5 Ways to Tune a Dulcimer
The dulcimer, a folk instrument with roots in the Appalachian Mountains, is known for its sweet and soothing tones. Played by striking the strings with small mallets or by plucking them with fingers, this beautiful instrument adds an air of grace to any musical performance. One key factor in achieving the dulcimer’s distinctive sound is tuning it correctly. Here are five ways to tune a dulcimer to ensure that it always sounds its best.
1. Traditional DAA Tuning
The most common and traditional way to tune a dulcimer is using the DAA tuning method. This means that the courses (sets of paired or tripled strings) are tuned to the notes D, A, and A. The D on the bass string is the foundation, while both middle and melody strings are tuned to A. This results in a rich, harmonious sound that is characteristic of traditional Appalachian music.
2. DAC Tuning
Another popular option is the DAC tuning method. In this configuration, players tune the bass string to D, middle string to A, and melody string to C. This gives the dulcimer a slightly different tonal quality, leaning toward a more minor sound than the DAA tuning. The DAC tuning can provide an evocative mood perfect for storytelling through music.
3. 1-5-8 Tuning (DAD)
The 1-5-8 (DAD) tuning is widely considered an alternate standard for diatonic mountain dulcimers, especially for players who like to experiment with chords and finger-picking techniques. The bass string is tuned to D, middle string to A, and melody string(s) to D’. This method creates a versatile open chord that provides endless songwriting possibilities.
4. GDG Tuning
Exploring other musical genres on a dulcimer can be inspiring and fun. For example, players looking to mimic the sound of traditional blues on their instrument can use the GDG tuning. To achieve this, simply adjust the bass string to G, middle string to D, and melody string(s) to G’. With this configuration, you may play bottleneck slide, fingerstyle blues, and more on your mountain dulcimer.
5. Custom Tunings for Unique Sounds
The last method on this list isn’t a specific tuning but rather an encouragement for musicians to experiment and find their unique sound. By varying string tensions and tuning relationships between the courses, you can create original tonal structures. As long as it sounds balanced and pleasing to the ear, there’s really no right or wrong way to tune your dulcimer.
In conclusion, properly tuning a dulcimer is paramount in achieving its signature sweet sound. Experiment with these five methods depending on your preferred style or desired mood. Happy playing!