Friday, February 27, 2009

DAD and DAA can often play together

Have you ever gone to a dulcimer session where everyone is tuned to DAD and you've gotten into a panic because you are in DAA and you think you have to retune in order to play with them? Well never fear! If the DAD'ers are playing a tune that uses the 6 1/2 fret, you can play right along with them even though you are in two different tunings. This is because if they are using their 6 1/2 fret, they are really playing in ionian mode, so you are both playing in the key of D in ionian mode. Your D scale tonic note simply starts on the third fret while theirs starts on the open string. Often you can both play the exact same melody notes, side by side, just on different frets...
Take Mary had a Little Lamb as an example. In DAD tuning, you would play it on these frets:

You would play the exact same notes and sound exactly the same in ionian DAA tuning by simply playing it on these frets instead, 3 steps higher on the fingerboard, but you'd get very same sounding notes:

Also, you can play your noter style Mary Had a Little Lamb right along with the other people's chord style version. Usually they will work just fine together, as long as you can hear yourself and don't get distracted by all the extra chord notes going on around you.

NOTE: If others are playing a tune in DAD and using their 6th fret rather than their 6 1/2 fret, then they truly are playing in mixolydian mode. The tune Old Joe Clark would be a good example. In this case you cannot play along with them in DAA ionian, because you are then both in different modes and you cannot play Old Joe Clark along with them in will be missing some notes. But there are many more ionian folk songs than mixolydian ones, so interestingly enough, 'most' of the time you will find DAD players using their 6 1/2 fret and playing in ionian mode even though they are in a mixolydian tuning. They would not be able to do that without their extra 6.5 fret, by the way.

When you change your tuning from DAD to DAA, you are tuning your melody string DOWN three steps from D to A. That means in order to play the same thing the DAD player is playing, you have to move your song UP the fretboard by three steps/frets to adjust for your lowered string. DAD mixolydian tuning songs are home-based around the open string (written as the 'zero' fret in TAB), while DAA ionian tuning songs are home-based around the third fret.

The point I am making is that modes are nothing terribly mysterious. Practically speaking, they just mean you are starting your song on a different place on your fretboard.
And because the dulcimer is diatonically fretted (meaning it is missing some frets in certain places), you might be better able to play some songs in one place on your fretboard, and other songs in another place, in order to be able to get the notes you need for that tune without 'missing' any notes because of a missing fret. So you change modes or tunings to find a good place for that song to lie, where you can get all the notes that song needs.
This works particularly well in noter/drone traditional playing style.

Next post, I will present a simple key of D, DAD noter tab and words to a really fun old-time song that many of you may know already- Liza Jane! Then we'll see how we can play the same thing in DAA ionian mode. Then after that, maybe we'll figure out how to play it in the key of G. Without a capo. (!)
Once you understand how to do this (and it's not that hard if you take it one simple step at a time), you'll be on your way to playing along in most keys in typical old-time music jams.

1 comment:

  1. "Practically speaking, modes just mean you are starting the song at a different place on the fretboard" -- Holy Toledo, why couldn't all that music theory reading have just said that?!! Thanks very much, Lisa, your site has been very, VERY helpful -- and I'm not nearly done with it!!! Really appreciate your teaching style. -- Matanuska (from the ED site)