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OK, so I bought this Dulcimer...

And I don't know a thing about them.
And I can't, for the life of me, figure out how to tune it.
Can somebody out there point me at a good book or website on the subject?




( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:44 am (UTC)
I think it was supposed to be a mountain dulcimer. I think.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 14th, 2006 09:17 am (UTC)
No! Really, I'm not. :-) I have the potential to be good if I ever practiced or played. :-)

Lorraine is goooooood! :-)
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:16 am (UTC)
they say when the student is ready...
kat eggleston plays, and, i suspect teaches, the dulcimer.
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:55 am (UTC)
Re: they say when the student is ready...
IIRC she only teaches hammer not mountain - plus she is in the process of moving to Seattle
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:20 am (UTC)
peteralway can probably point you at a fair bit of literature... I'll see if I can point him at your posting.

It was good seeing you at Thing, and I look forward to seeing you at FKO, too.
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:27 am (UTC)
Er — yes, is it hourglass or trapezoid shaped?
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:45 am (UTC)
Appears to be neither, but more fish-shaped than anything. The curves are both convex in the middle rather than concave.
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:58 am (UTC)
fish shaped would be mountain dulcimer.
Mar. 14th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC)
Ah, Appalachian mountain dulcimer, then. (The trapezoidal ones are hammered dulcimers.)

The fish-shape is a variation, usually seen on smaller dulcimers. Sort of like a dromedary (one-hump) camel vs. a Bactrian (two-hump) camel. Both are camels. So both are mountain dulcimers (aka lap dulcimers).

You play mountain dulcimer with the fretboard pointing upward with the instrument resting on your lap or on a table. In most "modern" dulcimers, there are four strings in three courses. Two strings form the "doubled" melody course, and lie more-or-less perpendicular to the player and closest to her. There are two drone strings, the bass drone positioned away from the player.

After that intro, I'll point you to the Everything Dulcimer web site. Here's an article on how to tune a mountain dulcimer:


Note that a good start is to tune in Ionian mode (major scale).
Mar. 14th, 2006 09:19 am (UTC)
Two strings form the "doubled" melody course, and lie more-or-less perpendicular to the player and closest to her.
Although Lorraine plays all 4 strings spread equidistant. Which farbles me up still sometimes to this day but does give you more range.
Mar. 14th, 2006 07:30 pm (UTC)
Hee-yah! Aren't folk instruments fun? The variations are almost endless for such a "simple" instrument.

I didn't want to get into that variation, or the related questions pertaining to strings — or whether GHR's instrument has extra frets (e.g., 6-1/2). Not until I saw the instrument.

But it should be impressed upon all by now that the mountain dulcimer is not a standardized instrument, beyond a few structural basics.
Mar. 14th, 2006 04:03 am (UTC)
I don't play - but i did find a few things on the net:

maybe they might be helpful. I would also contact Hogeye music in Evanston. They probably offer lessons and if they don't they can probably tell you where to get them.
Mar. 14th, 2006 06:01 am (UTC)
As has already been pointed out--everythingdulcimer.com

You've got what they call a "teardrop-shaped" mountain dulcimer.

Bring it to FKO!
Mar. 14th, 2006 09:25 am (UTC)
OOH! Cool!

Let's see... well - first I shall point you at my friend and (not often enough darn it) teacher Lorraine.
Here's her web site.
If you go there you can see that she has several good books out including one that is sort of for beginners.

Lorraine is widely referred to as "the best mountain dulcimer player in the world" - certainly there are lots of other good players but the very first time I saw her perform I sat there literally with my jaw open. Ed was running sound and he'll back me up on this. I sat there with jaw dropped muttering "but.... but... but... you can't DO that on mountain dulcimer!!!"

I learn best by taking lessons usually and that is in fact, how I first really learned dulcimer (although I did learn some stuff out of books before I took lessons). What about "Old School" (or Old town or whatsit folk school?) Isn't that near you - ish?

This is my friend Dwain Wilder's site. He made Lorraine's famous "swan" dulcimer and also my new gorgeous (much too good for me) wolf baritone. But he has some interesting links off his site too (though it is predominately for selling his instruments. He's an incredibly cool guy and you'd like him. :-)

Other than that it looks like you've gotten some great references. If I can find them and remember I'll pull out my books and see which ones were helpful to me when I was first learning.

One other thing is I hope you have a decent instrument. And I mean decent - my first one, which I still have, is a Washburn factory made that my mom paid like $80 for and is a perfectly decent little instrument. My second dulcimer is a Jeremy Seeger which is a lovely instrument and cost $200 ish. My last one is the Wolf that Dwain made and is stunning and cost way too much but is worth more than every penny ($1200).
I have had however one that was just unplayable. Someone gave me a dulcimer made by a shop teacher which looked very nice - simple but attractive but played for SHIT. It had friction pegs (just say no! get planetrary tuners installed if possible - I had the pegs on the washburn replaced with planetary tuners) and the frets moved and... it would NOT hold tune. It just stunk. You can't learn on an instrument like that . Fortunately that was NOT my first insturment.

I think Ruth Simmons may still have my Washburn. Not sure.

Good luck! Have fun! I can't wait to see it in person someday and natter about dulcimers with you!
Mar. 14th, 2006 09:26 am (UTC)
Oh yeah - a PS - something peteralway and tnatj can probably agree with is - see if you can find a local dulcimer group. For a while I played with one (only managed 4 meetings before we moved on the road) but it was a really fun way for players of all stages and skill levels to get together and share ideas and songs and just have fun.
Mar. 14th, 2006 12:36 pm (UTC)
K, in her variegated hippie-like past, once worked building dulcimers. She is more accomplished on the banjo, though.
Mar. 14th, 2006 03:42 pm (UTC)
I love having friends who are also resources!

Mar. 14th, 2006 08:30 pm (UTC)
I was in a bit if a rush when I commented last night. Something I want to mention here is that not only do Mountain dulcimer designs vary all over the map, so do the playing styles. There isn't a "correct method" out there, really.

I don't recall seeing you with an instrument in the past. One good thing about the mountain dulcimer is that the traditional melody-drone style of playing is very easy to get started on even if you haven't played an instrument before. Especially with a skilled guitarist in the house who understands the basics of frets and tuning.

There are a couple of things to check out about your instrument before you can start playing with it.

The first question would be if it has the 6 1/2 fret. Easy to check. Start on the third fret and play a scale upward. If the instrument plays a seven-note do-re-mi scale, you don't have a 6 1/2 fret (don't fret if you don't have it, I paid $10 extra not to have it on my dulcimer). If there's an extra note in the scale, you do have a 6 1/2.

Second, you want to see if it is strung for D-A-A tuning or D-A-d tuning (the mechanics of tuning aren't much different than with a guitar).

If you don't have the 6 1/2 fret, the bass string (the big thick string) is tuned to D, and all the others are tuned to A (D-A-A tuning, which I use).

If you have a 6 1/2 fret, then you have the option of tuning the melody string (the string or pair of strings opposite the bass string--you think of them as one string) to A (D-A-A again), or to the D an octave above the bass string (D-A-d tuning, which has taken over most of the dulcimer world since the 1970's).

That gets the instrument playable.

With traditional melody-drone playing you can just fret the melody string while strumming all the strings. The tuning is designed so that the middle and bass strings produce a drone that works with a whole lot of songs

If you are so inclined, you can just noodle around on the melody string and there is no harm in it.

Assuming a horde of dulcimer experts don't descend on you like locusts with advice before I see you at FKO, I'd be happy to help you out there.
Mar. 16th, 2006 02:43 am (UTC)
I've always thought that the Appalachian Dulcimer was invented by somebody who'd really wanted to play bagpipe tunes, but didn't have a sheep handy.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )