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Someone please explain - in words of one syllable - how it is possible that DGd (1-4-8) tuning can conceivably be called an Ionian tuning.  Why is it not called a Lowered Mixolydian tuning?

Ionian Modal tunings, by definition are 1-5-5 tunings -- with the melody and middle drone string the same note from the same octave; not 1-4-8 tunings with two equivalent notes from different octaves.  Having the bass and melody strings tuned an octave apart is a characteristic of Mixolydian modal tunings, not Ionian.

The fact that you can play a G scale from the third fret does not make the keynote of the instrument G.  Neither does having a G on the middle string.  By definition, according to everything I've read on the subject over the past 30+ years,  the Keynote of the dulcimer is the note to which the Bass string is tuned, not some other arbitrary string.

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Replies to This Discussion

Lisa - respectfully, DGd can't be a 5-1-5 tuning, because the bass and melody Ds are an octave apart, just as they are in 1-5-8 DAd...
I think I see what you're saying. The "5-1-5" designation is technically correct only if both outer strings are tuned to the fifth ABOVE the scale base note on the middle string.

Probably a more accurate representation might be "5,-1-5", or something similar, to indicate that the low string is tuned to the fifth BELOW the scale base note on the middle string.



Ken Hulme said:
Lisa - respectfully, DGd can't be a 5-1-5 tuning, because the bass and melody Ds are an octave apart, just as they are in 1-5-8 DAd...
5-1-12 then ?
Or 5-1-5' ?
I'd have to go with Ken on that one, it's 1-4-8. The tonic is not the open bass string, but the numbering agrees with mine. I always see the open bass drone as 1, and number up from there, when tuning (of course when tabbing the first fret is 1, which may confuse some.)


Strumelia said:
5-1-12 then ?
Or 5-1-5' ?
Even though I have a 6+ fret and a DAd string set, and play both chord and drone style, I still prefer re-tuning to capoing and use the modal designations to describe the tuning. For example:

DAd = D Mixolydian tuning (even though the 6+ fret allows you to play Ionian mode)
DGd = G (reverse) Ionian tuning (even though the 6+ fret allows you to play Lydian mode)
DAc = D Aeolian tuning (even though the 6+ fret allows you to play Dorian mode)
DGc = G (reverse) Dorian tuning (even though the 6+ fret allows you to play Mixolydian mode)

But just because you are tuned to a certain mode doesn't mean you can't play outside of that mode.

Clear as mud?

Cheers,
Jim
Mmmm.........

I would say that the numbers should be relative to the root or tonic note of the scale on the melody string. So using 1-4-8 would define DGd as being in the key of the bass string (D), which it isn't. 5-1-5 is a more accurate and useful way of describing DGd (and other tunings using those intervals) because the tonic note is at the 3rd fret of the melody string. Personally, I think that 1-5-8 for DAd is a little confusing as there are only 7 notes in the scale, so 1-5-1 would be more accurate - the 1 depicting the tonic note which is on the open melody string.

And here we come to the key point (excuse the pun!), which is that the tuning description should relate to the mode and key of the piece of music you are about to play, not necessarily the notes you have your strings tuned to. For example, it would be useful to describe Galax tuning as 5-5-5-5 (d,d,d,d) when the piece to be played is in the key of G ionian and yet describe exactly the same tuning as 1-1-1-1 (d,d,d,d) when playing a piece in mixolidian (or an ionian tune that misses the 7th as so many old fiddle tunes do). For example, I play "Shove the Pigs Foot a little further into the Fire" in 5-5-5-5 tuning and "Soldiers Joy" in 1-1-1-1 tuning yet in both cases my dulcimer is tuned d,d,d,d. Those two different tuning descriptions define where the root note is on the melody string.

I think that always starting with the bass string always being "1" would not be correct or useful to the player in terms of a practical descriptor of a tuning. Perhaps the numbering is more usefully defined in relation to the root note on the melody string and the key and mode of the piece to be played.

This system of numbering according to the root note on the melody string works accurately for any tuning. Eg DAc would be 1-5-7 with the root note being at the 1st fret on the melody string and that root is reflected in the bass drone. EAd would be 5-1-4 with the root note being at the 4th fret on the melody string and that is reflected in the middle drone. DAA is 1-5-5 with the root note being at the 3rd fret on the melody string and that being reflected in the bass drone etc.

I think it is far more useful and accurate to think of tuning intervals in relation to the tonic note on the melody string. Just my thoughts on the matter!

Robin



B. Ross Ashley said:
I'd have to go with Ken on that one, it's 1-4-8. The tonic is not the open bass string, but the numbering agrees with mine. I always see the open bass drone as 1, and number up from there, when tuning (of course when tabbing the first fret is 1, which may confuse some.)


Strumelia said:
5-1-12 then ?
Or 5-1-5' ?

   Ken said: "Someone please explain - in words of one syllable - how it is possible that DGd (1-4-8) tuning can conceivably be called an Ionian tuning.Why is it not called a Lowered Mixolydian tuning?"
   The rules on this are ex treme ly un fair, ar bi trar y and cap ric i ous. And it seems that no one, even Ken, is foll ow ing them. Each of you has used words of more than one syll a ble, e ven Ken's or ig in al post!

