April 30, 2017

Tuning Hack for Scroll-Headed Dulcimer

by Steve Eulberg

The Snark™ tuner is very popular with mountain dulcimer players, for good reason.  It is quick, accessible, accurate and it’s display is very readable.

(This is not an insignificant feature as those of us who continue gathering service stripes in the playing of our dulcimers experience with eyesight that gets weary over time!)

IMG_2445And the handy clip-on feature works very well with flathead mountain dulcimers.

However, players of instruments with the traditional scroll have sometimes struggled with how to attach the tuning clip to the dulcimer so that it can “read” the vibrations and convert them into electricity which then displays how close our vibrating strings are to the desired pitch.

Therefore, when one of my students whose dulcimer has a beautiful, traditional scrollhead showed up for her lesson displaying the tuning hack here, I was delighted and decided I needed to share it right away!

IMG_2444By using her capo on the scroll, she had a location on which to clip her tuner that picked up the vibrations directly and accurately!

She clipped on tuned up and was ready for her lesson in no time!

(This is all the more important, because dulcimers players have taken and adhere to the dulcimer pledge which commits them to the joys of playing their instruments in many different tunings!)

Steve Eulberg's Poetry and Writing Blog 2016-08-06 06:10:00

Here is another poem I've found for you.

I was the musician for a marvelous event near Earth Day at the Gallery at HerChurch in San Francisco.

This was a poetry reading by the poets of San Francisco Peace and Hope.  

It was published in their Literary journal devoted to poetry and art.  (4th Issue)

Out of Temper Out of Tune

Out of Temper, Out of Tune
Piano's out of temper, piano's out of tune.
She clangs instead of sings, I don't want to play with her.
Mister Tuner, his black leather bag,
long strips of red felt, dampers and fork,
will bring us together again.

He starts in the middle, tempers the octave
expands the fourths, contracts the fifths,
like a crossword puzzle of cheating tones
so the highs and the lows will blend with the middles
when he's done.

He seems to bang the keys, not musical at all,
and in his other hand, a funny lovely wrench,
rosewood handle, cranks the pins a tiny bit
tight, a little too tight, a tiny bit looser.
I don't know what it is he hears.

Eighty eight keys, two hundred twenty two strings,
all needing to vibrate at their own perfect speed
so the bad temper will sweeten again to beauty.
In the end it does, and it makes me wonder,
isn't there such a craftsman
for our human relations?

Someone who knows exactly how far
to tweak each of us
to render the whole chord of us
from cacophony to harmony?
Someone who hears in each string of us
Our potential for resonance?

-Jan Dederick

Mission: Take the Dulcimer Pledge

by Steve Eulberg

I have a mission: I am seeking to equip, support, challenge and encourage musicians who play dulcimer.

As I teach across the US in clubs, festivals and workshops, I ask my mountain dulcimer students to raise their right hands and take this pledge.

So, stop whatever you are doing right now, raise your right hand and take this pledge with me. I will make a difference in your life!

Benefits and Limitations of Different Tunings on Mountain Dulcimer? Part 1

Epinette scroll head

by Steve Eulberg

So how does one choose between the benefits and the limitations of different tunings when playing mountain dulcimer?  To me the most important factors in this decision are:


1)  What kind of dulcimer do I have?  Is it “traditional” (with no extra frets like 6-1/2 or 1-1/2)?


2)  What kind of music do I want to play?


3)  In what style do I want to play this music?  Do I want to play in the traditional noter or drone style?  Do I want to play back-up chords?  Do I want to play Chord-Melody Style?


In this post we’ll examine just the first of these factors.  What kind of dulcimer do I have?



If your dulcimer is a “traditional” one….

…with no extra frets, then you’ll need to use and play in different tunings in order to play the songs you want to play.  The typical major key songs will require the 1-5-5 (often D-A-A) tuning for which the Ionian scale starts at fret 3.  Typical minor key songs will require the 1-5-b7 (often D-A-C) tuning for which the Aeolian scale starts at fret 1.  Mountain minor songs will require the 1-5-4 (often D-A-G) tuning for which the Dorian scale starts at fret 4.  Mixolydian tunes like Old Joe Clark will require the 1-5-8 (often D-A-d) tuning for which the Mixolyidan scale starts at fret 0.


If your dulcimer has a 6-1/2 fret…

…you have the option of getting two different modal possibilities from each tuning.  For some people this is a big benefit because it means less retuning, but then remembering when to use or avoid the 6 or 6-1/2 fret.

Here are the 4 most common tunings that produce the widest modal variety on your mountain dulcimer:


If you tune 1-5-8 (often D-A-d) you can play Mixolydian of D (without 6-1/2) OR Ionian of D (with 6-1/2) without re-tuning by starting at the zero (0) fret and playing to the 7th fret.


If you tune 1-5-b7 (often D-A-C) you can play Aeolian of D (without 6-1/2) OR Dorian of D (with 6-1/2) without re-tuning by starting at the 1st fret and playing to the 8th fret.


If you tune 1-5-5 (often D-A-A) you can play Ionian of D (without 6-1/2) or Lydian of D (with 6-1/2)  without retuning by starting at the 3rd fret and playing to the 10th fret.


If you tune 1-5-4 (often D-A-G) you can play Dorian of D (without 6-1/2) or Mixolydian of D (with 6-1/2) without retuning by starting at the 4th fret and playing to the 11th fret.


(For reference, here are some tunes that belong to the different modes:
Ionian:  Joy to the world, Barlow Knife,
Mixolydian:  Old Joe Clark, Banish Misfortune, Sandy Boys
Aeolian:  God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Dorian:  Drunken Sailor, Scarborough Faire


Which other tunes can you name?  Please comment below.


What other benefits and/or limitation of different tunings can you name?  Please comment below.