Do you feel limited by the diatonic scale?

Banjimer
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
one week ago
113 posts

Suffice to say, the diatonic scale fits the diatonic fretboard just fine.  If you want to play notes not found in the diatonic scale you can try an alternate tuning or add frets.  There is no "right" way to play the dulcimer.  Many dulcimer players are satisfied with a basic diatonic scale without additional frets.  If you want or need more notes, try an alternate tuning or add some frets.  Neither choice is more correct than the other.

jost
@jost
one week ago
25 posts

AndiBear:


Thank you Jost for the store indications. At the moment I can't afford another dulcimer but as soon as I save a little money I will look at those stores, although I am very happy with my dulcimer I understand that "DAS", I too am looking forward to having another one. And another one. And another...


You are welcome :) I messed one link up, so here another go:


https://www.dulcimerstore.de/c/dulcimershop/dulcimus-standard

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one week ago
1,440 posts

@ken-hulme, I agree with your basic message about the vast number of diatonic songs and the fact that we can often find work-arounds for songs with an occasional accidental, but the fact is that there are millions of songs that simply cannot be played on a diatonic fretboard.  I challenge you to play George Gershwin's " Rhapsody in Blue ," for example.  I don't even think that ascending clarinet line that begins the whole piece could be done on a diatonic fretboard. Or how about Art Tatum's " Tiger Rag ?" (Obviously I've chosen extreme examples to make the point.)

Having said that, one might argue that the piano is more limited than the dulcimer. After all, on a dulcimer we can get all those microtones in between notes either by bending strings or using that noter technique in between frets where the noter touches the fretboard and the string.  Playing those microtones is possible on a piano.  Instead of concentrating on what an instrument can't do, we should concentrate on what it can do, and find our freedom of expression there.




--
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
AndiBear
AndiBear
@andibear
one week ago
5 posts

Thank you for the new answers.

And thank you Strumelia for the noter explanatory videos. Here it is difficult to get hold of one (I can't find any in Spain and if I buy it outside the shipping costs are exorbitant for an object that is not expensive), but I think I can try to make one. The same thing happened to me with the capo, my father made me one. It cost him a lot but it works great and I am very proud, one day I will show you a picture.

Thanks Skip for the ideas, I tried the toothpick thing and it works! Although I held it temporarily, and finally it fell off, it has helped me a lot.

Thank you Jost for the store indications. At the moment I can't afford another dulcimer but as soon as I save a little money I will look at those stores, although I am very happy with my dulcimer I understand that "DAS", I too am looking forward to having another one. And another one. And another...

Ocean Daughter (lovely nickname), that would be the idea, to have different tunings on different dulcimers. At the moment I only play songs in DAd, I haven't been playing for a long time so I don't want to complicate things. As soon as I master a little more I would like to try other tunings, I hope that the habit of playing in one tuning doesn't play tricks on me. After playing the pentatonic lyre for a while I forgot for a moment about the diatonic scale when trying to play by ear! And sometimes I get lost when I learn a song on the lyre and then want to play it on the dulcimer.

Ken Hulme, indeed in my case as a player I'm very limited, I've only been playing for a short time and I find it hard to learn on my own. When I bought my dulcimer I thought "how original, I won't know anyone else who plays this".... And sometimes it turns against me! But little by little I am overcoming the limitations.... Or I make up the songs a bit, at the moment only my husband and my dog listen to them.... My husband doesn't know those songs and my dog doesn't mind that I'm out of tune ;)

Thanks for the information and help I find on the forum.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one week ago
1,819 posts

The limitations are in the player, not the scale.  There are tens of thousands of diatonic songs,  There are thousands of more songs which have an accidental note of two which can be ignored, graced over, or otherwise accommodated.  In a long history of playing I have never found a single-key song i couldn't play.  

ocean-daughter
@ocean-daughter
one week ago
22 posts

This is a good question...When I was learning to play, I learned the tunings for different modes, and so I would re-tune to play a particular tune.  However, I like having more than one dulcimer, because I don't want to re-tune the same instrument all the time.  I will tune from DAA to DAG, or from DAd to DAC, but I don't like to do more than that very often.  

I do like having a 6 1/2 fret, because it gives me two modes for each tuning.  For example, if I'm tuned to DAG Dorian, a minor tuning, I also can play in the Mixolydian, which is a major tuning. 

As a melody-drone player, I actually feel somewhat limited by the DAD tuning.  The root note of the scale is on the open string, and so melodies that go below that root note are more challenging to play.  You can (usually) play those notes on the middle or bass strings, but I have a bit of a preference for having my melody notes on my melody string.  I like using a tuning that places the root note a few steps toward the middle, as DAA does.  Sometimes I consider inventing a fretboard that does just what I want it to do...

jost
@jost
3 weeks ago
25 posts

AndiBear:


@Strumelia, that's a good argument for having more than one dulcimer, certainly! The problem is that in Spain I can only get basic European made models and they are all diatonic, but when I can save a little I would like to have an American made one.



