Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fun With Feathers- Part 2 !


Oh Boy, more fun with feathers!

First, do read my FIRST post about using feathers as picks and noters-- CLICK HERE FOR Fun With Feathers part 1.

Recently on my online community website, Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, Ken Rice of Bucks County, Pennsylvania posted some excellent photos and instructions for making traditional feather picks and noters from goose quills. I felt his information would be very useful to folks wanting to experiment on their own with making feather picks and noters, and Ken graciously gave his permission to post his photos and insructions here on my blog...
Ken gets his feathers from his three lovely geese- Maudie, Olive, and Fig:

Here are Ken's instructions and photos for making NOTERS out of goose quills. Ken writes:

I have been using a noter made from an adult goose flight feather. I like it, but I am new to dulcimer playing so don't have much of a basis for comparison.
It's about 15 cm (6 in) long, and it weighs about 1/2 gram. The feather shaft has a gentle bow, and you hold the convex face of the bow against your palm, using the large end of the shaft to fret the string.
I have better luck when I use a hot knife to cut these. The shafts tend to splinter and split otherwise. Alternatively, you could saw them very gently with a jeweler's saw and burn the end back on a hot surface.
When pulling the barbs off the shaft, try not to pick up a long curly "shaving" from the shaft itself. This weakens the shaft.
I touch it up gently with fine sandpaper, and it's done.
It's holding up well, though I've only been using it a month.




And here is how Ken makes his PICKS from goose quills...picks such as these are particularly suited to the traditional Galax, Virginia dulcimer playing style:
Picks made from flight feathers from our geese Maudie, Fig and Olive. These range from 8 1/2 to 10 inches.
Peel the barbs off gently and gradually or debarb them with a single-edge razor blade, singe them over a flame, cut to length with dog nail clippers and then sand off any remain barbs on the large end so they feel smooth when you hold them.

Thank you Ken Rice for these great quill crafting tips and photos!

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Joyful Winter wishes

My very best wishes to all of my friends and to the musical readers here whom I may never meet or play music with.
May you stay warm and cheerful through the cold winter snows, and may the coming year be healthful and full of opportunities to show kindness towards those less fortunate and alone.

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Beginner tips on using a NOTER

Many beginners are unsure of how to hold and use a noter stick when playing the mountain dulcimer in traditional noter/drone style.
I put together a very basic short beginner tutorial on different types and shapes of noters, and on holding, angling and placing the noter to obtain a clear sound. I hope it's helpful.

Oh, and
HERE is a very cool little video of luthier Michael King in the UK using a petite noter to play one the gorgeous 'epinette des Vosges' instruments that he makes. He will be making a little epinette for me in the Spring, which I am very excited about- I can hardly wait to put a noter to it!
And CLICK HERE to view another helpful video clip made by noter style player Randy Adams (as seen on the Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer site). In it, Randy talks about his own 'side by side' hand position in holding his noter. Great stuff!

Lastly, to give you a view of how the noter is used in sliding up and down from note to note, here is a video of me playing noter style, with my index finger on top, at normal fiddle tune speed. You can also see a bit of how I myself like to strum. My husband is playing fiddle:



continue reading the rest of this post here...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best wishes for Jean Ritchie's recovery

Sending warmest hopeful healing wishes to Jean and her family during her recovery from her recent stroke. Jean Ritchie is the single biggest inspiration of my music life.
We have started a little group over on the Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer online community. Our little group is called Fans of Jean Ritchie. Come join us there, read the stories others are posting, and tell us about how Jean has inspired and delighted you!

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

the Welcome Table

Here is a very appropriate song for Thanksgiving! It's an old hymn called "I'm Gonna Feast at the Welcome Table". (Sometimes known as I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table). I have tabbed this hymn with a duet harmony part, which would be very pretty for two players play!

There are other more modern recordings of this popular hymn, but click here to listen to my favorite recorded version of this song:
Welcome Table, sung by Nell Hampton of Kentucky. Mrs. Hampton was a blind ballad singer, a neighbor and contemporary of famed fiddler Bill Stepp of Kentucky, and sister to Mae Puckett. This clip was recorded in Salyersville KY by Alan Lomax in 1937.
I hope you enjoy playing this lovely hymn! Try to find a friend to play the harmony part with you, and be sure to sing as well. You don't need a good voice to sing old ballads and hymns...you just need to feel it from within and yourself free...

Remember that although I indicated an ionian tuning of GGd because it was easier to sing it in the key of G, you can play the tab the same exact way in any ionian tuning, such as good old DAA as well.
But I want to mention another reason I wrote this tab for GGd and not simply for DAA- When playing this tune, I found that if I tuned one of the drone strings to the fifth of the scale and the other drone to the tonic, as in DAA tuning, that at some parts of the song the fifth (in DAA the middle A note) sounded a bit sour and I didn't like it. With both drone strings tuned to the tonic note (as is the case in GGd), there was no sour sound, it sounded sweet throughout. Now if you use the typical string gauges where the middle and bass strings are significantly heavier gauge than the melody string, then if you try to tune Dda then you might break the heavy middle string. So if you tune DDa then keep the middle string down to the same D as the bass string. This might be rather floppy, thus I chose the 1-1-5 tuning in the key of G instead, GGd. This not only was a tuning my string gauges could be happy with, but also my voice!





continue reading the rest of this post here...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Golly, modes aren't so scary after all... Part Five (last), dorian mode

This is the FIFTH (and last) of a five post series devoted to a VERY SIMPLE beginner level review of how to play in the most common modes.

Remember, the first mode we used in this little series of posts was the mixolydian mode. In the mixolydian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the OPEN (zero fret) of the melody strings. Your strings were tuned DAD to be in mixolydian mode in the key of D.

The second mode we tried in this series of posts was the aeolian mode. In the aeolian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the FIRST fret of the melody strings, not on the open string as in mixolydian. Your strings were tuned DAC to be in aeolian mode in the key of D.


The third mode we learned was the ionian mode. In the ionian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the THIRD fret of the melody strings, not on the open string as in mixolydian. Your strings were tuned DAA to be in ionian mode in the key of D.

