I started playing about two months ago, and so far I play a combination of fingerdancing and chord-melody, depending on how well I know a song and what I feel like doing. Since I mostly play Appalachian tunes this works well for me. I use a pick, though I'm still experimenting with which one is right for me.
What’s your favourite playing style and why?
Being able to play a tune the first time I picked up a dulcimer is what attracted me to it and is still why I like playing it noter or finger and drone style. I have a 3 string, diatonically fretted dulcimer which I've had for 52 years. Until a couple of years ago I was unaware that anyone played a dulcimer any other way! I've learned more in the last year and a half since joining this group than I'd learned in all of the previous years combined. I usually play in Ionian, Bagpipe tuning, or Aeolian and sometimes Dorian. I also have a chromatically fretted dulcimer which I play noter/drone style as well. While I don't play it as often, it certainly is handy for comparing how a tune sounds in 2 different modes.
NOTERS AND DRONERS.....YEAH, you all expressed how I feel about what I love to do on the dulcimer. I'm soooooooooo grateful to have found others that like playing this "traditional style". Thank you for sharing your thoughts here and expressed so well. Today I just finished, and tuned him up, another Box Dulcimer. yep, I made only 3 strings on him because I only had 3 banjo tuning thingies in my shop. Ha. I like playing both 2 or one melody string. (I'll have to try a bacon sandwich.) personally, I don't like playing in Dad because I lose those 3 lower notes. there's so much I love about dulcimer and playing it....aloha, irene
I only play noter/drone style. I love the sound and also the "feel" of playing in this style. I also have, in the last few years, fallen in love with playing the traditional 3-string, diatonically fretted dulcimore, with staple frets under the melody string only (I have 3 of these instruments each tuned to DAC, DAA, DAD).
Most of my playing these days is a combination of finger-dancing the melody with my left hand and fingerpicking with my right hand, although I can, and do, strum chords to accompany my singing or to accompany another dulcimer playing the melody. I've tinkered with the chord-melody style, but I can't say I use it much. I prefer finger-dancing with my left hand or using a noter held in my left hand (thumb on top if the fretboard is high enough) for lining out the melody and fingerpicking or strumming with the right hand to get the strings to ring out and establish rhythm.
Since most of my repertoire is old ballads of Appalachia and the British Isles, I play mostly in 1-5-5 tuning (Ionian) and 1-5-7 tuning (Aeolian). The actual tuning varies with the instrument I'm using at the time. My 1-5-5 tunings include D-A-A, C-G-G, G-D-D, and A-E-E. My 1-5-7 tunings include D-A-C, C-G-Bb, and B-F#-A. Since most of my playing these days is done at home for my own satisfaction, the actual tuning is what I perceive as the best tuning for that particular instrument.
Although I have played in 1-5-8 (D-A-d) tuning on occasion, I seldom use it these days. I've found that the vast majority of melodies written for D-A-d tuning (which is a traditional Mixolydian mode tuning) are actually Ionian melodies more suited to 1-5-5 tunings, such as D-A-A. Although D-A-d tuning is the predominant tuning these days, I find it more suited to the chord-melody style. Since I prefer to play in a melody-drone style, the various 1-5-5 tunings are more useful to me.
The tuning and style you choose to use is a matter of personal preference. There are those who swear by the chord-melody style. I happen to prefer a melody-drone style. All styles are valid, and I make no value judgements concerning which style is better. The only thing that really matters is which style brings you the most satisfaction.
Noter-drone playing is the plain bacon sandwich. The pure flavour of the dulcimer's basic sound, the melodies being played, and the expression in the performance, are front and centre. I've never even experimented with chord-melody because I don't want to get used to the superficially appealing 'extra' flavour of harmonic progressions (ketchup!), and risk overpowering or smothering the main ingredient.
That, and the fact that being familiar with guitar, chording on a dulcimer would just feel weird and upside down. Whereas playing noter- drone feels enjoyably and completely different. I like the slipping and sliding, working out little variations, focusing on the melody. And the fact that the learning curve is so smooth and rewarding - you can be playing a tune in no time when you start out, then just have fun with it as you gain confidence and pick up new techniques.
I play, nearly exclusively, Noter&Drone, with a bit of Fingerdancing (a.k.a. Melody Drone) when I'm picking out a new tune and writing my own tab. Why? It is the old traditional 'high silver' sound with drones that I fell in love with 40 years ago. Something about the drones "strikes a chord" in me, as it were!
No need to try and find or remember a bunch of complicated chord shapes, the melody is right there as I walk my finger or Noter up and down the melody string. Left-hand wise, I strum more or less of the three strings depending on the mood of the tune -- usually to the rhythm of the words rather than some metronomic fixed beat.
I play mostly American Roots music and the Scots/Irish/English folk songs that those tunes derived from -- Shady Grove and the ancestral tune it derived from, Matty Groves a.k.a. Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, for example.
FYI -- in the dulcimer world we don't talk about "scale length". We use the term Vibrating String Length -- VSL.
updated by @ken-hulme: 09/11/19 07:01:12AM
Hi all, I discovered the mountain dulcimer last year whilst building a cigar box guitar. In March I built myself a 26” scale length box dulcimer but only really started playing it about a month or two ago. I’m loving the ease in which you can play chord melody and the beauty of the sound that the instrument makes (even my rudimental one)! The simplicity and beauty of the instrument has made it a real joy to have discovered!
I play a bunch of other instruments (guitar, bass, ukulele, learning the fiddle) and my main go-to style wise is playing the chords and melody together, finger picking almost exclusively. Occaionsally I throw in a claw hammer bum-ditty for variance.
Being from the uk I don’t really know any classic US bluegrass style tunes (although I’ve learnt Wild Rose and Arkansas traveller, I’d like to learn more) so I mostly stick to hymns,carols and other Worship songs. !
I was wondering what style everyone else prefers, particularly what the appeal is for noted/drone style? Because I’m interested and it’s so unusual to me.