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Beginner players

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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


You need to be a member of Beginner players to add comments!

Comment by Matteo on Sunday

thank you david :-) i keep tryin' new ideas every couple of weeks or so :D now i'm with DDDd tuning with two melody strings and a high D and a low D as drone (befare this, tuning was DDdd but the two low D drones was too loud and one only drone was poor :-) ) for now i'm with 3 .010 steel strings and it seems good, the sound is clear and the strings are easier to strum than before, so i'm trying to be gently-ish :D
changing focus: last night, at a BIG occitan event in saorge (france) i saw and later known a guy who plays and BUILDS nickelharpas O.o he was so kind to show me his instrument and explain to me all about the nickelharpa really a beautiful instrument!

Comment by David Lynch on Sunday

Matteo, re breaking strings:  You have already been given good advise from Strumelia and Marsha but I want to add a couple of comments also.  I am assuming that you are still working with the student model you brought from me so these comments are based on that.

First thing I want to point out is that the brass coated string you mentioned is not going to be as strong as a plain steel string of the same size so that may be part of your problem.  That is because the brass coating is included in the overall thickness of the string, thus reducing the diameter of the inner steel core.  So if you go back to plain steel strings you will solve some of your breakage problems.

In regards to what size to use I would suggest going to .  Please note that the calculator is going to give you a "Light" size.  That is, whatever size it shows will provide a very light feel to the string.  If you want you can easily go up one, maybe two sizes......say from a .010 to either a .011 or a .012.  Also note that it works only for plain steel strings.....wound strings are different.

Also, if you want, let me know what tuning you are thinking of using and I will let you know what sizes I would put on if it was on my shop table.

Comment by Marsha Elliott on September 8, 2014 at 6:57am


Concerning your breaking strings..... one of my teachers along the way told me that you should always have a string vibrating as you tighten it. Thus strumming on the string as you tune. I hope this might be as helpful to you as it was to me.

Comment by Rev. Wayne McAllister on September 7, 2014 at 2:13pm




Comment by Strumelia on September 7, 2014 at 12:34pm

Hi Rev,

Your questoin is likely to produce a lot of answers and recommendations, so I'm going to suggest you pose it in our Dulcimer resources Forum instead of on the Beginner Group's mere comment wall here.  Go here in our Forums:

and look for the "+Add button to add your new discussion thread there, and put a descriptive title, like "Looking for book/cd recommendations".  If you do that you'll get lots of great suggestions, and not just from other beginners- plus a whole lot easier then for you to keep track of and respond to people's helpful posts to you there on your subject.  Otherwise, if you try to continue a disucssion here on a group Comment Wall, it just gets mixed in with comments on all subjects, and you'll never be able to find your info again later...not will anyone else looking for the same answers you are seeking.  Hope this helps!  For all members- it's exciting and helpful to explore our Forums section in addition to this beginner Group, because the subject matters are better organized and easier to find in the various forums.

Comment by Rev. Wayne McAllister on September 7, 2014 at 12:10pm

Good Morning on this BEAUTIFUL & COOL Sunday (from Louisville, KY).

I am a recent (one year now) player - still learning

I recently purchased a Shelly Stevens "Stephen Foster Mountain Dulcimer" book/tablature & play along cd. My wife and I have REALLY ENJOYED playing along with the cd (wife plays autoharp). This has help me a great deal when playing solo, either with printed tabs OR free style.

Question - I would love to find other/similar book(tab)/cd combinations ESPECIALLY CHRISTMAS music (but not limited to Christmas). Can't seem to find any through surfing the net. Any help would be great.



Comment by Matteo on September 7, 2014 at 12:09pm

strumelia, thanks a lot! you din't confused me, au contraire :-)
i wasn't looking at the problem the right way :-(

so, i better try .010 strings soon and keep the .014 for next my experiments :-)

(right now it's tuned AA/Ad and it's a very peculiar sound, maybe i will keep it this way for a little...and then restringing and retuning...
uffffffffff, now i'm starting to understand why i will NEED more dulcimer soon :D)

Comment by Strumelia on September 7, 2014 at 11:50am

Matteo, the heavier the gauge of the string when tuning to the same note, the tighter the tension will be.  A .014 string when tuned to the usual high d for a melody string will be at much tighter tension than say a .010 string tuned to the same note.  Thus, even though one might think a thicker string would less likely break, it will be under higher tension than a thinner string tuned to the same note.  If your .012 strings are breaking often when tuned to your high d note, i would recommend trying a couple of .010 strings rather than trying .014 strings there.   On a typical dulcimer, .014 strings would more likely be used for the middle string tuned to the "A" note below the melody string high d's.

Keep in mind that when you have a very thick string, like your low bass string, if you were to try and tune it up to the same high note as your thin melody string, it would surely break because the tension would be just too tight.  A string can only be so tight before it breaks.  It will also put more tension on your instrument to have heavier strings and tune them up high...not recommended for delicate antique instruments. 

Thinner strings will always feel more relaxed and less tight to play on...but there is a limit to that extreme as well-  you can pout on a string that will be soooo thin that it would be more likely to break simply due to its thin-ness.  I found that to start happening when I tried out .009 strings, so I went back to .010 strings on my melody strings.  Hope this helps and is not merely more confusing.

Comment by Matteo on September 7, 2014 at 11:36am

hi people! a little help needed here...

i'm sure it's a silly question, anyway: i broken 2 .012 steel strings in less than 2 weeks (now i'm trying 2 melody strings in D and 2 drones D and D, i thought: maybe i strum too much, so yesterday i've bought 3 .014 d'addario strings
now, i've just mounted the new strings, and tuned A they seems already "stiff" enough... i fear i will broke these strings too just tuning them :-(
the silly question is: a .014 brass-plated steel string is good for a D tuning, or i will broke them?


Comment by Dusty Turtle on September 5, 2014 at 3:27am

You can learn to play the dulcimer in 5 minutes and spend the rest of your life trying to master it!  Amish Ed, we all have a tendency to blabber on too much.  Put the dulcimer on your lap, fret a string or two and strum.


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Visit Strumelia's Beginner Noter-Drone dulcimer Blog

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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