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hello everyone, i have just joinedthe fingerpicking group. I am ready to start learning some fingerpicking soon but i really love the tone of a bass dulcimer for slower tunes and was wondering if fingerpicking works out the same on a bass as on a standard dulcimer?.. Also, would i be able to use Sue Carpenter's book and dvd to learn fingerpicking on a bass? I want to play Irish airs, hyms and old classics like Amazing Grace and Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

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Janita Baker is the queen of fingerpicking on the bass! I just got lot vel in listening to her play at the New Mexico Dulcimer Festival last weekend. Just go for it and report back! Steve Eulberg

Hi Helen,

(I'm new to the group, also!  Welcome!)  I don't own a bass, but have used other players' bass for ensemble playing.  Bob and Janita Baker (Blue Lion Dulcimers and Guitars) say they developed it more for ensemble playing, but it also works in solo situations.  You may already have Janita's 'Solace' CD (1993) showcasing fine examples of playing slower tunes with the bass as a solo instrument.  She beautifully fingerpicks each one, so yes, it will work.  She plays 'Cry Me a River', Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, 'When You Wish Upon a Star', the Beatle's 'Yesterday', 'Clair de Lune' and 'Stormy Weather' all on a solo bass.

Yes, fingerpicking works the same on bass and you can use Sue's great book.  You are just one octave lower so much is the same, such as frets and chords.  The main difference I found is that the thickness of string diameter is much heavier, making a notable difference in how you have to strike the string making it vibrate fast enough to get a clean sound.  Instead of a 012, .014, .024 gauge range you will need good finger strength to pluck wound bass strings of around .026, .042, .056. 

I personally haven't developed a yearning for the sound of bass dulcimer as solo, there seems to always be an acoustic stand-up bass player around so developed an ear for the 'real thing'.  But I do love the bass dulcimer as a different voicing in ensembles, supporting a treble melody by providing a running bass line.  It can be effective as a counter melody line or a harmony line in that lower register.  Be creative with it and enjoy!



Helen, as Gwen has explained, a bass dulcimer is usually tuned one octave below a standard dulcimer, so you can use the same tablature.  However, the strings are significantly heavier and might make some fingerpicking more difficult.

More common than bass dulcimers are baritone dulcimers.  And lots of folk fingerpick those, including not only Blue Lion's Janita Baker, but FOTMD's Nina Zanetti. In fact, Nina has uploaded to the FOTMD audio player a beautiful version of "Give Me Jesus" which you can also find on her latest CD. 

Baritone dulciers are tuned a 4th or 5th below a standard dulcimer, so they are in a different key. That means that you can't use the same tablature and play with other dulcimer players, but if you are playing solo and tune to the same intervals, you can use the same tab. If you have tab for a DAd dulcimer, for example, you can play your baritone tuned GCg or AEa and you will sound great. Baritone dulcimers have heavier strings than standard dulcimers, but they are not as heavy as bass dulcimers.

Thank you guys that is very helpful. Boy those bass strings are big! Darn it, I dont think my small ageing fingers could cope with them. I better go listen to some baritone soundfiles and see if they will please my ear. (But hey, Its a dulcimer....of course I will like it). Thanks for explaining how the tuning works on each. That helps heaps.
I dont suppose you can pick out a fingerpicking style tune using a pick?

Helen, I assume you are referring to a flatpick and not fingerpicks here, and the answer is  yes, but . . .

Some forms of picking, such as the pinch pick where your thumb hits the melody string at the same time that another finger (usually the middle finger) hits the bass string, cannot be done with a flatpick.

Before I began fingerpicking I learned Nina Zanetti's arrangement of "Annie Laurie" with a flatpick. You can dig it out of YouTube or my homepage here if you wish, but I am not too proud of it now so I don't want to link to it.  There are also some other tunes that I usually fingerpick but sometimes play in a crosspicking manner with a flatpick.

Personally, I use a flatpick for fiddle tunes and for other chorded stuff that involves lots of strumming. But for slower ballads and hymns I prefer fingerpicking. Each technique is appropriate for different styles of playing.

Helen Seiler said:

I dont suppose you can pick out a fingerpicking style tune using a pick?

Sure you can!  It is a great technique called 'flat picking', using your plastic pick (make sure it is a heavy enough plastic).  Bluegrassers I play with use it a lot when it is their turn to play the melody in a break, while other players play backup chords.  A version you might come across is called 'cross picking'.  I think the best effect is combining flatpicking/crosspicking with strumming to get the best dynamics of the tune. Often beginning fingerpickers get into the mindset of 'pattern picking', which becomes monotonous and can swallow up your melody.  I used to do that on banjo because it sounded good on five strings, but I had to work hard to not do that on dulcimer.



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