Various Tunings

Melvoid
Melvoid
@melvoid
one month ago
8 posts

Thanks again to everyone for their input. I have been ordering a few new books, so I'll add Neal Hellmanns Dulcimer Chord book to the list.

I really appreciate the information you've all been sharing!!

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one month ago
2,077 posts

@Jost, you may be right about Pretty Saro. I have seen folks play it on dulcimer by tuning mixolydian and then basing the home note on the middle string.
Saro is probably not a good example for me to use. There are many versions of that ballad, and some sound major and some sound more minor... so I guess you could play it in various ways.

Complicating matters is that you can sometimes be in a tuning that is associated with a certain mode, but be playing a tune that is in a different mode... especially if you play melody notes across strings- on more than just the melody string.




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Site Owner

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

updated by @strumelia: 04/20/22 09:02:48AM
Skip
Skip
@skip
one month ago
318 posts

@jost :

Keep in mind that as long as you are playing the melody on one string [the melody string for instance, the other 2 are drones], the tune can be played in any mode [tuning]. Off the top of my mind, DAC [Aolean], CGC [Mixolydian], GCC [Ionian]. This is because a key scale consists of all 7 modes, each mode beginning with one of the notes in the scale. For instance, there is an Aolean mode in each key scale, it starts with the 6th note of the scale as the lowest, or beginning note. The notes are different for each scale, since the "parent key scales" are different.

G key scale = GABCDEF#G [Ionian], EF#GABCDE [Aolean]

D key scale = DEF#GABC#D [Ionian], BC#DEF#GAB [Aolean]

Just for giggles, playing on just one string, no drones, is not a mode or is all modes, take your pick.whistle


updated by @skip: 04/19/22 09:43:31PM
jost
@jost
one month ago
53 posts

Strumelia:

If you are at the stage where you want to experiment just a bit but don't quite understand all the details yet, then you can stay with your first familiar tuning, OR play with DAd and DAA both, OR you can dip your toe in the water by adding a third tuning- I'd suggest DAC, for playing the beautiful lonesome sounding Aeolian mode tunes like Shady Grove or Cluck Old Hen or Pretty Saro.



Isn't Pretty Saro a tune in ionian mode? I know you are a lot better and more experienced player than me I'm just bewildered since Jean Ritchies Dulcimer book claim it's ionian. On the other hand the table of contents claimed that Bachelor's Hall is a mixolydian tune while it's in fact a Dorian one. I'm puzzled since in the actual text and tabs the mode of Bachelor's Hall is dorian (which is the correct one). Thus I accepted that the table of contents might have errors but the tabs and actual text not. The tab says that Pretty Saro is in ionian mode . And it works pretty well for me in DAA or CGG ioinian tunings (imho it sounds better in C but this is just a matter of taste and personal preference).

As I said I don't want to be a smart ass I'm just curious whether there is another way to play the tune in a different mode I'm not aware of.

jost
@jost
one month ago
53 posts

Many good answers already. I will just add something to confuse you even more

You asked for the GDG tuning. This is (in theory) the same tuning like DAD (mixoyldian mode) just for the key of G. There is a catch though. Depending on the VSL of the dulcimer the bass string might break if you try to tune it to this. 
For such cases there are the so called reverse tunings which change the key of the bass and middle string. Thus GDG gets DGG, GDD (G ionian) gets DGD, GDC (G dorian) gets DGC etc. It works quite well and might be of interest when playing something in the coresponding key. 

As introduction I highly recommend Neal Hellmanns Dulcimer Chord book which has a great introduction to the modes and tunings. I don't even play any chords (strictly noter/drone player on my Dulcimer, if I want to play chords I pick up my guitar) but would recommend this book to any dulcimer beginner (noter/drone or chords) because of the good introduction to the modes.

Another unorthodox way to tune are the so called bagpipe or unison tunings: They are mainly used for mixolydian mode. The idea is to tune the middle and melody strings like the Bass just one octave higher. Thus for D mixolydian the bagpipe tuning would be tuned like this: Tune the dulcimer to DAD. Tune midlde string from A to the same pitch as the melody strings. 
It works great for mixolydian tunes like Old Joe Clark, Going to boston etc. It's also nice to take tabulature for DAD (or another mixolydian tuning) and try it out in a bagpipe tuning: London Bridge, Mary had a little lamb, Brother Jacob and other nursery rhymes just get a lot more interesting just by changing the pitch of the middle string ;)
 Hellmann's Dulcimer Chord book and Jean Ritchies book "Dulcimer people" both have a section by Holly Tannen where she propagates these unison/bagpipe tunings for jam sessions with fiddlers/guitarists etc especially Irish music.


Stuff like these is part of the reason I love the dulcimer so much: Even as somebody who never had a real musical education (my last music theory lesson I had at school when I was twelve years old and I forgot everything) you get a basic introduction just by having fun with the instrument. 

I hope I didn't add to much confusion :)

robert schuler
robert schuler
@robert-schuler
one month ago
254 posts

I'm always tuning between daa, dac, and dag. It's the way those of us who play primarily diatonic dulcimers find those extra frets. Modes expand the dimensions of our instrument....Robert

Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one month ago
2,077 posts

Btw since you play banjo-
Adding DAC aeolian mode tuning as an option to more easily play lonesome sounding tunes in the key of D is just like how oldtime clawhammer banjo players add 'sawmill tuning' ( gDGCD) to their repertoire in addition to their basic gDGBD tuning, when they want to play spooky or plaintive g modal tunes on the banjo. Once someone learns Sawmill tuning (sometimes called Mountain Minor tuning) on their banjo, they usually want to come back to it often. It's pretty addictive, exactly the way DAC tuning is on the dulcimer.  banjo




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one month ago
2,077 posts

Melvoid, so much about tunings depends on two things: 1) what key you want to be playing in, and 2) the limits of your string gauges in tuning to various notes without being so tight as to break, or too loose as to be floppy.

If you are at the stage where you want to experiment just a bit but don't quite understand all the details yet, then you can stay with your first familiar tuning, OR play with DAd and DAA both, OR you can dip your toe in the water by adding a third tuning- I'd suggest DAC, for playing the beautiful lonesome sounding Aeolian mode tunes like Shady Grove or Cluck Old Hen or Pretty Saro.

I've explained a lot about tunings and modes in many posts on my noter/drone blog, but here's one post from it that includes a simple video of retuning between the four most common modes and tunings for dulcimers:
https://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/02/video-re-tuning-between-four-common.html

Using the key of D for my example, and starting in DAd tuning, I demonstrate how to tune from mixolydian DAd to aeolian DAC, then to ionian DAA, and finally to dorian DAG. Then I re-tune back through each made again until I'm back in DAd. This method is a simple way to get into the concept of retuning for dulcimers. Hopefully it helps in some way.




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Melvoid
Melvoid
@melvoid
one month ago
8 posts

I see. I do understand the method, but thought maybe it was a bit tricky for new students. I find it often takes a bit for their ears to get used to tuning off other fretted strings. At any rate, my most recent convert (from guitar to dulcimer), just dropped some bucks on a nice instrument and case and she's coming along nicely... and that's mainly what matters.

Skip
Skip
@skip
one month ago
318 posts

I also found this table somewhere in my research. Pretty much the same but there are some differences between this and my earlier chart. 


updated by @skip: 04/18/22 06:05:16PM
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
1,926 posts

I think MOST dulcimer teachers/books etc teach tunings from the bass string first -- because that is the note which defines the Keynote -- the note the instrument is tuned to.  Gotta remember dulcimers are not guitars or mandolins, and we have our own way of doing things.  Like referring to the Bass, Middle Drone and Melody strings rather than Low or High strings.

I've used Jerry Rockwell's "relative" tuning techniqus successfully for decades -- set the bass string to X, fret to bass string at fret 4 and tune the middle drone to that fifth; if tuning to a Mixolydian 1-5-7, fret the bass string at 7 and tune the melody string to that fretted note.  There detailed instructions for Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian and Aeolian Modal tunings in my I Just Got A Dulcimer... booklet.

Most tabulature has the name of the tuning at the top, and assumes that the player knows how to tune to them.