As we go through the four common modes one at a time, we are doing it in a logical order by moving our tonic "1" note, our 'home base' note, up the fingerboard a little more for each mode. We are staying in the same key of D, but are locating our 'home base' D note in different places on the fretboard, where we will have varying fret patterns in our scale.
That's why I started with mixolydian scale, where the 'home base' tonic note is on the open string, also known as the 'zero' fret...then i went to the aeolian mode
where the 'home base' tonic note is on the first fret. Then we went on to the ionian mode with its home base located on the third fret.

Now we will tune to the dorian mode,
where the 'home base' tonic note is on the fourth fret...

The four modes have the following places where their 'home base' tonic note is:
Mixolydian mode= 0 fret (open string)
Aeolian mode= 1st fret
Ionian mode= 3rd fret
Dorian mode= 4th fret

Talking now in the key of D where the D note is your tonic 'home note'- to make the tonic D note's location be on a higher fret, you have to lower the pitch of the string. This is an important concept- read that sentence again.

Starting in mixolydian DAD, where the melody string's D is on the open string... if we want to change to dorian mode and have the tonic D note on the fourth fret instead of the zero fret, we must LOWER the tuning of our open melody string all the way down from D to G. Use your electronic tuner, and lower your melody string several steps from D to G. See this chart for how your dulcimer will be tuned in dorian mode for the key of D:
Now you are tuned DAG (the last G being your melody string or strings). Notice again we are not changing the tuning of your other (drone) strings at all during this mode-learning series. I'll talk about why that is so at the end of this series of posts- it's easy!

Go back and read my earlier post on Cluck Old Hen in dorian mode, DAG tuning: Cluck Old Hen.
Remember, even though that tab is written for EBA tuning, both EBA and DAG are dorian tunings, and therefore if you play noter style you can play the tab fret numbers exactly the same way for either dorian tuning. Cool, huh?
EBA is simply DAG but bumped up one step higher. You might like to try EBA if it makes the song easier to sing for you, but also you might like EBA because in DAG the melody string in G can feel a bit slack or loose and might feel nicer tuned up one step higher to the A in EBA.

Once you've read the post on Cluck old Hen and played it in dorian mode, try re-reading the post on Little Sadie and play that tab in DAG dorian tuning as well! In that post I've put the song in the key of G instead of D, and presented two dorian tunings to try: GDC and 'reverse' tuning DGC (which is pretty easy to get to from DAD by the way).....BUT AGAIN- you can just play that dorian tab the very same way tuned to a basic DAG dorian tuning for the key of D.

To review-
We've now gotten through the four most common mountain dulcimer modes: mixolydian based on the zero fret, aeolian based on the 1st fret, ionian based on the third fret, and dorian based on the fourth fret. YAY!

Notice if you will that among those four modes, ionian and mixolydian sound rather cheerful, while aeolian and dorian sound haunting or mournful. So you might wonder- why would you need two cheery modes and two haunting modes, instead of just one of each?...why not just use mixolydian and aeolian and save yourself a lot of tuning back and forth? Well there's a good reason, and I'll explain that in one of the very next posts, if you haven't guessed it already. I'll also talk about how we tune the drone strings for various tunings and keys...and it's super easy, so don't worry!

For now, rejoice in your new ability to retune back and forth between all these four modes on your dulcimer! Go back to earlier blog posts here and try out your new skills...you have broken through those scary mode and tuning barriers of the mind!


IMPORTANT REMINDER:
Remember, when looking over the tabs I have written for this blog, it doesn't matter what key I wrote tabs in. If the tab says ionian mode then you can tune to DAA and play it just the way the tab is written. If the tab says it's in aeolian mode, then you can tune to aeolian DAC (or aeolian mode in any other key as well) and play the tab just as written. Same thing goes for mixolydian (DAD) and dorian (DAG).
Even if the tab is written for a 'reverse' tuning, you can still tune to the same mode's simple tuning and play the tab just as the frets numbers are written. For example: here I tabbed Black is the Color in the key of G, aeolian mode, in a DGF 'reverse aeolian' G tuning. Never fear!- see how it says aeolian?- that means you can use ANY aeolian tuning, even good old DAC, and still play the tab exactly the same way it is written on the page.
This is why playing by mode is so logical and simple once you 'get' the main concept of moving your tonic note/home base higher up or further down the fretboard. This is one of the beauties of noter style playing- we don't need to worry about changing the tab to accommodate any complex chord fingerings.

In the simplest terms:
The mode name simply tells you where your home note or 'key note' will be on your fretboard.
The key you want to play in tells you what that tonic/home note will be- a D note, or a G note, etc.

So, when playing in mixolydian mode in the key of G for instance, you know your open melody string will need to be a G note. When playing in ionian mode in the key of D, you know that your third fret on the melody string will need to be a D note.

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Am I not good enough? Am I too old?

ballad singer and banjo player Dellie Norton.

I often hear beginner mountain dulcimer players asking "Am I too old to learn to play the dulcimer? I don't have any natural talent for playing music! I've never played music before, it seems like so much to learn, and I'll never be good enough, so why bother?" Whenever I hear this question, I think Well, ok, say for example you are 75 now. You can either start playing and in three years you'll be a 78 year old who plays the dulcimer, OR, you can not make the effort at all and in three years you'll be a 78 year old who doesn't play the dulcimer. Um...I know which path I would choose!

Remember this: very few people who play instruments ever become good enough to be 'professional musicians'... But it is just as important and rewarding to play a simple melody that brings a smile to someone you love, or just to yourself.
Our society has for too long fostered the notion that only 'real' musicians should make music, and that they should do it up on a stage while the rest of us pay to sit and listen and buy CDs. Making music is just too much FUN to restrict to only a chosen few! In past generations, music making was a natural part of everyday life, and most communities and families had some sort of home made music going on- singing while they worked, playing simple tunes in the evening at home, or at community dances and picnics, at church and at school. If someone hit a wrong note or didn't sound perfect, they just carried on with the tune. People made their own music instead of buying it.

Music is a tonic that brings joy to all it caresses. And the mountain dulcimer is arguably the very easiest musical instrument of all to make heavenly sounds on right from the first moment you play- even just strumming across the open strings creates a celestial chorus. How can you beat that? We don't have to set ourselves the lofty goal of becoming a highly skilled player. Such a goal has prevented countless good people from ever starting to play at all...so sad! They see themselves as untalented failures even before they play a single note. To you I say: you are allowed to leave those kinds of goals and tasks to the young and ambitious if you like. Instead, why not set yourself free by making your own goal simple, enjoyable, and more realistic for yourself?- a goal of just playing a very simple tune or two for your own enjoyment. Personally, I admit to you that I have set my own musical goals to be less lofty over time, and am much the happier for it! I have stopped beating myself up for what I cannot do, and am more pleased in what I can do. That doesn't mean I have stopped trying to improve my playing- it just means I now refuse to feel inadequate about my playing limits and I try hard to no longer compare myself to better players and feel bad about it.

Life is too short to feel you can't or shouldn't attempt to learn something or do something new just for fun. Life is too short to keep thinking you are not good enough, or to end up wondering wistfully what it would have been like to play a simple tune on a simple instrument.
It's high time we all take back our right to enjoy
playing simple home made music for ourselves. Even as brand new beginners, we are... 'good enough'.

What are you waiting for?

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Limber Jack - Part One

I purchased a marvelous 'Limber Jack'.
Originally from Europe, limberjack dancing toys were made in Appalachia and the Ozark mountains. they are a very fun percussion 'instrument', and are easy to learn to work.
Here is a wonderful clip of Jean Ritchie playing her limberjack.
Here's John Kirk and Trish Miller and 'Jack' playing with their little friend Jack too. ;)

I better get practicing on it! I know the littlest children who come to the farmer's market in town (where we play fiddle and banjo) will just love it. They are always clapping their hands and dancing to the music when we play.

You can get your very own wonderful walnut wood hand-carved Limberjack from Keith Young, mountain dulcimer maker of Virginia: Keith's Limberjacks. Keith also made a beautiful curly maple mountain dulcimer for me 12 years ago.


Time for 'Jack' to get clogging!....


Here is a little video clip of "Cloggin' Clyde" from the the other day when we were playing music at our local farmer's market. Clyde is slowly getting his 'moves' together. ;D


Ok these English guys really know how to have fun!:


Here are my other two limberjacks- a Frenchman, and Mr. Pig...



UPDATE, March 2010-
I've now had some experience playing my limberjacks at farmers' markets and such.
There are some small children who barely look at them and seem jaded and uninterested, but then you get the other children who make it all worth while. Last summer, a group of four children, ranging from age 4 to 7 or so, stopped dead in their tracks at our local farmer's market and came running over to watch my limberjack dance. You wouldn't believe how HUGE their eyes got, like dinner plates!, and then they all started laughing and pointing in delight, and the more he danced the more they laughed. I swear the little wooden man was inspired to dance his very best! Then they started trying to dance like the limberjack, and they laughed even MORE, finally collapsing right there on the ground in a heap of child glee and belly laughs. It made me so happy! I think that was the very best audience I ever had. :)
I love playing my limberjacks. I have five of them now, all different. I may wind up with more eventually, I love them so. Plus, they are way cheaper than banjos or dulcimers!

Also- see my latest "Limberjack Part Two" post from 2010 HERE.

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The rare and elusive Fotmd...

Many of us here realize that "FOTMD" means 'Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer'.

However....

Few know that the Lesser Hairy Toed Fotmd is also a most rare and elusive nocturnal moth of Madagascar, last collected as a living specimen in 1888. More recently, dessicated specimens have been extracted from the dust bunnies found in the lower bout of a Civil War era Appalachian dulcimer residing in the uncatalogued basement collection of the Ladies Medicinal Vegetable Compound Museum of New Bedford MA.

Known to feed on the fermented fungal residue of 'pre-revival' hide glue, the gentle Fotmd is feared to be extinct due to the commercial move to Super and Gorilla glues.
Legend has it that the tiny male Fotmd would emit a singular humming drone-like mating call in the musical pitch of low "C" during certain phases of the moon. If no female appeared by the third night of his lonely piping, the inconsolable male would end its own life by throwing itself under the path of a moving noter.

Buy your very own FOTMD button! CLICK HERE!


continue reading the rest of this post here...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pretty Polly ...in dorian mode

I have created a simple tab for the very tragic old murder ballad usually known as Pretty Polly. This is only one variation of many, but it's probably the most common melody and lyrics. It's really creepy and spooky! Such murder ballads were often sung as parables, a way to teach young girls to look out for themselves and not fall prey to sweet talkin' strangers. Such ballads often contained advise about staying well away from fresh dug holes, pen knives, 'burglar's wine', and Deep Water.

So that you can become familiar with how it sounds, I'm linking to a couple of interesting sites where you can hear old recordings of it.
Here you can hear a 1960 recording of Harrison Burnett of Arkansas singing a pure unaccompanied version of the balled. I really like his singing: Pretty Polly.
And here, you will hear an old recording of Doc Boggs singing and playing it on his banjo, while a talented graphic artist has put together a truly fascinating and marvelous animated film to go along with the ballad as you listen- this is a totally rad Pretty Polly!...
Also, I just love this modern dance version (with dulcimer!) of Pretty Polly.

Remember, when you see that it's in Dorian mode, you can use pretty much any dorian tuning and the tab can be played the same way. In this case, a most typical dorian tuning would be perhaps DAG, and you can certainly tune to DAG and play my tab the very same way it's written, with the melody and key based on the fourth fret, dorian style. (To tune to DAG from DAD or DAA, you'd tune your melody string DOWN to G, not up.) But singing this ballad in the key of D is pretty impossible (for me anyway), so I lowered it to the key of G (GDC). Then, to make re-tuning from DAD easier, I suggested a reverse tuning of DGC instead of GDC, merely switching the two drones of D & G with each other. It's still a dorian tuning, the melody is still centered around the fourth fret and it's played the same way on the melody string in the tab.
My next post will be about the Dorian mode as the last mode of my Mode Series, but you can tune and practice it with Pretty Polly first anyhow. A couple of other tabs I've already posted on this blog to play in Dorian mode are Cluck Old Hen and Little Sadie.



continue reading the rest of this post here...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Golly, modes aren't so scary after all... Part Four, ionian mode

This is the FOURTH of several posts devoted to a VERY SIMPLE beginner level review of how to play in the most common modes.

