Tag Archives: ionian

New Theory Quiz

New Theory Quiz

Following our first two Live Music Theory classes for Premium Members of, Erin Mae and I have a new Quiz, this time comparing the Ionian and Dorian Modes.

Click here to try it out and test your understanding!

Later today [4 pm PST = 5 pm MST = 6 pm CST = 7 pm EST] is the 3rd lesson, this one focusing on the Aeolian Mode.

Premium Members have access on the Live events page at

(Be certain that you have logged in and the background is blue and then click on the Zoom link for 1/30/20.)


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David Massengill and Reverse Ionian Tuning

by Steve Eulberg

On the road as part of my country-crossing-summer-tour, I got to visit with David Massengill at the Gebhard Woods Festival in Morris, Illinois in June.

David has a long history with the mountain dulcimer and developed some playing styles that pre-date the 6-1/2 fret, DAd world that has been more common since the instrument was brought in from the “free-range.”   Here he demonstrates the beautiful of what he calls “Reverse Ionian Tuning“.   5 – 1 – 5 are the relationships between the strings, the tonic being in the middle string, rather than on either outside string.  Do starts at the 3rd fret of the melody string and the major (Ionian) scale continues to the 10th fret (omitting the 6-1/2 fret)

Playing this way is very reminiscent of the 1 – 5 – 5 or DAA tuning which is common today, but David is playing  F – C – F and creating some beautiful, fluid melodies and harmonies, while standing a playing with the dulcimer flat, or parallel to the ground.

David Massengill: Reverse Ionian Tuning from Linda Ratcliff on Vimeo.


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Benefits and Limitations of Different Tunings on Mountain Dulcimer? Part 1

Benefits and Limitations of Different Tunings on Mountain Dulcimer? Part 1

Epinette scroll head

by Steve Eulberg

So how does one choose between the benefits and the limitations of different tunings when playing mountain dulcimer?  To me the most important factors in this decision are:


1)  What kind of dulcimer do I have?  Is it “traditional” (with no extra frets like 6-1/2 or 1-1/2)?


2)  What kind of music do I want to play?


3)  In what style do I want to play this music?  Do I want to play in the traditional noter or drone style?  Do I want to play back-up chords?  Do I want to play Chord-Melody Style?


In this post we’ll examine just the first of these factors.  What kind of dulcimer do I have?



If your dulcimer is a “traditional” one….

…with no extra frets, then you’ll need to use and play in different tunings in order to play the songs you want to play.  The typical major key songs will require the 1-5-5 (often D-A-A) tuning for which the Ionian scale starts at fret 3.  Typical minor key songs will require the 1-5-b7 (often D-A-C) tuning for which the Aeolian scale starts at fret 1.  Mountain minor songs will require the 1-5-4 (often D-A-G) tuning for which the Dorian scale starts at fret 4.  Mixolydian tunes like Old Joe Clark will require the 1-5-8 (often D-A-d) tuning for which the Mixolyidan scale starts at fret 0.


If your dulcimer has a 6-1/2 fret…

…you have the option of getting two different modal possibilities from each tuning.  For some people this is a big benefit because it means less retuning, but then remembering when to use or avoid the 6 or 6-1/2 fret.

Here are the 4 most common tunings that produce the widest modal variety on your mountain dulcimer:


If you tune 1-5-8 (often D-A-d) you can play Mixolydian of D (without 6-1/2) OR Ionian of D (with 6-1/2) without re-tuning by starting at the zero (0) fret and playing to the 7th fret.


If you tune 1-5-b7 (often D-A-C) you can play Aeolian of D (without 6-1/2) OR Dorian of D (with 6-1/2) without re-tuning by starting at the 1st fret and playing to the 8th fret.


If you tune 1-5-5 (often D-A-A) you can play Ionian of D (without 6-1/2) or Lydian of D (with 6-1/2)  without retuning by starting at the 3rd fret and playing to the 10th fret.


If you tune 1-5-4 (often D-A-G) you can play Dorian of D (without 6-1/2) or Mixolydian of D (with 6-1/2) without retuning by starting at the 4th fret and playing to the 11th fret.


(For reference, here are some tunes that belong to the different modes:
Ionian:  Joy to the world, Barlow Knife,
Mixolydian:  Old Joe Clark, Banish Misfortune, Sandy Boys
Aeolian:  God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Dorian:  Drunken Sailor, Scarborough Faire


Which other tunes can you name?  Please comment below.


What other benefits and/or limitation of different tunings can you name?  Please comment below.

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