To chord or not to chord

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one week ago
1,267 posts

@floralin, take some time to explore this site a bit. In addition to the Forums, there are also Groups devoted to specific topics, including traditional noter/drone style, chord melody, fingerpicking, and so forth.  Join a group and start perusing the past discussions.




--
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: 06/24/20 08:38:12PM
floralin
@floralin
one week ago
7 posts

Thank you all so much.  I'm so glad I found this group!  After reading your replies, I think what I have been doing is strumming across all the strings all the time.  I'll work on that.  I'm also trying to accomodate my finger-picking style on the guitar to the dulcimer.  Will be reading up on that in the Forums.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
one week ago
1,267 posts

@floralin, there are a couple of ways to interpret your question here, so forgive us if we offer answers that aren't exactly what you are looking for.  Plenty of people play only in a drone style on the dulcimer.  They never play chords but always allow the  bass and middle strings to drone while they play the melody on the (you guessed it!) melody string.

Other people play chords but mix in drone stuff.  Stephen Seifert is probably the best player in theis vein.  You might hear a rendition of a tune in which he plays it drone style first, then he adds some "partial" chords so that there is always one open string, then he might do a verse truly chord melody in which every melody note is accompanied by a three-finger chord, and so forth.  I sometimes play drone style in the way you are describing.  For example, on the B part of Soldier's Joy, especially if playing up the fretboard, I often just play in a drone style because I find it too hard to play chords up there up to speed.  But when I play across all the strings in the lower octave, I do indeed play chords because they are easier to reach.  So my rendition of that song uses chords some of the time and drones some of the time.

And just because someone is playing with open strings does not mean those strings are drones.  It is often possible to play full chords using open strings.  If you are tuned DAA or DAd, any time the chord is a D you can play all open strings, yet those are not drones; they are chord tones.

And as @strumelia explains, many of us do not always strum all the strings all the time. In any rendition of a song, I sometimes pluck single strings, sometimes play two strings, and sometimes play three strings (which may or may note be open strings).  In a lot of my arrangements I play a chord on the first beat of a measure but then I just play melody notes until the next measure or the next chord change, whichever comes first.

And some players play in a flatpicking guitar style in which they rarely play more than one string at a time. Check out some of Larry Conger's playing for that style.  They are playing chords, though, but as arpeggios or broken chords rather than block chords.

As @ken-hulme says, there are no right or wrong ways to play this instrument.  There are many possibilities out there and you should play in the style or styles which speak to you most saliently.  If it sounds good to you, do it. If it doesn't, then try something else.




--
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: 06/24/20 06:15:35PM
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
one week ago
1,783 posts

@floralin, it's very common for beginner chord players to strum out the entire chord across all strings with each beat. I happen to think there's nothing wrong with that when you are starting out, as it can help you improve your rhythm and help you to hear where chord changes happen.
I think that as players gain experience and skill over time, they naturally tend to vary the slant and pressure of their pick in order to emphasize the melody better or even avoid playing certain strings that can sound overbearing if played all the time.
-I'm hoping I'm correctly interpreting what your question is about? 

The fact that you are asking about it indicates that you are watching and hearing what other players do to sound pleasing. If you keep listening and absorbing, your playing will improve. 

Sometimes, new players get stuck in only playing one familiar rhythm... the bump-ditty bump-ditty which can be so satisfying. However such constant full chord or all-string strumming can get heavy handed. Your playing can sound more varied if you alternate single notes with full strums now and then. At other times you can simply let the previous note or chord 'hover' in the air without another strum. That can add a nice breath and lift.
And just because a written piece of music indicates where a chord changes, it doesn't mean you must play that chord right at that moment- this is often true of guitar chords indicated in songbooks.

No matter whether you're a chord player or noter player, forcing yourself to play around with varying your strumming rhythm can actually help you break free of always strumming across all strings (or playing a full chord) for every note.




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
one week ago
1,750 posts

Simply put, you "determine(s) whether you choose to chord or not".  This is a major factor in creating your own personal style of play.  Just as choosing to sing or not sing along when you play, how you strum or pick or otherwise make the strings sing, and whether you sit, stand, hold the instrument flat or vertical or somewhere in between, define you as a dulcimer player.

The quintessential "rule" of dulcimer playing is:   There Is No Right Way, Or Wrong Way To Play The Dulcimer -- only The Way that works for you.  Never let anyone tell you that you must play in a given way.

I'm self taught too -- 40 years ago when there was only one book!  I tell people that "one of these days I'll get it right." Actually I have -- gotten it right for me.  I don't play chords at all.  I play the full melody all the time in Noter & Drone style, with a variety of full and partial strums, primarily out-strums.  I strum to the rhythm of the words, not a mechanical tick-tock.  I almost never tune to DAd -- I change tunings readily, depending on the song -- DAA, Ddd, DAC, DAG and in the keys of C and E and G as well.  I play sitting, with the instrument flat in my lap, or standing, with the dulcimer flat on a tall stand.  I don't sing along as I play, rather I use the old technique of "play a verse then sing a verse".   


updated by @ken-hulme: 06/24/20 05:18:55PM
floralin
@floralin
one week ago
7 posts

I would say I am a novice player, self-taught with the help of books.  When I first started playing, I would play a whole chord whenever there was a chord change in the tune.  But I've been noticing lately that a lot of players don't do that - they use a chord change once in awhile but otherwise just go with the drone.  This certainly makes it easier to play fast, which is one of my problems.  I would like to ask other players what determines whether you choose to chord or not.