Randy Adams


Location: Lincoln, NE
Country: US

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John Riley the Shepard

musician/member name: Music
Duration: 00:01:31
From Art Stamper.
This tune embodies one of the reasons I love to play the dulcimer. Like....tuned DGC and yet played in A dorian.... I don't get it. Home fret is the 5th fret.
Am I so drone desensitized that I just think this sounds good?...like....all dissonance is good?...uh ....or what
Helen Seiler
04/27/17 07:07:25PM @helen-seiler:

Great tune Randy...it works really well.

Randy Adams
04/23/17 12:52:08PM @randy-adams:

For a simple song it has way complicated specifics huh? Which makes it not so simple....it has depth....

Thanks Robin and Sean

04/22/17 07:16:43PM @strumelia:

I'm exhausted.   alienabduct    ;)

Robin Clark
04/22/17 05:08:02PM @robin-clark:

OK - I think I may have what's going on here.  I've finally got home and managed to download the Art Stamper track.

Basically, the tune is just the tune - but it is what's supporting it that sets it in context.

So I can play G drones against Randy's original post and it sounds like a major key G tune (unresolved) and it fits nicely with those G drones.  Or I can play the Art Stamper chord sequence of Am, G and Em on guitar against Randy's original post recording and the tune switches to a minor key A dorian and that too fits nicely!

As Randy showed in his later video he can play the tune in dorian key of G (as in the Coleman clip).  But the switch in that video is not to A dorian but G major (I'm not quite sure of the mode as the tune is gapped but I can harmonise to the tune using the G Ionian scale).  However, when playing in this second (G major) position the notes are the same as Art's fiddle tune, so it will also fit A dorian if that is played as the backing track.

Neither the Art Stamper, Coleman or Randy's versions modulate but remain in A minor, G minor and G major respectively.  It is Art's band that gives the tune it's polytonal 'bluegrass' feel.  It is Stephanie's banjo drones and organ that gives the tune its one chord 'modal' feel.  It is Randy's G drones that place his A minor tune into G major and give his version it's specific unresolved feel.

Here is a link to the sheet music for the Art Stamper version


Normally Em Aeolian would be the relative minor for the key of G, but here the key signature indicates A dorian.  So you can see that A dorian and G Ionian share the same scale notes.  Therefore, it is not surprising you can back up Randy's version this tune with either an A minor backing or a G major backing and the notes will fit, although the feel of the outcome will be very different.


04/18/17 04:10:45PM @strumelia:

Robin...lolol, couldn't resist.  iphones are too expensive for my budget, so i have Android- but it works great for me. winky  cellphone

Robin Clark
04/18/17 12:41:57PM @robin-clark:

Yes, but the Windows Phone isn't the problem in this case. The Stamper video seems to be blocked in the Uk and I don't have the band width for the other one until I get home 😢


as soon as my phone contract ends this summer I'm switching to Android!

04/18/17 10:42:25AM @strumelia:

Robin, you still using that Windows phone to access videos? duck

Robin Clark
04/18/17 07:29:05AM @robin-clark:

Very frustrating. I can't access the Stamper or Coleman youtube clips, only Randy's recordings. So I can't comment on any modulation in the other clips. But Randy's OP stays in G and works for me, albeit major rather than Dorian. I'll look at this again in more detail when I get home.

Randy Adams
04/17/17 07:58:32PM @randy-adams:

I like my drones dirty and nasty.... : ).... f'sure

04/17/17 07:39:53PM @strumelia:

The main melody of the Stamper tune is in A but the second part modulates to G.

The Steph Coleman tune main melody part is in G but the second part modulates to A.


Question: What's the difference between a modulation and a key change?

Answer: Sometimes people use these terms interchangeably, but I think it's better to reserve the term "modulation" for a prepared key change, as opposed to an abrupt switch to a new key. Typically the modulation will involve a pivot chord that is found in both keys. 

Robin Clark
04/17/17 03:19:10PM @robin-clark:

Hi Randy,

I'm sitting in my campervan overlooking Newgale beach in Pembroke trying to type on my phone at present!

I'm not sure that you are moving the home fret from G to A in your two examples (4th to 5th fret). Your A version I think finishes unresolved on the second of the G scale and is G major rather than A minor. You could try putting a false nut under your d and G drones about at the first fret to give eAc and then play the tune again and see how it sounds - that would definitely place it in the key of A. I'll keep working on it myself. Mind you I'm hoping the swell will arrive tomorrow morning so I can go surfing. The sun is just setting over the sea here in West Wales.





Sean Ruprecht-Belt
04/17/17 02:27:09PM @sean-belt:


I love this tune and enjoy your playing of it. As far as the tuning goes, here's what I think: If you play it out of DGC tuning, it sounds fine and I can see where you can get all of the necessary melody notes in either G-modal or A-modal. However, playing it in A with these drones sounds a little 'off' to me. I think that playing it with a fiddler who's cross-tuned in AEAE (which is how I play this tune on the fiddle), you might run into some discordance with those drones. However, if you play with a fiddler who's crossed to GDGD, this DGC tuning ought to work just fine.

So, to make a long-winded answer short (too late!! ;-)), 

* If you're playing by yourself, play it in whatever tuning you wish.

* If the fiddler is tuned to AEAE or DGAE and playing in A(ish), you might want to tune the dulcimer up to EAD for this tune.

* If the fiddler is tuned to GDGD or DGAE and playing in G(ish), then DGC should work out great for both of you.

Randy Adams
04/17/17 07:25:25AM @randy-adams:


Thank you very much for engaging in this topic and taking the time to check the drones. Please don't stop there!

Go to the 2 vids I posted earlier. When I check the  Art Stamper vid with my guitar it's in the key of A and the chords that fit are A G and E minor. When I guitar check the girl with banjo the key is G and the chords are G F and another one I can't play.

OK...so....One version is in A and one is in G right?

I can play the melody along with either version when I tune DGC....as I have demonstrated. 

So when I play the melody along with Art Stamper I'm in the key of A right?

And when I play along with the girl with banjo I'm in the key of G.

OK...Another reason why I know I'm changing keys is when I play the melody in G I start on the 4th fret. When I play in A I am moving all the notes one step higher.....as A is one step higher than G right?

This is where things get vague with the dulcimer and drones. The G drones work with the key of A version and you're right... the guitar chords in the version I play and call key of A are G and E minor.

So....How can I play the exact same notes as the key of A Art Stamper version and yet when I pair it with G drones on the dulcimer it sounds like the key of G? I think it has something to do to do with the A dorian mode and the G chord that goes along with it?

Standard dulcimer reasoning would deduce that since I am moving the home fret from 4 to 5 that I am changing modes but it's not that simple. And I'm pretty sure that I stay in dorian mode in both versions?

Things get co-mingled here and are very vague, and that's why the dulcimer is so simple yet so complicated?

I'm not sure there is a definitive answer? If there is I would like to hear it explained in layman's terms.

Robin Clark
04/17/17 03:56:59AM @robin-clark:

Hi Randy,

I think that both tunes in your example video are actually in the key of G - one major and one minor.  The gapped scales and 6+ are enabling you to make that switch.

I've had a good play around with placing different drones against your recording and key of G drones are the best fit for both tunes.  I can't get A drones to work against either.  I used an Indian tanpura in Sa Pa key of G against your original recording to boost the drones and it sounds great!  I tried pretty much every other key just to see if it was my ears but G was the only 'fit'.  So I don't think you are changing keys here, just modes.

John Henry
04/17/17 02:36:09AM @john-henry:

Oh I do so like it when you talk dirty ........dissonance, part and parcel of why I like playing noter drone tho I never think too much about why or what, I'm too old ! !    Keep 'em coming



Randy Adams
04/16/17 04:24:57PM @randy-adams:

Alright then....I'm not talking about playing the same song in different modes. In this example here I am playing the same song in two different keys.... A and G....and from the same tuning. And as near as I can tell both are in the dorian mode. 

And somehow, in this dorian mode, the drones work for both keys. And tunes can be played in both keys without changing the tuning if you wish. Or if you like the sound of the drones better one over the other. This is the phenomenon I'm trying to get across.



Robin Clark
04/16/17 01:19:52PM @robin-clark:


....The whole purpose of the 6+ fret was to be able to play tunes in ionian mode while having the tonic note be the open string, such as with a normally 'mixolydian' DAd tuning.  I might be wrong about this, but I think if you are using the 6+ fret instead of the 6 fret while playing in DAd in the key of D, then you are actually playing in ionian mode anyway.  

You are right Lisa - The 6+ became generally popular due to DAd tuning requiring the maj 7th of the scale to play Ionian from the nut.  However, prior to that the staple 6+ fret that Raymond Melton added gave him access to A major fiddle tunes on his Galax dulcimer for his ee,dd tuning.  He would carry two instruments to sessions - one in d,d,d,d for key of D and key of G tunes and one in e,e,d,d for key of a maj and minor tunes, which the 6+ allowed him to access.  In this case the 6+ fret is the major 3rd and the 6th the minor third.  The key of A is played against 5th drones.

04/16/17 11:26:01AM @strumelia:

Taken to the other end of the spectrum, a fully chromatic dulcimer can play a tune in any mode from any position without re-tuning.  The whole purpose of the 6+ fret was to be able to play tunes in ionian mode while having the tonic note be the open string, such as with a normally 'mixolydian' DAd tuning.  I might be wrong about this, but I think if you are using the 6+ fret instead of the 6 fret while playing in DAd in the key of D, then you are actually playing in ionian mode anyway.  The drones, and whether they are harmonious or dissodent, are a whole other thing as they can be tuned any way you like and don't require fret considerations at all.  You can create any 'mood' you like with your drone string tuning choices.

Salt Springs
04/16/17 11:03:30AM @salt-springs:

John P posted a pie chart which is still on his member profile page that goes into all sorts of modes, frets and the like.........look under photo's.  It might be helpful to some folk who know a whole lot more about that sort of thing than I do..........I'm lucky just to pick out a tune now and then............

Robin Clark
04/16/17 04:47:31AM @robin-clark:

Hi Randy,

John P certainly had the knack of laying things out simply - he is missed.

What you are describing - that ability to move this tune (and others) from Dorian or Ionian to mixolidian was something some of the pre-revival dulcimer players did.  For some reason the dissonance sounds 'right' on dulcimer.  You have so much experience playing and listening to old time music I reckon you have its essence in your heart so you are just doing what sounds natural to you.

Here are a couple of short clips of Nettie Presnell playing Amazing Grace (Ionian) and Shady Grove (dorian) out of the same (mixolidian) tuning - moving them both to mixolidian.

Notice how she also makes the tunes slightly 'crooked'; another Appalachian trait.

I think that in your video for John Riley the Shepherd you've done a similar thing to Nettie: you have moved the dorian tune to mixolidian and it fits just fine because it sound naturally Appalachian.

I find EAd, with a 6+, played noter drone a great tuning for sitting in with fiddlers.  Again you are in good company: The earliest 6+ I've seen on a dulcimer was a staple fret added by Raymond Melton so he could play his Galax dulcimer with fiddlers from e,e,dd tuning to cover off tunes in the key of A major, minor and mixolidian without re-tuning.  Again you've naturally arrived at the same place smile