Three or Doubled Melody Dulcimer?

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
7 years ago
2,252 posts

Greg, so true!   One would hope that a maker would allow sufficient width of a staple fret to accommodate either string, if it were built intended to service a pair of strings.  But you're right- in our non-perfect world it's a point to watch for when choosing which melody string to remove.




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Site Owner

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

updated by @strumelia: 04/04/17 05:07:14PM
Banjimer
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
7 years ago
141 posts

I agree with Lisa with one exception.  If you are playing a dulcimer that has staple-style frets, you will want to keep the string that is most centered over the frets.  These partial frets have a tendency to let the string slide right off the fret.  Not a problem with full-width frets, but annoying when playing over partial frets.  That being said, most reproductions utilizing staple-style frets or partial frets are built with only three strings, so what to do with the extra melody string is not an issue.


updated by @greg-gunner: 04/04/17 01:18:40PM
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
7 years ago
2,252 posts

I agree!  For noter playing , keep the melody string on that is closest to you and the edge of the fret board.  happydance




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
7 years ago
1,724 posts

Elidh: Dumb question:  which of the melody strings stays on the dulcimer - the one closest to me or the other?  Thanks!

In most cases, Elidh, it will be the string closest to you.  If you played across all the strings, you would want the remaining three strings to be equidistant from one another. But if you are playing noter/drone, then there is no harm in having the melody string a bit further from the other two.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

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: 04/04/17 12:00:49PM
John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
8 years ago
50 posts

Thanks Lexie, and all who have contributed to this discussion. I have enjoyed listening and learning from your experiences. 

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

Sense I play only noter/drone and have 3 dulcimers based on Thomas, Jefferies and now Prichard I like playing with 3 strings because of the balance of tone. However, I do play sometimes with 4 strings on my Jefferies, it is also set up for equidistant, but I did not enjoy the sound as much. I notice when I play with double melody I keep my noter light on the strings as to not separate them.

I now am playing all three of my dulcimers with 3 strings, I just love that ole' time silvery sound and the simplicity of playing.

This has been an interesting thred, but I agree you need to enjoy playing and so choose your way which works for your pleasure of playing.....dulcimer  It is Fun so, have fun!


updated by @lexie-r-oakley: 07/16/16 01:48:41PM
John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
8 years ago
50 posts

Hi everyone, Thanks for all your input.  I came across this article written back in 1982 by A.W.Jeffrey Jr. recommending the three string dulcimer. And I thought it might give a different perspective on the 3-string - 4-string discussion.  I quote: "The traditional Appalachian dulcimer has been for the most part a simple and flexible 3-string instrument.  Some early folk instruments had four strings which were really 3-string instruments with double melody strings to make four strings in all.  This was done because early makers did not always have quality acoustical woods available to them, and the melody string was often overridden in volume by the two drone strings..The three string is recommended.  It is more flexible for the various methods of playing.  There is less string to tune and risk breaking.  It is easier to change from one modal tuning to another, and its simplicity makes it more versatile.  The sound is more uniquely that of a mountain folk dulcimer."  

AS far as the balance idea for 3 or 5 string, I can see that it all depends upon what style you are playing in.  If you are a noteter-drone player and if you are playing with other instruments, say the fiddle, then the four strings might be  wanted.  If you are playing in a melody chord style and you want to use all strings individually to accomplish this, then you might like the balance of three strings. 

CD
CD
@cd
8 years ago
61 posts

A past Walnut Valley Champion once told me that with three strings there is a more balanced tone.  I think I saw that already mentioned though.  I was always having trouble with the double melody strings splitting on me.  By that I mean my finger would end up in the middle between the strings for some reason.  But all that said it is what works for you.  That is the beauty of the dulcimer.  It is versatile enough to do many things to achieve the same results or close. 

Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson
@terry-wilson
8 years ago
297 posts

Hi John

This is an interesting topic.  I agree with most everyone else,  do it your way.  The right way is your way.

Personally, I play 3 strings only.  Why?  When my journey began 4 years ago. I immediately took my one and only lesson.  The teacher was a past Florida state dulcimer champion.   She said play with 3 strings.  So I did.

