Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Top Secret (don't make me have to kill you)

I want to add a note to my last post, but I felt it was interesting enough to deserve its own separate little post, so as not to confuse people.
In my last post about the tunings I use most frequently in mixed old-time music sessions, I wrote...
My longer scaled dulcimer will be usually tuned to DAA or DDA to play in the key of D, ionian mode, and can be lowered one step down to CGG or CCG to play in the key of C.
My shorter scale dulcimer will be often tuned to AEE to play in the key of A, ionian mode, and lowered one step down to GDD to play in the key of G, ionian.
Now, do you notice how for the keys of A and G I give just ONE tuning each? That tuning consists of a bass string tuned to the tonic note (G or A) and then the middle string tuned to a "fifth" above that (five steps up from the "1" tonic note). The fifth in the key of A is E, and the fifth in the key of G is D.
Now notice that for playing in the keys of D and C, I give not one but TWO choices of tunings for each key. First I give the equivalent of the same thing I suggested for the keys of A and G- in other words, the tonic "1" note on the bass string and the "fifth" for the middle string. (DAA tuning for D, and CGG tuning for C)

Now here's where the difference comes in- why did I also give a second tuning choice for the keys of D and C? The second choice I gave consisted of tuning the bass string to the "1" tonic note and also tuning the middle string to the tonic 1 note, thus eliminating a 'fifth' in the the open drone strings. In keys of D and C, this is a DDA tuning and the CCG tuning. With this type of tuning, when you fret the tonic '1' note on the melody string in ionian tuning at the third fret, what you hear will be DDD or CCC. This sounds like what people call a 'bagpipe tuning'.

I actually prefer this tuning for the keys of D and C- without the middle drone string sounding a 'fifth'. Why?...
Because when I play with fiddlers in the keys of D and C, the tunings they use sound a bit more resolved and cheerful than what I hear when I use a fifth in my open drone. My 'fifth' note in a drone sometimes sounds a little sour to me in old-time D and C tunes, especially when banjos and guitars are involved as well.

Don't ask me why this is...I honestly don't know! I just know what does and what doesn't sound good to me. But I do know that my 1-5-5 tunings sound really good in the keys of A and G (especially when the fiddler is using a 'cross tuning' such as AEae), and that a 1-1-5 tuning sounds more consistently agreeable with D and C tunes.

I didn't want to emphasize this in my last post because things were hard enough to explain in a simple way as it was! ;) But now you know the whole story...and
here I now reveal to you my personal most used and useful tunings in the four most common old-time music keys:
Key of A: AEE
Key of G: GDD
Key of D: DDA
Key of C: CCG

(note- these tunings are not for what most folk musicians call "modal tunes"- those lonesome spooky sounding ones...for that you'll need to be tuned in either Aeolian mode or Dorian mode, not Ionian mode like those I list above, but we'll get more into that issue later on)

Hey, this is Top Secret Information that took me several years to figure out on my own, and I hope that my revealing this information will help enable more dulcimer players to break free of the unfortunate artificial chains that prevent them from playing in all kinds of fun jam sessions with other instruments! YAY! If you divulge this valuable information to undeserving, rude, or unpleasant dulcimer players...I might have to kill you.

Do give these tunings a try when you find yourself itching to change keys!

1 comment:

  1. I tried your DDA tuning and found it sounds good even on a solo dulcimer. Lighter or brighter sounding than DAA.

    Chip V.