Jerry Rockwell Mountain Dulcimer Newsletter 4/15/15

One Life Study in 4/4 – Lower Part

Here is the chord progression on which I based my 2008 study:

Bm / / / | / / / / |D / / / | / / / / |G / / / |D / / / |A / / / | / / / / :||

Last time we had the upper or melody part, and this time we’ve got the lower part:

One Life Study in 4/4 – Lower Part

NOTE: last time I lowered the melody part one octave, so that it falls within the most comfortable mid-to-lower range of your DAD dulcimer. If you want to play these two parts together, I suggest trying to take the melody part one octave higher. Remember: starting at the 7th fret, your dulcimer begins again one octave higher than the open position.

Here is the music and TAB for the upper melody:

One Life Study in 4/4 Melody Part

E Minor Hexatonic Jam-A-Round

This is probably THE MOST FUN I’ve had with the Jam-A-Round concept, where you can plug-in a whole bunch of new parts just about anywhere the form begins: usually over a simple descending scale (and the chords generated by that scale).

Only this time, instead of a diatonic (7-tone) scale, we have a 6-tone minor scale without the 6th degree. It isn’t E Dorian, because it doesn’t have the Major 6th or C#, and it isn’t E Aeolian, because it doesn’t have the minor 6th or C. So we’ll just call it E Minor Hexatonic.

This time around we’ll just get a start on the reference structure, but soon we’ll be showing you some melodic parts that go with it. Here are the basic triads for this exercise:

Em / / / |D / / / |Em / / / |D / / / |Em / / / |D / / / |Em / Bm / |Em / / / :||

This progression will go great with either the descending form of the scale:

fret numbers on bass string:

8 – 7 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1-5-1

or the ascending form:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 7 – 8-5-8

For some more insights into how this mostly-two-chord stuff works, try this workout on the round Hey, Ho, Nobody Home from a post on my blog:

Ideas for Hey, Ho, Nobody Home

…..and here’s another blog post showing how the Em and D triads “interlock” in an almost mystical way: each triad bringing to the table three unique notes, magically completing the hexatonic scale:

Hexatonic Scale with Em and D Triads

As always, let me know what you think, and send me any questions you have on any of this. I am experimenting with posting back issues of this newsletter here on my blog the following Wednesday of the newsletter date, and I may also post the older ones as time permits. Your suggestions are welcome!

Happy Spring!

The Dulcimer Capo and How It Works


Dulcimer capos are interesting devices, because they work very closely with the modal nature of the mountain dulcimer’s mostly diatonic fretboard. I had an GREAT question from one of my email newsletter subscribers recently:

“I am intrigued by the notion of using a capo on my dulcimer as you mention in your recent post. As far as I can make out, this enables you to achieve  the melody scale for Dorian mode without retuning?   Isn’t that the tuning for Shady Grove and Pretty Polly?  Is there any other advantage to using a capo?  Since by using it you are raising the entire instrument by one whole step, that gives Eminor.  I’ll have to try it.”

Here is my response:

It seems to me from the depth of your questions that you truly “get it” with the capo on a dulcimer: when you are tuned DAD, you are in D Major open in (also known as D Ionian, but I’m talking about the mode across the fingerboard and NOT the DAA tuning!). If you put the capo on 1, this shifts everything up a whole step to an EBE dronal environment, and the dulcimer frets — particularly across the fingerboard — give you E dorian.
On the piano keyboard, if you play a D Major scale in the right hand and put a DAD drone in the left, you have the Ionian or major…… if you then play up the D Major scale from E to E, and put an EBE drone in your left hand, you will have an E Dorian environment on the piano analogous to what happens with the capo on the dulcimer!
Now think about what a guitar capo does. If it doesn’t create a massive migraine headache for you, you’ll notice that the chromatic frets of the guitar do NOT suggest any modal environment when you put the capo two frets up (a whole step for the guitar). Sometimes I think of the diatonic fretting as a FILTER.
The other main advantage of the capo (in a tuning like DAD), for me, is the fact that chords indigenous to the mode are everywhere, and ALL notes fit the mode!!! When you go into one of the traditional modal tunings for the dulcimer — like DAC “Aeolian” or DAG “Dorian” — your pure mode notes are to be found mostly on the melody string. The other two strings contain MANY notes borrowed from other modes. This makes it hard to do pure modal chord progressions like the ones I feature all the time.
If you have any thoughts or questions on the topic of dulcimer capos, let me hear from you:

Jerry Rockwell Mountain Dulcimer Newsletter 4/1/15

One Life 4/4 Study

Here is a great chord progression I’ve been working with for almost a decade:

Bm / / / | / / / / |D / / / | / / / / |G / / / |D / / / |A / / / | / / / / :||

I call it the “One Life” progression, but you can call it Fred or Marjorie if you want!! It is one of those extremely hypnotic, mesmerizing progressions that I can play all day and never get bored.

Over the course of time, I have written many different sorts of melodies to go with the One Life progression: waltzes, hornpipes, shuffles, bluesy jams, jigs, and more. This one, though, is a short quasi-classical study which has an upper melody part (which we’ll have this time), and a lower bass part (which we’ll probably get to soon).

Here is the music and TAB for the upper melody:

One Life Study in 4/4

If you play a little keyboard, try the melody part and see what happens (even I can play this one, and my keyboard chops are very minimal). On your dulcimer, you might try filling in the bare-bones single-string melody with a chord tone here and there–that’s why I put the chord symbols on top! Have fun with it and let me know how it works for you, OK?

The Challenge From 2 Weeks Ago

Here’s the challenge from the last newsletter: take this same progression (the Cabbage Chords) (you can put it in 4/4 time if you want), and try ascending bass lines. Did you have a chance to try this?

Happy Pickin’ – Spring is J U S T a b o u t  H E R E !