TOPICS for DulciTheory Newsletter

Introduction: Background and Fundamentals

Since the majority of the DulciTheory Newsletter will be published in text-only ascii format, there are two MAJOR types of diagrams that you'll need to understand:

1. Tablature: fret numbers on the 3 or 4 lines corresponding to the 3 or 4 strings of the dulcimer -- as they appear when you look down at the instrument.

   D  /  /  /   G  /  /  /   D  / = chord symbols and beats
              ^            ^

I don't think anyone will have trouble with the TAB format, as the TAB system is very popular with most dulcimer players these days. I do encourage you to standardize your ascii TAB the way I have above, as it will help others to read it. If you are publishing TAB in text-only ascii format on the web -- or in html email -- be sure and use the PRE tag: this will preserve your line breaks and careful spacing. Also, feel free to cut and paste the example above for a template for your own TAB. When you get a blank TAB blank template you like, fill it in by dragging the mouse over and selecting the dashes you want the fret numbers to go in -- this will save you alot of misalignment and aggravation. Feel free to email me if you need some more help on this.

2. Fingerboard Surveys: charts of the dulcimer fingerboard drawn with fairly accurate fret spacing. Several different kinds of labels get pasted on the strings, right behind the frets -- exactly where you place your left hand fingers.

The first type of label is the pitch label-- this is most often used in a PITCH Survey:

A Great Blues Tuning

I've always loved this 4-equidistant tuning: D-A-C-D or 1-5-b7-8. With a barre chord at the 3rd and 4th frets, as well as the open strings (or 7th fret), you get a nice sassy dominant 7th chord on the I, IV, and V chords -- PERFECT for the blues!


This chart gives you a birds-eye view of every pitch on the dulcimer for this tuning -- I usually include just one octave of frets.

Another type of survey uses numerical scale-degrees for labels. This is known as a SCALE-DEGREE Survey:

1 |-----------2|---------3|----4|-------5|------6|-b7|--7|--8|
5 |-----------6|---------7|----1|-------2|------3|--4|-#4|--5|
1 |-----------2|---------3|----4|-------5|------6|-b7|--7|--8|

And yet a third type of survey -- closely related to the SCALE-DEGREE Survey, is the INTERVAL or CHORD-INGREDIENT Survey:

D7 or I7 Chords

R |------------|---------3|-----|-------5|-------|-b7|---|--R|
5 |------------|----------|----R|--------|------3|---|---|--5|
R |------------|---------3|-----|-------5|-------|-b7|---|--R|

...where R = Root of the chord, 3 = the Major 3rd,
 and b7 = the flatted 7th

For making your own Fingerboard Surveys, please feel free to copy the charts on this page to create your own template. The same formatting tips mentioned in the TAB section above apply to the surveys.

Also, don't worry too much about how to apply these buggers right now -- we'll find out how to do this all in good time. I can assure you that these charts are the BEDROCK of my Chord Reference System, and they are incredibly handy for getting ideas and inspiration for improvising.

The language of intervals and scale-degrees is the fundamental lingua-franca of music theory: you need to get conversant with these elements as soon as you possibly can. You should check occasionally on the links page of my web site, as I often go out on the web looking for great sites that teach theory.

For music notation examples, I will post these as gifs on my website. Here is an inline version of an 8-measure dorian melody -- the bass clef is left blank to encourage you to write a lower part:

8-bar dorian melody


There are now eight categories of theory topics with the pages they refer to in the book. Each of them could be the subject of a DulciTheory Newsletter issue, and many of them will span more than one newsletter.

1. Accidentals -- p. 4. In the book, there is just the sketchiest notion of what accidentals are -- here we will explain how F# and C# are the "native" or "indigenous" sharps in the key of D. Once the Key Signature establishes them as part of the key, any and all occurrences of F will be sharp, as will any occurrences of C. An Accidental occurs when we want a sharped or flatted version of a note in the major scale: like G# in the key of D. These will appear in the music right before the note that's being altered, and scoping these out before we decide on a tuning and arrangement for the dulcimer is a crucial first step.

She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain

DulciTheory #2: Accidentals 2

2. Whole and Half-steps on a Mountain Dulcimer -- p. 6. A great application for this "dulcimer-geography" is found in filling out our own Fingerboard Survey Charts. Trying this with the 1-5-8 tuning in Eb and B will give us the experience of building or modeling the major scales right on the dulcimer fingerboard chart.

3a. Building the Major Scales -- p. 7.

3b. Chords in the Keys of G and A

3c. Chord-Tone or Pitch Surveys for the Chords in the Keys of G and A

4. Minor Keys -- p. 12.

Here we will get much further into the "Relative vs. Parallel" relationships that are so crucial to understanding the concept of modes. We will also take a close look at the three forms of minor scales used in Western Music, and how difficult they are to find on the dulcimer in most tunings.

5. Understanding the Modes -- p. 14, and APPENDIX, p. 34.

This is really a "Meta-Topic", so I wouldn't be surprised to see 3 or 4 newsletters devoted to this. We'll map out the modes on our Fingerboard Survey Charts: modes relative to D, G, and A Ionian will be covered. We'll also explore various ways to get the sound of the modes without re-tuning: like capoing into the mode, and arranging with "fretted drones". Finally, it will be stimulating and challenging to learn the theory behind the traditional tunings for the mountain dulcimer, as we "Tune Into the Modes".

6. Pentatonic Scales -- p. 14.

Pentatonic Scales are simple, beautiful, and easy. We'll apply the Major Pentatonic to the keys of D, G, and A, and we'll also see how to use them as a tool for improvising off of each major chord we play.

7. Chord Scales -- (not covered in theory book)

Now here's a topic I didn't even get to in the book. Chord Scales are incredibly useful for real tunes, because they provide a workout in harmonizing a scale using only I, IV, and V7 chords in various inversions (though you can use the minor triads for even more possibilities). The jump from consecutive scale-tones to real-world melodies is a natural one.

8. Fingerboard Surveys and Chord Reference -- p. 19.

The theory book is limited to the D-A-D tuning, so I thought this might be a great opportunity to scope out a number of different tunings using the Fingerboard Survey charts. This is really where you get a chance to write your own theory book on a favorite tuning.