by Steve Eulberg
Here are two words that may be unfamiliar to you, but which I find most helpful for determining where to look to play tunes on both mountain and hammered dulcimers: Authentic and Plagal. (for more on Plagal, see below)
Authentic Tunes are those whose notes are generally found between Do and the octave do.
Plagal Tunes (in a use of the term by ethnomusicicologists) are those which are centered on Do, from Sol below Do to sol above Do. This is illustrated by the chart below:
Now how is this information useful on a dulcimer?
This is very easy to demonstrate:
Authentic tunes are generally played “in the box.”
Plagal tunes are generally played straight up and down, or like a ladder shape.
1-5-5 or DAA tuning: Authentic tunes are played on the melody string(s) between frets 3 and 10 (not using the 6-1/2 fret).
1-5-5 or DAA tuning: Plagal tunes are played on the melody string(s) between frets 0 and 7 (not using the 6-1/2 fret)
1-5-8 or DAd tuning: Authentic tunes are played on the melody string(s) between frets 0 and 7 and REQUIRE the use of the 6-1/2 fret.
1-5-8 or DAd tuning: Plagal tunes either start on the middle string at 0 and are continued on the melody string up to the 4th fret;
or are played on the melody string(s) between frets 4 and 11 (not using the 6-1/2 fret)
More on the unusual word:
Plagal is an unusual word, but it describes something that is very recognizable. For example, a Plagal Cadence (or ending) is commonly called the “Amen Ending”, for what was once a common convention in Christian hymnsinging in the mid-20th century. The move from the IV (or subdominant) Chord to the I (or tonic) Chord produces this sound, demonstrated here: Plagal Cadence.]