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Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.

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GUEST,Tom K 15 Mar 00 - 06:20 AM
Pinetop Slim 15 Mar 00 - 08:16 AM
harpgirl 15 Mar 00 - 09:04 AM
GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird) 15 Mar 00 - 09:44 AM
GUEST,Arkie 15 Mar 00 - 10:32 AM
tar_heel 15 Mar 00 - 10:44 AM
tar_heel 15 Mar 00 - 10:47 AM
Ely 15 Mar 00 - 03:07 PM
GUEST,TomK 15 Mar 00 - 05:29 PM
GUEST,TomK 15 Mar 00 - 05:32 PM
Lin in Kansas 16 Mar 00 - 12:34 AM
GUEST,Jimmy 16 Mar 00 - 02:37 AM
GUEST,Jay 11 Aug 10 - 08:26 PM
The Fooles Troupe 11 Aug 10 - 08:39 PM
GUEST,leeneia 12 Aug 10 - 01:24 PM
Joe Offer 21 Feb 15 - 09:45 PM
Mark-o 28 Feb 15 - 06:40 PM
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Subject: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,Tom K
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 06:20 AM

Dear Cats, Is there a "standard" tuning for a lap dulcimer? Also, what gauge strings are commonly used? Thanks for any info you might have. Tom K


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 08:16 AM

Closest to a standard is DAD, with about a 24-gauge string for the bass and about 12-gauge for the other two (or three, if you're set up with two unison melody strings). But don't be surprised if you attend a dulcimer workshop and find you're among six players with six different string combinations and two or three different tuning systems.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: harpgirl
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 09:04 AM

...the mode described above is known as "mixolydian", I believe. Ionian mode (major) is very standard

Tune the bass string to a good sound for your vocal range, (or C below middle C), fret it at the 4th fret, sound the string, and tune the remaining strings to that note. The scale begins at the 3rd fret on the melody string. Omit fret number 6# if your dulcimer has it. The key is C major.
Tunes played might be
Dandelion River Run , Richard Farina
Hamish (Farina)
One Morning in May
Eighth of January

Other modes include;
Dorian
Phrygian
Lydian
Aeolian
Bagpipe
and of course, Mixolydian as described in the previous post...Aeolian is the third most common mode (a minor mode)and is used to play such tunes as "Greensleeves" or "Raven Girl"...harp


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,T in Oklahoma (Okiemockbird)
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 09:44 AM

I consider the modal names for duclimer tunings to be misleading. In so-called "mixolydian" tuning it is rather difficult to play any tune in the mixolydian mode, such as Orientis Partibus that drops to the tone below the tonic. In addition, one can play in different modes with the same tuning, especially if one is willing to use a capo, and a 6 1/2 fret is present. Dorian melodies can easily be played on the melody string in the so-called "Aeolean" D-A-C tuning, if a 6-1/2 fret is available.

Hence I prefer referring to the tunings by such designations as "D-A-D" or "1-5-8".

As far as I have seen, the most popular tuning on the east coast and in the southern plains is D-A-D. I don't know about the Pacific Northwest. The D-A-A tuning is often used for teaching beginners, and I get the impression that it has been unfairly stigmatized as a novice-tuning for this reason.

T.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 10:32 AM

For contemporary players, the DAD tuning or the Mixolydian Mode, as Harpgirl has said, is the standard tuning. In the 1970's, the Ionian Mode or "sol-sol-do" was standard. There has been a major shift in thinking about dulcimer tunings in the past 30 years. In the earliest years of the dulcimer revival, players thought in terms of modal tunings and referred to the "do-re-mi, etc" names for string relationships. They commonly used the Ionian mode since it is the equivalent of what we commonly refer to a major scale. For the past 20 years or more, however, players are more likely to refer to tunings by the key in which the instrument is tuned and the "do-re-me" scale is rarely mentioned.

There are several reasons for this shift of emphasis. The most important one is the presence of the 6# fret. Although it was being put on dulcimers in the 1960s (possibly due to Howie Mitchell) it took a few years for players to discover the many possibilities which were created by that innovation. The 6# fret enabled one to play a major scale in the Mixolydian tuning and get a flatted seventh note as well. The length of the fret board can vary by makers, but the most common length which was used by McSpadden and others gave the brightest and best sound when tuned to the key of E in the Ionain tuning. The Mixolydian tuning sounded best in D. Since many fiddle tunes in American and British folk tradition were played in D or A, the DAD tuning on instruments with the 6# fret become more popular. Another bonus with the DAD or Mixolydian tuning was the rich chords that could found on the fretboard. I began using the Mixolydian tuning because it best suited my singing voice and the nice chords which were available, which I think was true of others as well. A further bonus of the DAD tuning was that with the use of bar chords the dulcimer could at least accompany other instruments playing in other keys and thus eliminated the need for much retuning. The more proficient players could also play melodies in keys other than D with the accompaning bar chords, again adding to the versatility of the DAD tuning. One could also switch into the Aeolian or minor mode from Mixolydian by using bar chords.

That's my lecture for the day. Now I can start thinning the bed of lettuce in the garden.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: tar_heel
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 10:44 AM

we use the ..mixolydian tuning. for the "g "tuning...g,a,a,a. for the "d"tuning....d,a,a,a. of course on a four string dulcimer. the "d" tunings seem to b the best range for instrumentals. the"g "tuning works best for us in our vocals numbers,using the dulcimer much like the autoharp,for bach-up. listen to our songs on mudcat radio and hear how we use this wonderful,versatile instrument!!!!


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: tar_heel
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 10:47 AM

MY MISTAKE!!!! for "g"tuning...g,d,d,d........having a bad day,i guess!!!!oh,well,they all can't be good!!!!!!


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Ely
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 03:07 PM

I mostly use DADD (double melody string for volume, of course) for its versatility, but I suspect that my playing style has been "bastardized" by too much contact with fiddles and mandolins. I can capo it to E minor, G major, and A major/A minor (depending on whether I use the 6 or 6+ fret).

A lot of people in my area (Houston) use GDGG or DAAA, especially for gospel songs, but I don't usually bother to retune because it doesn't improve the range of frets I can use. I tune down to CGCC for C major tunes, and once had to tune to, um, BbF[?]BbBb to play with a bagpipe (I was amped). It was pretty awful.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,TomK
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 05:29 PM


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,TomK
Date: 15 Mar 00 - 05:32 PM

Thanks to all for your extreme knowledge. It looks like I have a lot of options.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Lin in Kansas
Date: 16 Mar 00 - 12:34 AM

And if, like me, you mostly play for yourself and don't have to be in tune with other instruments, the rule is always "Find a pleasant tone," i.e., one you can sing with.

As Joe Clark said, "There ain't no notes on a dulcimore, you just plays it."

Bless all the old mountain music-makers for providing an instrument that even a musically challenged person like myself can enjoy! My advice would be don't get too hung up on the various "modal tunings"--and remember to just have fun with it!

Lin


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,Jimmy
Date: 16 Mar 00 - 02:37 AM

I play with a guy who plays 12-string guitar so when I had my dulcimer built I went for volume with six strings (three double courses) which I usually tune AA-AA-DD'. The bass pair I made a high-low D like a 12-string guitar. It makes for a great-sounding instrument with low notes that don't give the usual "tinny" dulcimer sound. This tuning is very good for celtic music and/or when the guitar player is in DADGAD. I also had my builder incorporate one-and-a-half and a six-and-a-half frets so I can get much more variation in chording.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,Jay
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 08:26 PM

Does anyone know what the Phrygian mode tuning is?


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 11 Aug 10 - 08:39 PM

Put the word "modes" in the filter box on the list of threads front page - there is an enormous amount of endless discussion there about ALL the modes and their 'note contents'.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 12 Aug 10 - 01:24 PM

'Endless' is right, F'troupe.

Hi, Jay. Are you interested in playing a dulcimer, or just interested in the Phrygian mode in general?

Either way, there are three kinds of modes. So far. The ancient Greek, the medieval or the modern.

I won't talk about the ancient Greek because who knows what their music sounded like? The sixth and seventh notes of the modern scale weren't even pinned down till around 1200 AD.

So - in the medieval or modern systems, to make a Phrygian song, you take a major scale, any key you want.

do re mi fa so la ti do

Now compose a tune that starts on mi, ends on mi, has a longest, highest (or lowest) note on mi, and you will have a Phrygian tune in its purest form.