Melvoid
Melvoid
@melvoid
one month ago
8 posts

Thanks. For now, we're using D as the low string, but I noticed that in some books, they say DAD, or GDG. Seeing these are guitar students and we've already learned G, C, and D chord on the guitar, I may go to that. But the scale degrees helped in Skip's answer, too. 1, 5, 5. Doesn't matter what notes we use as long as the intervals are correct.

My main problem was that in one book, they only told how to tune by setting the low string and then tuning the other strings from fretted notes on the low one... OK, but not great for beginners;

In another book, it had a few, but there were mistakes. It showed a keyboard with the notes, and it was labeled incorrectly.

In another, it had simple tunes and at the top it told the name of the tuning, but not how to tune it.

I don't have enough hair left to pull out, or I would have.

I've had these book since the '70s and '80s and hope maybe some good beginner books have been written since, but I'm starting with what I have because I already have them.

I've only been a member of this site for a week or two, and already I've had several of my questions answered. I appreciate everyone's help.

ms

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one month ago
1,926 posts

Skip's post gives you the straight dope.  I've used a similar chart for years to show basic Modal Tunings.   Of course those are the "key of D" Modal Tunings,, and any tuning can be "transposed" to the same Mode with other key notes (C, G, E, B etc).

If you join the Beginner Players Group, at the top of the Group page you'll find an article I wrote years ago to answer many newcomer's questions about the tuning, playing, care and feeding of their dulcimer.  It also includes an illustrated glossary of terms so we all speak the same jargon in regards to the instrument.  The article is called I Just Gof A Dulcimer, Now What?

Also, I've attached a PDF of another article I wrote called Uncontrite Modal Folker, which explains in detail about Modes and Modal Tunings


updated by @ken-hulme: 04/18/22 11:05:26AM
marg
@marg
one month ago
582 posts

This is the first time I have seen the different tunings make some sense 

thanks

Melvoid
Melvoid
@melvoid
one month ago
8 posts

THANK YOU!!! For some reason, I had a really hard time finding these.

Skip
Skip
@skip
one month ago
318 posts

Here is a collection I've assembled over time, mostly from various internet sources.

                                                 {me}    [D on fret]            {me}

Ionian...(key) scale..DAA        {155}        [3]        W W H W W W H

Dorian......................DAG       {154}        [4]             W H W W W H W

Phrygian..................DAF        {153}        [5]                  H W W W H W W 

Lydian......................DAE       {152}         [6]                      W W W H W W H

Mixolydian...............DAd        {158}         [0]                           W W H W W H W

Aeolian...................DAC        {157}          [1]                               W H W W H W W
Locrian...................DAB        {156}          [2]                                    H W W H W W W  


Then there are 'special purpose' tunings like DF#A {135}[full triads], DGA#d {145+1}, DAA#d {155+1} and DBA#d {165+1}[chromatic], DGd {141} [reversed G tuning], etc. So I don't think there is a book that has them all. 

I hope this helps.

Melvoid
Melvoid
@melvoid
one month ago
8 posts

I may have mentioned recently that I've dabbled with the dulcimer for a long time, but mostly for my own enjoyment. I DO give banjo and guitar lessons, and recently one of my guitar students showed an interest in dulcimer. Do I dug out several old books for ideas. One problem I'm having is that none of the books seem to have a basic list of the various tunings and the notes. They're all based on tuning to itself off of fretted strings. Not bad, but for my beginners, I think it's easier with an electronic tuner and note names. I'm having a hard time finding a source for more than Ionian and Mixolydian. I have one old Mel Bay book with other tunings, but it's full of errors!

Does anyone have a source for just the tunings with note names?

Update: I have since found a forum at wikihow.com/Tune-a-Dulcimer, and that seems to disagree with the Mel Bay book on a few of the tunings (Aeolian, for example - heavy sigh).

I realize that, for now, Ionian and Mixolydian are probably all I'll need, but my OCD side is showing and I want to have it all correct for my own peace of mind, if nothing else :-)

thanks


updated by @melvoid: 04/17/22 12:25:13PM