measure the string with a caliper to determine its gauge. As has been mentioned, there's nothing special about dulcimer strings; a regular old caliper or micrometer will work on a dulcimer string just as well as it will any other string. I had to do this recently for a harp dulcimer I acquired as I had no idea what gauges the harp strings were. :)
You're welcome Ken. I understand this deal wasn't available when you were looking, but I thought it might help others if they wanted to actually go to a store and play with the stuff vs buying unseen/unheard. I hope someone finds it useful. :)
Hi all. I just wanted to mention that Guitar Center itself is also doing a similar deal package deal on the Loudbox mini for $329.95. Only real difference is the microphone:
Audio-Technica M4000S Handheld Dynamic Microphone
Gear One Lo-Z Mic Cable 20 Feet
Musician's Gear MS-220 Tripod Mic Stand with Fixed Boom
Fishman Loudbox Mini
While I completely agree with Rob’s bottom-line point (don’t be afraid to challenge yourself) I have a couple comments I’d like to make. :)
The first is that just because you *can* play a 29” or 30” VSL dulcimer doesn’t mean you *prefer* to. In my own dulcimer journey, I’ve played instruments with many different VSLs, from little micro-instruments to those with a 30” VSL. As I’ve done this over the years, I’ve slowly come to the realization that, although I *can* play instruments with VSL’s ranging from micro to 30”, I much *prefer* to play instruments with VSLs between 25.5” and 27”.
The second is about the idea that a dulcimer with a longer VSL will have more volume and deeper tone. This has been stated more than once in this thread, but from my experience, this does not have to be the case. Yes, that’s true when comparing against tiny travel instruments, but full-size instruments with shorter VSLs tend to be louder and more resonant than their longer VSL cousins and typically have more attack (likely due to increased string tension). It’s been my experience that if the instrument is otherwise full-sized, you really don’t lose anything with VSLs down to about 25”. Beyond that and I think sustain and the tone at frets above 10 or 12 start to audibly suffer.
My loudest and most resonant instrument by far is a Gallier Starsong, with a 26.25” VSL (it’s actually the loudest dulcimer I’ve personally ever heard, and I’ve heard a bunch). My second loudest and most resonant instrument by far is a Modern Mountain Dulcimer with a VSL of 25.5”. These are in another league entirely compared to the bunch of other dulcimers I own, including custom instruments with 29’ VSLs, or other Modern Mountain instruments with longer VSLs. I recently spoke to a friend of mine who is a distributor for David McKinney’s Modern Mountain instruments, and he told me (unsolicited) that it’s very common for the shorter VSL (but full-size body) instruments to be louder and more resonant. I've experienced the same thing with McSpadden's 26" VSL (but full-sized) dulcimers compared to their standard dulcimers with a VSL of 28 1/2".
I also think the idea of VSL is, in general, probably less important to chord/melody players (for whom the "small hands" idea is most relevant) than it is for noter/drone players. When you're playing noter/drone, you've got open strings that are actually vibrating along those longer lengths. When chording, this is clearly not the case.
To me, the issue reminds me of economy of motion. Just like a player should theoretically be moving his/her hands no more than necessary to get the desired result on the instrument when fretting, strumming, etc, there’s also no need to stretch farther than you need to “just because”. There are no bragging rights because you can pull off an A chord on a 30” VSL instrument. If you can get the tone and volume you like out of a shorter scale instrument, I say go for it.
Barry Taylor's traditional tunebook used to be a great resource for folk tunes. His site appears to no longer be on the Web, but you can still find parts of it. This page will take you to a mirror of the Canadian Tunes section, where you'll find about 156 tunes in MIDI format.
If you have a program like Noteworthy Composer, TableEdit or similar, you can use those MIDI files to create dulcimer tab or standard notation if you wish.
