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three-string dulcimer

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L R Mole 14 Sep 00 - 01:31 PM
KathWestra 14 Sep 00 - 02:26 PM
IvanB 14 Sep 00 - 02:32 PM
catspaw49 14 Sep 00 - 02:32 PM
Sean Belt 14 Sep 00 - 03:50 PM
Sandy Paton 14 Sep 00 - 06:38 PM
Jeri 14 Sep 00 - 06:46 PM
catspaw49 14 Sep 00 - 06:56 PM
GUEST 15 Sep 00 - 10:39 AM
Ely 15 Sep 00 - 02:55 PM
Pinetop Slim 15 Sep 00 - 10:27 PM
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Subject: three-string dulcimer
From: L R Mole
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 01:31 PM

A friend asks (big mistake--I wouldn't know a three-string dulcimer from a two-bit Dulcinea) how common they are, why does there seem to be no music for it, how is it tuned, etc. I suspect it wanted to be a four-stringer but doesn't have its drone string. I solicit your aid.

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: KathWestra
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 02:26 PM

There are plenty of three-string dulcimers around (I own one, which I made in 1972 at the Fox Hollow Festival with the help of the folk from Minnesota-based Here, Inc.), and plenty with four. (Many of the four-stringed variety just have a doubled-up 1st string to give more oomph to the melody line.) The very best, simplest, most elegant explanation of Appalachian dulcimers (or mountain dulcimers, or lap dulcimers) and their strings, tuning, and playing is "The Dulcimer Book" by Jean Ritchie. It's still in print, and a great resource. As is Jean, herself, by the way. See the related thread on a recent Irish Times article about Jean -- good reading (and sorry for thread-creep!). Kathy

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: IvanB
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 02:32 PM

Actually, most four-string dulcimers are really three-stringers with the treble string doubled, although many people have reworked the bridge and nut to make the strings equidistant - assumedly to provide more versatility. Years ago, three strings seemed to be the norm (I can't say this with complete authority, however, being familiar with them only in my native state of Michigan), but now it seems most are made with the fourth string, probably for the added volume this gives to the melody.

Most of the music I have in dulcimer tab is written for three strings, with the assumption that both treble strings on a four-string instrument will be tuned in unison. There are a few with the second treble string tuned to a different note, but they're in the minority. But as far as drone strings go, your friend's three-stringer is just as useful for most music as is a four-stringer. Except for the equidistant four-string configuration I mentioned above, both models have two drone strings. The main difference is that the melody might not ring out as clearly on the three-string model.

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: catspaw49
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 02:32 PM

In most cases a 4 string is a 3 string with the noter string doubled. There are tons of books and literature out from songbooks and study books to an "Engineering Analysis" done over the years at Antioch College.


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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: Sean Belt
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 03:50 PM

Both of my dulcimers came with the two-course melody, or noter, string, making it a four-string dulcimer. When I'm playing the one I tune to D-DD and use a noter on, the doubled string is okay. But the one I fret with my fingers and tune variously to DAD, DAA, DGD, etc. I found the doubled string didn't add much in the way of volume or clarity of melody notes, so I pulled it off.

Most of the players I know agree that once you've gone to the single melody string, you'll never be comfortable playing doubled again.

Then there're the 4 equidistant stringed dulcimers...

- Sean

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 06:38 PM

I, too, always take off the extra "melody" string. I use a thumb-pick to give a bit of emphasis to the notes played on that string against the other two strings (which I chord). I always found the doubled strings tended to jam together and get all jangly. Of course the first, mountain-made dulcimers I played were all simply three-stringers.

I also prefer the old 1-5-5 (D-A-A) tuning (the D being the lower, wound string). Almost all the current dulcimer whiz-kids play with a 1-5-8 (D-A-D') tuning. This requires a dulcimer with the 6 1/2 fret, of course, which the older mountain-made instruments didn't have. That innovation allows the regular major scale to be played on the octave-tuned "melody" string. Skipping that extra fret, one gets what we used to call the mixolydian mode, without the sharpened leading note. Many of the recent dulcimer instruction books are written primarily for instruments having this additional fret, so check to be sure yours does before you invest.

Sandy (cheerfully old-fashioned)

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: Jeri
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 06:46 PM

Sandy, I also tune my 3-string Leonard Glenn dulcimer to DAA, but I learned from Jean Ritchie's book. (Must try to bring it to the Getaway so you can see it!)

I thought about buying a 4 string dulcimer a long time ago, but I think the doubled strings would get in the way of playing chords or picking instead of just strumming and noting the melody strings.

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: catspaw49
Date: 14 Sep 00 - 06:56 PM

Oh bless you both.............and Sean too.

I think the 3 string in I/V sounds so much better....more true and "mountainy." Sadly, this isn't the current thinking(?) on Apps, but its nice to hear that other good folks prefer it too.


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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
Date: 15 Sep 00 - 10:39 AM

click for a thread about the instrument's history.

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: Ely
Date: 15 Sep 00 - 02:55 PM

We (my fellow dulcimer players and I) have always considered a dulcimer with a doubled melody string to be a three-string instrument, and four-string only when you're playing with equidistant strings. Maybe not technically correct, but you're still only getting one string's worth of notes out of a doubled melody string. Oh, well. I have two dulcimers and neither has notches for equidistant playing, but my experience has been that that's mostly used for fingerpicking and I don't do that much.

I've had to get books at festivals and specialty music stores. There are probably some online, too. Most of what I have I've gotten through dulcimer club, though. I don't know where you live, but if there's a club in the area, they could be a big help.

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Subject: RE: three-string dulcimer
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 15 Sep 00 - 10:27 PM

Lorraine Hammond's rich G chords are testament enough for four equidistant string setups.
Jean Ritchie's descants and mixolydian ragas are testament enough that a dulcimer's best and highest sounds come from a three-string (or three-on-four)setup.
On Susan Trump's wonderful "Masters of the Mountain Dulcimer" CD, I think only about five out of 18 artists use a four-string setup as opposed to three or three on four.
Still, it would be a poorer dulcimer world without Janita Baker's four-string jazz stylings or Lorraine's virtuosity in that medium.
Three strings? Four strings? Neither is better or worse. They are different.

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