Tunings you like to use on your dulcimer

Gerald
Gerald
@gerald
9 years ago
2 posts

The graphite is a just a lubricant. It is often sold in powder form to be used in key locks to keep the action nice and smooth. If you look at the setup of the strings over the nut, there is generally quite an angle between the axis of the string that is strummed, and the part of the string that goes from the nut to the tuning machine. That is the point where a bit of lubricant can really make a big difference. Some folks have used silicon grease or even cooking oil...not realy sure which is best....but hey...we're not send a man to the moon here.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

Apply pencil graphite on the nut and bridge. That helps reduce breakage)

Why is this? What does the graphite do to help prevent string breadage?

    I am starting a class in DAA but will continue to go to practice that is tune to DAd, I will be changing my strings back and forth often. If this works it will be a great cofort not to be breaking strings alone the way. Thanks for this Robert but how does it work?

 


updated by @marg: 08/31/15 04:18:27PM
robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
9 years ago
252 posts

Gerald. Apply pencil graphite on the nut and bridge. That helps reduce breakage. Strings should last until you want to change them. I've got sets that are 10 years old and still doing well... Welcome to the world of tunings. Exciting times await... Robert.

5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

Gerald: Can't wait to sit down and try a few. By the sounds of it, I think I'd better stop by the music shop first, and stock up on strings : )

It may just be me, but I tell you I've gone through a number of strings over the years, not from overreaching to another tuning, but simply from going up and down a full step on a string a number of times.  So the string easily reaches either a D or a C, but if I were to go back and forth a number of times, that string is going to pop!  I think the extra strings is a terrific idea, Kevin.

Gerald
Gerald
@gerald
9 years ago
2 posts

I stumbled on this thread by accident. Been playing for a couple of years now and mostly in DAD. Was thrilled some time ago to discover DAC which opened up a whole new world of tunes for me. Been jotting down some of the "allternative" tunings offered here, and have almmost run out of paper ! Can't wait to sit down and try a few. By the sounds of it, I think I'd better stop by the music shop first, and stock up on strings : )

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

 I would like to repeat what dan posted because I agree and thank all who have added to this discussion to help myself and others with this wonderful discovery of tuning possibilities. Yes, it is pure joy and excitment to hear such beautiful sounds.

"I like them all! Finding a sweet spot by experimenting with all the tunings is such a joy."  dan


updated by @marg: 08/28/15 01:00:28AM
Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
9 years ago
420 posts

As far as playing a tab in a different tuning than the tab, there are 2 easy options:  If the melody of  your DAd tab is solely on the melody string, you can tune EAA and play the melody string with drones.  Same for DAA tab, you can tune to DGd and play the melody string with drones.  

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
9 years ago
108 posts

Strumelia:
Robin Clark:And finally, understanding tunings doesn't make you a good player but it can help you create the music that you want to play.  
  Worth repeating, several times.     

Yes indeed, worth repeating.  At the risk of making this thread even longer!  Heeheehee

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
9 years ago
108 posts

david tester:
For those of us that are not musicians but enjoy playing and depend heavily on tab music.  Are there any other tunings we can try were we can use our tab music we have?  Meaning most of my tab is DAD, are there any different tunings I could try and still use my DAD tab?   May be a silly question - just wondering

The important thing when you're working with tab is the way strings are tuned relative to each other.  In DAd tuning the middle string is tuned to the note that is 5 steps above the bass string.  And the melody string is tuned one octave (8 steps) above the bass string.  That's why DAd is often called a 1-5-8 tuning.  Any 1-5-8 tuning can use DAd tab.  There are 12 such tunings:

C-G-c

C#-G#-c#

D-A-d

D#-A#-d# (which a horn player would call Eflat-Bflat-eflat)

E-B-e

 

And so on up the alphabet.  Anything is fair game as long as your strings can handle it.  Popular 1-5-8 tunings include DAd, CGc, Gdg and AEa.  If you are playing alone, it doesn't matter if you tune to a concert pitch.  Tune your bass string to anything that sounds good, fret it at the 4th fret and tune the middle string to that note, then fret the bass on the 7th fret and tune the melody to that note.  Now you are in a 1-5-8 tuning and you can play from DAd tab. 

 

DAA is a 1-5-5 tuning.  You can use DAA tab for any 1-5-5 tuning such as CGG or Gdd.

 

DAc is a 1-5-7 tuning.  And so on.  Pay attention to how the strings are tuned relative to each other and you'll know which tab you can use.

 

Remember as you change tunings that while you can still use the same tab, you'll be playing in a different key.  This doesn't matter if you play alone, but don't let your guitar-playing friend play a D chord when you're actually playing an E-flat.  Do not ask me how I know this ;-)

 

Per Robin's explanation of why people change tunings: you would change from DAd to another 1-5-8 tuning for the purpose of changing keys or to change the timbre of the instrument.  It will not put you into a different mode, nor will it enable you to play different tunes.  Does that help?


updated by @lisa-golladay: 08/27/15 12:34:07PM
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
9 years ago
2,278 posts

Robin Clark:And finally, understanding tunings doesn't make you a good player but it can help you create the music that you want to play.  

 

Worth repeating, several times.   

 




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
9 years ago
2,278 posts

david tester:
For those of us that are not musicians but enjoy playing and depend heavily on tab music.  Are there any other tunings we can try were we can use our tab music we have?  Meaning most of my tab is DAD, are there any different tunings I could try and still use my DAD tab?   May be a silly question - just wondering

David,

if playing DAd tab and in DAd tuning, you will be playing in the key of D.  You can lower all your strings by one step and be in CGC tuning, and you can still play using the same DAd tab, but you'll be playing in the key of C.




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Annie Deeley
Annie Deeley
@annie-deeley
9 years ago
49 posts

Marg, I agree with Dan above - just play in one or 2 tunings for now - play lots and enjoy!!

Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
9 years ago
239 posts

In some respects you are right that a chromatic dulcimer would solve some tuning issues and give quite an element of flexibility.  But playability and timbre would still require different tunings.  Perhaps thinking about the banjo is a good comparison.  The 5 string banjo is a chromatic instrument and, in one style of playing, bluegrass, is pretty much always tuned to the key of G with a set tuning of gDGbd.  Bluegrass players will normally stick with this tuning and either use a capo or closed chord shapes to play in other keys.  Old time players however will use a LOT of different tunings on 5 string banjo - and most of that is to do with timbre and playability to get the sound and ease of playing for a particular tune.

 

And in many respects the dulcimer is like that.  some player will work everything from the one tuning (and a chromatic or extra frets could have an advantage there) whereas others will want to move the timbre around.  Personally, as noter drone player, extra frets get in the way of the timbre I want to produce and mess up the clarity I want.  Folks do comment that my playing sounds precise, and some of that precision comes from not having extra frets.  Also, the old dulcimers I play often dictate the tunings I use.  I have a staple fretted Ledford with wooden pegs which is fretted in just intonation and so it really is only happy with noter drone style of playing and in certain tunings.

