Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DAA in birdland- Hush Little Baby

Here is a simple diagram I made up to show the ionian mode DAA tuning for playing in the key of D:(If you click on the images on this blog, the images will show up larger and clearer on their own page.) The "do" note of a do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do scale would begin on the third fret. Most simple folk songs in the key of D will END on a D note, at the third fret... (Some D songs will also begin on that D note, but many do not begin on the tonic note, so it's more reliable to go by the note the song ends on.)

Here is a nice folk song to play in the key of D in ionian tuning DAA...Hush Little Baby: Notice how in this song you will play the open string a couple of times- which is 3 steps lower than the tonic note D on the third fret. This is a perfect example of where DAA ionian mode tuning is more practical for noter/drone players than the common DAD mixolydian mode tuning. Notice also how like most simple folk tunes, it ends on the tonic note- in this case the D on the third fret. Hush Little Baby is one of my favorite songs to sing and play on either dulcimer or banjo. I just love the story in it's words.


  1. You mean I don't have to learn to chord? I saw your post on everythingdulcimer about your new blog, and I just gasped. It was like a breath of fresh air. I am new on the dulcimer (2 months), and am going through Madeline's how to book. It is an excellent tool, but by the third song we were already learning chording. It was the drone that drew me to the dulcimer, and I want to concentrate on that. I am not sure I want to make my thumb and pinky do the things being asked of them in chording. I have two dulcimers--one tuned in DAA and the other DAD. Since Maddie doesn't get into DAD until 2/3 of the way through the book, I decided to use the DAA dulcimer until I get to that point, and from then on go with DAD. But now--maybe not. If I want to concentrate on the traditional melody/drone method, can that be done in DAD? The reason I am asking, is that I am having two other dulcimers built, and told the respective luthiers (Blue Lion and Ron Ewing) to set them up in DAD. So what should I do? I also play the mandolin, but I prefer single-string melody, and perhaps two string chords, using a drone effect as much as possible. I also play banjo, but play a two-finger up-picking style--and love G modal. I play guitar, but like to use two finger picking with thumb lead (ala Maybelle). I play hammer dulcimer, but haven't gotten into chords--just like to play the single note melody. So can I play those instruments like I do and still be OK? I felt liberated after reading your post. I can just go in to my music room and play the dulcimer, without having to learn the intricate chord arrangements, and making all five fingers do things they had rather not. I mean, I am 63 years old, and I want to enjoy the dulcimer, not make it a project or an ordeal. And you are telling that is OK. No one told me that if I want to learn dulcimer, there were two ways to go---chording or melody/drone. I want to go with the latter. Please advise me on my dulcimers in progress (I am assuming that if I want DAA, it is better to have the bridge compensated and differnt gauge strings, rather than just retuning).

    Thanks for any help and encouragement you can give me,

    Ron M

  2. Ron, THANK YOU for such a lovely and encouraging comment post. Receiving a note like yours is so inspiring to me, and it makes me realize that this blog was truly worthwhile starting and is indeed helping people in some way.

    You play an impressive array of instruments. You are 63 and I would say you have definitely earned the right to play your instruments any way you please! If you want to play chords then you should do that, if you want to play with noter and open drones, then you should do that. You should be playing your music in whatever manner brings you personal joy. The dulcimer is such a personal and emotional instrument...it sings out what is in our soul.

    As to advice about your dulcimers...you have two now and will be getting 2 more, right? (lucky man!) I would say my simplest advice to you right now would be to have at least one dulcimer with a scale (VSL) of 28" or 28 1/2", and at least one dulcimer with a slightly shorter scale of 26" to 27" long. The scale length is the length in inches from nut to bridge- the part of the string that vibrates freely.

    If you have a (+/-) 28" scale instrument AND a (+/-) 26-27" instrument, then you will be able to tune and play easily in any key.

    If you plan on following some of my blog tuning suggestions, then:
    Your longer scaled dulcimer will be often tuned to DAA or DDA to play in the key of D, and lowered one step down to CGG or CCG to play in the key of C.
    Your shorter scale dulcimer will be often tuned to EAE to play in the key of A, and lowered one step down to DGD to play in the key of G. A shorter scale of 26"-27" enables you to tune up to E easily without breaking strings. I used to break too many when tuning up to E on my 28 1/2" scale dulcimer, that's why I had my slightly shorter one built (26 1/2").

    I wouldn't worry much about compensated bridges if I were you. We are talking old time folk music here...those old folk were never really in tune anyway! ;D

    So- if you can manage to have at least one shorter scale dulcimer amongst your 4, that would be VERY useful to play in A- a very commmon fiddle tune key!

    You can let the makers know what tunings you are hoping to experiment with. String gauges can easily be switched and changed, but the scale length cannot, so scale length is rather important as it can dictate the tunings you can get into much more than string gauges alone.
    Having dulcimers in those two scale lengths will enable you to do just about anything.

    I hope this helps somewhat?
    Your questions sort of jump ahead of what I was going to be posting about later on, but since your new dulcimers are being planned/made NOW, I figured you needed some quickie answers right away.

    Relax and enjoy your drones! I bet drones help our inner body rhythms, heart rate, and blood pressure too!
    Not to mention our overall emotional well being.

    Thank you again for your message and your questions. :) Strumelia

  3. P.S. I forgot to say that your DAD-tuned dulcimer need not get dusty and forlorn...there are MANY MANY wonderful old songs and tunes that can be played noter style in DAD ( which is mixolydian mode). never fear! :D

  4. Thanks for the very helpful information. I plan to follow your blog with great interest. Since I don't even own a noter, I did a web search to locate one, but struck out (at least for a nice one). Prussia Valley was out, Carrot Creek's are on ebay (I have never purchased anything on ebay, but may have to give it a try), and Ron Gibson had them for sale, but his comments beside them "highly encouraged you not to use a noter because it seriously limits your playing ability". Hmmmm. I see what you are up against.

    One other comment. If I understood correctly from a phone conversation, Mike Clemmer's standard dulcimers have 5 tuning pegs and, while a buyer may only want to have 3 or 4 of them strung, a 5 string setup would have an extra drone string, so that the player could play three note chords, while leaving the extra string unfretted as a drone (for example, DAAdd, with the double melody strings). I thought that was an interesting way to keep the drone sound in the middle of chording styles.

    Thanks again,

    Ron M
    (by the way, I couldn't figure out how to post this except as Anonymous)

  5. Hi Ron,
    If I were you I'd stick to 4 pegs for now. I doubt a drone string would sound very good ringing along in conflict with 3 finger full "Western style 1-3-5" chords PLUS the melody. You either want the chords to change in back of the melody, or you want the drone to NOT change in back of the melody. Both together would sound weird, creating all kinds of dischordant combinations. Sometimes more is not better.
    A 5 string dulcimer has it's own appeal and uses, but utilizing it to combine chords with drones would sound pretty unpleasant in my humble opinion. Like putting both lemon and cream in your tea...it would curdle. ;)

    As to noters- almost any 1/4" to 3/8" dowel or stick will do! Even an old fashioned clothespin or a pencil can be used, or a cut piece of fiberglass garden stake, or a bamboo stake cut in segments. Have fun experimenting!