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Saturday, August 30, 2014

We Finally Have Real, Physical CDs Now!

Yes..... with a real bar-code and shrinkwrapped and everything!!

Nine Meditations for Dulcimer



Friday, May 2, 2014

Sounds From The Circle VI is here!

This has got to be one of the best compilations of New Age and Ambient Music ever! 40 different artists with some outstanding tracks. I'm really stoked that my "Tapping at the Edge of Paradise" is included on this year's collection, and Suzanne Doucet and Beth Ann Hilton deserve a ton of thanks for their monumental work on this.

Here is a press release that has lots of detail about the project:

Global Music Soundscapes: The Time is Right for a Three-Hour Musical Mosaic titled Sounds from the Circle VI

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Myristica's New Album!

Myristica (Mei-Ling Grey) is one of my favorite musicians these days. I can't stop listening to her incredible "Shores of Buttermere" track from the compilation album Butterflies & Lullabies! Now she's got a new one that is absolutely gorgeous! Waiting for Yesterday, the title track, is a stunning piece as is Forever sunset (ambient mix).....these are mesmerizing, beautiful, and intelligent compositions! Highly recommended!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do You Need Music Theory?

This is a reprint from my web site. It comes from the old DulciTheory pages that are not linked right now, but I thought this was something that might help put some things in perspective if you are wondering about learning music theory.

Do You Need Theory?


Many people have asked me over the years: "Do I need to learn music theory to improve my dulcimer playing?" or: "What do I need to know about theory to improve my music?" or: "How will theory help me get more music out of my dulcimer?"

These are questions that will have different answers for each person. Depending on your individual goals as a dulcimer player, the first step might be to do an honest assessment of your own understanding of the basics of music. (this is a very private, personal matter! I suggest you keep this entirely to yourself)
There are many, many people who come to the dulcimer without any previous musical experience, except for some childhood piano lessons. If you fit in this very general category, the mountain dulcimer may be like a breath of fresh air for you: it is an instrument that welcomes you right in, and it is relatively easy to get some kind of music going immediately. You don't need anything else at this point - simply enjoy the freedom of this instrument. Enjoy the experience of listening and playing!
If you play another plucked string instrument, like the guitar, mandolin, or uke, I would encourage you to approach the dulcimer in relationship to these instruments.

I started out with the guitar, so when I met the dulcimer, I wondered how some of the music I was playing on the guitar might transfer over to the dulcimer. I'm still going back and forth between the guitar and dulcimer more than forty years later! So this "cross-pollination" effect might also work for you if you get in the habit of thinking in relation between the instruments. If you are a guitar player, I'll venture a guess that most of my chord reference charts will make sense to you right off, because they are based on the same type of charts used in guitar books for years.

If you are a piano player (of any ability level, including very basic beginner), I would suggest that you learn the basics of music theory on the keyboard. This is one of the best ways of learning theory anyway, and I used the keyboard extensively in my theory book, especially in the first half. There are also some great keyboard-oriented theory web sites now. I really like Gary Ewer's web site:
In a category all their own are folks who have been playing the dulcimer for awhile, and who have already been working on their own arrangements, compositions, solos, or improvisations. If you fit somewhere in this group, there are many options available to help you understand your dulcimer better:
  1. Consider getting a chromatically-fretted dulcimer just to explore chord-building and interval-building. When you switch to the mostly-diatonic normal dulcimer fretboard, you will be seeing and hearing everything with a refreshed vision - with new ideas for what's possible.
  2. Consider taking up the ukulele. This is an inexpensive, easy-to-play 4-string instrument that you can have a lot of fun with. For learning theory, particularly for building and hearing different chords, you can't go wrong!
  3. Get yourself some type of electronic keyboard/synth. These are getting cheaper all the time, and the sound is getting better too. These instruments are also a lot of fun. For learning theory, they are the BEST!
  4. Get yourself all three of the above instruments. You will be a better musician for it!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Descending Aeolian Mode: Drone, then with Chords

Here's another link to a recent article on my web site. It is part of a series of TABs for playing the descending versions of the three most important modes on the dulcimer (the dorian, the aeolian, and the mixolydian):

Descending B Aeolian Mode in DAD Tuning

This version uses as much of the drone-notes (B and F#) as possible in supporting the descending melody. There are also many ways of harmonizing the mode with chords: I like to restrict these to the basic triads of each mode, and maybe a substitute triad now and again. The main substitute triad for each of these modes is the subtonic VII (sometimes written bVII) to substitute for the minor V chord (sometimes written v):

E Dorian: Em - A - Bm (D)

B Aeolian: Bm - Em - F#m (A)

A Mixolydian: A - D - Em (G)

...where the chord in parentheses is the VII or bVii subtonic.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Different Improvisations Over the Same Reference Structure

I love to look at how many different ways there are to get through the same set of chords, or the same reference structure--especially over a span of time. One of my favorite reference structures is the one that goes (roughly) with "What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor" though my version is more of an Aeolian Chord progression, and the folk song is Dorian.  Most all of these are dulcimer duets, and the first one appeared on my 2008 album Too dark to work... 

The Haunted Skipper

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DulciTheory on the Web

Today we will start linking to some articles on our web site. The DulciTheory series was first part of an email newsletter published for a few years starting in 2000. The articles here are the last ones written and, probably some of the most popular:

DulciTheory on the Web (numbers 15 through 23)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Descending Mixolydian Mode in D

This week we have two pdf files of TAB. The tuning is DAD, and the mode is D Mixolydian, so it is very easy to support the descending mode with occasional open bass or middle strings. I usually like to do this with fingerpicking, but you can play it with a flatpick if you like:

Descending D Mixolydian with open string accompaniment

More Descending D Mixolydian with open string accompaniment


Friday, February 14, 2014

Descending E Dorian

Last time we looked at arpeggios for a descending B Aeolian Mode in DAD Tuning, and this time we'll descend with E Dorian.

First let's play the single-string version of the E Dorian--frets on the melody string:


Maybe you can hear that this one sounds a little different than the Aeolian. If you want to hear what the E Aeolian sounds like right alongside the E Dorian for comparison, simply substitute the 6th fret for the 6+ and you'll have it. So you might ask yourself how these two modes are similar, and how they are different. Again, going into your favorite search engine and investigating what other folks have to say about the Dorian and the Aeolian modes,,, this is a great exercise, and you might be amazed at what you'll learn!

Harmonizing E Dorian with Em, Bm, A, and D

Here is a pdf of TAB for the Descending E Dorian in 3/4 time. The first 8 bars have the bass string carrying the mode, the second 8 bars have the melody string carrying the mode, and the last 8 bars have a counterpoint ascending bass line, which sounds great when played along with the descending part:

Descending E Dorian Arpeggios

Friday, February 7, 2014

Descending B Aeolian

This time I have a few links about Descending Aeolian Modes:

Descending B Aeolian

...and a pdf of arpeggio TAB harmonizing the B Aeolian:

Harmonized B Aeolian Arpeggios

Friday, January 31, 2014

Chord Progressions Six


In the last issue, we looked at creating arpeggios on the Bm - G - D - A progression. This time, we'll connect some of those chord tones with the notes in between them: these are called passing tones and they can make your music much more interesting, depending on where they fall in the measure--whether they fall on an accented beat or not.

A Simple Device to Unify Your Composition (or Improvisation)

If we make a descending scale on each chord, starting from the 5th of the chord and finishing at the Root, we have outlined (or kind of "unfolded") the chord. This makes a cool device for pulling everything together and giving your composition a unity. Let's take it chord-by-chord.

Bm Chord

Starting with the high F# on fret 9 of the melody string, we have:

9--8--7--6+-5 - where the 9, 7, and 5 frets are the chord tones, and the other frets are passing tones.

G Chord

7--6+-5--4--3 - where the 7, 5, and 3 frets are the chord tones, and the other frets are passing tones.

D Chord

4--3--2--1--0 - where the 4, 2, and open string are the chord tones, and the other frets are passing tones.

A Chord (Frets on the Middle String)

4--3--2--1--0 - where the 4, 2, and open string are the chord tones, and the other frets are passing tones.


See what you can cook up with these little lines. You'll have to fill in with the other supporting chord tones of each chord to make it sound full, but use your imagination as much as you can. Try some different rhythmic patterns, and hold some notes longer than others.

New Article on Modes

I slightly edited one of my DulciTheory articles and linked it from the home page of my web site:


This might help get you thinking along some of these chord-tones-vs-passing-tones lines, and I think it is a good way to approach the multi-modal system on your DAD dulcimer. Good Luck (Skill?), and let me know if you if any of this works for you.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Chord Progressions Five

A Great 4-Chord Progression

The first four chords to the great Irish tune "Star of the County Down" are Bm-G-D-A (best key for your DAD dulcimer), and if you take these chords and just cycle them endlessly, they make a very moody, dark and mysterious backdrop for all sorts of musical ideas that you might play over them. One device I like to use for this sort of backing is to arpeggiate the chords, or pick out the individual notes in each chord and play them one after another. I usually do this finger-picking style, but you can play it flatpicked if you want.

Here is a little arpeggio study I did on these chords:

Arpeggio Study 1 for Bm-G-D-A

When you strum across all three strings, you are playing block chords, or playing the notes of the chord simultaneously.  Here are some block chord ideas that you can try. Each chord holds for a complete measure, or four full beats:

Block Chords for Bm-G-D-A

Now, for me, when I write down some TAB chords in block form, I get a sense of freedom from looking at all that space in the measure that I can creatively fill up with whatever chord tones I choose. You might try this yourself: try playing any notes in a chord on the half note level, or you might vary from straight quarter notes to the occasional half note. You might even want to try some chord tones on the eighth note level!