I found one of these in an old Lutheran hymnal the other day. It was by Thomas Tallis (16th C.) and was simply called Third Mode Melody.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Feb 15 - 09:45 PM

Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST
Date: 03 Jan 15 - 05:54 PM

deuce.2009@hotmail.com
Hi,My name is Steve Doucette,Roadshow music Stirling Scotland..I have a Tam Kearney App.Dulcimer.No. 041967.The woman who owns it,wants me to change the fiddle style tuning pegs to modern guitar one's. Now this is a lovely piece of wood.Is this a wise thing to do?or should I advise her to try some different ways of keeping the tuning right.Any advice would be brilliant,..
          Live music,.. all the time,..Peace,..

            Yours truly
         Steve Doucette.
         Roadshow music.
         64 Upper Craigs
         Stirling,. Scotland
         fk8-2ds

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: LadyJean
Date: 03 Jan 15 - 10:41 PM

Jean Ritchie put out a book on dulcimer playing, with a recording. Look for it!

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 04 Jan 15 - 08:45 PM

Hello, Steve Doucette

Sorry I can't answer your question, but you could try everythingdulcimer.com, the big dulcimer website. They have a list of five dulcimer makers in the UK, one of whom might answer your question just to be neighborly.

I do know that my nice McSpadden dulcimer has modern, metal tuning machines, but whether they are exactly the same as a guitar's pegs, I do not know.
===============
If the problem is that the doubled melody strings don't stay in tune with each other, the answer is simple -- get rid of one of them. We don't need two melody strings. I have been playing with a single melody string for years.

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Jeri
Date: 04 Jan 15 - 09:01 PM

Leeneia, the doubled melody strings increases the volume, but having two wouldn't have anything to do with installing machine tuners.

Tam Kearney was from Glasgow, lived in Toronto, and died in 2013. I don't know how machine tuners might affect the value. I wouldn't put them on mine, but I don't know about the dulcimer you're asking about.

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: PHJim
Date: 05 Jan 15 - 02:06 AM

I have a couple of friends with Tam Kearny dulcimers made in Toronto. They are very light compared to mine and have a lovely tone, but one of them does seem very difficult to tune.

I've heard of folks using rosin for slipping pegs and chalk for sticking pegs, but have never tried this myself.

I prefer DAAA tuning, since I find it easier to find a harmony note on the bass string. I usually do not form three course chords, but play a harmony note on either the bass or middle string.

I should be clear that the dulcimer is not my main instrument and I don't spend a lot of time playing it, so one tuning is enough for me.

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Jan 15 - 10:32 AM

I do not believe the doubled melody string increases the volume. I've tried it both ways. What does happen, is that the string closest to you gets hit more and hit harder, so it changes tune more rapidly than the other, resulting in two strings which are not in tune with each other.

So it's possible that if Steve Doucette's customer gets rid of an extra melody string, she won't have to change her tuning pegs at all.

Also, I believe I've heard fiddlers hear talk of peg dope...
============
Hi, PHJim. I'ts nice to hear from another person who plays the same way I do. In fact, it's nice to hear from somebody who actually plays an instrument.

Someday you might want to try DAA's cousin, the DAG tuning, which plays songs in the minor. The harmony isn't so easy to find as in DAA, but I fixed that by putting colored stickers on the fretboard to show where the fingers go. Place the stickers downstream of the frets, so they don't get pushed about by your fingers.

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 05 Jan 15 - 12:55 PM

I don't play the dulcimer, but for a number of years I had a couple that belonged to my father, that he had built by a fellow in Washington State. The better of the two is now in the hands of my daughter. Both of them had the double melody string, something he no doubt researched and requested when he had these built. It might be more a matter of intensity than volume, if you can make that distinction.

SRS

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Felipa
Date: 05 Jan 15 - 01:39 PM

very interesting question, Doucette
modern pegs with gears may decrease the value of a historic instrument
I dont know what their effect would be on the tone, and I concur that the best people to speak with are dulcimer makers. I suggest you get in touch with Nonsuch dulcimer club uk. The club has both hammered dulcimer and mountain dulcimer players and makers in its membership
http://dulcimer.org.uk/index.html

I play fiddle also, no geared pegs there - often wish I had them! I wonder if something like the fine tuning keys on violins could be added?
If your client doesnt retune much, mainly plays in dad for instance, pegs without gears should be manageable. Some people who responded re the doubled melody string lost the point - that exact tuning may be more crucial for the doubled strings but some people actually prefer to play with 3 single strings which would avoid that problem.

