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'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!

continue reading the rest of this post here...