Remember, the first mode we used in this little series of posts was the mixolydian mode. In the mixolydian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the OPEN (zero fret) of the melody strings. Your strings were tuned DAD to be in mixolydian mode in the key of D.

The second mode we tried in this little series of posts was the aeolian mode. In the aeolian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the FIRST fret of the melody strings, not on the open string as in mixolydian. Your strings were tuned DAC to be in aeolian mode in the key of D.


As we go through the four common modes one at a time, we are doing it in a logical order by moving our tonic "1" note, our 'home base' note, up the fingerboard a little more for each mode. We are staying in the same key of D, but are locating our 'home base' in different places on the fretboard, where we will have varying fret patterns in our scale.
That's why I started with mixolydian scale, where the 'home base' tonic note is on the open string, also known as the 'zero' fret...then i went to the aeolian mode
where the 'home base' tonic note is on the first fret.

Now we will tune to the ionian mode,
where the 'home base' tonic note is on the third fret...

The four modes have the following places where their 'home base' tonic note is:
Mixolydian mode= 0 fret (open string)
Aeolian mode= 1st fret
Ionian mode= 3rd fret
Dorian mode= 4th fret

Talking now in the key of D where the D note is your tonic 'home note'- to make the tonic D note's location be on a higher fret, you have to lower the pitch of the string. This is an important concept- read that sentence again.

Starting in mixolydian DAD, where the melody string's D is on the open string... if we want to change to ionian mode and have the tonic D note on the third fret instead of the zero fret, we must LOWER the tuning of our open melody string from D to A. Use your electronic tuner, and lower your melody string from D to A. See this chart for how your dulcimer will be tuned in ionian mode for the key of D:
Now you are tuned DAA (the last A being your melody string or strings). Notice again we are not changing the tuning of your other (drone) strings at all. I'll talk about why that is at the end of this series of posts- it's easy!

Now, if you would, go back and re-read my post about playing in the ionian mode: Why I Like DAA Tuning So Much. That post pretty well explains why ionian mode tuning is probably THE most useful and easy tuning of all if you play in traditional style with a noter. Ionian is the mode that Jean Ritchie's father Balis Ritchie of Viper, Kentucky always tuned to on his dulcimer. Ionian mode gives you those extra low notes below the tonic note that mixolydian mode can't. The majority of traditional folk tunes require these several low notes, so if you are tuned in ionian mode, why then you can magically pull them out of your sleeve! ;D

Try playing Liza Jane in ionian mode, DAA tuning:



And now that you can tune to DAA ionian and play Liza Jane in ionian mode, if you want to gain a real working understanding of how the modes work, retune your dulcimer back to DAD mixolydian mode and play Liza Jane again but in mixolydian mode, as shown in this older post: Liza Jane in DAD mixolydian mode.

To review-
We've now gotten through three of the four most common modes: mixolydian based on the zero fret, aeolian based on the 1st fret, and ionian based on the third fret. Only one more mode to go!
Notice if you will that among those three modes, ionian sounds the most 'cheerful', aeolian sounds the most haunting or mournful, and mixolydian sounds fairly happy as well. The last mode we will look at will be the dorian mode, which again has a haunting sound. I'll discuss this more later.

For now, rejoice in your new ability to retune back and forth between three modes on your beautiful dulcimer! Go back to earlier blog posts here and try out your new skills...you have broken through the barriers!


IMPORTANT:
Remember, when looking over the tabs I have written, it doesn't matter what key I wrote tabs in. If the tab says ionian mode then you can tune to DAA and play it just the way the tab is written. If the tab says it's in aeolian mode, then you can tune to aeolian DAC (or aeolian mode in any other key as well) and play the tab just as written.
Even if the tab is written for a 'reverse' tuning, you can still tune to the simple same mode and play the tab just as the frets numbers are written. For example: here I tabbed Black is the Color in the key of G, aeolian mode, in a DGF 'reverse aeolian' G tuning. Never fear!- see how it says aeolian?- that means you can use ANY aeolian tuning, even good old DAC, and still play the tab exactly the same way it is written on the page!!!
This is why playing by mode is so logical and simple once you 'get' the main concept of moving your tonic note/home base higher up or further down the fretboard.
The mode name simply tells you where your home note or 'key note' will be on your fretboard.
The key you want to play in tells you what that tonic/home note will be- a D note, or a G note, etc.

So, when playing in mixolydian mode in the key of G for instance, you know your open melody string will need to be a G note. When playing in ionian mode in the key of D, you know that your third fret on the melody string will need to be a D note.
...Enough brain strain for now!


continue reading the rest of this post here...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

Yesterday I created a new online community just for mountain dulcimer players. It's called "Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer", and is located here: http://fotmd.com/
Join us as a member of Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer online community (it's easy and it's all absolutely free), then go to the "My Page" link at top and start customizing your very own personal dulcimer webpage home. You can join or start a group, add friends to your friends list, start discussions, ask questions, add your own photo albums or videos, arrange a chat time, and start your very own dulcimer BLOG journal where you can record your personal dulcimer journey and express yourself. It's EASY!
Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer is for ALL levels of players and for ALL styles of dulcimer playing. And it's a place where both beginners and longtime players can feel right at home in asking questions and getting encouragement and inspiration. It's your place, where you can easily create a unique dulcimer page that truly reflects who you are.

We're having a regular dulcimer 'block party' there- come join the fun and make new dulcimer friends!