 

The contemporary mountain dulcimer with full width frets, equal temperament and the 6+ is a great compromise and a very useful layout that is easy to play in a variety of styles and tunings, which is why it has stuck around as the 'standard' for mountain dulcimers for the last 40 years or so.  For something to last that long it has to have something going for it!!!!


updated by @robin-clark: 08/27/15 06:25:03AM
5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

Thank you so much Robin for such a thorough and complete answer to the question.  I think I now have sort of an idea if not fully understand the individual practice totally.  I know I'll get some hate mail here, but wouldn't all of this be illiminated with the use of a fully chromatic dulcimer?  I mean with a fully chromatic instrument, then any and all sound, keys, modes, etc could theroretically be achieved, right?  Then you'd have the equivilant of a piano on dulcimer and anything could be played?  I guess then the only concern would be the "playability" you mentioned concerning the open strings or what key's are more easily achieved from the instruments current tuning?  I know that it's not, but a four string equidistant fully chromatic dulcimer would seem to fit in perfectly here?  A flat backed mandolin as it were?  Just my thoughts I guess?

Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
9 years ago
239 posts

5kwkdw3:
So for a thread with a life of it's own and to keep up with the OP, I have a question to those who are more familiar with the different tunings:  On an tuning where there might just be one string changed (I've seen some that I thought looked familiar, but the last string was changed to a C for instance in an otherwise key of D or G, or maybe A?),  What exactly does that do for a player?  Is it that one additional song can be played or chords achieved (I saw mention of greensleves being played courtesy of a alternate tuning) by tuning down or up that one string?  Or did I miss something and players are playing off of the very same tab, but now with a detuned string or sharpened one and the differing sounds that are produced?  Much like playing a song in G major but with the strings tuned in such a way as to allow a Bb to show up and make it sound in a minor key?  Is the later one a viable reason?

You can think about tunings changing in 4 ways - to shift the key, to shift the mode, to shift the timbre, to change the playability.

Many of the tunings folks have mentioned in this thread are simply a shift of key from another tuning.  In these instances all 3 strings are retuned by the same amount from the start point (from DAd to CGc for example) and the same TAB/fingering can be used to play a tune - the only difference being that you will now be playing in a different key.

Some of the tunings mentioned so far in this thread only re-tune the melody string from a start point (from DAd to DAC for example).  This is a shift in mode, and now you will need different TAB and different fingering to play tunes - also, you will have changed some of the scale notes available to you.  For example DAC allows us to shift the notes available from the D major scale (DAd) to the D minor scale (DAC) on the melody string.  Noter drone style players are the ones who tend to retune just the melody string most often to change mode.  Chord melody players can achieve a similar modal change using a capo - for example DAd (D major) with a capo at the 1st fret becomes an E minor tuning.

Some of the tunings mentioned in this thread are for the purpose of shifting the timbre of the instrument.  For example I use A,E,G, which is a very slack stringed low tuning to play some of ID Stampers tunes in order to get the string rattle and noter zip found on his recordings.  Or I may tune up to D# to get the attack that Jean Ritchie achieved on some of her recordings.  Many folks do find that certain tunings give their dulcimers quite a different tonal flavour, so rather than changing key or mode or inversion for the sake of singing pitch or to play with other instruments they will make the change because it achieves the 'sound' they are after on that particular dulcimer.  (Note: an inversion refers to switching the middle and bass string notes - often called a reverse tuning).

A few of the tunings mentioned in this thread have the purpose of changing the playability of instrument.  Marc (above) has mentioned some 1-3-5 tunings he uses.  These types of tunings will require very different chord shapes, and some will only work with certain playing styles (such as fingerstyle or flatpicking) that avoid some strings at certain points in a tune.  The advantage of some of these tunings however is that accidental notes (those not usually found on a particular scale) become available and so enable some classical or jazz or pop tunes to be played that are not possible in DAd or other more usual tunings. 

So there are a number of reasons why folks may choose to re-tune their dulcimer.  Some of these new tunings may effect the key, the mode, the timbre or the playability, or any combination of these factors.  And there are also a good number of expert players who will work with just one tuning.  And finally, understanding tunings doesn't make you a good player but it can help you create the music that you want to play.

 

Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
9 years ago
155 posts

OK, About your question about using the same tablature for different tunings (modes).  It generally does not work.  The only tune that I have found is " d Joe Clark" which works only with Mixolydian (DAd) and Ionian (DAA).  I know that it seems to work when you only play on the melody strings but I've found it best to use the tuning (mode) that the tab was written for.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

 Thanks dan but no worries. It's more discoveries than struggels.

Dan Goad
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
9 years ago
155 posts

Marg, please quit struggeling with all these different tunings.  As a relative beginner, you are only confusing yourself.  Stick with the 2 most common tunings until you can play the tunes fairly well in both.  I started doing what you are doing when I started learning the dulcimer 6 years and it really interferred with my progress.  So much so that I nearly quit.  I finally settled in using DAd (CGc on my reproduction Messenger Prichard) and DAA (CGG on my repro Thomas) with occassional forays into DAc now.  I would also recommend that you check Stephen Seiferts Dulcimer School.  dulcimerschool. (www.dulcimerschool.com) and watch his free lesson on reading hands.  If you decide to join, the cost it only $20.00 per month and you can quit any time you please.  Steve has tons of instruction videos there and you can learn at your own pace.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

I do not know how it works that some tunings or modes can create beautiful sounds when playing a certain tab but try it in another tuning or tab and could sound terrible. It was the cord 447 (sorry I can't write it going down)  4 on the base & middle & 7 on the melody -

I was tuned DAC Aeolian mode and playing a DAC tab. The dulciborn tuned CGC is part of the Mixolydian tuning and you can play the DAd tab. Some tunings work with either DAd or DAA tab but DAC seemed to need it's own (not sure really on this but fron tonight that's what it seemed)

I hope you get the answer you are after, I don't know the how of any of this. I am just checking out how the different tunings or keys sound and what tab can be played with them and which dulcimer I have - what sounds better with what tunings. it is all just a learning process for now.

The red stain dulcimer I have, everytime I try a different tuning I come back to DAA thinking on that dulcimer that sounds better and even when I try a new tuning and I have the correct tab to go with it, there are some of the notes that just don't sound very nice at all. But than again, can't say my ears can really pick up on what's right only what I fine I like. 

All the post above in this discussion are a learning guide for me, it's like getting a new puzzle. You have all the pieces but not yet knowing where they will fit or if they will, I am just turning the pieces over to see what I have.

