High or Low tuning dulcimer.

john p
john p
@john-p
6 years ago
173 posts

I think you're going to have to accept that there is no magic string set that will cover a complete octave on each string, basically what you're asking for.

What you can normally expect from one string is 5, maybe 6 notes.

IOW, there will always be 1, maybe 2 keys that can't be treated in the way you're asking, and require special measures such as 'reverse' tuning, capos and false nuts etc.

Noah Aikens
Noah Aikens
@noah-aikens
6 years ago
33 posts

There seems to be confusion with terminology - so let me put this a different way. How many people tune their dulcimer (no matter what mode) an octave apart starting with the bass string.

Okay lets play a game called - Tune With Me! (are we excited?Grin.gif ) Okay, imagine- or don't- that we are in the standard key of d in ionian mode. Now fret fret number 1 on the bass string and tune the other 3 strings to that; then take the bass and tune down until you can play the fourth fret bass string and match all the other strings. Yay! We are all now in what I referred to as the low low key of A. ( a.k.a baritone tuning) now it does not sound like baritone at all, but a low standard MD. This mode tuned so low is good for slow,quiet, and mournful songs if you tune the melodies to the 6th fret of the bass.(now aeolian mode) Now can you do this same procedure reversed to tune in the same key an octave higher? I can, (if you try to go higher you will probably break a string). the tuning of this mode that we are in isn't alto tuning, but it is higher than most people tune to, right?

why? Granted it can be harder to press the strings down, but this is solved by noter- I don't really like using a noter, but I can use one. ( I like my God-given oneSmile.gif ) I have one or two books (and have seen online) that most dulcimers don't tune to this higher tuning- and I haven't seen many people do it because of the so called "reverse ionian" (which is not technically a mode, not being a 1-5-and so on) So is the dulcimer world scared of tuning up here? Do they not like to tune up there because of tradition? If your strings broke during this exercise maybe you should consider getting a lighter gauge.Smile.gif

P.s if tuning Mixolydian you may not be able to get this high or aeolian because you really do have too long of a vsl or too thick gauge strings.

P.s.s- the rule is that for tuning your dulcimer the clouds are the limit not the trees. (:

Skip
Skip
@skip
6 years ago
286 posts

Noah ; first to answer your last question, 28.5" is not the perfect VSL. If it were that would be all that would be available. There are some folks that not afraid of changing strings, they just don't want to bother with it for various reasons. That is good for a few of us to make a few bucks doing it for them.Smile.gif

If you're able to tune your melody [.012] string to the g above middle c without breaking you're having pretty good luck, most break around there. You also are putting a bit of strain on your MD by doing it, the tension is about 3 times the rest of the strings. It would also help if you could sort out your use of 'modes', 'keys', 'string tuning' and 'overall tuning' for us. Basically;

A mode is an 8 [7?] note scale defined by the configuration of steps/half steps between the adjacent notes. The Ionian scale starts on the 3rd fret and has nothing to do with the tuning.

A major key is an 8 [7?] note scale using the Ionion mode configuration. The Aeolion mode describes one of the minor scales, etc.

A string tuning is the open string tuning of a single string.

Overall tuning is the open string tuning of all the strings to achieve a particular sound or capability. These are called 'modal tunings or just 'tunings'.

Cynthia Wigington
Cynthia Wigington
@cynthia-wigington
6 years ago
74 posts

Noah, the short answer to this is yes. I bought some used dulcimers, don't have spare strings for them, so yes. Early on someone said, "Buy a pound of strings and have fun." I would rather not. I'm glad you are not afraid to break strings, so what I would like to ask you it to do this: On that dulcimer, 28 1/2 vsl, with your 12-14-22 strings, tune each string up until it breaks. Play it on the way up, until you feel it's not so comfortable anymore, and let us know your results. You have no idea what a help it would be.

This is the 11th or so stringed instrument I've learned. They all had specific tunings. Even the guitar, mostly I went down or up a step and that was it. So yes this is new. You learned from your grandfather. I am in the woods here in Vermont, with the closest club an hour north, who mostly, 95% say, play DAd. Sometimes DAc a bit DAA. I am about to order one, with spare strings, and ask him specifically what he thinks is a comfortable range for the strings, so I have a better idea. This tuning all over the place is the heart of the traditional dulcimer, but new to me. Some real help here would be greatly appreciated.

Bob Reinsel
Bob Reinsel
@bob-reinsel
6 years ago
81 posts

I broke a brand new guitar string on Christmas day 1981. Sure, I was a little upset about it at the time, but it quickly cured me of any reluctance to re-tune or change strings.I learned how to tune my instrument and how to change strings on day one. Grin.gif




--
Bob
Site Moderator

The greatest music is made for love, not for money -- Greg Lake
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
6 years ago
1,980 posts

If you mean that on a 28" scale length, you are tuning your .012 gauge melody strings to "high high g" meaning the g above the usual high d that people often tune their melody strings to, then I honestly don't see how that's possible with breaking the string. But you say you are tuning in ionian mode, so a melody string tuned to g would have you playing in ionian key of C, not A or G. Unless you mean that your melody string is tuned to the usual high d, and you are playing in ionian key of G. In that case, your bass and melody strings would be tuned to either D and G (reverse ionian), OR to G and D. Either way, that's a pretty normal pitch level.

