by Steve Eulberg
People always ask me if it is necessary to read music in order to play the hammered dulcimer. My answer is always the same, “No, it is not necessary. But it can be good tool.”
It IS necessary to know which notes you have on your instrument in order to tune it, however.
And learning that is a LOT more fun if you have a game to play to help you learn!
When I first started playing hammered dulcimer, I used a vocal pitch pipe to match pitches with the strings and I found it a lot easier to play and tune all of the “Gs” for example, than constantly spinning the pitch pipe around in my lips. (I also found it hard to hold the pitch pipe with my lips–or teeth–ew! while breathing and trying to get the reed to vibrate at its most accurate and not blow too hard or too softly to play the pitch in tune.
I gradually moved to a single A-440 tuning fork (like I used for my guitar), and found that if I played the “A” note and held it on the soundboard it would make the instrument ring. Then I would tune all of the “As” on the the board.
Of course, because the other side of a 5th-tuned bridge has a corresponding note, an “in-tune A” on the right side of the treble bridge would give me an “in-tune E” on the left side of the same bridge on the same course, so I could chase all over the instrument and find all the “Es”, once the “As” were in tune.
I found this non-linear way of learning where the notes were on the instrument very helpful (because I am primarily a non-linear thinker!) and it became a game to me. (e.g. How fast can I find and tune all of the “F# notes”?)
You can play the tuning game, too! (It’s in the free section of Available Lessons at dulcimercrossing.com)