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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.