Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

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Beginner players

Members: 1197
Latest Activity: 5 hours ago

Not sure how to tune your first dulcimer?...

Are you totally lost as to how to tune your dulcimer 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!
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. 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.
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!

Much of this same info on how to tune your new mountain dulcimer can also be found in THIS POST of my Noter-Drone BLOG.

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Comment Wall


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Comment by Dusty Turtle on June 24, 2014 at 1:56pm

I'm glad my answer was clear, Brian. Hopefully it is correct, too! 

Comment by Brian Beach on June 24, 2014 at 1:54pm

Sorry for the confusion Dusty.  Since my dulcimer is now in the process of drying after finishing, it's hung upright, so the pegs would be vertical, if they were installed.  Your answer was much more clear than my question, so thank you very much.  


Comment by Dusty Turtle on June 24, 2014 at 1:27pm

Brian, the term "vertical" here is confusing.  When you lay your dulcimer on your lap, aren't the posts horizontal? If that is the case, then you string over the posts.  If the posts are vertical, meaning they stick up towards the sky when you lay your dulcimer on your lap, then the strings should wind to the inside of the post.

Comment by Brian Beach on June 24, 2014 at 12:58pm

When stringing a dulcimer with vertical posts, like you would have with a violin box, should the strings be wound over the posts, or under the posts? 

Perhaps it doesn't matter one way or the other.  Thanks in advance, for your reply.

Comment by Dusty Turtle on June 2, 2014 at 8:07pm

Lisa, unlike the guitar or mandolin where every chord has a standard finger placement, with the dulcimer there are several different ways of playing chords. Some are matters of personal preference, such as whether or not you use your thumb.  But others depend on the specific notes and chords that come just before or just after the chord.  I probably use at least three different ways of playing the 2-3-4 chord in DAd, for example.

There are certain principles that can guide how you play an individual chord. Obviously, the first is comfort. When we first learn the dulcimer, some discomfort is normal as we stretch muscles in our fingers that we've never used before. But once we get past that stage, any chord should feel comfortable to you.  A second principle is that you want to minimize movement from one chord to the next. I try to always have at least one finger that stays on the same string as I move from one chord to the next. That finger serves as an anchor so that I don't have to lift my whole hand up and reposition it but can instead slide from one position to the next. A third principle is to leave fingers free to play melody notes out of a chord position.  So if you know melody notes will be required above the chord, you will want to have your thumb and perhaps your index finger free to play those notes while the rest of your fingers stay in that chord position.

As you work on this yourself, feel free to pose questions about specific chord changes in specific songs. You will likely get different answers about what fingers to use, but you'll be able to make your own decisions based on the principles I've mentioned above and perhaps some others that you develop on your own.

Comment by Lisa G. on June 2, 2014 at 7:48pm

I'm sure there's a thread about finger placement for chords, but I haven't been able to find it tonight.  My fingers are tripping all over themselves as I work my way through a song, and I know some of my finger placements must look ridiculous and they certainly don't transition smoothly to the next chord. Are there standard finger placements for certain chords with the md? There has to be a better way the way I'm playing :)


Comment by Sam Searls on June 2, 2014 at 12:04pm

Thanks for the information.    Sam

Comment by Dusty Turtle on June 2, 2014 at 10:21am

Sam, Patty has explained how to post a video, and the same basic process can be used for posting audio clips.  Go to your homepage here by clicking on "My Page" in the navigation bar on the top of any page here at FOTMD.  Along the left side should be a box entitled "My Music" and just below that you can click on "+Add Music." From there it should be self-explanatory how to upload an audio file from your computer to FOTMD. YOu can also do the same thing from the "Main" page at FOTMD. Again, the audio music box is found along the left-hand side but it is now titled "Members' Music" and just below it is the "+Add Music" option. When you upload an audio file it stays in your personal music box until you delete it but only the most recent 20 or so tunes are found in the Members' Music box.

I look forward to hearing some music by you.

Comment by Patty from Virginia on June 2, 2014 at 9:47am

Sam, by the way, there are guidelines for posting videos. You can only post a video of you playing an instrument or the group you are in if that makes sense. Here is the link to the guidelines,

You can find a link to it on the Main page in the upper left along with other information about FOTMD policies

Comment by Patty from Virginia on June 2, 2014 at 9:43am

Hi Sam, your question fits more with the Ask the Moderators group. I'll answer as best I can. You can click on videos in the blue/green bar at the top. When you get to that page you see a +add in the upper right corner. Click on that and you will have a choice of adding a video directly from your device (hard drive) or posting a link to YouTube (etc) if you've uploaded your video to YouTube. Most people upload their video to YouTube and post a link but quite a few use the direct uploader here. It's up to you. If you are still having difficulty, post your question in the Ask the Moderators group. I hope this helps


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I have a main blog for Traditional style mountain dulcimer playing here: Mountain Dulcimer Noter-drone Blog This is an old style of playing where you only fret your notes on the melody string, while letting the drones strings ring open. In my blog, I express my personal views about playing, I offer free TAB and free beginner videos, and I try to help beginners understand in a very basic simple way the 'mysteries' of playing the mountain dulcimer in traditional modal noter/drone style.

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