Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What notes do I tune my strings to?....

Are you totally lost as to how to tune your dulcimer strings to begin learning to play?

Most players these days start learning in the key of D, choosing either DAA tuning or DAd tuning. But you also must be in the right octave or you may break your strings by tightening them too high.
Click on THIS LINK to find a very handy online tuning aid. See the piano keyboard pictured? Click on the key marked "D3". That's a low sounding note of D that you can tune your heaviest bass string to.
Next... click on the key marked "A3" and tune your middle string to that note.
Lastly, you can tune your single or double melody string(s) to either A3 A3 as well (for a DAA tuning), or to D4 D4 if you want to tune to DAd (also known as DAdd if you have 2 melody strings).
Your melody string or pair of melody strings are closest to you when the dulcimer is in your lap. The bass string is furthest away from you with the dulcimer in your lap.
Notice the open heavy bass string has the lowest sounding note on your dulcimer, D3. Also notice on the piano keyboard how D4 sounds a whole octave higher than D3. And notice how A3 sounds somewhere in the middle between those two d's.
Click HERE to access Susan Trump's very helpful online tuning demos as well- they're great!
There is also a nice clear Youtube demonstration HERE showing  step by step how to tune your dulcimer to DAA.
Now you can start playing your dulcimer in either DAA or DAd!


  1. Great, helpful information, but I have to tell you, the kid steals the show. Just adorable!!!

  2. thanks so much! i've been trying to find an online tuner and exactly how to tune my dulcimer for ages...now i can start on the road to learn to play :)

  3. As a person who longs to play the dulcimer (yet knows very little about music), I truly appreciate the work you've done here. It's totally accessible to those that don't have much of a background in music. I just tuned my dulcimer after being confused and even intimidated by it for so long. And it was so easy.


  4. Thank you so much for your comments!
    I'm *so happy* that this info was helpful to you.
    That's really the purpose of my whole blog, to make it easy for everyone to play music on their dulcimer without having a lot of previous music experience or music theory knowledge. It's great to know it's working. :)

  5. does it matter what tuning you choose? daa or dad?
    Mine is tuned to DADD...it sounds lovely.....but im a newbie and dont know much at all....when I've gone to you tube to look at some step by step dulcimer lessons, I often find that they are in the other tuning...daa. Is one better than the other>?....Can you still play the same songs?

  6. Blongs- You can play in either DAA or DAd, and you can switch back and forth too! But...if you are using tabs then you should use the tuning that the tab calls for otherwise the fret numbers called for will be incorrect.
    You CAN play the same songs, but you will play them on different frets depending on whether you are tuned DAA or DAd.

  7. Hi, Strumelia, and Hi to all from Italy!
    I'm very happy and proud about that you've do for Mountain dulcimer! here in europe this wonderful instrument it more or less disappeared and only in France ther's someone that still plays it.
    You in US build instruments, you play and I thank you very much for this!

  8. If I am playing with a banjo player tuned to sawmill, what should I tune my dulcimer to?

  9. Abby, you need to be playing and tuning in the same key as the banjo player, first of all. Then, if the banjo is playing sawmill/modal tunes, you could try an aeolian or dorian tuning, but it has to be in the same key as the banjo.

  10. Oops, I hope my message doesn't appear twice. It disappeared so will resubmit. Thanks for having all this great info for new players! My question is about KEEPING my dulcimer tuned. I inherited my mothers Warren May dulcimer that is in perfect condition and is about 25yrs. old. This dulcimer has carved pegs and I'm having one heck of a time with the tuning. I know how to tune it but to change the tuning or re-tune, it is very difficult to do with the pegs tight. It is almost a two hand job to get the right tune and push in the peg so that it doesn't move undoing everything I just did. Is there anything I can do to make those pegs stay where they should be?

  11. Becky, I really swear by this product: Peg Drops: http://www.amazon.com/The-Original-Peg-Drops-Ardsley/dp/B000F3JO7M
    Follow the directions, only use at most TWO drops on the correct spots on each peg after loosening it out enough to reach. The next day you will find that it holds very well without having to smash the pegs in so hard. makes tuning smooooth with wooden pegs- they won't slip and they won't get stuck either. I have used it for over 15 years on ALL my stringed instruments with wooden pegs. :)

    1. Thanks, Stumelia! I just checked into the drops. I was surprised that the Amazon (US) price was $8.95 and the Canadian price is $24.95! I will check the music stores on Vancouver Island. Sounds like just what I need! Thanks, again for the tip.

  12. What about tuning a Baritone Dulcimer??

  13. Anon- if you join Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer you can join our Baritone Dulcimer Group there and get your answers quickly there. :)

  14. I need a video on stringing my dulcimer. All of the videos I'm finding only have 3 pegs.