Tag Archives: tuning

Time for a Tune-Up

Time for a Tune-Up

by Linda Ratcliff

When something seems unbalanced and out of rhythm, just a song can tune things up in a moment.  The power of music is therapy.
– Anthony Liccione

Time for a Tune-Up

Tuning a hammered dulcimer for the first time can be pretty intimidating. The first couple times you tune your dulcimer it may take quite a while, and you’ll think it was very difficult task. But, with practice, you will get the hang of it and soon you won’t even think twice about tuning.

I use a chromatic electronic tuner to make the job easier, and Steve and I recommend the Snark™ Dulci-Tuner. With these senior eyes, I find the display to be very readable, and it slips right over the hammered dulcimer tuning pin. You can read more about the tuner in Steve’s blog here.

You can order the Snark™ Dulci-Tuner from Steve by clicking on this link

Snark™ Dulci-Tuner

In the Absolute Beginners section at Dulcimer Crossing, our lesson called String-Side UP addresses many of the questions and issues you may have with tuning your hammered dulcimer. Video #17 covers the mechanics of tuning. Video #18 includes 4 tips to help with tuning, and addresses issues if you are experiencing difficulty trying to get both sides of your bridges in tune.

In addition, we offer The Tuning Game on our FREE page, to motivate you to practice your tuning more often. 

The Tuning Game

The thing to be careful of is when you are tuning a string is to make sure you are turning the the right tuning pin. If the needle on the electronic tuner is not moving, STOP! You are on the wrong string, and may turn too far and break it.

Some people ask if they need to tune their hammered dulcimer EVERY time they practice. I find when my dulcimer is in perfect tuning, I play better and practice longer. If I only have about 15 minutes to practice, I usually skip the tuning. But when I’m going to have a serious session of working out a new tune, I tune first and then warm up. Here’s some tuning guidelines you might want to keep in mind.

    1. Give your dulcimer a thorough tuning at least once a week – don’t ever let it get way out of tune.
    1. Always carry your tuning wrench and electronic tuner in your dulcimer case.
    1. Turn the tuning pin SLOWLY, while softly plucking continuously.
  1. Give your instrument a final checkup by matching the tones of your octaves at each bridge marker.

String-Side UP
As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask Steve or myself.


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Tuning Hack for Scroll-Headed Dulcimer

Tuning Hack for Scroll-Headed Dulcimer

by Steve Eulberg

The Snark™ tuner is very popular with mountain dulcimer players, for good reason.  It is quick, accessible, accurate and it’s display is very readable.

(This is not an insignificant feature as those of us who continue gathering service stripes in the playing of our dulcimers experience with eyesight that gets weary over time!)

IMG_2445And the handy clip-on feature works very well with flathead mountain dulcimers.

However, players of instruments with the traditional scroll have sometimes struggled with how to attach the tuning clip to the dulcimer so that it can “read” the vibrations and convert them into electricity which then displays how close our vibrating strings are to the desired pitch.

Therefore, when one of my students whose dulcimer has a beautiful, traditional scrollhead showed up for her lesson displaying the tuning hack here, I was delighted and decided I needed to share it right away!

IMG_2444By using her capo on the scroll, she had a location on which to clip her tuner that picked up the vibrations directly and accurately!

She clipped on tuned up and was ready for her lesson in no time!

(This is all the more important, because dulcimers players have taken and adhere to the dulcimer pledge which commits them to the joys of playing their instruments in many different tunings!)


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Mission: Take the Dulcimer Pledge

Mission:  Take the Dulcimer Pledge

by Steve Eulberg

I have a mission: I am seeking to equip, support, challenge and encourage musicians who play dulcimer.

As I teach across the US in clubs, festivals and workshops, I ask my mountain dulcimer students to raise their right hands and take this pledge.

So, stop whatever you are doing right now, raise your right hand and take this pledge with me. I will make a difference in your life!


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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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