What's a Noter-Drone dulcimer?....

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
10 months ago
1,460 posts

Yep, I prefer taller fretboards too -- 1" rather than the common 3/4".  I'm a finger-on-top stylist.

Robin Thompson
@robin-thompson
10 months ago
872 posts

@annie-deeley If not for Everything Dulcimer and FOTMD, noter play would not have experienced a renaissance, methinks.  Those of us making "porch music" using a noter on a dulcimer have learned lots from one another through the sites.  thumbsup (I'm a thumb-on-top-of-the-noter player.) nod 

I own two dulcimers built with taller fretboards to accomodate noter play-- see parenthetical comment above.  More room between my knuckles and the top of the dulcimer.  :)




--
Robin T
one of the Moderators here :)
Keep a song in your heart!
Annie Deeley
@annie-deeley
10 months ago
84 posts

Robin, Strumelia, Robin Thompson -it is in large part your terrific playing that is allowing the music to sing for itself. Thank you, and all the other players who post on this amazing site!

Jim Yates
@jim-yates
10 months ago
56 posts

I have some trouble playing noter style, so I often play drone style with my fingers.  When I do use a noter, I keep the first knuckle of my left index finger against the side of the fretboard to keep it in line.  I use a 1/4 inch dowel or a noter that I was given after a workshop in Kingston.
I have almost abandoned drone style, but I love to hear it played well, so this thread may get me back to it, though I love harmonizing on the drone strings too.

Strumelia
@strumelia
10 months ago
1,764 posts

So many great and useful points there Robin.  nod

As to your last point, I would venture to happily say that time is pretty much here now.




--
Site Owner

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

updated by @strumelia: 09/05/16 12:32:52PM
Robin Clark
@robin-clark
10 months ago
352 posts

Hi Ken,

I very much agree that the grooves in noters can certainly unwantedly play the string when you lift the noter - it is a real issue!  I tend to sand the end of my dowel sticks very regularly and normally have 3 or 4 pieces of 3/8" x 3" or so dowel in my pocket when playing anywhere, which gives me 6 or 8 clean noter 'ends' to work through in a session before I need any sandpaper.  I know that you and a lot of other folk like very hard wood noters that are ergonomically shaped and will last a good while; thus saving the faff of carrying a pocketful of noters when you play.  For me personally however, even on slow tunes, I like to kill the note when I come off the fret - it is just a part of my playing style.  Not everyone is going to want or need that facility, it is just that, for me, precision and clarity are important.  I find crispness and clarity hard to achieve on noter drone dulcimer, so I feel I need all the help that I can get and so I'm prepared to put up with wearing out noters at a far higher rate than others would find acceptable.

I've just had a look in my dulcimer bag after last weekend's festival and I've got 2 or 3 noters that need throwing and half a dozen at least that need some sanding.  However, I do buy my 3/8" dowel in 10ft lengths from my local hardware store - so I'm cutting 40 noters at a time!  I like using river reeds too (I collect those in winter), which are more slippery than dowel, but have even shorter lives as they cannot be sanded.

I really think it is worth trying out different noters in terms of their shape and composition to see what suits your style of playing.  The timbre each of us creates is made up of many, many factors: the dulcimer, the set-up, the string gauges, the pick, the strumming style, the playing posisiton etc etc, the noter is also one of those factors. I have often seen the question "What can you use as a noter", the stock reply to which is "Anything, even your finger".  This reply is true, but it should always have the caveat added "....however, every noter has some impact on tone and playability"  You and I both know there's no right or wrong answer to these questions, just choices.  All I can do is point folks towards what I have found works for me to create the timbre I want. 

Noter drone dulcimer playing is a strange beast.  Within the dulcimer family it is a marginal pursuit which folks like yourself and Strumelia have had to fight for to keep alive.  Part of the story has been the difficulty of playing contemporary dulcimers in noter drone style (hence this thread) and a lot of miss-information (eg a beginner's way to play, can't play it in public for more that 3 tunes coz it sounds so 'bad', can't play with other instruments like guitar etc etc  and they noter drone player certainly can't play with other dulcimers at a dulcimer club!!!!) - I think we are now putting a lot of those questions to bed.  When I've been playing informally this summer at various music festivals (not dulcimer festivals) it has been a broad range of musicians who play other instruments who have been coming up to me to listen or who have asked to sit in and play along (I've even had offers for professional collaborations, which I hope to take up over the next year).  Now these musicians don't know what the instrument I'm playing is called and they don't know or care that the way I play it is in a traditional style, they love the voicing and intonation of the traditional dulcimers I play and are simply drawn in by the music to see these lovely wooden instrument played with a stick and a feather.

We seem to have spent a lot of time having to defend noter drone playing within the dulcimer community.  Well, I think the time is fast approaching where we won't have to do that any more because the music can stand up for itself smile 

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
10 months ago
1,460 posts

 Interesting note (all puns intended) about noter hardness, Robin.  I find that harder, not softer woods give me crisper notes, and certainly a crisper 'release' when moving from note to note.  With softer noters (maple, walnut, DIY store dowel) the string can get "stuck in a groove", and if your movement isn't exactly inline with the string you can get what amounts to a second pluck of the string as it releases from the groove.  It might be because I tend to play slow ballads where you play fast fiddle tunes, that I'm hearing/feeling that 'stickiness' of softer wood noters.

That's why I recommend re-sanding the playing ends of your noters when you get more than half a dozen 'rings around the collar' (a couple times a year).  Bamboo noters shouldn't be sanded, just trimmed off, because the hard par is that skin on the surface.

Robin Clark
@robin-clark
10 months ago
352 posts

Is there such a thing as a noter drone dulcimer?

Well I would say 'yes' there is.  Although noter drone is a style of playing and you can play noter drone on any contemporary dulcimer I far prefer playing noter drone on an instrument built and set-up for the style.  A fairly high action at the nut and bridge, sweetened fret placements, usually a single melody string and thicker string gauges are the features I prefer.  A very light build, wooden tuning pegs and the nut and bridge at the instrument,s ends over the head and tail blocks are also desirable features in a noter drone instrument - from my perspective.  To be able to 'work' an instrument effectively with a noter I sort of need a dulcimer with the above features to really get the instrument singing both sweetly and strongly.  I've been playing a LOT of noter drone style in public over the past couple of months, sitting in with banjo players, guitarists and fiddlers as well as solo playing.  Much of the time I've been playing my Heritage model or an old Leonard Glen dulcimer with noter and quill as they have the features I mentioned above.  I really would have struggled with a Folkcraft or standard McSpadden or the like - not because they are bad instruments but because they are more difficult to play well in noter drone style than an instrument with a more traditional set-up.  If you get serious about your noter drone playing then I'd certainly recommend buying an instrument built and set up specifically for that style - it will make life a lot easier!

So what about noters?

A simple piece of hardwood dowel for me please.  Not too hard; I want the noter to only sound when it is fretting the notes I want play!!!  If you want precision and crispness in your noter playing then there are two things you can do - the first is to play just a single melody string and the second is to go for a softer wood for your noter.


updated by @robin-clark: 09/05/16 07:20:45AM
Dan Goad
@dan-goad
10 months ago
164 posts

I tried that and found the battery to fat and to short for comfortable playing.  I didn't care for the paint dust on my dulcimers either. That having been said, the perfect noter is the one that the individtual finds most useful.  Mine fell out of a liveoak tree when I was still living in Alabama.  It's approximately 3/8" in diameter, about 5" long with a slight very comfortable curved shape.

marg
@marg
10 months ago
483 posts

ken,

(Get Noterized! An Introduction to Noter & Drone Dulcimer)

Good article, thanks

marg
@marg
10 months ago
483 posts

ken,

Using a chopstick as a hammer on the strings, interesting.

Have you thought of a AA battery, nice weight and good size for holding over the top of the strings and pressing down instead of sliding alone the edge.

Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
10 months ago
1,460 posts

Check out my article Get Noterized in the Dulcimer Resources section, here:

http://fotmd.com/forums/forum/dulcimer-resourcestabs-books-websites-dvds/15049/get-noterized   

There's a discussion of the various things which people are using as noters rather than that silly 3" piece of 1/4" dowel which most builders send along with an instrument.    Among the items... feather butts, glass test tubes, semi-precious mineral, large nails/small spikes, chopsticks, and swizzle sticks, not to mention purpose made hardwood noters in a variety of shapes/styles/sizes.

 

Lisa's Noter Drone blog also has some good noter information in it.

marg
@marg
10 months ago
483 posts

 ("noter drone style dulcimer, intentionally")

    Thanks,

My question started out as a noter question on the noter post and ended up as a question about dulcimers when I said 'I picked up a dulcimer designed for a noter' and that then became the question.

 Since I am knew at trying a noter, I was just looking for ideas for noters other then the wooden type that comes with dulcimers. The dulcimer I just got is more for a noter than finger dancing, so therefore - I was looking for noter information but thanks for all the other info, also.

Patty from Virginia
@patty-from-virginia
10 months ago
274 posts

Marg, It is indeed a noter drone style dulcimer, intentionally. Yes, you can use your finger but in most instances the string action is high on these. Therefore it is much easier to use a noter.  I have a Prichard reproduction made by Kevin Messinger and a "dulcimore" (a traditional noter drone type dulcimer) made by Dan Cox. The nice thing about the noter is that you can get that zing sound when you slide up and down the fret board. 

Lexie R Oakley
@lexie-r-oakley
10 months ago
355 posts

Marge, I have 2 replica's, the Thomas in my picture and a Prichard both made by Kevin Messanger and I play them only with a noter, and the staples (frets) are only under the melody string. They both have that ole' time silvery sweet sound which I love.

 

Strumelia
@strumelia
10 months ago
1,764 posts

marg:

 

               What would you call this type or design of dulcimer than?

 

If you mean a dulcimer with frets that are only under the melody string and not under the drone strings, I'd just call it a traditional style dulcimer.  It's not condusive to fretting the drone strings, so you fret only the melody string(s), with either one or more fingers, or a noter.  Those are what I'd refer to as the traditional styles of playing the dulcimer.

 




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
10 months ago
1,460 posts

Marg, you are not required to use a noter to play dulcimers with frets only under the melody string.  They were equally easily played with one or more fingers in what we now call Melody-Drone or Fingerdance styles.  The European ancestors of the mountain dulcimer were played with finger or with a noter.

marg
@marg
10 months ago
483 posts

("noter-drone as a traditional way of playing the dulcimer, not as a special kind of dulcimer.")

               What would you call this type or design of dulcimer than?

("have frets that did not go all the way across, but were only under the strings that needed to be fretted. Since the drone strings were intended actually to drone (rather than to be used for chord changes")

 

 

Banjimer
@greg-gunner
8 years ago
36 posts
Kudzu Patch Dulcimers is the name used by luthier Ben Seymour. Ben broke his leg a few weeks back and is still hobbling around. I'm not sure if he's back to building instruments yet, but he's one of the best and has a very good reputation for quality and integrity. Also, if you can send Ben some pictures and dimensions, he can build you a replica of just about anything. He built me a replica of one of the Mercer museum scheitholts/zitters a couple years back and ordered pictures at his own expense to insure accuracy in the replica.Greg "Banjimer"
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,764 posts
Ben's standard Galax dulcimer has a 26 1/2" scale length. It's perfect for me to play in G and A ionian. :)I use my other 28" scale dulcimer for playing in C and D.Ken Hulme said:
Carson - check out Kudzu Patch Dulcimers. They make a really nice Galax, an will make one to your chosen VSL. Not all Galax instruments run 28"-30" VSL



