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!!