I got my dulcimer from the Klangwerkstatt in Markt Wald,Germany. I don't know whether they ship to other countries but asking never hurts: Although their dulcimer lacks extra frets it should be possible to ask them to add them without costing to much (they build every instrument for every order and the beginning price is quite affordable even with the porto):  https://www.klangwerkstatt.de/dulcimer

And fellow FOTMD forum member Martin Osterles student models in his shop  have the 6+ fret If  I don't see anything wrong:
https://www.dulcimerstore.de/c/dulcimershop/dulcimus-standard 

He delivers inside the EU: https://www.dulcimerstore.de/l/shipping 

Regards, jost

Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
285 posts

A piece of wire [paper clip] or wood [tooth pick] or ---- taped in place [tape parallel to the strings] in one of the wide spaces. Frets are usually approximately .040" -.045" or so high. Use your tuner to position the temp fret for the appropriate note.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,969 posts

AndiBear:

On the other hand, I still don't know how it works when you mention the noter. I have tried to read information, but maybe because of language problems I don't understand how to use it.



Have you read any of the beginner noter playing posts in my noter-drone Blog ?




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dan
Dan
@dan
3 weeks ago
129 posts

Bravo @dusty-turtle!!!

AndiBear
AndiBear
@andibear
3 weeks ago
5 posts

Wow, I am really grateful for so many responses, and they are truly helpful.

@Dusty, that was an interesting thought and I had never thought of it that way. I'm still in the stage of being impressed by great bluegrass players (as I said I thought about buying a banjo or mandolin, because I wanted to learn to play bluegrass, then I thought I could play bluegrass on the dulcimer) but you're right, the important thing is to get a good sound out of it.

@Dan, I play with DAdd tuning. I have tried to play with DAC tuning if the score has that tuning, but I usually play by ear, and I prefer to try to learn with one tuning for the moment so as not to make it more complicated.

@Skip, how do you do for temporary frets? I read somewhere holding a guitar string to create an extra fret, I don't know if that's correct (I think I read it in an interview with Jessica Comeau but I'm not sure). My dulcimer only has 6+ and 13+, many songs I want to play have 1+.

@Strumelia, that's a good argument for having more than one dulcimer, certainly! The problem is that in Spain I can only get basic European made models and they are all diatonic, but when I can save a little I would like to have an American made one.

On the other hand, I still don't know how it works when you mention the noter. I have tried to read information, but maybe because of language problems I don't understand how to use it.

Thank you very much.

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,969 posts

Wow Dusty. An amazing post. Wonderful to think about these things in our own 'musicianship'.

bowdown




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,440 posts

Liberated.  I feel liberated by the diatonic scale.

Sorry for posting again in this discussion, but I want to explain one reason why I have found my musical home on the dulcimer after years of playing the guitar and other chromatic instruments.

I spent many years playing the guitar (and a few playing the mandolin), and like everyone else on those instruments, I was intent on learning really cool, fancy jazz chords, and developing the ability to play really fast, interesting solos.  I was (and still am) in awe of the best bluegrass musicians and was trying to play like them.

But the humble nature of the dulcimer completely changed my thinking about music.  With only three strings and a diatonic fretboard, those fancy jazz chords are pretty much impossible, so I began thinking not about how to get the fanciest chord I could, but about isolating the most tasteful harmony note.  Instead of trying to play blazing solos with tons of notes, I began trying to isolate the core or essence of a melody, and perhaps enhance it with a few truly meaningful notes or rhythmic nuances rather than ignore it and improvise a solo instead. 

Thus began my search for really pretty songs and instruments that sound great.  My goal as a dulcimer player is to convey a really pretty song so that others can appreciate it, not so that others will be impressed with my playing.  I still do many of the types of exercises I used to do when I wanted to play bluegrass, but now I do them with the goal of playing cleanly, accurately, and with feeling, rather than trying to play fancy stuff really fast.

Ironically, embracing the limitations of the dulcimer has liberated me musically. I am no longer a slave to the endless search for a fancier chord or a faster solo.  I am now free to concentrate on conveying the emotion inherent in beautiful melodies instead of hiding them behind a veneer of imagined virtuosity.




--
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
Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
285 posts

Multiple dulcimers and their use as tools are really good points.

I should add that of the 2 the I use the most, one is fully chromatic, mostly for practice, and one is modern diatonic [1+, 6+, 8+, and 13 +], practice and with others. My bass is fully chromatic and the rest split between the two.