5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

So for a thread with a life of it's own and to keep up with the OP, I have a question to those who are more familiar with the different tunings:  On an tuning where there might just be one string changed (I've seen some that I thought looked familiar, but the last string was changed to a C for instance in an otherwise key of D or G, or maybe A?),  What exactly does that do for a player?  Is it that one additional song can be played or chords achieved (I saw mention of greensleves being played courtesy of a alternate tuning) by tuning down or up that one string?  Or did I miss something and players are playing off of the very same tab, but now with a detuned string or sharpened one and the differing sounds that are produced?  Much like playing a song in G major but with the strings tuned in such a way as to allow a Bb to show up and make it sound in a minor key?  Is the later one a viable reason?

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

    I tuned the dulciborn to CGC from DAd and it's really nice like that. Tonight I tune my John Naylor to DAC and played 'Greensleeves'. It sounded so beautiful, some of the cords were wonderful when played, a tone I had not hear yet on the dulcimer. I look forward to many beautiful new sounds as I go through the different tunings. 

    There are so many different dulcimers and each member has their own way they like to set them up and play, as someone just learning all the possibilies, I thought this dicussion was a great learning post - giving us insite into the choices yet to come.

robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
9 years ago
252 posts

Robins point about the dulcimer becomes the tuning is spot on perfect. I could not agree more... Robert.

Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
9 years ago
239 posts

Linda Jo brockinton:
Now lol Robin I can't go that far...... 


Hi Linda,


I think that the fret layout is one of the most facinating aspects of the instrument in terms of tuning the darn thing!  The more frets the less retuning required and the more versatility at your fingertips.  Although (going straight back to the OP) personally I like the 'playability' of having a pure scale.  This is because once I'm tuned to whatever pitch or mode I'm using the instrument becomes that tuning.  It's a little difficult to explain but I'm sure you get the concept.  The other instruments I play are chromatic (guitar, banjo, mandolin) or have no frets (dobro, fretless banjo) but I've never been drawn towards a chromatic dulcimer.  I'm not sure why that is because, logically, a chromatic dulcimer makes a lot of sense.  I certainly can't say that I'm the sentimental type or tied to 'tradition' - I think it is simply because I love playing old dulcimers and old dulcimers have diatonic layouts - for the most part.  I'm more than happy to have a 6+ on my Galax dulcimers (a pragmatic solution for old time session playing in the keys of D, G and A).  And, going back to the OP, the tunings I like to use for galax are d,d,d,d and e,e,d,d which gives me the key od D, G and A (mixolidian and dorian).


 


Linda Jo brockinton:
.....I have a old one that was so off that I had to have fret one and two moved. It was surprisingly on from 3 up but 1 and 2 was a good quarter of an Inch off... 


That doesn't surprise me Linda.  Again, in terms of the tunings that we like to use, if your scale is starting at the 3rd fret (as in DAA) then the position of the first two frets (the 6th and 7th of the scale) can be quite a bit flat of equal temperament and still sound OK.  However, if the same dulcimer is tuned to DAd then those first two frets will sound well out of tune, particularly when playing chord shapes near the nut.  A lot of old dulcimers don't sound too good tuned to DAd because of the flattened first and second fret positions.  I have noted on the Leanord and Clifford Glen dulcimers that I have seen how the position of the first two frets moved over the years.  On their early dulcimers these frets were placed for the natural scale starting at the 3rd fret.  On the later dulcimers (once chord playing were begining to take a hold) the first two frets had moved to equal temperament but the rest of the dulcimer scale was still in a more natural intonation.  Another factor is that the action on older instruments tends to be quite high at the nut and bridge (fine for noter playing) and if this action is lowered to enable chord melody playing in DAd it can throw out the intonation on the lower and higher frets necessitating the frets to be re-possitioned.  Some makers, like Homer Ledford had very unusual fret placements.  Ralph Lee Smith has had the frets repositioned on his Ledford to match his chordal playing style and I know a couple of other players who have done the same and believe so have many others.  I've left my Ledford as it is because I really like the original Ledford layout (which is in just intonation) for certain tunings and it suits my playing style - If it didn't suit my playing style then I'd probably have moved the frets too.


It is actually a struggle to find any two vintage dulcimer makers who actually used the same fret intonation - or even ones who were consistent from dulcimer to dulcimer!!!!  Today, we can be a bit blasé when we talk about tunings and modes that we like to use on our dulcimers as pretty much any mode or tuning will work due to contemporary fretboards using equal temperament.  I have quite a few old dulcimers that only actually work in certain tunings and it does make me think that there was probably a lot less re-tuning going on pre-revival than we use today.


So the tunings I like to use are the ones that work best for my playing style on the dulcimer I happen to playing.  And I have a passion for playing old dulcimers, which means I am more than likely applying those tunings to a pure diatonic fretboard that's not in equal temperament.


 


Robin


 


PS - In between writing this post I'm TAB'ing out tunes in DAd chord melody for 3 workshops I'm running with Geoff Black over the weekend.  I've had to go searching for a dulcimer with a 6+ that I could tune to DAd - I have some new ones in stock for the shop but have realised that, despite owning about 15 to 20 dulcimers in my personal collection, I don't actually have one with a 6+ capable of being tuned to DAd for chord melody playing at present!!!! blinders


 


 


 


 


 


 


updated by @robin-clark: 08/26/15 12:05:20PM
5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

I might also suggest that this thread has run it's usefull life?  Don't you think?  The original OP's question has been answered fully and Ken (among others) has clearly defiend the different number of modes and tunings.  (Yes I'm a big offender and am doing it again right here in keeping the thread alive).  It's just it has taken a life of it's own and I'm sorry for being a part.  Back to the OP, does the questioner have any remaining issues?  That would be the only salient point?  Sorry again, Kevin.

Dan
Dan
@dan
9 years ago
185 posts

I like them all! Finding a sweet spot by experimenting with all the tunings is such a joy.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
9 years ago
2,278 posts

I'm fielding multiple complaints from members who feel that some folks are denigrating other styles and types of players in their comments.  I have to agree, such comments and remarks are unnecessarily derogatory and thus inappropriate.

I'd like to ask everyone here to please stick with the subject of the original post here, which is simply "What tunings I like to use, and why".  The subject is not "What I don't like about other people's playing styles and dulcimers".

This goes for elsewhere on the site as well.  To all: please resist continually remarking on things you disapprove of.

 




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
9 years ago
2,137 posts

I'm with Robin!  

When asked about a dulcimer with the 6+ fret, Jean Ritchie once replied  " ...it has a different finger board, it's not quite a dulcimer anymore..."

Linda Jo brockinton
Linda Jo brockinton
@linda-jo-brockinton
9 years ago
22 posts

Now lol Robin I can't go that far. 

I was surprised when I had mine taken off . It's Ebony and I can't even see where he did it. I have a old one that was so off that I had to have fret one and two moved. It was surprisingly on from 3 up but 1 and 2 was a good quarter of an Inch off. That one showed bad. 

Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
9 years ago
239 posts

If a dulcimer has a 6+ then that's one too many frets for me grin

5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

So Don and Linda, that's three of us.  I gave additional frets a try when my builder suggested the addition.  Bad mistake indeed.  It no longer was that quaint diatonic instrument that I'd learned to love.  No it now was a complicated hodgepodge and not as good as a chromatic "guitar" as it were.  I ended up selling the instrument to another that wanted such a thing.  I couldn't bear to have an off colored plug in place of the missing fret I guess?