 

John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
8 years ago
50 posts

Hey everybody,  I am really enjoying your posts.  I do believe it is an individual choice. Although I still favor the single melody string, I have found one dulcimer, the Flat Creek Student Dulcimer,  a large plywood box type of dulcimer, that sounds particularly good with the doubled strings. The doubled melody strings on this particular dulcimer  seems to give it more of a sustained quality. I am glad to have several dulcimers by different builders, for each one has a different voice and has something to offer. Variety, really is the spice of life.

Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
8 years ago
420 posts

My early dulcimer experience was the opposite of Dusty's.  My first dulcimer had 4 independent strings, no provision for doubling any strings.  Then I broke the plastic nut.  I called several people but it was Keith Young who replaced it for me.  He put on one of "his" nuts with provision for doubling not just the melody but also the middle string. (Of course he notched the bridge as well.)  Now I could do things with the strings I couldn't do before.

Fast forward several years to my getting my Heatherwood.  It has doubled melody with no provision for 4 independent.  I played with the outside string loosened until I discovered all the videos of Schnaufer.  I put that doubled string back on and worked at playing it that way.  Some folks whom I respect greatly advised me to stake one of them off, but I didn't.  

I do move the strings on my Rockwell, sometimes during a performance.  In fact, the engineer recording me wanted to know what I had done to get that "different" sound on the instrument.

Play it like you feel it, 3 or 4 strings; double melody or independent; play it!

 

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
8 years ago
1,724 posts

When I first started playing dulcimer, I used the double melody string because ... well ... because that's how the dulcimer came and I thought it was normal.  I ignored advice from others to remove one of the melody strings.  I arrogantly thought that since I had been used to double strings on my mandolin and 12-string guitar I could handle it. But one day whil re-stringing I left off the extra string just to see what it was like, and I immediately fell in love with the increased clarity of sound from three single strings. I have since taken the extra melody string off all my dulcimers with the sole exception of a 6 string dulcimette made by Ron Ewing.

I can understand why noter players might want that extra zing you get with the double strings, but for nearly everyone else I don't see the benefit.  It is nearly impossible to bend double strings with any accuracy, and pull-offs and hammer-ons are also a lot easier and cleaner with single strings. Additionally, if you play across all the strings, it is really hard to keep a consistency of tone and volume when one string is doubled and the others aren't.

In the end, as others have said, this is a question of personal preference.  And you might have to play a spell (as in two years or so) to figure out what your preferences are.

 

Let me also comment on Rob's accurate obvservation that Stephen Seifert uses a double melody for chording. True enough.  But Stephen plays with a lot of drones, and he will tell you that he sometimes goes days on end without playing any chords.  If you compare him to another great flatpicker, Aaron O'Rourke, I think you will see the difference. Stephen plays melodies mainly on the melody string even though he is comfortable across all strings. Watch his left hand, and on most songs you will see him playing horizontally up and down the fretboard.  Compare that to Aaron O'Rourke. Aaron tends to place his left hand in one spot on the fret board and play vertically across all the strings before he moves to another spot on the fretboard.  Not surprisingly, Stephen plays with a double melody and Aaron plays with a single melody.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
8 years ago
252 posts

I always build with a double melody string. Buyers expect it. Although I never use it in my own playing. I think most players come around to single melody eventually... Robert. 

Patty from Virginia
Patty from Virginia
@patty-from-virginia
8 years ago
231 posts

John, I like just the three strings. I took the extra melody string off my Cabin Creek (Walter Messick) because my narrow finger kept splitting the strings. The only dulcimer I have with the double melody strings is my McSpadden. Seems the two melody strings are closer together and I don't have that problem. I really can't tell any difference in volume. It's more a difference in sound. To me the one melody string sounds cleaner and more distinct. That's just my personal opinion. 