Y'all play nice. Don't make me come up there.

   When the notes of a chord are written out in a music score, the root is at the bottom, the 3rd above, and the 5th on top. Altered chords will place additional notes, such as  above the 5th, such as 7th, 9th, 11th,13th. in ascending order. This is known as the "root position."

The composer or arranger may decide not to place them in this order. They may choose to place the notes at different locations. These are called "inversions." Inversions may place the root at the middle or top of the chord. There are reasons for doing this, some are musically better, some merely suit the tastes  of the composer/arranger. Placing the root on the middle string of the dulcimer is exactly that- an inversion of the chord. In the case sited above, the root is G, but it is placed above the 5th, D. When people sing in harmony, this happens a lot. If the sopranos are singing the melody note, and it happens to be the root of the chord, the altos, tenors etc have to leave the root alone, and harmonize it. In most cases, only the altos will have a chance of harmonizing above the sopranos, and in many cases, the altos won't be able to do so,either. This leaves them all singing "above" the root melody, but in a lower octave. When horn parts are written, this is used here as well. Since horns can only play one note at a time, chords are formed by multiple horns each playing part of the chord. The tuba is at the bottom, but the arranger may not wish them to always play the root. Trombones, trumpets and the woodwinds cannot reach below the tuba, so the harmonize "below", the tuba,but in a higher octave.

   5-1-12 makes sense. Perhaps we should refer to new modes that way. I can't quite recall where the term New Modes came from, but I believe it was Neal Hellman's book of Richard Farina's songs. I need to get into the archives (basement) and locate that book. It also may have been Force & d’Ossche's book, In Search Of The Wild Dulcimer. I had that out of the library many years ago. Here's a link to Robert Force's web site, where the book is available for  online use. http://robertforce.com/   The idea of new modes was to give us choices for other tunings within the limits of what our strings require and/or will bear in tension.

   I am not articulate enough to explain all that with one syllable words. I hope this is not too confusing.

Paul


Good Question, Erin:

 

1)  I believe the reason that the tunings were named after modes is that before extra (1/2) frets and before frets that spanned the entire fretboard, when one was tuned to a 1-5-5 (and it was not usually D!) tuning, the Ionian mode (from frets 3-10) is the only one that makes sense with the drone strings.   When tuned 1-5-8, the Mixolydian mode is the only one that makes sense with the drone strings.  When tuned 1-5-b7, Aeolian is the one where the drones line up; and 1-5-4 is the one where the drones line up for Dorian.

 

The other reason is that the modal "nicknames" for tunings was useful before "D" was the ruling keynote.  It was more helpful when describing tunes to each other than saying, "Well you can play this in any 1-5-5- tuning, but I prefer Bb-F-F- for my voice, but my other dulcimer sounds better in E-B-B...."

 

With these full-sized frets and half-frets, there are more places to get those "odd" notes than on the melody string(s). So the modal nicknames for tunings is obsolete and now can be misleading.

 

But it did make more sense at one time.

 


Erin Rogers said:


I'll be honest, I've never completely understood why all the tunings were named after modes. In reality, you can play several different modes out of any given tuning. It has made the understanding of what modes actually are more complicated, at least for me. I hope this explanation helps at least a little bit. If you have more questions, I'll do some more research and see what else I can find.

The modal names may have come from a lack of music theory education. The truth is there are no modal tunings, it's the song that uses a particular mode. The tuning can have a different mode on each string. Consider the DAC tuning. If we relate each string to it's mode of the key of D, the bass string is tuned to the mixolydian mode, middle is tuned to the ionian mode, and the melody string is tuned to the aeolian mode. If we only pluck the melody we want on the string that is in the correct mode, and leave the other strings silent, we can play all three modes in this tuning. We can't play drones with all three, but in a lot of cases we can play chords for all three modes. Our D string also gives us the ionian mode of G, the C string also gives the mix of C, the A gives us the Mix of A, etc. We tend to think of DAC as an aeolian mode of D, but it can be so much more, if we get that concept out of our heads. As Steve said, it's obsolete and misleading. Dare I say "outmoded?" 

 WARNING! BANJO CONTENT!

Lest my fellow banjo players feel left out, the common G modal banjo tuning, gDGCD, is also a misnomer. It gives a tuning which is not in a particular mode, but is most useful for songs in the key of G,in mix, aeolian or dorian modes. It can also be used for G ionian, but I seldom see discussions of banjo playing that actually discuss modes. The real difference here is that the banjo is chromatic, so almost any tuning can be made to work for almost any song, in almost any key/mode. Some tunings are better for certain keys or modes, due to the mood they suggest. No banjo tuning is referred to as a specific mode, either, though there are minor tunings.The concept of banjo tunings is very different than the same discussion on a diatonic instrument.

I suspect that it was simply a lack of really understanding modes that lead to the names being applied to the dulcimer tunings, and at least to the G modal banjo tuning.