 

Linda Jo brockinton
Linda Jo brockinton
@linda-jo-brockinton
9 years ago
22 posts

I'm with you Don. I found a nice olde mcspadden that I like a lot. It had a     I I/2 . I took it up there last week and had it taken out. Lol. They looked at me like o had 4 eyes. 

Kimberly Anne Schultz
Kimberly Anne Schultz
@kimberly-anne-schultz
9 years ago
5 posts

@don-moores: I play chromatic dulcimer more than trad, because arthritis, tendonitis and nerve damage in both hands/wrists makes it impossible for me to hold and fret a guitar. Mine is a 6 string, but played like a 3 string. Your (3) is not an option for me. But it is still quite different than a guitar even though it is chromatic. You can get more of a guitar like sound from it though. My trad dulcimer is choice for just the old tyme tunes, but for writing and playing my own songs, having so many more choices on a chrom dulcimer is soul expanding.....jive


updated by @kimberly-anne-schultz: 08/25/15 11:18:17PM
martlucia91
@martlucia91
9 years ago
1 posts

Most bagpipes and bombards (from Brittany, in France) are in B flat so when it comes to celtic music, a tuning I like to use on my dulcimer is Bb(low)-Bb(high x3). It really sounds like a bagpipe, I find the tone more interesting than C-C-cc (but maybe it is because my melody strings are too thin, they are 0.010). Otherwise, I prefer myxolidian tunings DAdd or CGcc 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
9 years ago
2,137 posts

I play Ionian BF#F#  or or B Bagpipe Bbb frequently as it suits my voice much better than C or D.  A dulcimer is not a guitar.

Linda Jo brockinton
Linda Jo brockinton
@linda-jo-brockinton
9 years ago
22 posts

I only noticed because I play in it all the time but don't want a new player learning to try it and it not work .

Linda Jo brockinton
Linda Jo brockinton
@linda-jo-brockinton
9 years ago
22 posts

It's BF#B or   Bflat F Bflat

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

Thanks so much, this is vey helpful              and I look forward to trying them out.

ken,       DAd tab - to play any of the Mixolydian Modal Tunings:   AEa, BFb, CGc, DAd, EBe, FCf, GDg     Likewise you can play DAA tab using any of the Ionian Modal Tunings:    AEE, BFF, CGG, DAA, EBB, FCC, GDD

don,       One nice thing though is whether you're in DAD or DAA you can change to CGC or CGG or whatever key you prefer as long as you keep the string values the same (1-5-8 or 1-5-5) and you can still use the DAD or DAA TABs. 

 


updated by @marg: 08/25/15 06:57:38PM
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
9 years ago
2,278 posts

Don Moores:All I know is that post-Roscoe Holcomb, makers seem to have begun tuning in DAd with a 6+ fret.  Holcomb said he originated the 6+ because so many customers asked for it.

 

Don perhaps you mean Homer Ledford, not Roscoe Holcomb?

 




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

Don, another interesting thing about keyboards, pianos, organs and the like.  I've had rebuilding experience with a number of turn of the century and prior Pump and pipe organs (the home parlor type).  The actual largest pump organ must have been for a funeral parlor (due to the plant stands made by the maker of the instrumen) and the fact it was a two manual, full concave radiating peddleboard and although it had foot tredles, it also had a choir boy lever on the back so a second person could pump the bellows allowing the organist use of his feet on the peddleboard.  Interesting stuff when you get into it.  But to the point.  Most and then again only some, of these instruments shot for A440 in their tunings.  Shot for is being generous as most all were in need of tuning across the board where age and oxidation and various other reasons had taken the entire instrument out of tune.  After cleaning and repair and tuning the instrument to itself (just catching the flyers be it flat or sharp) you could establish an overal pitch by use of a quality electronic tuner (not the instrument case ten dollar types).  I found that a lot of these period instruments were as much as 50 cents off if not completely a couple of whole steps out of tune.  The best that could be hoped for was to tune it to itself as trying to acheive true A440 would end up breaking something especially in a piano with old strings.  For years a musical instrument was what could be cobbled together in the home or workshop (thus the reason for early Americans and the Tenessee Music boxes)  A town would be lucky to have a larger instrument in the school or church and usually an upright piano or pump organ served that purpose well.  I emagine that if one were versed with the local town instrument then that would carry forward to home built instruments as well?  Maybe that would give rise to a number of "C" based instruments?  Just speculating here, but even in just notation, a song in the key of C just plain looks neater whether or not it's easier to play or not.  Kevin.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
9 years ago
2,278 posts

Jean Ritchie once wrote that when she was young she and her sisters had a bit of a hard time singing so high in C, but that they had little choice because the men of the family and in church sang everything in C since that's how it was in the hymn books and the men had no trouble singing low in that key.  So the women had to go along with it but an octave higher, and their voices became trained to sing higher than they might normally have done if they had been able to choose the keys early on.
Jean's father was quite shy about playing the dulcimer in front of others, and he played exclusively in key of C, ionian mode.  Many of the tunes he played were hymns and church songs, though he played some fun tunes as well.  But Jean said if people focused on him too much while he played, that he would often just get up and put the dulcimer back on the wall.

Jean also wrote that shortly before her time, Cecil Sharpe came through the area on one of his later music collecting trips, and that he asked the children in school about the kinds of music and instruments they all had and played or sang at home.  Jean's sister Edna remembered this happening, and when she was questioned, she did not even mention the dulicmer in their home or the playing of it, because as she told Jean, she did not get the impression that the dulcimer was considered a 'real' or serious instrument like the kind she thought Mr. Sharp might even be interested in for his survey.  This reminds me of the passage written by Dame Campbell about how Sharp would occasionally follow leads through the mountains to locate a pocket of good singers he was told about, but that sometimes he'd arrive there after several days travel only to find the singers in question were black, and he'd turn around and go back, considering the lead and his trip to have been a total waste of time.  Thus, many songs by black mountain dwellers of the same time and place were never recorded on paper or cylinders.  Information on such songs and music would have been a true treasure to have now.

The dulcimer's ancestors were often used to play hymns and religious pieces, particularly as the violin was frowned upon as being associated with unGodliness and was more often used for dances and 'frolicking' because of that. 




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

Robin Clark:.........Edna Ritchie apparently used that key (possibly due to her vocal range or because she played other instruments too) and the explanation given to beginners that ".....the dulcimer frets are set to a 7 note scale like the white keys on a piano..." could also have influenced teaching books to use the C scale to make explanations easy.....

 

Although self taught on the organ and piano, instructional books and lesson planners for same are most always done in the key of C as well.  It makes for tiier notation and easier explanations of the musical chords and the like.  No sharps or flats until absolutely necessary.  I found in playing organ for my church that there was a reason that the old timers wrote in Ab or Eb and the like.  It's far easier to play such a key on a keyboard.  Sure the notation would make a beginner cringe, it actually is quite a bit easier since you hand moves forward into the keys and index and middle fingers hit the flats easily whereas the pinkey and thumb are left to hit the few naturals of those keys.  If you know piano (or at least a very little), try forming a chord in the key of C and then a song of chords where C, F, and G7 are asked for, then do the same for the key of Ab.  You'll see what I mean.  Different though on the dulcimer as it's just as easy to play on an instrument tuned in any of the keys, it's just that C's notation looks a bunch cleaner to the biginner.  Kevin.

Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
9 years ago
239 posts

Here's a bit of a dulcimer history myth buster!

Although we have a folklore that pre-revival dulcimers were generally played in the key of C, I've yet to find any early recordings or pre-revival design features on the instrument that holds this to be true.

Jean Ritchie's 'The Dulcimer Book' is written in C but in all her early recordings (prior to the book) she in tuned a tone and a half or so higher to suit her voice.  And an Ambugy (Jean's early dulcimer used for her first recordings) does struggle to produce any volume in C with 2nd and 4th banjo strings (or any other strings for that matter!).  The recordings and articles I've found from Virginia, WV, NC, Ohio are not in the key of C.  The keys of D, G, A (often mixolidian) or a little higher being prevelant - with the majority of old dulcimers being built and played around the key of G.

The Hindaman School may have had an influence on the development of our belief that early dulcimers were in the key of C.  Edna Ritchie apparently used that key (possibly due to her vocal range or because she played other instruments too) and the explanation given to beginners that ".....the dulcimer frets are set to a 7 note scale like the white keys on a piano..." could also have influenced teaching books to use the C scale to make explanations easy.  You can tune a dulcimer down to CGG, and some will sound and play OK but that 28" Kentucky scale (less in other areas) on the smaller bodies of older dulcimers means they struggle to perform well at that pitch. 

There's a great video on youtube of Ralph Lee Smith playing his original Prichard dulcimer.  In it he is tuned up to E (E,B,B).  I emailed him nad asked why he did that and he said that the dulcimer didn't find its voice until it was tuned up a little.  And I have to say my experience of playing older dulcimers mirrors that finding.

One of the 'problems' with DAd is that the high 'd' on a 28" scale is not ideal so we need quite a thin string gauge to comfortably work that VSL at that pitch.  It is difficult to raise a 28" scale dulcimer much further in 1-5-8 - say up to EBe or FCf without breaking strings.  Whereas from DAA is is simpler to push the tuning higher towards something that may better suit the physics of the instrument - and use strings at a more appropriate gauge for the physics of the instrument too.

Contemporary DAd dulcimer players struggle with lack of volume - the dulcimer has become a quite instrument.  Early playing styles, set-ups and tunings often meant that this was far from the case - in many regions the dulcimer, like its European predecessors, was loud enough for dancing.  It has not always been a solo, sit on the porch at dusk instrument for singing to the moon.  Jean Ritchie was a unique player and a remarkable innovator on dulcimer.  The tunes she played and sang were old but her playing style was her own.  She was hugely influential in the growth of the dulcimer and conclusions about the instrument's history drawn from listening Jean play have fallen into folklore.  And yet no one plays like Jean today!

So feel free to innovate on your own as that's as much a part of the history of the instrument as anything.  I can't think of two pre-revival players I've heard who actually played alike.  DAd and contemporary playing has to some extent homogenised the instrument more than at any time in its history - So feel free to break away from the mould and see what music you can discover inside our little boxes of delight!

  


updated by @robin-clark: 08/25/15 04:09:07AM
marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

Lexie, thanks - I don't know how to ask questions either but ask anyway and like you, I am so glad we have this site and it's members to help us understand our dulcimer. I have seen some of your post and think you do quite well with your comments.

Thanks linda, when I retuned from DAd to DAA on my red stain dulcimer I did change my bottom string because it was slack. I also put on a bit heavier one.

Linda Jo brockinton
Linda Jo brockinton
@linda-jo-brockinton
9 years ago
22 posts

Hi marg.  I play in CGC all the time. I did want to correct one little thing if you are going to be trying some of these.  My friend sings in Bflat so I tune to B flat -F - Bflat a lot.if you run to B it will have to be B-F#-B. One other tip. If you have been tuned to D for awhile your strings will be slack if you tune down. A new set will fix that. I tune one in D and one in C so I don't have to change often. A lot of the really old books were written in C. Understanding that DAD is not a tuning but rather a mixolydian tuning in the key of D makes it a little easier to understand. 

 

Lexie R Oakley
Lexie R Oakley
@lexie-r-oakley
9 years ago
229 posts

Yes Marg, please continue to ask questions, those of us who have little or no musical experience at times don't know what question or how to ask a question.

There are many of these types of discussions I study and refer back too, take notes on so, I will gain at my understanding of my dulcimer and how to play and tune it. Many of us only have the folks on this site to help us learn.

I think we would be surprised how many new players pour over old disscussions to gain knowledge and not know what to ask.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

I am sure I will have questions, even with all the many answers - you are right, depends on the way they are explain ... different angles. When the right way for me to understand is stated and sometimes several times, I finnally start to see.

;-)

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
9 years ago
400 posts

Marg--you thanked us "for answering what must seem to you as very simple silly questions ", but I think your questions are very helpful--not just to you, but to others who are struggling with the same issues, as well those of us attempting to give helpful answers.  I keep checking back to see if others chiming in are agreeing or disagreeing with what I've said--and if they're disagreeing, then I need to find out why and decide if we're both right, but just explaining it from a different angle.  So, by all means keep asking questions like these!




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

Thanks to all of you, I am learning a good bit from this discussion. 

    I e-mailed my dulcimer group I play with last night, if they would like to change tunings to CGc. I am waiting to hear from them but I have the dulciborn tuned to CGc - not the one I take to practice so I'm good with playing with the group in DAd, that's what I am tuned to on my John Naylor dulcimer and the one I used with the group. 

    I have learned a lot from you guys, so thanks again for answering what must seem to you as very simple silly questions - but for me your answers are hugh breakthroughs, so many of the discussions are Amazing Discoveries for me.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
9 years ago
2,137 posts

If a group is playing instruments tuned to the keynote of D for example -- usually DAd -- then, technically you can play in any other "key of D" tuning (DAA, DAC, DAG, etc) and sound as if you are part of the group.  You won't necessarily be playing the same notes as the others -- you'll often be creating your own "part" with notes that will blend with the others.  But because you're all in a given keynote (say D) then it all can sound good together.   I often play N&D style in the DAA or Ddd tuning while the group around me plays chords in DAd.  I usually play the same notes as they do, but not on the same frets.  If you're just beginning it is most helpful to you to play in the same tuning as the rest. 

If everyone else is tuned to DAd and you're tuned to CGc or EBe it just isn't going to sound right.  You'd all be playing the same frets, but not the same notes and it could sound rather bad!

Marg said "One more question,  - if I can play DAd in all the (Mixolydian Modal Tunings)"

As I said above:  You can use DAd tab to play ANY of the Mixolydian Modal Tunings: AEa, BFb, CGc, DAd, EBe, FCf, GDg

"...play DAd in all the (Mixolydian Modal Tunings) is a non sequiteur

You can't play DAd if others are tuned to GCc, or vice versa.  Trust it will sound "not good"!

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
9 years ago
400 posts

Marg asked, "If I am playing with a group, do I need to be tune in DAd or can I be in any of the keys as long as I am playing the same DAd tab?"

I know you asked this question at the end of a long day...if you thought about it, you'd realize that if they're playing a song that starts on D, then you'd better be on a D, too, or it will sound pretty bad.  You mentioned wanting to practice songs with changing the tunings to hear the difference in the sounds (and it would be "like a new song" every time)...well just imagine that your friend was practicing with you...but they never changed their tuning when you did.  Even though the 2 of you might be sharing the same sheet of tab and playing the same numbers, your notes won't be the same and it will "clash".

Some players who don't often play with others just tune their instrument to accommodate the range of their singing voice (which might mean getting strings that are heavier or lighter....it all depends on what works with your instrument).  But as long as they are in a "1-5-8" tuning, with the 2 outer strings being an octave apart and the middle string up a "fifth" (the distance from the first "Twinkle" to the second "Twinkle" in the "...Little Star" song), then they can use the numbers on a sheet of music tabbed out for DAd and it will work just fine.  They just need to get back in tune with everyone else if they end up in a group situation.  Most folks are tuned DAd in dulcimer jams that I've been in, and in a class situation the instructor will tell everyone what tuning to be in...sometimes it stays the same for the whole class and sometimes it changes depending on what the song is.  It's usually on the music, too--so you're not just left in the dark to wonder what everyone's doing!

 




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
William Mann
William Mann
@william-mann
9 years ago
22 posts

I play mostly in DAA or another 155 tuning, adjusting pitch now and then to sing something.  I like having those notes below the scale on the melody string, and I like the way it chords.  If you really enjoy chording, it's also great for minor key songs without having to retune.

Occasional adventures outside include DAd, DAG, DAc, and Aaa.  I also enjoy creating a modal minor scale using a capo on the first fret in DAA.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

ken,

This is great news for me. As exciting as it was today playing in CGc, I can't wait to try each of the tunings and see how they sound. 

One more question, if you don't mind - if I can play DAd in all the (Mixolydian Modal Tunings)

If I am playing with a group, do I need to be tune in DAd or can I be in any of the keys as long as I am playing the same DAd tab?

    Thanks so much ken, I think my days just aren't long enough to do this all in short order. I think, as I am playing with the different tunings I should make notes on which songs sound better with which tuning. 

    Since I need to pratice the songs I have anyway - to be able to do it now with the different tunings will be like a different song each time. 

The more I learn, the more it all gets better :-)

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
9 years ago
2,137 posts

You can play DAd tab using ANY of the Mixolydian Modal Tunings:

AEa, BFb, CGc, DAd, EBe, FCf, GDg 

But not all from the same set of strings!

Likewise you can play DAA tab using any of the Ionian Modal Tunings:

AEE, BFF, CGG, DAA, EBB, FCC, GDD

The same holds true for other Modal tunings as well as Bagpipe and some others.  You use the same tab and fingers by the by changing the tuning you play in a different. Keynote.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

My dulciborn I had tuned DAd. I retuned it to CGc after I tead I can play DAd tab. The cords have different names but the tab is the same. I played all afternoon, so many of the songs I had been playing in DAd I could now play in CGc and many sounded really nice. 

Members that are tuned in CGc, have you played the DAd tabs with the CGc tunning? Anyone in DAd, if you haven't tried CGc yet, do. You wont be changing your fingering but playing everything the same except one key lower - From D to C and A to G

I feel like I made a discovery today, I went back and read the post in this discussion and didn't see anyone had mention CGc can be played with DAd tab. I hope I'm not wrong because it sounded gran.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

(Almost everyone today lists tunings from Bass to Melody -- DAA, DAd, GDD, GDg; not the other way around. However, there are still a few older books which list from Melody to Bass, )

Ah, thanks ken. that's it, DDDG should be listed as GDD. 

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
9 years ago
2,137 posts

Almost everyone today lists tunings from Bass to Melody -- DAA, DAd, GDD, GDg; not the other way around. However, there are still a few older books which list from Melody to Bass, as well as a few older players who still use that system. 

Almost no one lists the tuning of all four strings when they have a doubled-string dulcimer -- unless the couplet is tuned to two different notes.  A four string dulcimer with a doubled bass string will often be listed as DdAd for example, but hardly anyone lists DAdd for a doubled melody-string.  

Four equidistant string instruments always list all four strings -- dddd for example -- to let you know it is four-equidistant.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

    I have my student dulcimer tune to DDDG, G on the base.     But my red stain one is tuned to DAA, D on the base.

How do we tell which way to read the tuning so we know we have the right one on the right strings? Seems some we read left to right but some we read right to left.

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
9 years ago
400 posts

Interesting take on music theory, Kevin--different from what we usually read on this site.  It reminds me of a story a hammered dulcimer teacher tells of a music theory class he was taking where he was the only student who understood all the modes and how they worked.  He said the reason he understood it was because he played the hammered dulcimer and all the modes are laid out there in plain view, so it's easy-peasy. (well, I don't think he said that last part!)  So you have an understanding of one part of music theory because of a particular instrument you played.  My piano teachers were always writing the circle of fifths on the front covers of my books...and even though I have a basic understanding of it as a dulcimer player, I still don't know why it was an important thing for me to learn on the piano (but I'm sure someone here will explain that to me!)  By the way, when I was in elementary school, happily playing the piano by ear (long before lessons started in high school) I first played mainly on the black keys; I played in the key of F#.  After a couple years, I suddenly switched to Ab--I have no idea why.  I only played in the key of Ab for several years.  Peculiar, I know.  I'm picking up music theory in small, easy to digest chunks, for the most part.  I took a Coursera class from Berkley School of Music that was good and I had Josh Goforth at Swannanoa for a week of music theory and that was great--he's amazing!  Things are starting to click, bit by bit.




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
Robin Clark
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
9 years ago
239 posts

marg:
My dulcimer handbook, i revisited and went over it's info on tunings and it's starting to make sense. Any idea how many tuning there are, or could be? When I was playing a song in DDDG,  I notice the melody line tab was also DAd.  Haven't checked yet if it was just that one song or you can play with either tab.

Yep - following DAd TAB would work every time in DDG for the melody (not chords) on the melody and middle drone string.  You are playing in the key of G from the open melody string as 'do' against 5th drones.

