Harmonizing Scales

I was looking back at the newsletters I published in early 2014, and in revisiting all the descending scales and modes, I got a good batch of new ideas. What inspired me most was working slowly and methodically with block chord shapes. These are moving along very slowly: I mostly keep them at the half-note level and take my time — letting them ring out nice and long.

Here is one version of the descending D Major (while I’m tuned in DAD):

DA/C#G/BD/AGD/F#A/ED
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Adding Minor Triads:

DF#m/C#G/BD/AEm/GD/F#A/ED
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DA/C#G/BF#m/AEm/GBm/F#A/ED
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Fun With Six-Tone Minor Scales!

When October finally rolls around, I usually make a bunch of jams and loose compositions with minor modes and scales. This year I’m going to go into a little more in depth about why this is so cool, and why removing notes or scale resources actually gives you more freedom to improvise and compose intelligent melodies around a simple, repeating chord progression.

In this case our chord progression is mostly Em – D – Em – D — except the end which usually goes Em-Bm – Em (or Em-B5 – Em, which just means that you have no 3rd in your Bm chord: just a Root and 5th – for instance when you do a barre chord on the 5th fret). So the chord pattern is very hypnotic and easy to remember if you play it over a few times. To create more interest and “directionality” I usually move these chords with a descending bass line:

|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-B5 |Em |

or:|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-Bm/D |Em |

If you’re not familiar with these “slash chords” — it is a great system of showing a chord progression AND a bass line at the same time. Its not hard to understand this system if you can get a few things solidly implanted in your brain:

  1. If you see a chord with no slash, like the first two measures: these chords are in “root position” as the bass note is the root or name of the chord.
  2. If you see a chord with a slash and a note after the slash, like Em/B: this means “play an E minor chord with B in the bass”

So to read the descending bass line then, you would just say to yourself: “E down to D down to B, down to A, then G down to F#, and E up to B (1st fret middle string) — and finishing on low E” — or in fret numbers mostly on the bass string:

|–8–|–7–|–5–|–4–|–3–|–2–|–1-0–|–1–:||

This one uses the second progression with the Bm/D instead of the B5 chord.

If you have a keyboard instrument like a piano, organ, or synth, why not try this out and see if you can come up with some ideas. (NOTE: I have no piano chops at all….I barely got through keyboard harmony class before I entered Ohio State as a music major. But keyboard work always gives me another window into what might happen on the dulcimer or the guitar, and besides, if you have a piano handy, your left hand can play such nice low bass notes!!!)

In 2017, I did some lessons at Patreon on this stuff, and for the November lessons I will soon add some new melodic ideas, and even some basic two-part counterpoint for the Intermediate level.

Here are the pdf files from 2017:

Thanks for reading and trying stuff!

D – A7 – Bm – G chord charts

I’ve been doing this kind of chord reference chart for the mountain dulcimer since about 1975, and I’m still trying to figure out the best way to render them on the web:

Light_Into_Darkness_Charts_3

These charts go along with a little composition project we’re doing currently. I asked my newsletter subscribers if anyone wanted to do their own version of my Light Into Darkness and Tapping at the Edge of Paradise compositions, and there was a very healthy response. So here are the reference charts in the order that you play the chords.

Axis of Awesome!

Four Chords for a mess of pop songs!

This Aussie comedy act is really amazing. Butch Ross told me about them in 2007 or 2008, when I was obsessed with my little four chord circular progression D – A – Bm – G… that I used for Light Into Darkness, Tapping at the Edge of Paradise, and Tapping Into The Light on electric dulcimer. I just found more and more melodies that went with these chords – and bass lines with chord inversions to make it WAY more interesting.

Now in 2017 it seems like new ideas are again coming forward when I mess with these chords. I even have a more detailed version now, with sub-cycles of chords on each of the four main chords.

Most of the work I’ve done directly on the mountain dulcimer, but its fun with guitar, keyboard (which I can barely play!), or whatever chording instrument is nearby.

So even if the mountain dulcimer is your main instrument, why not play around on a piano or little electronic keyboard and see what happens? I usually resort to the white keys when I work with keyboard, so in C you have: C – G – Am – F. Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!!

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: