Thanks to everyone who responded, I really appreciate the clarity of your instructions. I went to the 'jam' today with my two dulcimers, one tuned to D and the other to C. Since I don't have a capo yet, I managed to play along to about 90% of the music, using the fingering you provided. Many, many thanks! It was a lot of fun. I look forward to extending my versatility with a capo, but I now have a great start!
In a jam about a jam session with ukuleles, guitars & banjos
The original post concerned playing along in a jam session with other stringed instruments in multiple keys. In that situation, retuning is rarely an option due to the noise and speed at which one tune flows into the next. In the quiet of one's own home, learning how to retune to play in different keys on a single dulcimer is an excellent skill to have. Using Dusty Turtle's chart, you will be relying primarily on the I, IV, and V chords.
In a jam session, however, the other musicians are not going to remain quiet and wait while you retune. You have to adjust to fit in with the other instruments. Utilizing a second dulcimer and a capo allows you to play in four different keys: D, G, C, and F. With the 6 1/2 fret, the Key of A is also possible.
D-A-A Tuning allows one to play in the Key of D from the nut, the Key of G from the capo at the 3rd fret, and the Key of A with the capo at the 4th fret and utilizing the 6 1/2 fret instead of the 6 fret.
C-G-G Tuning allows one to play in the Key of C from the nut, the Key of F from the capo at the 3rd fret, and the Key of G with the capo at the 4th fret and utilizing the 6 1/2 fret instead of the 6 fret.
The most common keys in folk, bluegrass, or old timey jams are C, D, G, and A. If you practicetuning back and forth between DAA or DAd and CGG or CGC, then you will only need one dulcimer. For the key of G, capo at the third fret with your normal D tuning. For the key of A, capo at the fourth fret. Then all you have to know is how to transpose. What's nice about the capo is that you don't have to learn new chord shapes. You can continue to play the same chord shapes you already know. Then the only trick is knowing which chord to play. Perhaps this transposition chart will help.
It should be obvious how to read this. If you are playing a song in the key of C and you are tuned CGG or CGC, then when the song requires a C chord, you use the fingering for your D chord. When the song requires a G chord, you use your fingering for an A chord. If the song is in the key of G, then tuned DAD or DAA, put the capo on the third fret. If the song requires a G chord, you use the fingering for a D chord. If the song requires a Bm, you use the fingering for an F#m. And so forth.
Personally, if I were bringing two dulcimers to a jam, I would tune one as a baritone to be able to get the keys of G and A and the other as a standard to get D and C. Then no capos are needed. But if you only bring one dulcimer and a capo, you can easily get the four most common keys.
And if you think a little bit, you can get the others as well. What if someone wants to play in the key of F to fit their voice? You can tune to C and capo at 3! If someone wants to play in Ab, you might first call them crazy, and then you could think: "If a capo at the fourth fret gives me the key of A when I'm tuned to D, if I tune to Db, the fourth fret will be Ab!" A little bit of creative thought will allow you to find most keys without having to re-learn different chord fingerings for each one.
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: 04/11/18 10:56:05PM
I will give you a simple way to play in 4 different keys with two dulcimers and a capo.
First, tune the first dulcimer to D-A-A. Your basic chords in the Key of D are:
I Chord = D, 2-0-3 (where 2 represents the bass string fingered at 2nd fret, 0 represents the middle string left open, and 3 represents the melody strings fingered at 3rd fret)
IV Chord = G, 3-1-3 (where 3 represents the bass string fingered at the 3rd fret, 1 represents middle string fingered at the 1st fret, and the final 3 represents the melody strings fingered at the 3rd fret)
V Chord = A, 1-0-2 (where 1 represents the bass string fingered at the 1st fret, the 0 represents the middle string left open, and the 2 represents the melody strings fingered at the 2nd fret)
You can transpose the whole thing up to the Key of G by capoing at the 3rd fret and thinking of the capo as the new nut.
I Chord = G, 2-0-3 from capo (the actual frets fingered are 5-0-6)
IV Chord = C, 3-1-3 from capo (the actual frets fingered are 6-4-6)
V Chord = D, 1-0-2 from capo (the actual frets fingered are 4-0-5)
Second , tune the second dulcimer to C-G-G. The basic chords in the Key of C are:
I Chord = C
IV Chord = F
V Chord = G
The chord shapes remain the same as before: 2-0-3, 3-1-3, and 1-0-2.
Once again transpose up, by placing the capo at the 3rd fret. You can now play in the Key of F with the same chord shapes:
I Chord = F
IV chord = Bb
V Chord = C
In conclusion, the three chord shapes remain the same for all four keys: I chord = 2-0-3, IV Chord = 3-1-3, and V Chord = 1-0-2.
The capo is nothing more than a temporary nut. If you had a chromatic dulcimer you could capo at every fret on the dulcimer. Since most dulcimers do not have chromatic fretting, you just need to be sure that you have a comparable spacing of frets. Without the capo you have a large space, large space, and short space to the right of the nut. If you capo at the 3rd fret, you once again have a large space, large space, and small space to the right of the capo (temporary nut).
Finally, if you have a 6 1/2 fret you can place the capo at the 4th fret and in D-A-A tuning play in the Key of A. However, you must ignore the 6th fret when playing. You will have a large space from fret 4 to fret 5, a large space from fret 5 to fret 6 1/2, and a small space from fret 6 1/2 to fret 7.
I Chord = A
IV Chord = D
V Chord = E
Likewise, you can place the capo at the 4th fret in C-C-G tuning and play in the Key of G. Remember to ignore the 6th fret and use the 6 1/2 fret instead.
I Chord = G
IV Chord = C
V Chord = D
The easy part is that the basic chord shapes remain the same (2-0-3, 3-1-3, and 1-0-2) for all of the above. Just think of the capo as a movable nut that allows you to move the chord shapes up the fretboard to play in different keys.
So with two dulcimers, one tuned D-A-A and the other tuned C-G-G, you can play chords (or melodies for that matter) in five different keys: D, G, C, F, and A. These keys will handle nearly every key you will face on a regular basis.
2 dulcimers is a great way to go to jams. If you're in DAA then raise the bass string to E and your A melody & middle strings are in A mixolydian, EAA (Like DAd.) If you're in DAd then lower the A string to G and you're in G ionian, DGd (like DAA.) If there are some songs in C then take the DGd and capo on 3. This will get you started in jams.
A Capo and a Reverse Capo can help you attain other tunings. Personally don't play chords, I play N&D or Fingerdance, and I re-tune, so others will explain who those tools can do better than I.
Most of the multi-instrument jams I've attended over the years go so quickly that there is no time to be flipping through pages trying to find the tune that has been called. What I do is listen the first time through and try to pick out a 3, 5 or more note "run" on the Melody string, and then play that run in the same time and tempo as everyone else. I'm sort of creating my own part, if you will, that fits in with what the others are playing.
updated by @ken-hulme: 04/11/18 06:15:17PM
Hi all! I'm a beginner player, and comfortable with reading and playing tabs. Recently sat in on a jam session with the other instruments and wanted to play along. Chording is new to me, but I can figure it out if I have a chart and if they play in the key I've tuned to. However, they switch from key to key! Looking for some clarity on the simplest way to join in. I've been reading up on tuning, capos, chording and droning. I have 2 dulcimers, so could tune each separately, perhaps one to D-A-A (or D-A-D) and the other to C-G-G, as I found a few chord charts that will help with the fingering. This way I can play in the key of D and the key of C. How to play in key of G or A, for example? I'd be grateful for any direction!
updated by @erna-schram: 10/27/19 12:02:25PM