Paul

"The tuning can have a different mode on each string. Consider the DAC tuning. If we relate each string to it's mode of the key of D, the bass string is tuned to the mixolydian mode, middle is tuned to the ionian mode, and the melody string is tuned to the aeolian mode."

 

You can't consider the middle and bass strings as having frets when discussing modes on the mountain dulcimer - it misses the point entirely.  The mode is set by the relationship between the melody string and the drones and where that relationship leads the scale to lay on the diatonic frets under the melody strings.  The key is set by the notes that the strings are tuned to.

 

"We tend to think of DAC as an aeolian mode of D, but it can be so much more, if we get that concept out of our heads. As Steve said, it's obsolete and misleading. Dare I say "outmoded?" "

 

You are obviously not following todays folk music and seen how tallented young musicians are studying and playing in the Celtic countries.  Modal playing is very much alive.  The next big thing in mountain dulcimer playing will be the resurgence of melody over drone playing by the young.  I don't know about the US but over here in Europe and if you cross the border into Canada trad folk is cool.  Playing chord/melody is very pretty; playing melody over drones is gritty!  And it is that back to the roots tonality that is inspiring cutting edge young folk musicians.  The MD is little known over here in Europe but it wouldn't take much for hot young musicians to adopt it - and it is likely to be trad playing styles that will attract them.

 

To play trad MD well is musically way tougher than chord/melody!

 

"Lest my fellow banjo players feel left out, the common G modal banjo tuning, gDGCD, is also a misnomer. It gives a tuning which is not in a particular mode, but is most useful for songs in the key of G,in mix, aeolian or dorian modes."

 

In folk music circles a "modal tuning" is usually regarded as a tuning without a 3rd - it is niether major or minor.  This is differernt from playing in a named "mode".

You have to consider frets under the middle and bass strings, it's a large part of dulcimer playing now, though it wasn't always. Like 'em or not, full width frets are here to stay. The more inquisitive players will find ways to use them. And those who wish to learn will experiment with the different mode on each string. That's what you get with a 135 tuning, also.

I did not mean that modal playing was outdated, just the idea that a certain tuning could only be used in one mode. It's the thinking that is obsolete, not the tuning. There is so much that can be done with a tuning if we don't let the inaccurate thinking stop us from exploring. A true diatonic dulcimer is capable of a great deal more than we sometimes think of. 

A number of dulcimer players in our area are stuck in DAD. They use the 6+ fret to play ionian tunes, the 6 fret for mix, and cringe at the thought of tuning or playing in other modes. I am only trying to encourage more thoughtful playing, and exploring of more than one or two tunings.

As to the banjo tuning, I understand that it is lacking the 3rd. My point was that it was given an erroneous name, most likely due to lack of music theory knowledge back in an earlier era. It plays multiple modes, due to the chromatic fret pattern of the banjo. It is not a specific mode, it's still chromatic. What I was trying to do was give a possible answer to the question above, which was about how the tunings got their names as relating to certain modes. I am definitely not trying to insult or ignore players from Europe, or Canada.Literal names for modes are not always accurate, consider the other common name for the tuning known as G modal: Sawmill. I have no clue where this one came from, though discussions on The Banjo Hangout have unsuccessfully attempted to unearth a player with the answer.

Paul

You have to consider frets under the middle and bass strings, it's a large part of dulcimer playing now, though it wasn't always. Like 'em or not, full width frets are here to stay. The more inquisitive players will find ways to use them. And those who wish to learn will experiment with the different mode on each string. That's what you get with a 135 tuning, also.

I did not mean that modal playing was outdated, just the idea that a certain tuning could only be used in one mode. It's the thinking that is obsolete, not the tuning. There is so much that can be done with a tuning if we don't let the inaccurate thinking stop us from exploring. A true diatonic dulcimer is capable of a great deal more than we sometimes think of. 

 

You miss my point Paul.  When mountain dulcimer players talk of playing modally and refer to modes the semantics are linked to a style of tuning and playing.  And that is defined by the relationship between the melody string and the drones.  Yes, you can play different modes on different strings (although in different keys!) if you tune 1-3-5.  Actually, if you look at your strings individually - you can play every classical mode on every string!!!!!!  But that is not the point.  Playing a mountain dulcimer in modes refers to a style of tuning and playing.  And that style involves working the instrument melody over drones.  It is like the difference between bluegrass banjo style and old time banjo style.  The instrument is capable of both but the style is defined by the name.  Turn up to an old time jam and start fast picking and you'll be....well, I'm sure you can imagine!

 

Of course full width frets are here to stay, and the mountain dulcimer is hugely versatile.  I regularly play chord melody style and make use of fretting all the strings and moving keys within one tuning, and using capos.  But if we refer to modes on our instrument then we are refering to classical traditional playing styles.  The use of the term "modes" as opposed to "keys" for trad playing helps differentiate the very different tuning techniques.  For chord melody we refer to keys as it makes more sense.

 

Ken's original question was about semantics.  And with semantics we (the users of the terms within our niche) are the ones who set the protocols.  And we need to discuss what those protocols are so that we all sing off the same songsheet

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