If it were me, I'd be inclined to keep the dulcimer as it is and get another more modern dulcimer (serviceable one but not too dear) to use for different tunings!

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Felipa
Date: 05 Jan 15 - 01:52 PM

I tried to email Deuce my comment plus email addy of some Nonsuch committee members, but the mail was returned

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 05 Jan 15 - 04:08 PM

Makes ya wonder, doesn't it?

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Felipa
Date: 06 Jan 15 - 04:59 AM

I have a considered answer from Geoffrey Reeve-Black of Nonsuch for Deuce and I dont know whether or not he received it as well, due to problem with email addy
"And there's the dilemma. Should the collector or the player win out? My rule of thumb is as follows: If you like an original piece of lutherie and it's intrinsically valuable, then you don't fiddle with it, you make it work as best you can. If it's a nice piece and works well, but has limited intrinsic value (or it's valuable but unplayable as is), then you make any changes necessary to make it as playable as possible.

"I've seen pictures of Kearney dulcimers but never one in the flesh. His later ones had mechanical friction pegs, so I assume this is early? And from before he emigrated to Canada in 1968? On balance, this is probably something to be cherished as is and made to work as well as wooden/violin pegs can. With the saving on the replacement tuners, the owner could buy a good quality secondhand dulcimer from me for everyday playing purposes! "

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 06 Jan 15 - 10:58 AM

I have been playing dulcimer for 21 years, and I've picked up some knowledge of the instrument and of the people who play it.

The thing is, we know nothing of Steve's customer. She could be a gifted string player or a total newbie. Before agreeing that the tuners should be changed, we would need to know the following:

1. How old are the strings?

2. How long does it stay in tune? If it slips in 15 minutes, that's bad. If it stays for two days, that's okay.

3. Where is she storing it? On a radiator? In a garage? That's bad.

4. Is she pressing with the left hand close to the frets? The higher you go, the more important this becomes.

5. How big are her hands? When she has to stretch to play a three-note chord, can she stretch far enough?

6. Is she trying to play DAD chords on DAA strings? or vice versa?

7. Is she using a tuner?

8. What if she uses just one melody string?

9. Is she expecting a $200 dulcimer to sound like a Stradivarius?

10. Are the strings too high off the fretboard? This can be expensive to determine, because you have to come to America and get hold of a nickel (five-cent piece.) The strings are supposed to be a nickel's thickness off the fretboard.

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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Artful Codger
Date: 06 Jan 15 - 01:20 PM

Re peg dope: A product specifically for wooden pegs that is supposed to help with both sticking pegs and slipping pegs is "Peg Drops". Two drops is all one should need.

Re doubled melody strings: I do notice them being louder, but mainly I notice that they have a distinct "choral" quality, because the two strings vibrate out of phase and don't ring precisely in unison. A disadvantage here is that when the melody drops to another string, the change is more noticeable. Otherwise, the effect of the doubled strings is quite nice. Some people also double the middle string, and some double all three. Another advantage of the doubled melody string is that the string spacings can be readjusted to create a dulcimer with four equidistant courses, each tuned to a different pitch—many four-string dulcimers come with nuts and saddles pre-slotted for this alternative.

I've heard that some people install small pegs or "railroad ties" (like banjo 5th string "capo" hooks) on the side of their fretboards so they can move the outer melody string out of the way for 3-string play, without removing the it entirely. This is particularly desirable if you wish to use DAA-type tunings and alternate playing the melody notes on the top and middle strings for a harp-like effect. (You could do the same with an equidistant tuning like DAdd, but that could complicate your chording.)

