Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer

Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer


This is a modified version of my email newsletter of mountain dulcimer music lessons. I just joined the 'teachers' group here, and it made me think of these. I sent the original out to my fellow members of the Hills of Kentucky Dulcimers in January 2009. I hope you enjoy this method for learning a song. Let me know what you think. I’ve made a lot of changes to this format since I started doing these about three years ago, mostly based on input from the people using the lessons.

My aim is to teach in the oral tradition, showing you ideas so you can learn the song for yourself. Note that I'm NOT providing tab.

Since I can't talk to all of you personally, I'm providing a dulcimer demo on YouTube. The interpretation of the song is my own, and is intended for private study and education only.

The links and embeds in this blog entry include other performances, a lesson on playing the song, the basic chord structure, and a song history.


Father and Son was first released on Cat Stevens' Tea for the Tillerman album in 1970. This is really a duet, but Stevens sings it with himself, going up an octave on the two "son" verses. I bought the album in about 1972, and it has been a favorite since. The song was also the basis for one of the first real music videos, predating MTV by nearly a decade.

Here is my mountain dulcimer version. I was tuned down from D - A - d to D flat - A flat - d flat, for no particular reason that I can recall. I used the cheap little webcam built into my laptop for both picture and sound. Neither one is all that great, frankly. I should re-do this sometime with my new camera.

I probably played too fast; you might slow it down. Most good vocal versions clock at least 3:30, and mine is about 2:45 of actual playing time.

Now, we'll move on to background material and other versions of the song, before coming back to some dulcimer playing tips.

I don't read music, so the first thing I try to do in learning a new piece is to get the song in my head. Here are a few of my favorites.

In the first, a guy a few years older than me sings this as a duet with his 87 year old father. They're good, and I found this touching.

Here is one by the original artist, but recorded in 2007. One of his grandchildren is seen sleeping contentedly through the concert, emphasizing the timeless nature of the song. (Cat Stevens converted to Islam in the 70's, and only recently began singing some of his material from that era in public again).

The last performance demo is a good solid solo guitar version.

Now for an excellent lesson on playing this song.

The lesson is for guitar and in the key of G. Don't stress about that; the link for the chords is converted to D for you. Siggi and I think much alike in doing our own melody-chord arrangements, only he has a lot more talent than I do. If you play the right chord, the note for the melody line is probably in there. Or, start with the melody line and then find a form of the correct chord that includes that note.

Guitar lessons are great for figuring out the strumming pattern. Just remember that a dulcimer is strung opposite from a guitar. That is, if you hold a dulcimer up like a guitar, the bass string is closest to the floor. On a guitar, the bass string is furthest from the floor. So, if a guitar instructor demos the strum as "up, up, down," that converts to "out, out, in" on a dulcimer to get the same relative sound.

Here are the chords, already transposed from G to D:

I simplified these chords some, generally playing Em instead of Em7, etc. Not that you can't play those chords, I just like the sound better the other way.

You can hear the opening riff best on the solo guitar version from earlier. On the dulcimer, I start at the 2 0 0 D chord, then move to the 3 1 0 G. Leave you fingers there so the bass string rings, and play the middle then melody string twice to get those four notes. The same riff provides the bridge between the father and son parts of the song. (I know the 4 note riff should really be up higher on the neck, but I never could find the right frets. You may do better).

Using a few individual words from the first verse to find our place, here are the chord forms I use:

Its x x 2, then slide up to

time D 2 3 4

change A 1 0 4

relax G 0 1 3

easy Em 3 1 1

young D 0 0 2

fault Bm 0 1 2

through A 1 0 1

keep using those forms until you get to

now F#m 2 2 4

Move to the first "son" verse, and follow the same format. I moved several chords up an octave to make the melody feel right. Notice that the guitar players don't do that, instead just carrying the melody with their voice. I'd do that too, if I could sing well.

do G 3 3 5

away Em 3 4 5

same Bm 0 5 5

after 'story' A 1 0 4

You can come down to the lower register with the G chord on "ordered," or stay up until later, but you will want to work your way down to the D 2 0 0 by the last syllable of "away" for the riff at the end of the verse to flow correctly.

If somebody figures out how to play the guitar solo on a dulcimer, be sure to show the rest of us.

For those of you who obsess about a new song like I do, there are a couple of hundred more versions of the song to watch, plus this history:

The next tune I'll post is from the mid 1980's, and was suggested by my wife. Two competing cover versions of this song occupied both the #1 and #2 spots on the British pop charts two Christmases ago.

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Tags: cat, father, islam, son, stevens, yusuf


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