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!!

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Picks!

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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:

pointless picks

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!!!

Jerry Rockwell

 

Building Some Dulcimers Again

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)

North Carolina Hourglass (NCH model) with cherry back, sides, and fingerboard with spruce top. 26" nut-to-bridge string length

North Carolina Hourglass (NCH model) with cherry back, sides, and fingerboard with spruce top. 26″ nut-to-bridge string length

E minor Hexatonic Jam-A-Round

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!!!

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:

Jerry Rockwell Mountain Dulcimer Newsletter 4/1/15

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:

One Life Study in 4/4

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 !

Jerry