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DulciTheory Newsletter -- Issue #3: Whole and Half Steps on the Mountain Dulcimer

Whole and Half Steps on the Mountain Dulcimer

Pages 5 and 6 in the Theory book deal with whole steps and half steps and how they lay out on the piano keyboard -- then on the dulcimer fingerboard. This is really essential background material for what I'll be talking about in this issue, so make sure you have a good, solid grip on it.

Building the Complete Pitch Survey

In this exercise we will learn to construct a chart of all the pitches on the fingerboard for the 1-5-8 tuning in Eb.


So, as we can see, the first step is to get the complete tuning given that Eb = 1. Probably a good idea to count up the Eb major scale:

Eb(1), F(2), G(3), Ab(4), Bb(5), C(6), D(7), Eb(8)

1-5-8 then equals Eb, Bb, Eb.

Now we can proceed up the bass string, bearing in mind that the long spaces between frets are WHOLE STEPS and the short ones are HALF STEPS:


Now, if you get the idea, you should complete the chart yourself -- it will give you a great deal of confidence!

And one more for you to try:

1-5-8 in B (I usually start with the tuning as 1-5-1 when I'm filling in the chart, as I think its clearer)

Now let's try to tackle a complete Pitch AND Scale-Degree Survey for 1-5-b7, where C = 1. First the Pitch Survey:

C |-----------D|---------E|----F|-------G|------A|-Bb|--B|--C|
G |-----------A|---------B|----C|-------D|------E|--F|-F#|--G|

(you might want to look carefully at the melody string pitches fret-by-fret)

Now here is the beginning of a complete Scale-Degree Survey for 1-5-b7:

1 |-----------2|---------3|----4|--------|-------|---|---|---|
5 |------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|

Refer to page 6 (in Music Theory and Chord Reference book) for a reminder of the whole and half step pattern on the dulcimer, and do the best you can to fill out the rest of the chart. You will probably need help on the melody string so here it is:

1 |------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|
5 |------------|----------|-----|--------|-------|---|---|---|

(again -- it would be a good idea to walk yourself through the process fret-by-fret).

Here are three more Survey building exercises for you -- do a Pitch AND Scale Degree Survey for each tuning:

  1. (5-1-5) F = 1
  2. (4-1-5) G = 1
  3. (1-8-11) or (1-8-4) A = 1

It may not be apparent now, but this survey-building activity will pay BIG dividends in your future comprehensive understanding of harmony and theory -- you will have a powerful and concise overview of all possibilities even before you dive into a tuning. This makes the surveys great for choosing a tuning in the first place!

PART TWO: Questions Answered

Well...this time I really didn't get much in the way of questions, but those I got were mostly concerned with text-formatting problems and a few problems understanding the spacing conventions for the charts. Maybe we can clear up a few of these now.

1.) Text Formatting, fonts, and more -- I am sending each newsletter out in plain text, which is the classic old-time email way of doing things. The main advantage is that my charts keep their integrity, and don't get all squirrel-y with line breaks and strange spacing conventions. These days, many folks have their email programs set to "html", which is the language that web pages are displayed in.

I am using the Courier font to compose everything -- no, it is not beautiful, but it is quite clear to read, and does a great job with things like charts. You may want to make sure you are set to receive DulciTheory in plain-text, and you might try the Courier font for the default font.

2.) Spacing conventions and suggestions for building your own charts -- In the first issue, I included a chart containing the number of characters between each fret:

To be more specific about the spacing, just for your information, here are the number of dashes between each fret:


Now, at least one person got boggled trying to reconcile these numbers with scale degrees, or intervals, or whatever. So let me make it clear: THESE ARE ONLY THE NUMBER OF CHARACTERS OR HYPHENS BETWEEN EACH FRET -- THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE MUSIC!

BTW, the actual frets are indicated by the vertical line that you get using the shift character in the upper half of the backspace key (directly above the Return key).

Important Update and Note:

The charts above showing the spacing for the frets (and the fact that you can cut and paste them) belong in a geeky early-days-of-the-internet period where many people who used email and forums would share ascii-based text with the preformatted tag.

Please ignore this completely now -- everybody does things much differently now.

I would suggest working OFF the computer to build your own charts: you can photocopy some pages of blank charts and then fill them in with pencil or pen as you are doing your surveys.