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Thread: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

  1. #1

    Question Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Hi,

    First of all, sorry if this is the wrong place to post, I'm new here
    I just received my first mountain dulcimer a couple of days ago, and I have a question about chords/tuning. I learned the basics of the dulcimer, but I can't find anywhere how to play a major seven chord (needed for some songs I'd like to play)! Is there a tuning that makes these chords possible or are there any tips to squeeze by without playing the major seven?

    Thanks!

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Fellow dulcimer player here. You are in the wrong place. This is a site primarily for mandolin, thus the name. Other instruments come up in discussions sometimes but we must remember the primary focus. I highly recommend you join the best dulcimer forum there is, Everything Dulcimer. They have a special section for beginners and you will get much more help than you would here.

    That being said, there are many ways to tune a dulcimer, but the most common by far are DAD and DAA. Since you are only working with 3 different notes (the melody string being a double course) you will never be able to play a complete seventh chord which contains 4 notes. Dulcimer players use incomplete chords as substitutes all the time. Comes with the territory. A regular major chord can substitute for a seventh any time.
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    Smile Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Thanks for the response! I asked the question here on mandolincafe because I need a fast answer (the admins on Everything Dulcimer have not activated my account yet), in addition to having heard of the great community here.

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Forgot to mention, the best source for dulcimer chords is the Dulcimer Chord Book by Neal Hellman, published by Mel Bay.

    Also, there is debate on this of course, but in my opinion the most versatile tuning is DAD. This tuning will give you the most variety of available keys and chords.

    Whether you can play a given dominant seventh chord or not or a reasonable facsimile will depend on the key you are in because of the "missing" frets. For example, in DAD you can get a D7 by playing 7-5-6 but this gives you D-F#-C. You are missing the 5th but that's ok it will sound fine. A7 can be played 4-2-3 and that gives you A-C#-G, missing the 5th again. In the cases where you cannot get a seventh just substitute the major chord. C instead of C7 for example. You can tune your dulcimer DAC and get seventh chords by fretting all strings on the same fret but then the other chord shapes get more complicated.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    The most characteristic note in a major 7th chord is the major 7th. As the traditional dulcimer fretboard is diatonic, you have to find out whether the major 7th for your chord root is on your fretboard, or not. If not, you're out of luck and have to substitute it by an ordinary major chord (no wrong notes in there, just not the characteristic major 7th). If yes, then you can build your major 7th chord around it, by adding two of the remaining three notes in the chord (root, 3rd, 5th).

    If you let me know which chord you're looking for, which tuning you're using and whether your dulcimer has some extra frets (6+ or 1+ frets), I can probably help you out.

    If you have a chromatic fretboard, you can play any 3 note chord that your fingers will allow (but, in my opinion, it's no longer a dulcimer, then...).

    Another way that I've seen mentioned somewhere, is to play the minor seventh and bend it up a half tone. I've never liked bending on a dulcimer, but then, I only play traditional stuff anyways...

    Peter

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    I guess I kind of missed the part about major seventh chords. Those are kind of tough. Dronealone gives good advice about starting with finding the seventh then finding the closest frets for two other chord members. This is of course not a complete chord and because of the fret spacing on a dulcimer you might not be able to do them all.

    Some dulcimer players do a quasi chromatic tuning with four equadistant strings tuned D-A-a#-d. This tuning would allow for easier seventh chords but your nut and bridge have to be cut for equadistant strings and naturally you would have to learn a whole new school of technique.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Looks like a few people missed the part about major seventh chords - and this thread is just a few posts long!

    Let's make sure we're all talking about the same thing.

    Seventh chord (AKA dominant seventh): 1-3-5-7b
    Minor seventh chord: 1-3b-5-7
    Major seventh chord: 1-3-5-7

    This last one is what the OP asked for. Please don't cloud the issue with these others; too much theory and not enough playing is more work than fun.

    You are not going to turn a minor seventh chord in a major seventh chord by bending up just the seventh note. You would also have to bend up the minor third. Why make things more complicated? I know you're talking about just that note, but still ...

    The point DroneAlone makes about a chromatic fretboard is spot on, as most dulcimers (in my experience) do not have one, but rather skip frets here and there with some sort of streamlining in mind. This approach may be fine if you want to emphasize the droning effect or only play in a few keys, but if you want to play in all keys you would have to have a chromatic keyboard.

    That is one of the two main hindrances I see in playing more complex chords on a dulcimer. The other is that there are only three notes in play, even for dulcimers with four strings, as the top strings, while doubled, are set too close to split into two fully functional strings. There may be dulcimers with four truly separate strings, and if you have one of these then you may be able to devise a tuning which will permit more complex chords.

    Like a major seventh chord. In order to play a four note chord on three strings you have to make a compromise. I'm used to this, having tried to play jazz chords of five tones or more on an instrument that provides only four tones. Even some four-tone chords have fingerings that drop a tone for ease or to permit playing in certain positions. (The 2-4-3-5 D7 comes to mind, with no root.)

    Try this. If you want to play a Dma7 chord (D-F#-A-C#), try playing an F#m chord - F#-A-C# - which it resembles, just without the root tone, D. Finding a fingering for that on a dulcimer tuned D-A-D ... ... well, I guess 4-4-7 or 7-4-4 are inversions that might work.

    Good luck! Oh, and maybe the best thing to do would be to switch to mandolin.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    You are not going to turn a minor seventh chord in a major seventh chord by bending up just the seventh note. You would also have to bend up the minor third. Why make things more complicated? I know you're talking about just that note, but still ...
    sure... I wasn't talking about bending the minor 7th chord, but rather bending a note that is a minor 7th relative to the chord root up to a major 7th. Butterhero needs a major 7th (note) - and there you have it...

    But I don't think that bending, especially within a chord, is a good idea in most circumstances...

    Peter

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Sometimes when playing the blues but that's not a technique for beginners. Nor for frequent use, methinks.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    I would guess that if the dulcimer is playing with other fretted instruments and they play the major 7th and the dulcimer just plays the major chord it would probably go unnoticed. The dulcimer by itself might be a different story. Heck, half the time in a bluegrass jam half the guitars miss the 7th chords as well as the minors. I'd go forth with the courage of the ignorant and just play the major if you don't have the option to play the 7th on the instrument. My two cents, YMMV.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    We're batting a lot of terminology around here, regarding "major" and "minor" 7th chords. Technically, a C note added to a Dmaj chord makes it a "minor" 7th, while a C# note makes it a "major" 7th.

    However, in most common folk/acoustic music parlance, we're talking about adding a C note to a Dmaj chord; that's the "7th chord" that is most commonly found. (By the way, I'm using D chords as examples because the most common dulcimer tuning is in the key of D.)

    Since the fretboard on most dulcimers is diatonic, not chromatic, there may not be a fret that produces the note you want. In one of the most common tunings for a three-course dulcimer, DAA, the lower and middle "drone" strings are tuned to D and A respectively, the highest pitched "melody" string or strings to A. The D or "do" note on the melody string is thus at the third fret; there's a half-step interval down to the second fret, C#, but then a full step interval to the first fret, B. No "1.5" fret to produce the C note you want.

    A common expedient is to retune to another common dulcimer tuning, DAD, with the "melody" string(s) tuned up to D. Then you get the D or "do" note on the seventh fret, and there's a full-step drop to the sixth fret, so you get the C note for your 7th chord. You need to re-jigger your chord shapes, and you end up playing in another, higher octave, but that works. (Parenthetically, there are quite a few old-timey "modal" songs that use the "flatted seventh," or C, note in their melodies, so DAD tuning can be useful there.)

    In the original DAA tuning, you can find a C note at the sixth fret of the lower "drone" string; any string tuned to D will have the C note at the sixth fret.

    Hope this helps. If you want what the theorists would call a "major 7th," with the added C#, you can get that in DAA tuning since the second fret produces C#. I'm guessing, however, that you want to change a Dmaj chord into a D7, which in common usage means adding a C, not a C#. To get there, on a diatonic-fretboard dulcimer, will involve some retuning -- if you want the note on the "melody" string(s).
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    Good luck! Oh, and maybe the best thing to do would be to switch to mandolin.
    Or an autoharp!

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Since you are only working with 3 different notes (the melody string being a double course) you will never be able to play a complete seventh chord which contains 4 notes. Dulcimer players use incomplete chords as substitutes all the time. Comes with the territory.
    Yup. So, in the key of D, playing in D-A-D tuning:

    Dmaj7 is D - F# - A - C#. From high string to low, if you play 4 - 2 - 0, you'll have A - C# - D (missing F#).
    Gmaj7 is G - B - D - F#. If you play 2 - 3 - 3, you'll have F# - D - G (missing B).
    Amaj7 is A - C# - E - G#. The only G# on a dulcimer in that tuning is on the 6.5 fret of the A string, so you have to voice this one high up, playing 6.5 - 6.5 - 4 (C# - G# - A) or 6.5 - 6.5 - 8 (C# - G# - E)

    With all of those fingerings, you can flip the first and third, since those are both D strings.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Wow! I thought this thread was over!
    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful responses. I've learned a lot the dulcimer here, and even more about music theory! :D
    I've been playing the maj chords instead of the maj7 chords and it seems to be working well. My account on Everything Dulcimer is finally activated so from now on I'll come on here for mandolin related questions only
    Thanks again!