--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
1,460 posts
Carson - check out Kudzu Patch Dulcimers. They make a really nice Galax, an will make one to your chosen VSL. Not all Galax instruments run 28"-30" VSL
Banjimer
@greg-gunner
8 years ago
36 posts
If you're going to play noter-drone style exclusively, then I'd get an instrument made as closely to the pre-revival instruments as possible. Wooden tuners, staple-style frets, etc. But this is hardly necessary to play in this style. As others have said, just about any dulcimer will do since noter-drone is a style of playing and not tied to a particular form of the instrument.In the vernacular of Civil War re-enactors, if you don't want to look "farby" then you will need an instrument that closely matches those actually being made during the heyday of noter-drone playing, roughly 1850's to 1950's. However, unless you are doing some sort of historical presentation where accuracy is of paramount importance, you don't have to be that particular. Any decent dulcimer will do.Greg "Banjimer"
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
1,460 posts
The smart-aleck (but short) answer is "All of Them". Noter & Drone is not a size or style or shape of instrument. Noter-Drone is a style of playing a dulcimer, using a short stick (rather than a finger) to press down only the melody string(s) to make the notes for a song.The only part of a dulcimer that even marginally affects Noter & Drone playing is how high the top of the fretboard is above the top of the body. If the fretboard is less than 3/4" high, it's hard to properly hold the noter parallel to the strings as you press down.There is a kind of dulcimer - called a Galax (gay-lacks) dulcimer - which is most often played Noter & Drone style; but you can play it other ways just as readily. A Galax dulcimer is usually very wide (9-11") and very deep (3" or more), and often has a double back to make it play louder. It also usually has all very thin strings all tuned to d (not D).
folkfan
@folkfan
8 years ago
456 posts
The only comment about a noter/drone dulcimer is that it's helpful to have a higher fretboard than what is now typically standard . My very first instrument has a 1 inch high fretboard and is still the easiest for hand positions for me when noting. My hand doesn't brush the soundboard as much. And I can hold a thicker noter which is more comfortable to me.I play it with only 1 melody string and have no sound problem.But in general noter/drone is a technique of playing the instrument even if you have a fully chromatic one.Rod Westerfield said:
I'm kinda like Strumbeelia (lol) and Rayzn...... I don't think the dulcimer makes it noter/drone.. it's how you play the dulcimer or your technique. I can play noter on any dulcimer or can let the drones ring out... so I'd have to say that it's the style you play, I mainly play by use my fingers and let the drones ring out.. I have gotten to the point of adding a few chords where they are used as drone but better than just the open strings. Wray in regards to your point that the dual melody strings give it more volume, I don't think is true that much.. after all if you are wanting the drone sounds, then let them ring... don't try to overpower them..I have one dulcimer that has 5 strings (tuned D'A'DAd spaced equidistant) I have played it noter style and let all 4 strings drone, and the single melody string was still hear able. but anyway just my views.. I play almost exclusively 3 strings or variations of 3 strings.. So back to the main ?.. I think any dulcimer can be a noter/drone dulcimer..
Rod Westerfield
@rod-westerfield
8 years ago
141 posts
I'm kinda like Strumbeelia (lol) and Rayzn...... I don't think the dulcimer makes it noter/drone.. it's how you play the dulcimer or your technique. I can play noter on any dulcimer or can let the drones ring out... so I'd have to say that it's the style you play, I mainly play by use my fingers and let the drones ring out.. I have gotten to the point of adding a few chords where they are used as drone but better than just the open strings. Wray in regards to your point that the dual melody strings give it more volume, I don't think is true that much.. after all if you are wanting the drone sounds, then let them ring... don't try to overpower them..I have one dulcimer that has 5 strings (tuned D'A'DAd spaced equidistant) I have played it noter style and let all 4 strings drone, and the single melody string was still hear able. but anyway just my views.. I play almost exclusively 3 strings or variations of 3 strings.. So back to the main ?.. I think any dulcimer can be a noter/drone dulcimer..
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,764 posts
I think of noter-drone as a traditional way of playing the dulcimer, not as a special kind of dulcimer. You can play any mountain dulcimer in noter-drone style, simply by fretting your melody only on the melody string(s) with a noter stick, and letting the other strings ring open without fretting them.


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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
razyn
@razyn
8 years ago
113 posts
I don't think there is such a thing, really. It's sort of blaming the instrument for the player's preferences. But, I'm interested in older instruments. (L. Allen Smith called them "pre-Revival," and many have followed his lead.) They tended to have frets that did not go all the way across, but were only under the strings that needed to be fretted. Since the drone strings were intended actually to drone (rather than to be used for chord changes, and supplementary low melody notes), there weren't any frets under them.Dulcimers that were fretted clear across the fingerboard, before about 1960, are the exception -- not the rule. Use of guitar style fret wire was very uncommon. The 6+ fret is an innovation of the mid-1960s (as are any other frets outside the diatonic series of intervals, corresponding to white keys on a piano). Playing chord changes, key changes, and modulations are practices brought to mountain dulcimers, since I was an adult, by flatland furriners. Not that there's anything wrong with that.Dick
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,764 posts
A member wrote to me and asked this question:What's a Noter-Drone dulcimer?I thought rather than them getting an answer from only one person, it would be better to get responses from several of the thoughtful folks here on FOTMD.So how would you answer that question in a way a new player could understand?


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Site Owner

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

updated by @strumelia: 01/08/16 03:50:33PM