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Friday, December 27, 2013

Chord Progressions Two


The last post, Chord Progressions One, had a whole lot of stuff for you to look up. I hope it wasn't too overwhelming for you! My intent was just to get you excited about starting the process of discovery with chord progressions. With any mountain of new things to learn like this, remember that you can always just look up one term that you are curious about and leave the rest behind: I have found that the small steps made consistently make a real difference in my music study.

Getting Started With Your Own Progressions

  1. Simpler is Better: progressions with 2, 3, or 4 chords repeating over and over in a cycle are amazing, and fun to play.
  2. Cycles that repeat over and over are soothing, mesmerizing, and entrancing—NOT boring! AND they work GREAT for the dulcimer!
  3. Make sure you understand the difference between back-up chords (often arpeggios like in fingerpicking style) and melody. In rock bands, there is a rhythm guitar and a lead guitar. A singer (melody) often accompanies herself on the piano (often with arpeggios).
  4. I try to combine the backup, or accompaniment arpeggios AND the single-string melodic lines on one solo dulcimer performance. I like to TOGGLE between these two functions playfully as I go. This is not really that difficult, but you do need to GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to do it!

A GREAT Two-Chord Progression: D -- G

  1. I know you are probably thinking: "that's too simple" but it is really endless in its possibilities, and is especially hypnotic.
  2. I have more fun with this progression if I spend a longer time on each chord. Try 2 or 4 measures on each chord.
  3. Try some different time-signatures! 3/4, 6/8, and 12/8 are all ways to jog your rhythmic muse. Google "time signatures" if you need some help with this.
  4. Move through several positions up-and-down the length of the fingerboard for each chord. Stephen Seifert has some GREAT chord charts that you can download from his web site free of charge. This will give you a roadmap for navigating through the chord tones.
  5. Have FUN!! Keep it PLAYFUL, ENJOY the process, Don't be a perfectionist!
  7. Try to use open strings whenever you can—like on the bass to the D chord!

Give-Away For This Issue

Here is another great two-chord jam, this time with Em (or Em7) to A7. This TAB was one I used this past October for a workshop in improvising at the SouthEast Ohio Dulcimer Festival (soon to be called a "Gathering"):

Em7-A7 Jam TAB

Now, if you want something like this to play along with, here is a very rough jam I did just fooling around with this progression. The above TAB will give you some ideas that will work over the recording, but it is NOT a transcription of what I played!!

Em7-A7 Jam 1

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chord Progessions One

Hi Folks:

It is Friday again and here is another issue of my DulciBlog. This time I want to open the door for you to learn about Chord Progressions--how they work, some basic rules and guidelines, and how to build your own. I want to give you some terms and phrases to look up for yourself in Google or Bing. I hope this gives you a nudge in the right direction, and that it encourages you to try some progressions on your own.

Doing Your Own Searches

If you punch some of these terms into a search engine yourself, you will be amazed at how much you can learn! Everyone is different with respect to musical abilities, experience, what instrument(s) they play, and understanding of music. You are the only one who knows what you know and what you don't--and don't feel discouraged if you don't even know where to start: many of us feel the same way, that we don't even know what questions to ask! This is perfectly natural!

You Need To HEAR Examples

As you try some of these search terms, phrases, and questions, be on the lookout for web sites that let you listen to the chord progressions or examples. Learning music has more to do with listening and hearing what's going on than memorizing concepts or definitions of terms. An "audio picture" is worth a thousand words! My all-time favorite blog for great musical examples, clear explanations, and audio snippets of the examples is Gary Ewer's Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog:

And Gary has another web site devoted to chord progressions:

I've learned a LOT over the years following these sites, particularly when the topic is chord progressions!

Rules For What Chord Follows What

  • what are the rules for how chords move from one to another?
  • is there a chord progression flow chart?
  • is there a chord progression branching diagram?
  • building your own chord progressions
  • DIY chord progressions
  • circle of 5ths progressions
  • chords moving in 4ths
  • chord cycles

Tonal Harmony

  • Tonal Harmony
  • Tonal Chord Progressions
  • Tonal Music Theory
  • Common Practice Period

Modal Chords

  • Diatonic Chord Progressions
  • Modal Chord Progressions
  • Aeolian Chords
  • Dorian Chords
  • Mixolydian Chords
  • Relative vs. Parallel Relationships Between Modes


A Few Things To Remember

Keep perspective! Don't feel you have to devour everything right away. I just put these terms up for you to search because some lightbulbs may go off for you. Some terms may not have any resonance for you (the terms under Tonal Harmony are just good for a very, very general overview and that's ALL -- you can pass them by entirely, or spend 3 to 5 minutes reading a definition.... that may make no sense at all!!! and that's fine). Some terms may arouse your curiosity--like the Modal and Diatonic terms: these have AMAZING possibilities for the mountain dulcimer in DAD tuning!


My Favorite Circular Diatonic Progressions

These are the BIG HITS of the last decade for me and my dulcimer composing and improvising--they are all playable on your DAD dulcimer:

If you need TAB numbers or diagrams for a few of these chords that you don't know, then you have an opportunity to do a search for DAD chord charts for dulcimer, right?

Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 13, 2013

A Great Irish Hymn

Be Thou My Vision is one of  my all-time favorite hymn tunes, and it goes very nicely on the mountain dulcimer. Like Southwind from last week, this one also lends itself to fingerpicking with lots of open strings:

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 6, 2013


This is one of my favorite Irish tunes. It appears in my 1984-era tunebook called Dulcimer Solos (which I've been planning to reprint for a long time, but just haven't found the time.), and I still love playing it even now. It is a slow waltz-time tune that is very soothing. This particular arrangement uses a lot of open strings and is best played in finger-picking style. Here you go:

If you right-click on this, you can save it to your desktop.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

20 years since the release of "The Blackbird and the Beggarman"

It is hard to believe how fast time flies! My CD of Celtic instrumentals for mountain dulcimer was started in the Fall of 1993 and was released roughly mid-year of 1994. It came out on the Wizmak label, and was produced by Pete Sutherland, a great Vermont-based fiddler, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and all-around great guy. I also had the support of some extremely gifted musicians: R.P. Hale, Ken Lovelett, Niles Hokkanen, and Ron Ewing.

Here is one of my favorites from B&B at SoundCloud: