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Playing Authentic and Plagal Tunes

11 Feb

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?

Hammered 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.

Mountain Dulcimer:  

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.]

 

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