Regarding how many tunings there are for dulcimer - the answer is both complex and simple (or is that the other way around?)  There are hundreds of tunings if you count every variant repeated at every pitch and every inversion of that variant.  You could drive your self mad trying to count them all.  However, tuning the dulcimer actually follows some very simple rules.  Here are the rules for noter drone playing:

Rule 1 - Where is the root note on my fretboard for the tune I want to play (the mode)?

Rule 2 - Is that root note at the pitch (key) that I want? - if not, then I need to retune the melody string.

Rule 3 - Do the drones blend with the melody string's root note of my tune in the timbre I want? - if not, then I neet to retune the drones to the root note and/or the 5th note of the melody string's scale that I'm going to play.

Every noter drone tuning configuration follows these 3 rules.

You could do something very similar to produce rules regarding chord melody tunings.

 

 


updated by @robin-clark: 08/21/15 03:02:21AM
marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

I should also say Jan, I think all the designs of the 'circle of fifths' are very interesting. They go back so far, a good history lesson. One of the paintings I just finished for a St. Jude donation was a circle design, would be interesting to place a bit of music theory within the piece. 

5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

Jan Potts: I suggest you study and memorize the circle of fifths.   

 

With my brother and I's "Instrument acquisition and play wars" that one was easy for me (sort of?).  The big 120 bass accordion for me taught me just that as the 120 buttons opposing the keyboard are arranged in the circle of fifths.  Only one button is marked for identification and is usually the root bass for the key of C or a bass C note is sounded when that button is pushed.  All of the chords are aligned diagonally and in the keys of the circle of fifths.  From the middle C, C chord row, going up took you through the sharp keys and going down took you through the flat keys.  That alone is when I discovered that there was indeed a key of G#, which of course sounds identical to the key of Ab.  Written differently, yet the very same exact notes and chords.  The ones that make you scratch your head are keys such as Cb or the key of B#.  Legit in every fashion on paper and notation, but nonexistant when it comes to actual music that is played.  Fun stuff (at least for a music nerd like me?)  Kevin.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

;-)

    Wouldn't take much to tie my brain up in knots. I think the idea of a 'circle of anything' would have me going in circles and never getting anywhere but thanks for the thought of a merry-go-round ride. I don't even know how many sharps or flats make up what keys or modes, so it wouldn't be much of a ride. I wouldn't even get to start going in a circle other than I have seen the illustration of the 'circle of fifths'.

    Everyday I am learning something new but I am still just a happy infant crawling alone with my dulcimer. 

    

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
9 years ago
400 posts

Now, Marg, if you want to get your brain REALLY tied up in knots, I suggest you study and memorize the circle of fifths, cycle of fourths, and Star of Modes!

tic         .   




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke

updated by @jan-potts: 08/21/15 01:45:40AM
marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

My dulcimer handbook, i revisited and went over it's info on tunings and it's starting to make sense.

Any idea how many tuning there are, or could be?

When I was playing a song in DDDG,  I notice the melody line tab was also DAd.  Haven't checked yet if it was just that one song or you can play with either tab.

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
9 years ago
400 posts

I finally located a name for what I'm doing (using one tuning--DAd--but playing in different keys).  Gary Gallier refers to this as "Cross Key Tuning". If anyone wants to know more about that they can contact me or Google Gary Gallier and look up the topic on his website (it's one of the main tabs).  He even has 2 pages of all the scales for the different keys that work with the DAd tuning.  Note: many of the scales require a 1.5 fret.  'Nother Note: You will NOT, therefore, be playing in the traditional way.  But you will live and it will be OK.

 




--
Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
Stephanie Stuckwisch
Stephanie Stuckwisch
@stephanie-stuckwisch
9 years ago
45 posts

I learned to play Ionian. Then I discovered Aeolian. It's my favorite.

Stephanie Stuckwisch
Stephanie Stuckwisch
@stephanie-stuckwisch
9 years ago
45 posts

Lisa Golladay:
How about 4-equidistant strings?  Even more options that way. I use DAdd, DAdc, DAdA, DAA#d (chromatic) and DGdd (which is really cool: a traditional G-Ionian with an extra low D at the bottom) I just got a cigar-box tenor guitar.  4 strings tuned DGbe... or DGBd... or DGAd... or DAAd... or DF#Ad... or ... ?  I can't decide, except I know I want an open tuning.  Any suggestions?  Is ARRGH! a tuning?  I'm pretty sure I've played that one a lot!

Funny you should ask about ARRGH. Look up the song 'Key of R'.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

Yes, all OK.

    I enjoy the dulcimer, the known and the unknown, the simple and the complex. I am different than I was and yet, I am the same. My playing was nothing and now it is something and one day will be something else, hopefully better than the day before. Much in music I don't know but I know it's warms my heart & soul and it draws me into it's web.

  I'm content    -     'and that's OK'

ps: I counted about 36 tunings mention in the post, yes we are all different and each very unique. It's been a good discussion and a new interesting discovery.

Jan Potts
Jan Potts
@jan-potts
9 years ago
400 posts

Marg, I'm glad you can appreciate the variety of ways people make music with their dulcimers--the "many differences that can be achieved by eaçh person" as you kindly put it.  I have a friend who can not only not sing or play an instrument, but is also unable to recognize what tune is being played--even something as simple as Happy Birthday to You or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  He can hear the music just fine, but his brain does not process it--does not assign any meaning to the different tones.  If I were playing Carnegie Hall and had a ticket for him, he'd tell me to give it to somebody else, because it would just be a long boring evening for him. 

Another friend has always loved music, but nothing about learning it made any sense to her.  She figured she would, therefore, never be able to play a musical instrument.  Then she encountered the dulcimer, which provides a variety of learning choices.  She discovered numbered tab and quickly realized that because the numbers made sense, she could play this instrument --and now, after just a few years, she is a VERY good player. 

Now, I carry music around in my being and in my soul--I expect to be able to pick up an instrument and with a little experimentation play whatever pops into my head--not proficiently, of course, but I can get the music from my head to the instrument (most instruments I've tried, at least) in a recognizable fashion without tab, numbers, standard music notation, etc.  For me, a lot of my learning involves finding out what it is that I'm doing, so that I can make sense out of things like chord charts, etc. Playing from tab is actually quite difficult for me.   I had someone hand me a sheet of tabbed out music the other day and in the midst of struggling to read the tab and get my fingers on exactly the right frets and move cleanly from chord to chord (with all the notes in between) I suddenly realized that I had written out that tab, years ago!  That sure made me laugh!

Yep, we're all different--and some of us are "differenter" than others! laughlaugh   dancecool joyjoy   and that's OK!




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Jan Potts, Lexington, KY
Site Moderator

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke
5kwkdw3
@5kwkdw3
9 years ago
31 posts

Lisa Golladay: There's nothing wrong with picking one tuning and sticking with it.  No worries. 

 

That's a very good idea and I think I'll stick with that one.  I remember early on that just the difference in DAd and DAA was enough for that one string change as to not really be good for either.  If the string was bought as appropriate for the lower A, then it very nearly came to breaking and poking my eye out in the process (I always flinch when I hear a string about to break and yes "you can tell" after you break enough of them).  Or if you start the other way and get a string appropriate for the higher d, then when detuned to the lower A, the string is very sloppy and the sound not the best in the world up to and including basically unplayable.  One last attempt, because by golly the darn books say you can swap tunings all over the place and I bought a string more appropriate for a middle of the range note of B and or C territory.  Now I asked for assistance back then and found that for the string length I was utilizing and the notes desired, the B or the C pitch ended up being the same gauge so I was indeed in the middle.  I first tuned to the lower A and gave that a try.  Still way to loose and sloppy.  Sounded more like a rubber band and cigar box type of thing.  Then I cranked it up to the higher d and found that I was not flinching as much, but the string was different in feel and hard to finger the higher fretted notes because of the increased tension.  Yep that's another thing to consider.  The tighter the string tension, the thicker the calluses you'll end up with if you can even fret the higher notes.  So the string tuning change was out the window as far as I was concerned and I began thinking of another answer to the problem of playing in two different modes without the hassle of tuning up to or down to the desired pitches.

 

Now folks with a current outbreak of DAD will appreciate this (there are equivilant diseases in the gun shop and are contagious let me tell you)  That is, buy one dulcimer for each and every mode you'll ever think you might play in.  If you feel that getting different dulcimers a disservice to your learning to play, then buy similar models of dulcimer, but get different looking woods to shake things up a bit.  Mama's or spouses if the other way around don't apparently like this disease at all.  Nonetheless I had what I needed to explore the "other modes" and found that putting all of my effort into one mode had a direct result in producing a better player in that given mode.  The more I spread myself around the less I actually learned.  OK at many but good on none it seemed to be.  So now with over 46 years of musical experience from that very first day on the clarinet to now and many many instruments inbetween I can safely say that I want to concentrate my efforts solely on DAd (actually GDg, but still Mixalydian and the 158 ratios) and just watch my skills increase.  I found the very same thing to be true when my brother and I were in the middle of our "Instrument Wars".  Once I got hooked on the Mandolin and it's family, I stuck with instruments that shared the same "fifths" relationship between strings.  My brother on the other hand chose to not only go beyond the imediate family of instruments, he went out of the box so to speak bringing in the like of bag pipes, bassoon, melophone, accordion, tenor sax, guitar, and the like with not one instrument having any such similarity between themselves.  Needles to say he had a massive slow down and finally had to deep six some of the instruments and just concentrate on a few that he had some aparent skills with.  Yep you change the dulcimer mode if even only the one melody string and you've changed the overall makeup of the instrument and therefore made another instrument that you have to teach yourself how to play.  The exception to this is if any or all strings tunings are changed yet the player is a noter drone player or owns a Tennesee Music Box with traditional fence staples just under the melody string(s).  Then you are only required to play that one string and the others just come along for the ride so it doesn't really matter (other than sound) what they are tuned to or the relationship between them and the melody string   Kevin.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

(Tuning a Dulcimer using a Keyboard )

wow, this is so simple, so great to see it like this. I am a visual person, so I will be keeping the tabs. No, I don't paint by-numbers but I do paint. Enclosed is a quick small drawing of a heron fishing, if only I could jazz up my playing lke I can throw things into a piece of art.

Thanks for the site for this illustration.

Untitled-1.jpg
Untitled-1.jpg  •  187KB

Lisa Golladay
Lisa Golladay
@lisa-golladay
9 years ago
108 posts

This page maps dulcimer tunings to the piano keyboard: http://www.get-tuned.com/dulcimer.php

We really are making this too complicated.  Tune the bass string to a note that sounds good.  This note is the key you will be playing in.  Then fret the bass string at the 4th fret and tune the other strings to that note (which is a 5th interval higher than the bass string).  That is how people tuned dulcimers for a hundred years. 

Here I am, someone who mostly plays chord/melody in DAdd, telling people to use Balis Ritchie's "bim-bim-BOM" tuning!  Honestly, these forums are wonderful but we send beginners on wild goose chases.  Tune DAA, put away the tab and chord charts, play a scale on the melody string starting on the 3rd fret, and listen to what happens.  Until you get to know the instrument and how it works, jumping around to new tunings and following paint-by-numbers tabs is just wasting your time.

marg
@marg
9 years ago
616 posts

It is interesting the many differences that can be achieved by eaçh person.

 

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
9 years ago
2,278 posts

marg:
I saw that Strumelia has her dulcimer tune an octave highter than mine also but she says she likes hers high and we would probably be an octave lower. Could it be if you play with a noter you are tune highter than if like me i cord or finger dance? Or is it I just like the sound of the lower octave?

 


Marg, I should clarify this...  I don't have all strings just tuned an octave higher- they'd break!   What I do is- I've removed my heavier Bass and Middle strings and exchanged them for what you might think of as all thin melody strings.  Those strings are then tuned in generally the same octave as my melody string.  In effect there is no more low octave bass string. 
So, if I wanted to play in the key of D in ionian... YOU would tune DAA, and I would tune dAA.  Then when I fretted the tonic note on my melody string it would sound like dAd...with the middle string A being the lowest note of those three sounding notes.   OR, I might tune it ddA, so that when I fret the third fret tonic note, the 3 strings would be playing ddd.  I explain a bit more about this here: http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-i-dont-use-bass-and-middle-strings.html


It's all a matter of personal preference of course.   Wonderful that we can all get so many different results and effects!  nod


 




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
9 years ago
2,278 posts

marg:
ken, In your article:  I Just Got A Dulcimer, Now What?   (Under 'Geting In Tune' - 'Which D is D') - The D which we use as the basis of all the D tunings, is D4 – one whole note above “middle C”. The A we use is A4 and the d we use is d5 ) Seems in DAd, my base D is tuned to the D below 'middle C'. The melody string is tuned one note above 'middle C'. I have not checked the dulcimer tuned DAA but would image it is also an octave lower than your tunings.      I go to a dulcimer practice group tomorrow and will have them check my tunings. Could be set up this way since I do like a more mellow sound not a bright sound and to tune the base string  to a D, 1 note above 'middle C' sounds way to high to me.  Or am I reading this wrong?

This keeps coming up every year or so.  Ken's article is great, but his numeric naming of the octaves is incorrect, by today's generally accepted standards of where 'middle C' is.  People keep pointing this out, and it really should be corrected.


If tuned DAd, the mountain dulcimer is tuned (low to high):  D3, A3, d4   The high melody string D4 is the note right above Middle C on the piano.  The Bass string D is the D note BELOW Middle C.


Here are some more online tuning aids:


http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/12/what-notes-do-i-tune-my-strings-to.html




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990

updated by @strumelia: 08/17/15 05:31:22PM
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