Yes, regular playing and aging of wood in music instruments does help create a more resonant tone, and it’s not the strings. Humidity and “creep” (a glue’s tendency to pull apart slowly when it is put under a continuous load) are believed to be mostly responsible. It is known that playing regularly in high humidity environments leads to a decrease in loss coefficient (the degree to which the wood dissipates vibrational energy via internal friction) and an increase in stiffness (Hunt and Balsan 1996). Evidence by Beavitt (1996) shows that creep facilitated by humidity cycling changes the overtone spectrum of an instrument, making it more resonant and more sonorous. Creep in newly strung instruments is accelerated by vibration absorption in the wood which is why you can help a new instrument settle in faster by playing it or exposing it (via those “blaring speakers” Ken mentions, for example) to those vibrations (Segerman 1996, 2001). It’s also been shown that the gradual loss of hemicellulose in wood (as it decomposes with time) lowers its density without affecting its Young’s modulus (one of the most important determinants of the acoustic properties of a material), which improves the sound radiation coefficient of the wood (another important determinant)(Bucur 2006). In fact, that understanding has led to some very interesting research in aging soundboards by deliberately infecting the wood with fungus to lower its density while keeping the Young’s modulus constant, again improving the sound radiation coefficient (Zierl 2005, Schwarze 2012).
Strings also have an effect on tone, depending on their material, age, etc. but they are not responsible for the sweeter sound of aged instruments, except insofar as if you are like me, and much prefer the warmer "deader" sound of old strings that have built up a layer of crud on them (from shed skin cells, oils etc) compared to the brighter sound of brand new strings. (And yes, I realize I'm in a very small minority here with that preference).
Hope that helps a little.
HUNT, D. G., AND E. BALSAN. 1996. Why old fiddles sound sweeter. Nature 379: 681.
BEAVITT, A. 1996. Humidity cycling. Strad (Nov): 916–920
SEGERMAN, E. 1996. Wood structure and what happened in the Hunt & Balsan experiment. Fellowship of Makers and Researchers of Historical Instruments Quaterly 84, Communication 1471: 53–55.
SEGERMAN, E. 2001. Some aspects of wood structure and function. Journal of the Catgut Acoustical Society 4: 5–9.
BUCUR, V. 2006. Acoustics of wood, 2nd ed. Springer Series in Wood Science, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany.
ZIERL, B. 2005. Obtaining the perfect violin sound - with fungi. Website https://www.empa.ch/web/s604/01-pilzholz [Accessed 06 May 2016].
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine. "Treatment with fungi makes a modern violin sound like a Stradivarius." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120908081611.htm>.
Ken, thanks for sharing that study. It's interesting, but not surprising - scientists have long known that aesthetics will affect perceptions of tonality and resonance. Dusty - I am sure the soundboards were not changed because they substantially affect the sound of an instrument. You mentioned spruce being the most common. That's true, as spruce is an excellent sound radiator with a low characteristic impedance beneficial for transmitting sound into air (two characteristics shared by the best soundboard woods). Although instrument players seem to debate this endlessly, scientists have known for a long time that a handful of wood properties (such as speed of sound, characteristic impedance, sound radiation coefficient, and loss coefficient) make certain woods more suited to some instrument parts or types than others. The combination of properties explains why spruce is a preferred soundboard just as it does why tropical woods are favored for woodwind instruments and xylophone bars, etc.
As an interesting aside, it turns out that maple pairs well with spruce for the rest of a chordophone instrument, because it is similar to spruce in its ability to radiate sound well, but has a higher impedance that acts to reflect oscillations within the instrument and help radiate them out through the sound holes. And guess who used to use spruce soundboards and maple sides/backs for his instruments (which are in fact the oldest surviving examples using this combination)? Antonia Stradivari. In addition to the violins for which he is famous, he made other instruments, including guitars, about 4 or 5 of which survive, and only one is playable. In case anyone would like to hear what it sounds like, a great video was just posted yesterday on Forgotten Guitar. Here is the link: