Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ghost of Gray Goose...Go Tell Aunt Rhody in Dorian mode on epinette.

This is a little exercise in retuning to a different mode in order to have fun experimenting with the mood of a familiar tune. In the video I am playing a lovely epinette des Vosges, a zither instrument of French origin which is one of the several ancestors of the American mountain dulcimer or Appalachian dulcimer. This charming epinette was made for me by John Henry Crocker of Bristol England. I love its sweet clear jingling voice- I think of it as a little nightingale bird. Here you can see John Henry playing his own creative version of Aunt Rhody on a 'sister' epinette he made:
Note that I have set the little epinette on top of a long wooden box for the video- the lower box is not part of the instrument. This epinette has a mere 21" VSL scale length, thus would be tuned higher than the typical 27-28" scale mountain dulcimer. Don't try tuning your mountain dulcimer this high at home!

Here I begin playing Go Tell Aunt Rhody in the key of B flat, tuned f-f-Bb-Bb-f-f (Bb meaning b-flat) and playing in ionian mode. But wait! Then I re-tune to the plaintive Dorian mode by tuning my pair of f-f melody strings DOWN a whole step from f to 'e flat'. That puts my tuning in f-f-Bb-Bb-Eb-Eb (Eb= e-flat). Changing the tuning of the melody strings changes the location of the melody tonic note- the melody 'home' becomes centered around the fourth fret (dorian mode) rather than around the third fret (ionian mode) as before. When the melody tonic moves to the 4th fret, the diatonic fret spacings create the more haunting lonesome sound so typical of Dorian mode.

On a regular sized mountain dulcimer, you can try this fun experiment too! Start by tuning DAA and playing Go Tell Aunt Rhody in the key of D ionian mode based around the 3rd fret for the 'home' tonic note. That may well feel very familiar to you. Then re-tune the melody strings only down one whole step to G for a tuning of DAG, and try playing your own lonesome dorian version of Rhody. Be inventive and don't worry about wrong notes. I like to call this spooky version "Ghost of Gray Goose". Sort of goes with the sad lyrics anyway, don't you think?


  1. So happy to see A new posting to your Blog. I live in Australia and was inspired to take up the Mountain Dulcimer after watching your videos on YouTube. I imported a dulcimer from the USA and have been working my way through your Tabs.
    The dulcimer is not a common instrument in Australia,

    So I have found your instructions to be invaluable, especially the way you explain the different modes of tuning.
    Please keep the postings coming, I am sure there are many other people out there who enjoy them as much as I do.
    Andrew, Melbourne, Australia

  2. I just came upon your blog and I am so happy that I have. I've been playing the Mountain Dulcimer for about 5 or 6 years now but mostly chords in the DAD tuning since I sing with a group. You have rekindled something in me to make me do more tabs. Thanks for that. I see in this video you have your instruments hanging from a peg board. What is it that you have them hanging from. Leather cords or what. I want to hang my instruments that way but not sure how to. Give me a bit of advice on that. thanks a bunch for your inspiration!