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Pentatonic Scales on the Mountain Dulcimer

Pentatonic just means “5 tones” !! The Major Pentatonic is a great one to get started with: it is FUN, it is HAPPY, and there’s no way of getting into trouble with “wrong notes!”

For me, pentatonics have always meant FREEDOM:

  • Freedom to Explore
  • Freedom to Improvise
  • Freedom to Try Something!

On the DAD dulcimer the five notes in the D Major Pentatonic Scale (D, E, F#, A, B) are laid out very nicely on the bass and melody strings:

fret: 0 – 1 – 2 – 4 – 5 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 11

On the middle string we have:

fret: 0 – 1 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 7 – 8 – 10 – 11 – 12

Here are some easy fingerpicking exercises to get you started going up and down the major pentatonic. If you are a flatpicker, make sure your pick direction is always alternating, even when crossing strings! Once you get the hang of it, you should make up your own exercises–these are just to get you started:

jpeg of D Major Pentatonic TAB exercisesThe first four 4-measure sections should each be played as many times as you can stand it. Take the tempo as slow as you need, making sure that the quarter-note and half-note sections breathe some and don’t feel too anxious (I always have to remind myself to take a conscious breath!)

 

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Dulcimer TAB: Ideas for Hey, Ho, Nobody Home

There are many possibilities for melodies to go over the Em – D chords that accompany the round Hey, Ho, Nobody Home. Here are some of my ideas on this with your DAD-tuned dulcimer with a capo on the first fret. The basic idea is that you go right up the basic 6-tone (or hexatonic) scale (E – F# – G – A – B – D), and then come right back down. You can go up to the 5th of the Em chord (B) and then come down if you want, and then you can decorate these bare-bones lines a little bit. This is basically how the TAB is set up, but try to use your imagination, remembering that two beats on Em – then two beats on D —- this is the basic reference structure.  (this could be played on any instrument that plays chords, or on another dulcimer, but for our purposes here, it is a silent little structure that runs in the background)

dulcimer tab for getting through Em - D chords

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Hexatonic Scale with Em and D Triads

I found a very interesting way to build a hexatonic (or 6-tone) scale using just two adjacent triads, with no overlapping notes or common tones. Here is the diagram of the six tones from low to high, and a diagram showing how the two triads are complementary and how they are interlocked:

Diagram of D and Em Triads complementing each other to form a hexatonic scale
Diagram of D and Em Triads complementing each other to form a hexatonic scale

The dulcimer TAB below the notes is for DAD tuning, and the important thing here is to see the 7 – 5 – 4 of the D, and then the 8 – 6 – 5 of the Em. Each triad adds three essential ingredients to the hexatonic scale: there is no overlap. I’ve been using this scale referenced to Em as the tonic chord, so we have: the notes E (Root) – F# (2) – G (b3) – A (4) – B (5) – D (b7).

So for the great round Hey, Ho, Nobody Home–which does an endless cycle of Em / D / –this scale works wonders going consecutively down or up, and in many patterns that can be sequenced over the repeating chords.

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Just Starting Work Here

I’m just getting started now with a mountain dulcimer oriented blog After some research and reading of some other blogs (as well as reading the excellent WordPress the missing manual, by Matthew MacDonald, I have decided to make a kind of “blog-in-progress” and let the structure and categories gradually sort themselves out.

We’ll see what happens with this. In the meantime, you may want to check out my main web site:

http://www.jcrmusic.com

As time goes on, I’ll try to share lots of stuff about mountain dulcimers and dulcimer music with you. Thanks for reading!

Jerry

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Second Edit of Half-Note Guide Tones on rs7

rs7_hngt2

Here is the second version of my 3-page, 96 measure set of half-note guide tones on my rs7 or “OneLife” progression. Measures 33-64 — the whole of page 2 — are my favorites for composing out the structure into a jaunty hornpipe-ish kind of thing. The rest of the modifications on pages 1 and 3 just fixed some of the glaring problems with flow and direction.

I’m making some real headway right now, so I should have something soon that actually sounds like a tune!

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half-note guide-tones

rs7_hngt11

Here are 96 measures of half-note guide tones around my rs7 (OneLife) progression. They won’t sound like much if played exactly as written, but if you use your imagination, you can fill in on the quarter and eighth-note levels. I seem to be gravitating toward a lazy hornpipe feel, but it also works as a jig if you pretend the half notes are really dotted quarters

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Definitions: What is Diatonic?

The wikipedia has a great entry on diatonic vs. chromatic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatonic_and_chromatic

As the article says, these two terms are most often used in pairs, because they mean very different things.

The section on “modern meanings of diatonic scales” is particularly interesting to me, because it confirmed my suspicion that there is no generally agreed convention with regard to whether the melodic and harmonic minor scales should be considered diatonic. They are not in my book, because you can’t play them on a folk harp.

I actually like what the Harvard Dictionary of Music says: basically that diatonic refers to the white keys of the piano. This is where I learned the mode system, and I think most students get it this way too. It’s really fun to hear each of the diatonic “Church Modes” over a Root-5th-8th drone in the left hand.

On the mountain dulcimer, we have to remember that the 6+ fret, which is added to most modern dulcimers, changes the game a little bit, as does playing across the fingerboard as opposed to just going up and down the melody string.