Re tuning: The diatonic pattern, combined with the 6+ fret (and optionally the 13+ fret), dictates the tonic position for each mode and alternative mode (the one using the extra frets):

nut: Mixolydian and Ionian
fret 1: Aeolian and Dorian
fret 2: Locrian (not really used) and Phrygian (rarely used)
fret 3: Ionian and Lydian
fret 4: Dorian and Mixolydian
fret 5: Phrygian (rare) and Aeolian
fret 6: Lydian

There are several basic ways to alter the tuning:

1. Tune the melody string(s) up or down according to the mode you want to play in. This alternative doesn't change the tonic pitch, since the drone strings correspond to the tonic and fifth. Note that retuning the melody string can put certain fretted drone string pitches out of accord with the desired mode, limiting their usefulness for playing melody or mode-consistent chords.

2. Tune the bass and middle strings up or down according to the tonic note for the mode. This changes both the mode and tonic. Same caveat as for technique 1.

3. Switch the drone roles: tune the middle string to the tonic and tune the bass string a fourth below it (to the fifth of the key). Then tune the melody string so that the starting fret for the desired mode accords with the open middle string (tonic). This is known as a "reverse" tuning; it lets you play in keys that are about a fourth or fifth away from the "home" tonic for your string set: from DAd, you can drop the middle string to G (DGd) for G Mixolydian/Ionian reverse tuning or raise the bass to E (EAd) for E Dorian/Mixolydian reverse tuning.

4. Apply a full capo at the starting position for the desired mode. This both changes the mode and raises the tonic, but the fretted drone string pitches remain maximally in accord with the original mode and thus with the new, relative mode.

5. Apply a "false nut" (aka "reverse capo") under the bass string at fret 1. A false nut is something like the clip-to-your-pocket part of a ballpoint pen cap that slips directly over the fret under the string, raising the string just enough to stop it firmly. The effect is to create a "reverse" tuning: the middle string becomes the tonic drone and the bass string the "fifth" drone. The mode is altered accordingly.

6. Apply a false nut under both bass and middle strings at the fret corresponding to the mode. This is like applying a full capo (changing both mode and tonic), except that you can play one or more notes below the tonic on the melody string; that portion of the fretboard isn't blocked as it would be with a full capo.

Since a false nut increases the action on the capoed strings, it can make fretting those strings more difficult.

In general, you tune your drone strings to the tonic and fifth of your desired playing key (technique 2, 3 or 5), then either tune your melody string so the starting fret for the mode sounds the tonic (technique 1) or tune it to the tonic or fifth and apply a capo or false nut (technique 4 or 6).

One thing I find deathly dull is when a player sticks to one tonic (changing mode but not the drones) or one set of relative modes (changing tonic but not the set of pitches heard). Dulcimer tuning is more versatile than that. Anyway, if you sing as you play, changing tuning is a near necessity to fit the key to your singing range.

I've got one dulcimer strung for DAd-type tunings and another strung for CGG/DAA-type tunings (as well as the curious 1-3-5 tunings). Eventually, I plan to get a baritone and a semi-chromatic dulcimer. Some people require a separate dulcimer for Galax tuning (all strings tuned in unison) or for "bagpipe" tunings (middle and melody tuned an octave above the bass). It's easy to see why dulcimers proliferate, even if you're not shy about retuning.


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Subject: RE: Help: Mtn. dulcimer tuning etc.
From: Mark-o
Date: 28 Feb 15 - 06:40 PM

Hi

Nice to see some interest in the dulcimer. I've been playing 'em since before the flood.

Some useful info tucked away here, so I'll just chime in on a couple of points:

1) String gauges depend on your preferred tunings and scale length. I use .026, .014, & .012 for DAD, CGC and related tunings on a couple of dulcimers and adjust up or down for others.,

2) Tunings are not modes. That is very old, and very misleading nomenclature.

A mode is an arrangement of diatonic intervals; a tuning relates to the pitches of the strings.

In DAD tuning, for example, you can play in D major (on the middle string or on one of the D strings if you have the 61/2 fret), D Mixolydian, E Aolian (aka Natural Minor) by using a barre or capo at the first fret, G major (barre of capo at the third fret), and A Dorian (another minor) by doubling up the two outside strings at the fourth fret and going up or down from there.

Ditto you can play other modes from other tunings.

3) RE: Friction pegs. Alternatives exist that maintain the look of the original wooden pegs. I have PegHeds Tuners on one of my dulcimers, a banjo uke, and my fiddle and they work great. Disclaimer: no finical relation, just a happy customer.

Have fun playing your dulcimer!


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Mudcat time: 17 August 9:13 AM EDT

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