As with anything I'm showing you here, keep it loose, have fun with it, and let your imagination show you the way. Let me know how it works for you--did you get something flowing along? This is one of my favorite circular, hypnotic progressions!!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Chord Progressions Four


Last time we covered chord cycles (particularly in 4ths), showed you some two chord progressions, and went over some ideas on the nature of modal chord progressions. This time we'll continue poking in to the whole "modal" thing, I'll show you some more two-chord progressions, and we'll also look at a couple of cool three and four chord progressions.

How To Use Chord Progressions In Your Dulcimer Practice

Here are some ideas for applying these progressions to your daily practice:

  1. Progressions often form the backbone of many popular songs: use them to get ideas for new melodies that might go well over the chords. Try different melodic ideas over a progression (sing some melodies while you play the chords - I know this sounds almost impossible if you are new to it, but it works for me....and I'm not any kind of singer in public!!).
  2. Use progressions for an exercise in arpeggio playing. There are endless possibilities for arpeggiating a chord, and when you experiment with your own personal way of flowing up and down each chord and connecting them in interesting ways, you are taking some important steps in organizing your musical ideas.
  3. Use progressions as a bed for your improvising. This is best done by laying down the chord progression on a tape recording or digital sound file (the latter is easy to loop, so you can have it repeating many times). Then, with you as the "lead player" you can try all sorts of melodic stuff over these chords: the sky is the limit, and if you try this, you might be amazed at how much fun it is!
  4. You might try some of the modal chord progressions as a kind of endless cycle of mesmerizing, hypnotic arpeggios: you might want to try chanting some syllables of your own choosing over them. This meditative use of the progressions contains the first three ideas above as well.

Modal Two-Chord Progressions

  • Em7 - A7 (Dorian)
  • Bm - A or F#m (Aeolian)
  • A - G or Em7 (Mixolydian)

Modal Three-Chord Progressions

  • A - D - Em - D (Mixolydian: "In My World There's A Garden")
  • Em7 - A7 - Em7 - D - Em7 - A7 - Em7-D-A7 (Dorian: "Flowers of Kale")

Modal Four-Chord Progressions

  • D - A - Bm - G (maybe not that modal, but the G or IV chord at the end makes it a very circular, swirling kind of progression: "Tapping Into the Light" "Tapping At the Edge of Paradise")
  • A - Em7 - G - D (Mixolydian: "Prayer for Safe Passage")
  • Bm - G - D - A (Aeolian: first four chords in "Star of the County Down" - more about this in my next email newsletter)

Listening and Downloading the Music

All of the selections in parenthesis (with the exception of the traditional "Star of the County Down") may be heard in their entirety at SoundCloud, and I now have enabled free downloads on just about everything: just look for the little downward-pointing arrow icon below the waveform. All of the progressions above are custom-tailored for your DAD dulcimer, but on the recordings, you may find that I'm tuned CGC or EBE. ENJOY:

Friday, January 3, 2014

Chord Progressions Three

Looking up Terms

Put this into Google (or Bing) and see what you get:

flow chart chord progression

OK, maybe a bit overwhelming, and probably "all Greek" to many of you, but this kind of chart always gets me going in deeper. If you are somewhat visually oriented, a few of these charts may be a  kind of "jumping-off point" for you in exploring how one chord leads to another.

When i tried "cycle of 4ths chord progressions" I got this:

Pretty cool stuff here, and what I usually do (not having a piano or guitar in from of me most of the time), is to try a little bit of this stuff on the dulcimer in my own esoteric way. For instance, if I'm in DAD, I might start the cycle on F# - not being so nit-picky about what kind of chord I'm playing (you can always just do a Root-5th-Root chord as a barre across the fingerboard: at fret 2 for the F#) - and going in 4ths until I get HOME to a D chord! Try it, you might have fun! (hint: the second chord in the cycle would be B or Bm)

Modal Chord Progressions

Getting more specific to the uniqueness of the mountain dulcimer, you might want to find out about this whole "modal" thing and what it means. If you typed in modal chord progressions to a search engine, you might find some interesting leads. As I've mentioned many times, Gary Ewer always has some of the best immediately USEFUL stuff anywhere: can play many of these chords on your DAD-tuned dulcimer! The first part of it talks about regular old A Major (which you have completely on your DAD dulcimer thanks to the 6+) then shows you some B Dorian changes.

A Free Download

For today's giveaway, I'm offering a free download of one of my favorites from my Too dark to work... collection (look for the little down-pointing arrow below the waveform):

This is a mixolydian chord progression that is as circular as you get. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you have some fun messing around with some of this modal stuff.