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wedding Dress(My Little Doney Gal)

As I promised in my last post, here is a dulcimer tab I created in Aeolian mode for one of my very favorite traditional songs- known as either Wedding Dress, or My Little Doney Gal. I usually play this on the banjo in modal 'sawmill' tuning. I've never seen it tabbed for dulcimer before, so it's about time someone did it! Especially since it's less easy to find aeolian tunes as it is to find ionian ones. (UPDATE: I've been told that Mark Nelson did a tab for it, in Dorian DAG mode. It really is a Dorian tune, but I'm tabbing it here in Aeolian mode because a lot more people play in Aeolian than Dorian and it's a bit more difficult to find aeolian tunes to play.)

This is a great beginner's aeolian tune, because it is actually quite simple to play, with lots of breathing spaces and very simple strums and noter moves. In this one, the drones shoulder almost the whole weight of the tune.
It's easy to get in the zone while playing this one. In the zone is how my old-time musician friends refer to the blissfully hypnotic state one can get into while playing mantric droney-modal-y tunes...
The other nice thing about this tune is that it's so open in terms of space and timing. You can feel free to strum in a soulful way as long as you like between verses or even between lines- aeolian tends to be so forgiving that way, you can linger forever and savor the magic of the drones. Pausing just makes it all the more beautiful. I never get tired of this song, though I've played it hundreds of times.
I hope you enjoy this tab. I made it just for you.




continue reading the rest of this post here...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Golly, modes aren't so scary after all... Part Three, aeolian mode


This is the THIRD of several posts devoted to a VERY SIMPLE beginner level review of how to play in the most common modes.


Remember, the first mode we used in this little series of posts was the mixolydian mode. In the mixolydian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the OPEN (zero fret) of the melody strings. Your strings were tuned DAD to be in mixolydian mode in the key of D.
By the way- when we write the tuning such as DAD, it's most common to list the strings from bass string to melody string. Thus, the last 'D' when referring to 'DAD' means your melody string(s). Some people have one melody string, some have a pair, but the pair is tuned as though it were one string, so when we say DAD, the last D means how you tune your single or your pair of melody strings.

As we go through the four common modes one at a time, we'll be doing it in a logical order by moving our tonic "1" note, our 'home base' note, up the fingerboard a little more for each mode. We are staying in the same key of D, but are locating our 'home base' in different places on the fretboard, where we will have varying fret patterns in our scale.
That's why I started with mixolydian scale, where the 'home base' tonic note is on the open string, also known as the 'zero' fret...

So, the four modes have the following places where their 'home base' tonic note is:
Mixolydian mode= 0 fret (open string)
Aeolian mode= 1st fret
Ionian mode= 3rd fret
Dorian mode= 4th fret

Talking now in the key of D where the D note is your tonic 'home note'- to make the tonic D note's location be on a higher fret, you have to lower the pitch of the string. This is an important concept- read that sentence again.

Starting in mixolydian DAD, where the melody string's D is on the open string... if we want to change to aeolian mode and have the tonic D note on the first fret instead of the zero fret, we must LOWER the tuning of our open melody string from D to C. Use your electronic tuner, and lower your melody string from D to C. See this chart for how your dulcimer will be tuned in aeolian mode for the key of D:
Now you are tuned DAC (C being your melody string). Notice again we are not changing the tuning of your other (drone) strings at all. I'll talk about why that is at the end of this series of posts- it's easy!
Now, if you would, go back and re-read my first post about playing in the aeolian mode: The Beautiful Aeolian Mode. Try playing Shady Grove, it's really a simple tune to play! If you didn't understand much of what I wrote before, re-reading that Aeolian post might make a bit more sense to you now. If you don't 'get' some of the concepts don't worry- just the practice of going back and forth between mixolydian DAD and aeolian DAC tunings will get you where you need to go and get you more comfortable with the idea of re-tuning to various modes.

To review-
We've now gotten through two of the four most common modes: mixolydian based on the zero fret, and aeolian based on the 1st fret.
For my next post I'll take a brief break from the four mode series to write up a tab for one of my personal favorite traditional songs that can be played in the haunting aeolian mode tuning...Wedding Dress...also known as Doney Gal or Little Doney Gal (as I like to call it). This song is very simple to play and it really shines using open drones. Be sure to try it- it's quite an addictive beautiful song. I usually play it on my banjo in A modal tuning, but I'll create an aeolian dulcimer tab for it so you can play it too! After that I'll return to the mode series and move on to the Ionian mode, home-based on the 3rd fret.

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Golly, modes aren't so scary after all... Part Two, mixolydian mode


This is the SECOND of several posts devoted to a VERY SIMPLE beginner level review of how to play in the most common modes.


I suspect most of you are already familiar with playing in DAD mixolydian mode, so we will start from there.
So...tune your dulcimer to DAD and play any simple tune. If you hadn't realized it before, you are already tuning and playing in a mode!- the Mixolydian mode.
This is going to be EASY. I'll take things step by step, starting with mixolydian mode. I'll keep things very simple, and I'll explain each thing very clearly...


I am going to review each mode, one at a time, using the key of D as our key because most people these days are familiar with playing their dulcimer in the key of D.
Notice in the chart that your dulcimer is tuned DAD and the melody string(s) are tuned to the note of D. This D is a whole octave higher than the D your fat low bass string is tuned to, by the way. Now let's just discuss the melody strings...
In mixolydian mode, in the key of D, your melody strings play the note D when you strum them open, without fretting them.

Read the next paragraph slowly and carefully. It appears complicated but it isn't if you read it carefully:
Think of a scale as being Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do- like the song in The Sound of Music movie. The first Do is the first note of the scale, Re is second note of the scale, Sol is the fifth note of the scale, etc. The last "Do" is the eighth note of the scale, which is a whole octave higher than the first Do.
In the key of D, D is the first note of the scale. The first note of the scale is called the tonic note, also sometimes called the "1" note (1st note) of the scale. Thus, if we are in the key of D, your "Do" (tonic) note is a D, your "Re" note would be an E, and your "Sol" note would be an A note above that, going up the scale as in D,E,F#,G,A,B,C,D. Think of going up the scale like a little staircase, and the tonic note is the bottom first step.

