Harmonized Scales and Modes

I have learned SO MUCH from harmonizing the descending form of the major scale, the aeolian mode, the dorian mode, and the mixolydian mode. In the DAD tuning, I start with the D Major Scale up at the 7th fret of the bass string, and move down the fingerboard to 6+, then 5–4–3–2–1–0. The basic idea is to build a chord on each bass note, using mostly the primary triads (D, G, and A or I, IV, and V). I usually like to put Em in place of the G the second time around. to give things a touch of color and to add a little variety.

Here is a 2-page pdf in waltz time with two measures on each chord. The first 16 bars of each exercise has block position chords, and the arpeggios follow below. You can make up your own arpeggios for this as well: be creative!! .

QuaranTUNE 7.0 is OPEN for Registration!!!


Here are the three workshops I’ll be offering:

Peaceful Irish Airs and Lullabies (Level 3)

Friday Session 1 (9-10AM EDT)

Get totally enchanted with these slow, meditative airs from Ireland. “Báidín Fheilimí” (“Phelim’s Boat”) is a 3/4 time lullaby that we’ll be doing in a simple, sparse arrangement using a lot of open strings. “Eibhlí Gheal Chiúin Ní Chearbhaill” (“The Fair and Charming Eileen O’Carroll”) is much more mesmerizing and circular.

Soothing and Magical Chord Progressions (2 hour session) (Level 4)

Friday Session 4 (12:45-2:45PM EDT)

In this workshop, you’ll learn some soothing and magical chord progressions that are easy to play and fun. Most have only four chords and they are addictive! You’ll also learn a few of my original melodies that go with them. In the last part, we’ll explore some longer chord progressions that you can use for your own melodies, and we’ll add chords to some descending scales and modes.

Freeing Up Your Playing With Pentatonics (Level 4)

Saturday Session 4 (12:45-1:45)

The ancient 5-tone Major Pentatonic Scale is a great way to jump-start your improvising. You’ll learn how to flatpick this scale, and then we’ll apply it to the main chords you know. You’ll see that there aren’t any “wrong notes” when you play the pentatonics over simple chord progressions. Finally, using the examples of some original pentatonic tunes of mine, you’ll get some insights into building your own pentatonic tunes.

These classes are filling very, very fast (not only for my classes, but for the other fine instructors you may want to study with.

Learning Chords in DAD Tuning (Part 2)

In the first installment of our D Major chord exercises, we took a look at some of the most basic ways to play the D-G-D-A-D sequence of chords. This time we’ll try some ascending chord forms to give a little variety and movement to the progression.

Now you might be wondering what else you can do with these chords once you try these specific forms. I think one of the first ideas that comes to mind is the universal “Cabbage Chords” progression. Many beginning students of the dulcimer learn the chorus part to the folk song “Bile Dem Cabbage Down” before they learn any other chords:

Now these chords go by pretty quickly, and one way to make them last longer is to “stretch-out” the progression so there is twice as much time on each of the chords. (I have always called this the “Stretched Cabbage Progression”). You can also try the progression in 3/4 time as a waltz……it makes a great Country Waltz!!

Learning Chords on Your Dulcimer

There are many approaches to learning chords on your dulcimer. I like to group the main chords in the key of D together in the lower frets, then the middle frets, and then finally in the higher frets up towards the 7th fret. By playing the D, G, and A chords in this sequence:

D – G – D – A – D

…we can make a nice, musical exercise that has good voice-leading (there aren’t any awkward leaps from one chord to the next), and allows you to work on getting your left-hand fingering smooth and consistent.

So here are six different ways you can smoothly change chords through this progression:

  1. Close Voicings in the first three frets
  2. Open voicings in the first three frets
  3. Close Voicings in frets 1 –> 4
  4. Open Voicings in frets 1 –> 4
  5. Close Voicings in frets 4 –> 7
  6. Open Voicings in frets 4 –> 7

NOTE: Close voicings are the most-closely-spaced form of the chords. I really like these a lot!! They sound so subtle and graceful. Open voicings are when you have larger intervals between the chord members. When you take a glance at the interval spacing in the standard music notation above the TAB, you’ll see what I mean. The open voicings have a big, almost orchestral sound. They are what most dulcimer players grab by default….especially those who use their left-hand thumb on the melody string. With some careful arranging and efficient fingering — you can move from the close voicings gradually to the open, and then on back. Not so easy, but well worth it if you like challenges!!

QuaranTUNE 3.0 Workshops I’ll Be Teaching In February

Quarantune 3.0 is right around the corner! In this post I want to give you a little sample of some of the tablature I’ll be using for each of my workshops. There will probably be much more tablature when we do the workshop, but this will give you an idea. Here is the QuaranTUNE web site where you can get registered for classes:

QuaranTUNE Dulcimer Festival

Level 2 (Novice) – Slow Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star:

Level 3 – Simple Chord Progressions (that may be new to you):

Level 4 – Skip’s Heavenly Round:

Level 5 – Dorian, Aeolian, and Mixolydian Modes (relative to DAD, or parallel for Mixolydian, so no retuning):

I’ll be happy to provide you with more info if you need it. Please see the Contact page.