I'm still not sure what you mean by "low, low key of A". What notes are you actually tuning to for all three strings here? I think we are using different terminology and hence some confusion.

Noah Aikens said:

I am talking about ionian, but my dulcimer can do it in different modes. The g I am talking about is the g above middle c, and the a is the a below the a below middle c. I normally play drone but do cross handoccasionally.




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Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
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john p
john p
@john-p
6 years ago
173 posts

Hi Noah,

Most of the confusion arises because of the two different styles of play.

Modern practice is to play the dulcimer as if it were a lap guitar(though you're not really supposed to say so) and, like the guitar, uses a fixed tuning such as DAd.
If you're playing in this style there is no need to retune, and such instruments can be set up with an optimum string set that is tailored to just that one tuning.

The old style is to retune the instrument, depending on what key you want and what mode you want. This requires a string set that is a whole lot more versatile than one designed to just tune DAd.

The consequence is that when you come to look at drone style playing, many new players have never had to retune, or tune to anything except DAd and are really just lacking in confidence. Getting stuck in and maybe breaking the odd string to start with is the way over this.
The melody string used for DAd is not ideal for other tunings and generally needs to be beefed up a bit.

So yes, with a carefully chosen string set you should have no trouble tuning most(common) keys in most modes, it's just that strings designed mainly for DAd may not be the best choice.

Noah Aikens
Noah Aikens
@noah-aikens
6 years ago
33 posts

I am talking about ionian, but my dulcimer can do it in different modes. The g I am talking about is the g above middle c, and the a is the a below the a below middle c. I normally play drone but do cross handoccasionally.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
6 years ago
1,454 posts

Noah, you are certainly right that a lot of people are afraid of changing tunings or changing strings, but I am confused by parts of your question. Referring to the key of A or G does not tell us how exactly you are tuned, which leads to Strumelia's essential question.

And there are laws of physics that rule over any propaganda. Given any specific VSL and any specific gauge string, there is a limit to how low or how high you can tune that string.

I would also add that the perfect VSL is dependent on your playing style. If you are playing in a droning style, longer VSLs are less troublesome than they are for people who play chords. I play cross string and chord a lot and I find 28-1/2 is about the upper limit for me. I simply can't finger certain chords with a VSL longer than that.




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Dusty T., Northern California
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As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
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Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
6 years ago
1,980 posts

but my dulcimers-both 28 1/2 in vsl, tune and play very well from the low,low key of A and the high, high key of g.

I'm not clear what you mean by this- what tunings are you talking about exactly?




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Lexie R Oakley
Lexie R Oakley
@lexie-r-oakley
6 years ago
232 posts

I have gone with your suggestions Ken on the plain strings non wound and I don't have any trouble tuning, but also I just think changing strings are part of the process or breaking strings which I don't do any more. I am sticking with the traditional dulcimers also. I have ordered from Bobby Ratliff and am really looking forward to it.

Ken Hulme said:

I think you're right Noah.

I think it IS propaganda.

And, for some reason, a huge number of players are terrified of breaking a string and having to change it. I'm like you. The strings on my Bobby Ratliff Virginia Hogfiddle have been down to Bbb and up to Gdd numerous times without getting floppy or breaking. But mine are traditional dulcimers and I don't use wound bass strings.

Nope, there's no 'perfect' VSL but I do think that that length is as close as you'll getGrin.gif

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
6 years ago
1,835 posts

I think you're right Noah.

I think it IS propaganda.

And, for some reason, a huge number of players are terrified of breaking a string and having to change it. I'm like you. The strings on my Bobby Ratliff Virginia Hogfiddle have been down to Bbb and up to Gdd numerous times without getting floppy or breaking. But mine are traditional dulcimers and I don't use wound bass strings.

Nope, there's no 'perfect' VSL but I do think that that length is as close as you'll getGrin.gif

Noah Aikens
Noah Aikens
@noah-aikens
6 years ago
33 posts

I have noticed quite a bit of "propaganda" of people saying that this vsl is good for this tuning and this gauge is even better so on and so forth- but my dulcimers-both 28 1/2 in vsl, tune and play very well from the low,low key of A and the high, high key of g. The string gauges I use are 12-14-22 nickel loop end- why does everybody think that they have to have different gauges for different keys? Sure tone is fine, but are people just afraid there strings will break? Or is 28 1/2 the perfect vsl?


updated by @noah-aikens: 06/11/15 07:42:46AM