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    No such thing as a thread being over. There are start dates but no end dates. Unless a thread gets closed, but that's for other reasons, usually due to them taking an unfriendly tack, or otherwise not following the posting guidelines. That's a very rare occurrence. We're a pretty friendly, pretty chatty bunch, and we'll talk about a whole lot of things, not always mandolin-related or even music-related. So you're always welcome here. And since mandolin players include some of the most brilliant, intelligent, insightful, talented, worldly-wise people in the world (this is based not on bias but on observation and analysis, of course ), we can provide assistance and advice on nearly any topic imaginable. Feel free to run anything past us. If nothing else, you'll get some opinions. Oh yes, you will get opinions!
    Last edited by journeybear; Jul-16-2015 at 9:26am. Reason: slight correction
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Come back any time.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Heck I wouldn't be surprised if five years from now someone resurrects this thread with a new post. Happens all the time here.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    I love this place. I have a Mt dulcimer and havent messed with it in years. Forgot how much fun they are. I'm going to join that dulcimer forum and mess with it more. I'm glad the OP stumbled here. Although we are all about mandolins here, its the unpredictable variety of topics that keep me coming back. That and the free coffee. Great thread !
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Quote Originally Posted by Butterhero View Post
    Wow! I thought this thread was over!
    It's only just begun, I predict.

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Heck I wouldn't be surprised if five years from now someone resurrects this thread with a new post.
    I'm not waiting that long.

    Quote Originally Posted by Astro View Post
    I love this place. I have a Mt dulcimer and havent messed with it in years. Forgot how much fun they are. I'm going to join that dulcimer forum and mess with it more.
    This thread provoked me to join up over there, although I'm now a rather infrequent dulcimerista. (I started on dulcimer about 51 years ago and built some about 41 years ago. It's been awhile.) Yes, my two current MDs will soon be back in my lap, and I may build some more -- I still have materials stashed -- and I may configure a Russian mandolin I'm repairing to be a mutant chromatic dulcitar (or dulcilin). I'll get the best of several worlds that way, eh?

    Yes, I have nefarious dulci-building plans. Stay tuned for the dulci-more, the dulci-less, the dulci-banjo and reso-dulci, the dulci-laika and dulci-don't-laika, the three-neck dulci-tar, nyah-hah-hah! I just need to clean out the workshop...
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Quote Originally Posted by Astro View Post
    ... it's the unpredictable variety of topics that keep me coming back. That and the free coffee.
    What? Free coffee?!? Y'all been holding out on me!!! I can't believe how much I've been paying for virtual coffee ...

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    I used to play dulcimer a lot back in the day, before I went to mandolin and tenor guitar. I know a few players that can play anything they choose, be it fiddle tunes or jazz.
    While at Mt. Airy this past year, the high light (for me) was a duet session with a friend (and the best dulcimer I have ever known) doing fiddle tunes with mandolin and mt. dulcimer. The instruments just blended so well together.
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    Ha, just found my old dulcimer in a closet! I had it made for me back in 1982 by Elk Neck Dulcimers and it has double courses like a mandolin. I am definitely going to put new strings on this puppy and get reacquainted.

    Thanks for the thread!
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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    I like this thread. I've listened to exactly one mountain dulcimer in my life, many many years ago. A beautiful young woman in her log cabin out in a 10,000 acre forest. I still remember her voice (and her name ) , the string sound, and "Go tell Aunt Rhody (sp?) the old grey goose is dead" among others. Unforgettable. That's why I'm reading and enjoying this.

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    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    I was 10 when they made me study clarinet and read music. I was 14 when I go my first dulcimer -- the guitar came a year later. (And Grandpa's banjo-mandolin 20 years later.) I consider the dulcimer (and Jean Ritchie and Howie Mitchell how-2 books and records) absolutely essential to my musical education. Blowing cross-harp was part of it, too. Let me explain.

    With most music, we learn scales and harmonies; with dulcimers, we learn modes and drones. I apply droning to mandos via 'Irish' tuning (GDAD on mandolin; CGDG on mandola). I apply modes everywhere in traditional Western musics, especially to long-scale mouth organs, tremolo harps. Like a straight dulcimer, a Hohner Weekender or Suzuki Study-24 etc echo harp is a strictly diatonic instrument, like a piano's white keys. (Richter-tuned blues harps omit much of the diatonic scale.) Dulcimers can be retuned; sure; otherwise, dulcimers and white-key pianos and these harmonicas play only a single key. We must 'cross' into another key for diversity -- and those cross positions are different modes, different 'keys' using the same scale -- with maybe a little bending.

    And modes have such great names. Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian (PHRYGIAN?!?), Locrian, Lydian. Just reading those names gives me mental movies to view. Greek deities and their victims; Gregorian monks and their choirs; high lonesomes in many traditions. Ah yes, more visions...
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  29. #25

    Default Re: Calling all Mountain Dulcimer experts!

    One of the (many) highlights of my trip to Asheville was getting a chance to try out a mountain dulcimer at Song of the Wood (in Black Mountain actually). Sounded great. Maybe the best part was when I asked my girlfriend to try it out. She said "No, that looks too hard." But I convinced her to try it and explained how to read the tab (took about 15 seconds). She was shocked that she could actually play a tune (probably very different than her experience learning flute as a kid) and mentioned it a few days later, too. Didn't make a purchase that day since I just bought a mandolin and money's tight, but we'll definitely get one soon.

    BTW, check out the album "Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer" by Butch Baldassari and David Schnaufer if you haven't had a chance.
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