Thinking about the basic question, I suppose that the fact I have, and use, extra frets can be seen that I do feel limited with a pure diatonic setup. That even extends to the harmonicas I mess around with as I have both, chromatic and diatonic.


updated by @skip: 04/21/21 10:50:22AM
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 weeks ago
1,969 posts

I think of it this way-
Some people like the act and feeling of shifting gears manually on a car. Others like the convenience of automatic transmission.

Some people enjoy playing tunes in different modes and changing the one melody string's tuning in order to play them easily. It's a curiously satisfying feeling to drop the melody string from DAd while playing Old Joe Clark, to DAC to play Shady Grove.
Other people like switching around between melody string fingerdancing and playing chord style or fingerpicking on all strings. Wonderful variety possible!

Personally, I feel there are enough significant differences to justify having more than one dulcimer- one diatonic for the joy of playing traditional tunes in an old style manner, and one with extra frets for tackling tunes that require more accidental notes or more changing keys on the fly (as with a festival jamming situation with other instruments). There's no way I would reach for my diatonic instrument if I was headed to a rockin' jam party scene with oldtime or folk musicians. For those events I'd have to shift on the fly and extra frets definitely help me land on my feet when things change suddenly.
Instruments are tools to make the music you want! Pick the right tool for the particular job you set out to do. 




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Skip
Skip
@skip
3 weeks ago
285 posts

There are a few more things that can help; temporary frets, and 4 equidistant string/chromatic tunings [ie. DAA#D]. I choose to go full chromatic which allows me to have the accidentals when  needed without changing the MD sound. But I don't do noter/drone style playing either, the extra frets, without being extra careful with noter pressure, put a 'bump' in the music flow when N/D playing.

Dan
Dan
@dan
3 weeks ago
129 posts

Diatonics isn't missing notes. Each mode has its own notes and if you have an accidental, it's probably in another mode.....

If you give us an example of how you are tuned and what note you are "missing" we can direct you to the tuning you need to be in....

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
3 weeks ago
1,440 posts

AndiBear, most people who have played the dulcimer for any length of time will tell you that the diatonic fretboard is a challenge, not a limitation.  When I first started out it seemed like a puzzle to figure out. I would have a melody in my mind and try to figure out where it might fit on the diatonic fretboard.  Figuring out that puzzle was part of the fun in the beginning, although it also got frustrating at times.

And remember that if you pick across all the strings and/or have a 6+ fret, you are not limited to the diatonic scale.  There are some accidentals available to you.  You can get that G#, for example, on the 6+ fret of the middle string (or the melody string, too, in DAA).

Over time, that puzzle disappeared as I listened more and more to music that works on the dulcimer.  The reason so much old timey and Celtic music is played on the MD is that the music simply fits.  So little by little I stopped trying to fit Beatles tunes onto the dulcimer and I started playing more and more diatonic music.  I stopped trying to play Norwegian Wood and started playing Southwind.  (By the way, you can play Norwegian Wood, but you need either a capo or a 1+ fret.)

And remember that if you play with your fingers you can always bend strings, and if you play with a noter you can get those "in-between" notes by touching the edge of the noter against the fretboard while it also grabs a string at the right spot.  So for the occasional accidental, you can always make due. 

In general, as you play the dulcimer, your ear will develop a sense of what tunes can fit on the fretboard, and you'll concentrate on those.  There are a lot of them.  You won't get bored.

P.S. I have to admit, in the interests of full disclosure, that I also play the guitar and some mandolin as well, so when I really want to play a chromatic tune, I just pick up one of those instruments. And I didn't want to add this to my post, but after a few years I started playing dulcimers with a 1+ fret in addition to the 6+. I find with those two extra frets I can play 90 percent of the tunes that interest me.  I wouldn't recommend that right away, though. Get to know the diatonic fretboard before you decide if that's a good option for you.




--
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-turtle: 04/20/21 04:06:40PM
AndiBear
AndiBear
@andibear
3 weeks ago
5 posts

(Not sure if this question has been asked or at least I haven't read it, I haven't finished reading the forum yet).

First of all, I have to confess that when I bought my dulcimer it was not a reflexive decision, but rather a whim. I had a pentatonic lyre and although the songs sounded beautiful, I was limited by the scale, so I looked for an instrument with more possibilities. I hesitated between banjo and mandolin, but randomly discovered the dulcimer and fell in love. Maybe if I had known it used a diatonic scale I wouldn't have bought it? Maybe, but in that case I would have missed out on getting to know this instrument.

And I certainly don't regret going for the dulcimer, the sound is beautiful, it's a lot of fun to play and although it's annoying to always have to explain what it is, it's very original here.

But... Sometimes you want to play a song and notes are missing. If it's a chord I can manage, but when it's a plucking there are times when there's nothing to do?

Has it ever happened to you, what do you do in these cases, is there a trick or do you just abandon the song?

Thanks!!