Great to hear from you again, Nimrod! I'm glad to hear that your dulcimer in CGc has worked so well for the Sea Shanties and other songs of the sea. Do you know about the site www.contemplator.com?? She has an entire section of Songs of the Sea. One of my favorite water songs is the great 1962 British ditty by Tony Hatch and Les Reed -- Messing About On The River.
Three Strings or Four ?
This is by way a follow up to my original question of 3 strings or four. I have now been playing for just over 2 years and have answered my own question.
I was advised to use four and to tune the dulcimer to C G C instead of D A D, which I have done, and this has proved to be right for the type of music I am most interested in which is Sea Shanties and Songs of the Sea.
At the same time as asking the question, I started a Shanty Band for people with Parkinson's disease. You can find out more about them on face book by typing barum shanty/folk wailers in to the address bar once you have logged into your account at face book.
Prior to moving house, I was the vocal leader of this shanty band so did not play my dulcimer at the same time, but at home many of the songs that the band sings, I can now play on my Red Kite Dulcimer.
So my advice to my self and others is: If you have four strings then use them.
Sometimes there are sensible answers, Jane. As says, "railroad men were our industrial age heroes." Part of the national myth of America is a modern society slowly moving westward over a whole continent. A simple image in a western film might be a railroad moving through the wilderness, and we all understand the symbolism.
But it's also the case that the period of history when the railroads were built (1860s-WWI) corresponds exactly to what is known as the "golden age of folklore" when professional folklorists went around collecting popular music and stories, often precisely because they had a sense that as the railroads and other agents of modernization were transforming society, an effort was needed to capture that "folk wisdom" before it was gone forever. Very simply, a lot of folklore collections were made during the period when a lot of people got jobs on the railroad. Working on the railroad, dollar and a dime a day/Give my woman the dollar, and throw the dime away
American music of a later period would have more songs about cars than about railroads. Riding around in my automobile/My baby beside me at the wheel
Welcome to the dulcimer community, Jane. Online, we can communicate faster than they could during the age of ships, the age of railroads, and the age of automobiles.
Dusty T., Northern California
As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
updated by @dusty-turtle: 11/18/18 12:34:02PM
Groundhog is one of many names for a very large underground dwelling rodent. Think underground beaver. Beaver live in water, Groundhogs live underground. They're 16"-20" and weigh up to 20 lbs. Vegetarian, they love to raid gardens and large crop fields and so are considered pests. Relatively easily caught, they were sort of 'survival food' for early pioneers. Reasonably tasty.
We sing about railroad men so much because they were our Industrial Age heroes. They connected one side of this huge country to the other. They worked hard and played hard. England had/has its canals that connected the industrial Midlands to the coastal ports -- Josiah Wedgewood helped build canals so his pottery could get to the coast without half of every wagonload being broken. You also had your Navvies who dug and built, and the sailors who linked the pieces of the EMpire together.
I play the old ballads myself. The Child Ballads and others -- 16th and 17th century versions of the tunes and words that changed dozens of times between there and then, and here and now. From the Elfin Knight to Scarborough Fair. All the dozens of versions of The Riddle Song from Lay the Bend to the Bonnie Broom on down through history.
It’s like someone has been reading my mind! I emailed Robin Clark about 20 minutes ago to ask the very question - which string should I remove in my beginner attempts to play noter drone style? Thank you Ken and Strumelia. By the way I love your 2009 beginner’s guide blog, it’s a wonderful base of music and information. I’m about 10 weeks into learning to play and love playing and singing ballads especially, even when I have to learn new tunes to old songs (Black is the Colour was quite a challenge). The UK and USA can seem very far apart when considering simple things like children’s songs, for instance what is a groundhog and why do you sing about railroad men so much?! And no, I don’t expect a sensible answer and this is probably the wrong place to say all this but I’m really enjoying my dulcimers and FOTMD has made great reading. I feel part of a community.
Most folks remove the outer melody string if they are playing chords as they get a bit more fretboard to press on. Most Noter & Drone stylists remove the inner melody string so there is more space between the melody and middle drone string and less chance of the noter getting caught in the middle drone.
