This is one of my favorite playlists of the ones I curate myself on Spotify. It has a wide variety of instruments and genres, but the common theme is a simple, folk-oriented approach to melody and harmony. You’ll hear some minimal pieces on piano by some of my favorite players, some great accordion work by the amazing Maria Kalaniemi, or some mesmerizing modal compositions by Whalebone (UK-based ensemble).
Here is some instruction on how to play along with my tunes Salisbury Frost, Canterbury Dreams, and Somerset Dreams (the last two are newer tunes which evolved from the original). At Patreon, we’re doing a lot of stuff like this month after month.
We now have my 1994 album of Celtic instrumentals for mountain dulcimer on bandcamp as a free download. Actually it is set up as “pay what you want” including nothing, but it will require you to submit an email:
I’m so jazzed up about this I can barely contain myself: I’m now in the second month of lessons on my Patreon Page:
For as little as $1 per month, you can join in all the fun and the jams and the rounds, PLUS you get access to my newsfeed where I am in the process of distributing exclusive free downloads!!!
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!!
Ever since I first got acquainted with the mountain dulcimer in 1970, I have been fascinated by the variety of textures available when strumming across all the strings at once, or picking individual notes. The type of material that is used in a pick has a lot to do with the texture of the sound you get, and the flexibility is also an important factor.
In a general sense, I tend to use very flexible picks when strumming across all the strings (like the thin triangles above), and medium-to-thin picks when I want some individual notes and some strums here and there (like the nylon .60mm or .73mm gray picks above). If I’m playing arpeggios I tend to favor really chunky, massive picks like the black nylon or the 1.14 Ultex.
There are some radically different new materials now in picks: some of the black picks above with “COOL” written on them have a very rubbery feel and there is no click whatsoever. Sometimes this is exactly what I’m looking for. Other times I need more high end and more of the traditional dulcimer sound, and I go for the red Herdim picks or the round “pointless” picks (the red ones are the thinnest). I LOVE these round picks! Here is the link where you can order a trial pack:
Most picks aren’t expensive, and the smaller music stores do MUCH better than the big chain stores as far as selection and ability to get your hands on the picks. Go wild and buy a whole bunch of picks made out of completely different materials. Get some real soft super-thin strumming picks, get some medium nylon or tortex, and try a variety of materials in the thick chunky style.
Happy Pickin’ and Happy Happy New Year!!!
Due to some extreme family pressures, it has been next to impossible to get any of my handmade dulcimers built. Now that seems so be changing some, in that I have a few instruments on hand, and I’m hoping I can continue in this rhythm for at least the next two or three months. Let me know if there is something you are interested in or if you’d like some pricing info — email is jcrockwell – the “at sign” – gmail.com (you know the deal- no spaces: everything run together)
I think this 6-tone or hexatonic Em – D Jam-A-Round is the most fun of all so far!! The Jam-A-Round idea is very simple: over a repeating chord progression, often using a descending scale, we just plug in parts where the 8-bar progressions begin. You never know how parts interact until you try, so if you have a playing partner with another dulcimer, you are in for a fun time! With a room full of dulcimers and a little imagination, there could be some amazing music!!
This EminorJAR1 is the first melodic sketch around these chords:
Em / / / | D / / / | Em / / / | D / / / | Em / / / | D / / / | Em / Bm / | Em / / / :||
There are basically three parts here: part one is measure 1 – 8, part two is measure 9 – 16, and part three is measure 17 – 24. If you do it as a traditional round, you can play all 24 bars as written, with 2nd and 3rd players coming in on measures 9 and 17. The most fun, though, is where you assign one player to part one, one player to part two, and one to part three. With a little playful messing around, each part can vary according to each players’ ability and imagination. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have one or two of these parts just repeating without variation, because this will act as a great anchor for the more daring improvisers!
Measure 24 is an incomplete measure: I have beat 4 wide open for you, in case you want to put in those high B or E pickup notes into variations of part three from measures 17 through 24. Have FUN!!!
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:
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:
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 !