The Mixolydian mode, practically speaking, simply means that your tonic note (the 1st note of your scale, "Do") is going to be found on your OPEN melody string(s). The open string can also be called the zero fret because it's one whole step lower than your 1st fret. The nut of your dulcimer is sometimes called the zero fret, in fact.
If you are playing in the key of D, your open (zero fret) melody string note will be a D note. (Incidentally, if you are playing in the key of G instead of D and wish to be in Mixolydian mode, then you'd tune your open melody strings to a lower G note instead. But... let's stick to the key of D for now!)

So in the mixolydian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the OPEN (zero fret) of the melody strings.

If you now have your dulcimer tuned in DAD mixolydian mode, to play in the key of D, try playing Mary Had a Little Lamb, just on your melody string(s).
You'll be playing the notes on the frets like this:
2 - 1 - 0 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2
Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb

1 - 1 - 1
lit-tle lamb

2 - 4 - 4
lit-tle lamb

2 - 1 - 0 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 2
Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb who's

1 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 0
fleece was white as snow.



If you can play Mary Had a Little Lamb ok, then try this other simple old-time tune from a previous post, Liza Jane:

Now I want you to notice that both these tunes end on the tonic note, the note of D, the first note of the scale. Most folk songs and most traditional songs end on the tonic note, which is usually the same note as the name of the key you are playing in. There are exceptions, of course, but 'usually' if a song ends on a G note then it's safe to bet it's in the key of G. If it ends in a D, then it's usually in the key of D, such as these two songs you've just played.

If you look at the tab for Liza Jane, it'll also tell you the song ends on the zero fret (open string). Knowing already that most folk songs end on the tonic note, we can conclude that Liza jane here has it's tonic note on the open string/zero fret. Remember, in mixolydian mode the tonic note is found on the open string/zero fret....so you can plainly see in the tab that Liza Jane must be tabbed here in the mixolydian mode. Furthermore, since the tab tells you to tune the open melody strings to D in this case, one also can safely conclude that this song is tabbed in the key of D, in mixolydian mode.

Important!:
If the song ends on the zero fret (open string), it's a clue that it is in mixolydian mode.
If the song ends on a D note, it's a clue that the song is in the key of D.


My next post will take us into Aeolian mode, which is a simple one step change from mixolydian mode. Don't get nervous! In fact, by trying out the very simple aeolian tuning, it will probably help everything to become clearer, and you'll understand mixolydian mode as well more than you do now.

For now, reread this post so you understand the very simple points I'm explaining, and just relax and enjoy playing in mixolydian mode. Try playing Go Tell Aunt Rhody by starting on the 2nd fret for the word "Go..." Notice the song will end on the open string/zero fret... so again, you are playing it in mixolydian mode!

Next...the beautiful aeolian mode...

continue reading the rest of this post here...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Golly, modes aren't so scary after all... Part One


This is the first of several posts devoted to a VERY SIMPLE beginner level review of how to play in the most common modes.

Up to now, I have tried to introduce the four commonly used dulcimer modes one at a time, each paired with a tune, in order to keep from scaring people away by having them feel that it's all too much to learn at once.

I think it may be a good time now to step back and present a little review of the four modes I use in this blog in a way that might help you visualize the differences between them by seeing them plainly, side by side together rather than separately. Being able to play in the four different modes is truly not that complicated or scary once you understand the basic simple concept. Tuning to the four modes is the key to being able to play all kinds of interesting and varied tunes and songs in traditional noter and drone style.

I'd like to try to get you comfortable with the four common dulcimer modes in a very simple way that anyone will be able to put in to action on their own dulcimer. I'm going to skip over all the brain-wringing explanations about modal scales having bunches of whole steps and half steps. I remember trying to learn that stuff when I was just starting out, and wow, it would scare off almost anybody!
So the HECK with that! Let's approach it from a much simpler angle instead... starting with picture charts that show you exactly how to tune for the four modes, in the key of D.

For now, I want you to know two simple things:
First, please note that your two drone strings remain tuned the same in all four modes. Thus, to change modes, you are only going to be re-tuning your melody string(s). We will not be re-tuning the drone strings (middle and bass strings) at all. Simple enough? I knew you'd like that.
Secondly, you need to know that if starting in mixolydian mode, in DAD, that when you re-tune to the other three modes you are going to be tuning your melody strings DOWN from the original D, not up! Thus, when re-tuning from DAD (mixolydian mode) to DAC (aeolian mode), for example, you will be tuning your melody strings DOWN one step from D to C. You need to know this so that you don't start breaking your melody strings by trying to crank them w-a-y up from your starting DAD point. (And like I said already, your other strings will remain the same and will not be re-tuned at all.)

Click on each chart picture and it will get larger in its own window, and you can print it out. Print out all four charts and in my next post I will further explain how to use the modes easily, in simple terms. I suspect most of you are already familiar with playing in DAD mixolydian mode, so we will go from there.
So...tune your dulcimer to DAD and play any simple tune. If you hadn't realized it before, you are already tuning and playing in a mode!- the Mixolydian mode.
This is going to be EASY. I'll take things step by step, starting with mixolydian mode. I'll keep things very simple, and I'll explain each thing very clearly.









continue reading the rest of this post here...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cindy

Cindy is a favorite old-time song that is often sung in the key of G.
It has great fun lyrics. I especially love the imagery of honey bees swarming around her sweet mouth, her 'feet all over the floor', and of Cindy shaking her stockings down in a fit of Glorious Fervor!...

I have tabbed it in G, in reverse ionian tuning of DGD. Personally, I can sing it more comfortably in A, and I would choose the reverse ionian tuning of EAE for myself. Then again, if you don't plan to sing it at all, then feel free to play it in D, in a regular DAA ionian tuning. Any of these ionian tunings will use the exact same tab numbers, as I've written, so feel free to experiment! As is often the case with very quaint old songs, it also sounds nice without the 5th in the drones, in a more 'unison' sounding ionian tuning of say GGD (for G) or DDA (for D).

Now, if you want a real treat, watch this absolutely marvelous clip of Pete Seeger on banjo and Buffy Sainte-Marie on the mouth bow playing and singing Cindy. Don'cha just love it?? Notice how the mouth bow adds a single tonic drone note that plays continuously through the whole song. Ahhh....drones are such a total turn on! Buffy, you 'slay' me...what a woman!

When singing Cindy, it can get a little busy sounding going from verse to chorus to verse to chorus etc without a pause, so I'd recommend doing a verse, then sing the chorus, then play the chorus again but without singing, then on to the next verse, repeating this pattern. That would sound very pretty and add some needed 'air space'. As with almost all old-time and traditional songs, lyrics will vary in different versions.




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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Why I ditched my 'bass' and 'middle' strings

This is going to be a little tricky to explain, but to really understand the logic and background behind my particular tuning methods and my personal old-time playing style, this issue must be elaborated upon a bit and clarified.


First, I must remind those who have not read my blog from the beginning, that years ago when I first started playing the mountain dulcimer, I learned to play it in the manner that is currently so pervasive and popular - playing flatpick/chord-based style and tuned mostly in DAD. Seems everyone I observed back then was playing that way, most of the learning materials, dulcimer clubs, and workshops were geared towards it, and honestly it didn't even occur to me to learn any other way. Nobody mentioned there was any other way to play the dulcimer. I actually became pretty good at playing the dulcimer chord/melody style, with a flatpick. It sounded very pretty to me, and I enjoyed it.

However, when I fell in love with old-time ballads and old-time fiddle tunes and began trying to play those, my chord based dulcimer playing just didn't sound right with it.
I thought my dulcimer playing sounded too modern and 'folk guitar-ish'. To my ear, it did not blend well at all with the more archaic ballads and fiddle tunes. Something sounded wrong to me, but I just assumed it was just the nature of the dulcimer's sound and was something that couldn't be changed.

Thus it was that I hung my dulcimer on the wall and let it gather dust for seven long years...
I took up old-time clawhammer banjo and was thrilled by how perfectly it blended with the old-time music I was growing to love so well. I became a passably decent old-time banjo player and slowly forgot my old dulcimer playing skills.

After 'seven years of ringing the banjo', mostly accompanying fiddlers (primarily my husband who is an excellent old-time fiddler), more and more I explored the older Southern Appalachian ballads, avidly listening to field recordings of singers such as Almeda Riddle, Texas Gladden, Nimrod Workman, Dillard Chandler, Dellie Norton, Jean Ritchie, and many others.
At some point it registered in my mind that Jean Ritchie's dulcimer playing didn't sound so modern, that it blended perfectly with the very old ballads she was singing. This got me to thinking (finally! DUH!) about how perhaps playing the dulcimer a different way might produce the older sound I was looking for- a sound that would stand on its own but would also sound right with fiddles and banjos or with traditional sung ballads.

This revelation triggered me to learn more about the older more traditional styles of playing the Appalachian dulcimer. By this time, I was quite familiar with the concepts, beauty, and use of drones and open or modal tunings on my banjo. As I read, listened, and learned more, it dawned on me that I must start over with my dulcimer from square one and re-learn how to play it in a more traditional drone based manner. I learned about noter playing, I listened to many recordings, and I fell hard under the spell of the quicksilver liquid sliding noter dancing alongside the steady open powerful drones. What an intoxicating sound it was! I was totally hooked, and I felt the door to a whole new world had been suddenly flung open before me.

I began to play with a noter and open drones. I felt so awkward and hopelessly lame!
I had to start all over again! The results were embarrassingly bad, but I kept at it relentlessly. The noter hand and the strumming hand were both equally difficult! I practiced s-l-o-w-l-y and repeated the same babyish moves over and over for weeks, and eventually I began to improve. I realized just how vastly different this playing method was from my old DAD chording/picking style.
I quickly found that when playing melody notes only on the melody string, I often needed several notes that were lower than the tonic '1' note- so I began to tune more often to DAA (ionian mode) instead of DAD (mixolydian mode), which then made those lower notes available on my melody string.

As I listened to more recordings of fiddle tunes played on mountain dulcimers, I then discovered the playing of Bonnie Russell, Phyllis Gaskins, and Jacob Ray Melton, all of whom played 'Galax Style'. This style originated in the area of Galax, Virginia, and the dulcimers they used from that area were of a certain build and were strung all in the same gauge strings, usually tuned dddd. They played them with long flexible whip-like picks, in a sort of egg-scrambling motion. The sound was described by others as a 'swarm of angry bees'. The intense droning sound all in the same octave really appealed to me, and I imagined this was a good way for me to bring my fiddle tune accompaniment style up to speed!

By this time it had been been around nine years since I had first picked up a dulcimer, and I still had just my one very beautiful curly maple teardrop dulcimer. I felt it was time to get myself a Galax style dulcimer and really cut loose. I had Ben Seymour of North Carolina make me a beautiful cherry Galax dulcimer:


What a lovely inspiration this cherry dulcimer was!
It was strung all in .010 strings, all in the same high octave. No heavier low bass string, no heavier low middle string. It had a 26" scale length, so I was planning to use it mostly for playing in the keys of A and G in ionian tunings. the 26" scale would allow me to tune up to ionian aeee (or eaee) without breaking strings, as had been happening sometimes on my 28" scale teardrop dulcimer.

As I played it over the first few weeks, I realized that the sound of having all the strings in the same high octave was very appealing to me. It dawned on me that part of the reason I found my old chording style to be more modern and guitar-like sounding was in fact that lower bass string/middle sound, combined with playing full chords...the low strings did indeed remind me of guitar playing! Not only that, but the low bass octave sound also reminded me of the sound of a bass fiddle thumping along in bluegrass string bands. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was not jiving with the older drone based feeling I was seeking for my own music. I found the all-high-octave sound meshed very nicely with both old-time southern Appalachian fiddle tunes and ballads...it sounded 'right' to me somehow.

So there I was, playing my Galax dulcimer but not exactly playing it in strict Galax style: I was tuning it mostly in ionian rather than bagpipe/mixolydian, I was using various modes and retuning to them as opposed to capoing. I was not using the usual Galax long quill style pick or that egg scrambling picking technique either. What's more, I was using my own unique brand of percussive picking in a sort of syncopated flatfooting rhythm, sort of what a banjo player uses in their 'cluck/chuck' strum. This I believe evolved from my banjo playing. I have never seen or heard anyone else use this strumming technique on the dulcimer, so I like to think of this as the one thing I can proudly say I have actually invented for myself. :)
But though it is not strictly Galax, the style and method I developed for myself is working for me, and it is working very well for me. I eventually changed my teardrop dulcimer over to the same all-high-octave stringing as well. Once recently I strung a wound bass string back on it again to try it and I hated it and went back to all .010's again immediately.

If you want to hear a more 'pure' Galax style in action, listen to the amazing clip here of Phyllis Gaskins playing full speed on the DulcimerSessions.com website. Also, listen to the two lovely clips of Kimberly playing true Galax style that I have linked on the right column of the home page of this blog.

Now, I have posted often enough about the importance or retuning into different modes if you want to play in various keys when playing the dulcimer noter/drone style. Please go back through this blog and read about some of the reverse tunings I have recommend that would make your life easier when tuning into different keys and modes. Now I must explain something- many people do not like to use 'reverse tunings' (such as GCG instead of CGG for ionian mode in the key of C) for a perfectly good reason: they don't like the bass string to be sounding a fifth interval note instead of the tonic "1" note. Yes!-Now it all becomes quite obvious why this doesn't make a bit of difference to me at all....because I have no lower 'bass string' or 'middle string'!
All my strings are the same gauge and the same octave! Thus, I don't give a rat's ass whether I tune my drones GC or CG! Ha ha ha ha hah!! I have freed myself to use whatever tuning will be easier to get to from the tuning I am already in, one that requires the least amount of distance to travel for each string. I can't emphasize enough how convenient this is! It not only enables me to retune much more quickly and easily, but I also wind up hardly ever breaking strings.

Now ye who still maintain their heavy wound bass string and heavy middle string and don't wish to make the 'bizarre' transition to all high-octave bee swarm stringing- you can STILL use the 'reverse tunings' I describe throughout this blog. You just have to get a little used to the sound of having your tonic drone be on your middle string and your 'fifth' interval drone being on your low bass string. I actually did this for a while before I was willing to give up my heavy strings altogether, and I got used to it just fine. But some people strongly dislike the sound of the bass string being a fifth instead of a tonic note, so you'll just have to try it for yourself and see!

Then again, lots of people are repelled by the unison/bagpipe/Galax type 'angry bee swarm' sound altogether. Hey, there's no accounting for people's taste! I can assure you there was a time when I would have found it simply awful to listen to as well.
A few years ago I played a recording of the late great Jacob Ray Melton playing Galax dulcimer for a musician friend of mine. He was such a good musician that I figured surely he would be impressed and would, like me, find Melton's playing entrancing. He listened for a minute or so, then said simply "That's incredibly annoying." =8-o

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cluck Old Hen

Cluck Old Hen is one of the most enduring and endearing old-time songs around. Everyone loves it and everyone wants to play it. It has a wonderful quirky bluesy sound to it, and it has great lyrics.

But because of its bluesy notes, Cluck Old Hen simply cannot be played on the melody string only (noter style) on a typical diatonically fretted dulcimer in the modes of mixolydian, ionian, or even in lonesome sounding aeolian mode. You just won't have all the notes you need on the fingerboard.
Here is where the DORIAN mode comes to the rescue!
Now, before you FREAK OUT and go back to aimlessly twittering on your computer lest you might have to {{{shudder}}} go into some scary tuning Devil's Triangle of No Return, just listen for second and give me a chance!...
Does DAG sound like an 'impossible' tuning to you? I thought not...it's not that alien from DAD or DAA. DAG is Dorian tuning, where the song ends and is centered around the fourth fret. You can quickly review my easy beginner helper notes for Dorian mode tuning here in my previous post: "Little Sadie and the Dorian mode"

Now... I tried playing and singing Cluck Old Hen in dorian DAG, which would be the key of D, and it was a bit too low for me to sing the low B part chorus. So I simply raised everything up one step to make it the key of E instead of D, and found I could sing it better. BUT- you can try D first (DAG) and see if D suits you before going up to E (EBA). I tabbed it in EBA (dorian tuning key of E). The tab numbers would all be the SAME in DAG since you are in the same dorian mode.

Here is how you can easily tune to DAG from DAA:
Tune your melody string(s) DOWN one step from A to G. That's it!

Here is how you can easily tune to DAG from DAD:
Tune your melody string(s) DOWN to G (not UP, or you'll break your string). That's it!

Wasn't that scary?? ha ha ha

Now that you are in DAG, you can try playing and singing Cluck Old Hen in DAG dorian mode key of D. If you have trouble singing the low B part, try tuning all your strings UP more more whole step from DAG to EBA. Try singing it there in the key of E. You'll notice the B chorus part is sung much lower than the verses. For my voice, singing it in EBA key of E makes the high part not too high to sing and the low part not too low to sing.

Here is a short MP3 clip of Cluck Old Hen just to give you an idea of how it goes: Cluck Old Hen. I usually like mine a bit slower and more relaxed and bluesy, but this clip just gives you a quicky example to hear.

And here is a wonderful Youtube clip made by Terry, he actually learned it from my TAB right here in this post, and sent me a link to show me how his version came out. Click here to see it: Cluck Old Hen played by Terry. This is a great sample because he plays it just like the tab here. I love how he uses a quill for his pick too, and the charming box dulcimer- what a great traditional sound Terry has going!

Remember to not tune any string higher than an E on a typical 28" scale dulcimer or you might break a string ...but E should be perfectly do-able on most dulcimers, which usually fall between 26"-28 1/2" scale lengths. Scale length is the length in inches between the nut and the bridge.

I think if Cluck Old Hen were the only song in Dorian mode, it would still be worth going in and out of Dorian mode just to play that one single fabulous old-time song.
See if you can make up your very own new funny verse for Cluck Old Hen- it's not too hard if you let yourself be silly!



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