Ah! The light dawns!! Nonsuch. You're on that side of The Pond!! Give a shout to Robin Clark, a member here, at Bird Rock Dulcimers: www.dulcimers.co.uk He's up in Snowdonia, Wales, and has a pretty good selection of dulcimers to choose from. He's a great traditional player, and instrument repairman as well.
Hello Ken and thank you for your welcome message.
and Hello Tumbleweed, John, Strumelia, and Nikolas,
Having never seen a dulcimer of any kind, played live I really do not know what sound, look of feel I want an instrument to have. It sounds a simple question however, from the feedback I have received there is a lot more to the number of strings than first meets the mind. I thought I was going to have to travel large distances to see, feel and hear the various qualities of a collection of mountain dulcimers before I took the plunge into buying one that I liked. This may be the answer in the long term if I decide to raid the piggy bank to purchase the ultimate instrument but in the short term however, most of the decisions have been put on the back burner. No I am not giving up the idea of getting a mountain dulcimer, far from it as I was amazed to hear from a friend who is a member of the Nonsuch Dulcimer Club, that having made some inquiries within her circle of musical friends, she phoned me to say that she had spoken to a fellow musician who use to play MD that he had still got one that he was willing to let me have as my first instrument, so at this stage 3 or 4 strings is not so important as saying thank you to him for his very kind offer. I hope to take delivery of it in a weeks time, so Bring it On
I have only been at it a year now, but I have had the chance to play a lot of dulcimers. I don't use a noter, and I have found the double melody string annoying, so I have pulled off one of the doubled strings on all the dulcimers i've had time with. Generally people remove the outermost melody string (the one closest to you) when they go from 4 to 3, which is nice because that helps prevent, especially for a beginner, you pressing the string off the fret board because the single melody string leftover is farther from the edge.
There is one thing, however, that I found and which I still find annoying while playing - some builders set the distance between the melody and middle string not as the distance between the innermost melody string and the middle string, but rather the distance between the middle string and the space between the doubled melody strings. This means that no matter which of the two melody strings you remove, the distance between the remaining three strings will not be equal. Now some will say no big deal on that, and some folks never even notice, but it really tripped me up as a beginner and continues to trip me up on occasion now, especially on dulcimers with the wider 1 1/2" fretboard. Of course this can be fixed by having someone swap in a new nut and bridge, but why start off with something to get fixed? Anyway, just make sure that whatever option you go with, the distance between the innermost melody string and middle string is equal to the distance between the middle and bass (furthest from you) string.
updated by @nikolas4squid: 01/15/16 07:28:42AM
Nimrod, you should be aware of this little bit of confusion for new players:
Here are some explanations to clarify what people are referring to when talking about number of strings on mtn dulcimers:
1) the most common setup as a "four string dulcimer" is 1 heavy bass string, 1 medium weight middle string, and a PAIR of thinner melody strings- which are close together, are usually tuned to the same note, and are played as though they are just one string- that kind of close pair is called a "course" or "double course". That dulcimer is very common and is played as though it has 3 strings, but the melody 'course' is really 2 strings close together and played as though they were 1 string.
(I should also mention that just because this outer light string is called the melody string does not mean you cannot play melody notes on the other strings as well, it's just a convenient traditional name for the string because: in traditional or noter style of playing, only that string is used for playing a song's melody..nowadays there are various styles of playing that use other strings for melody playing as well, but that's beside the point of my explanation)
2) Many people do not have, or purposely remove, one of the pair of melody strings and simply have 3 strings on their dulcimer: a bass, a middle, and a single melody string. They might choose to do this because it's easier to play in fingerpicking style that way, or because they feel awkward fretting a pair of strings, or simply because they don't like that fuller sound of the double course...they want to even the sound out between the different strings.
Another popular meaning when you hear someone talk about a "four string dulcimer" is:
3) four equidistant strings. This is when you have 4 strings, all spaced equally apart from each other, in various thicknesses (usually spanning heavy to light) tuned to a tuning of your choice. In this setup, there are no 'double courses' or pairs of close together strings. All four strings are equal distance apart and are tuned and played as individual strings. This setup can give you additional choices for getting various notes and/or chords while playing...as compared to a 3 string dulcimer as I describe in example 2).
A double-melody-course 4 string dulcimer will have 4 tuning pegs and its nut and bridge string slots will be cut to allow the doubled pair, but you can always just remove one of the pair and play it like a 2) three string dulcimer- you'd have one peg with no string wound on it. Also, as long as the dulcimer has four pegs, it can simply have its nut/bridge slots changed or added to enable one to convert it quickly to a 4 equidistant dulcimer. Both my dulcimers have 4 tuning pegs and have additional nut/bridge slots which allow me to switch if i wanted to- to any of the above three setup,s by changing/adding/removing strings.
Probably the most basic setup for a beginner would be setup #2 above- a simple 3 string dulcimer. Many 3 string dulcimers have just 3 tuning pegs. These obviously cannot be converted to either 4equidistant setup or to a double-melodystring setup, because it'd be difficult to add another peg to the peghead...you can't have a string without its own peg or pin to tune it with. But many folks don't care about that anyway because they adore their 3 string dulcimers just as they are. You have all the same notes available to you on a 3 string dulcimer as you have on a dulcimer with a doubled melody course (examples 1) and 2) above).
One other detail is that most tablature and books available to players is geared towards the 1) and 2) setups. However, that does not stop dedicated 4equidistant string players from having a total blast and becoming wonderful players. FOTMD has a Group for 4 equi players- to learn more: Four Equidistant String Players Group
Any of the 3 setups above are beloved by many and are very popular. There are also more variations- 5, 6 string dulcimers, etc, but I'd say those are less common and not as recommended for a beginner to start with.
Hope this helps.
P.S. I moved this thread to the general dulcimer forum, instead of the 'site questions' forum.
Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
updated by @strumelia: 01/14/16 11:56:14PM
I would suggest a 4-string instrument with the 6 1/2 fret and geared tuners. One of the doubled melody strings can easily be removed if you like and the 6 1/2 fret ignored if you don't need it. But you would have a "complete" instrument for the various popular playing styles. A solid wood instrument (no veneers) will have a fuller sound. Beyond that, get something which sounds and looks pleasing to you. Dulcimer is a wonderful, accessable instrument which will allow you to scratch that music-making itch.
Style of play (strum, finger/flatpick/noter) should not be a factor of whether a string course is doubled or not. I know lots of guitarists who fingerpick 12 string guitars, and dulcimer players who fingerpick six string dulcimers. Style of play is what you train yourself to do.
I have a four string dulcimer and for a while it was a 3 string because I broke a melody string and was too lazy to put it back on. I eventually put it back on but then about a week ago purposely took it off because I want to learn to finger pick. Question: do you plan to play with a noter? Not sure if it makes a difference using a noter if three or four strings are better. May need to consult with players more expert than I.
Yep, Nimrod, there are all sorts of considerations. All things considered, if everything else was the same, wood, shape, vsl, and sound, I'd go with 4 strings. Yep, you can take one off or you can play 4 independent strings or you can have a double course. I'd rather have 4 strings than a 6 1/2 fret LOL, but I'm weird.
Three strings or four??? YES! Welcome Nimrod!
If I were you, I would choose the dulcimer that has the LOOK you want -- shape, woods, size, etc. And, the one that has the SOUND you want.
As you say, if you have 4 strings you can remove one; but quintessentially the dulcimer is a three-course stringed instrument -- bass course, middle drone course, and melody course. Any of those can be doubled (or even tripled) for a variety of purposes. But for ease of learning three strings is, IMHO, optimal. Whether the dulcimer you end up has 4 strings and you play only three until you get experience, or only has 3 strings to start with, doesn't really matter.
updated by @ken-hulme: 01/11/16 02:45:44PM
As someone who is a complete beginner who is looking to purchase a mountain dulcimer, I would like to know how many strings I should go for when looking at potential instruments. Is it easier as a complete beginner to start with the basic three strings or should I go for an instrument with four strings and simply leave one off. I use to play the electric organ but have never played a stringed instrument so at this moment in time I am completely in the dark. I have some dexterity issues in my right hand due to having mild Parkinson's so having given up the organ, I desperately feel the need to create music which I love.
updated by @nimrod: 01/15/16 12:53:39PM