by Steve Eulberg
With mountain dulcimer, every tuning has benefits to recommend it. Every tuning also has limitations.
Someone wrote to me recently to ask why we include lessons on the DulcimerCrossing website in the DAA tuning. Here are the 4 reasons that I wrote back in response:
1) Do-sol-sol or 1-5-5- (e.g. DAA) Tuning
1-5-5 is the most common original tuning for mountain dulcimers in the USA, and, on instruments with no 6+ or 6-1/2 fret, it is the only way to play the Ionian (Major) scale on the melody strings. The Ionian Mode or Major Scale is the one that most of the tunes played in the US are found. That scales goes from frets 3-10 (not playing the 6-1/2 fret).
DAA is the most common occurring version of this tuning at this point in history among players across the USA. (We’ll explore how “D” came about as the basis for tuning mountain dulcimers in another post.)
2) Notes below “Do”.
This tuning gives the player the notes below Do
” tunes (like Amazing Grace, Holy Manna, Happy Birthday, e.g.) all on the melody string(s). This is most helpful for players who are not comfortable leaving the melody string(s). It is also required for playing these kinds of tunes that the lower octave when playing in the traditional noter style. (It is hard for most players to use the noter to play notes only on the middle string.) (I explored Plagal
in an earlier post.)
3) Close-Harmonized Chord Voicings.
This tuning also affords very comfortable fingerings for Close-harmonized chord voicings. This feature may be a little more complicated to explain, but let me give it a try. Close harmony is when you have all the notes in the chord as close to each other as possible, with no “gaps” between notes. (Close harmony is on the left, open or dispersed harmony is on the right. We’ll talk about this in relation to both kinds of dulcimers in a future post.)
4) Familiarity with other players.
There are many people who prefer this tuning, and a good number of clubs and groups who use it as their primary or only tuning. Some of them even use DAA in their club or group’s name.
We’ll explore in more depth the benefits and limitations of different tunings in other posts.
As always, if you have questions or comments, or you have some additional input, please let me know!