Dan
Dan
@dan
8 years ago
183 posts

Agreed! It is personal preference. As for myself, I say you have to have at least one of each! ;)

 

DAN

John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
8 years ago
50 posts

Thanks Strumelia for giving us a larger perspective and for sharing your personal taste for playing. I have a much deeper appreciation for both styles now for each has its won beauty.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
2,252 posts

There's a lot to be said of both single and double melody strings, for both chordal playing and noter playing. Everyone has their own opinion of course, and all personal preferences are valid!  yes

I do agree that pull offs might be a bit less clean with a double melody string, and it also seems to not be the best choice for fingerpicking.

I'm a fan of simplicity in sound myself.  However, I prefer the sound and feel of a double melody string for my own playing.  (btw I used to play chord style but have been only noter playing for about 17 years now.)

Why do i like double melody for noter playing?  Because it has a subtle sound characteristic that reminds me of multi-stringed Old World zithers.  (just to clarify, double melody strings were not a musical instrument feature suddenly invented during the folk revival in the U.S., they were a feature of some European traditional dulcimer antecedents long ago).  
It's simple- I love how the double melody string sound retains little echoes of traditional folk zither/zitter playing and transports me to another time and place.  smiler




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
8 years ago
50 posts

Thanks Rob for the information.  I am becoming more flexible in appreciating the double string. I think its not the instrument that needs a balanced, approach but me. I am so glad that the Mt. Dulcimer is a folk instrument, and therefore is open to a variety of style. Keep up the good strumming and singing. John

Rob N Lackey
Rob N Lackey
@rob-n-lackey
8 years ago
420 posts

David Schnaufer used a double melody for chording; Steve Seifert uses one as well.  Alan Freeman, tho' playing a different "style" and using a radically different tuning, does too.  I like being able to go from 4 independent strings to double melody for certain songs.  I haven't found it harder nor does it really give me more volume, just a little different sound.

 

John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
8 years ago
50 posts

Thanks Ken H. and Ken L.  I do so appreciate your experience and knowledge.  I have found one advantage of the double string recently and that is when sounding the melody strings for my library class 0f beginners they are able to hear the sound of it for tuning purposes.  I started my dulcimer playing with a three string Jeffrey Dulcimer back in 1978 and have loved its simplicity ever since.  

Ken Longfield
Ken Longfield
@ken-longfield
8 years ago
1,081 posts

Well, John, like you, I enjoy playing with three strings and for the reasons you mention. Occasionally I will play one of my four string dulcimers with a double melody string arrangement, but when I do, I usually play with a noter.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
2,120 posts

Doubled melody strings came about during the Revival of the 1960s/70s.  People thought they gave a more balanced (not louder) sound between the melody and the drone strings.   Doubled melody strings are not necessarily more effective for noter & drone for the same reason they cause problems for chord players -- the noter, or fingers, tend to slide the two strings too close together and the do not sound cleanly.  I used to swear by doubled melody string; but I've since come to my senses and use just three strings.

"Commercial" builders usually made doubled melody strings standard because it it easy to remove one, if you chose; and they feel they would lose sales to those who believe that Revival hype <grin>.  Custom builders will make what you want, and aren't necessarily any more expensive than commercial builders...   Those who love and play Traditional dulcimers usually prefer just a single string per course.

John W. McKinstry
John W. McKinstry
@john-w-mckinstry
8 years ago
50 posts

I have always been a three stringed player and have had students wonder why I would ask them to put aside one of the doubled melody strings.  I tell them that I like the pure harmony and balance of the strings, and that it is easier for them to press down on the frets to begin with.  Of course I am also a melody-chord type of player.  I feel that there are certain effects such as  arpeggio's, and hammer-ons  and pull- offs that are easier this way.  I have always thought that a doubled stringed dulcimer sounded more like a mandolin.  I know you can get more volume with a doubled melody string. I also know that the noter/drone style is more effective with the doubled melody string.  I keep thinking that the reason so many dulcimers these days come with doubled melody strings is because the maker doesn't know if you are a noter/drone or melody-chord player.  I would like to know what others of you think about the advantages and disadvantages of a three string or a doubled melody string are.


updated by @john-w-mckinstry: 07/31/23 09:17:48PM