Dulcimer Theory

dulcimer 1Mountain Dulcimer Lessons

Recommended Books and Recordings

Easy dulcimer books and resources for children or beginning players.
  • Monthly Dulcimer Lessons with CD/DVD from Stephen Seifert ***
  • The Best Dulcimer Method Yet by Albert Gamse (Contact Sweet Sounds Dulcimer House)
  • You Can Teach Yourself to Play Dulcimer by Madeline MacNeil
  • First Lessons on Dulcimer by Joyce E. Ochs (Contact Gary Sager)
  • A Mountain Dulcimer Primer by Joe Collins
  • Baker’s Dozen Book for Children by Shelley Stevens
  • Songs From Our Childhood from Heidi Cerrigione
Easy songs for children to learn by ear:
  • Boil Old Gray Cat
  • Harrison Town
  • Liza Jane
  • Old Joe Clark
  • The Cat Came Back (let them bar the chord breaks)

Duet Books:

Check out Larry Conger’s website for books on duets.
(Recommended by Bob Magowan:)

Try “Tunes for Two or More”, which contains fifteen duet arrangements (several of the pieces also have a third or fourth part). The book is self-published by and available through Beth Lassi and Nina Zanetti. The arrangements are musically engaging and tasteful, and some of the parts fit the “challenging” category. Highly recommended.
(Recommended by Bill Collins:)

Neal Hellman has a book called “Dulcimer Duets” that can be very challenging, since includes music from such duet players as Force & d’Ossche (available through MelBay).
(Recommended by Quintin Stephens)

Play Along CDs

Having a hard time at jam sessions? Check out Peggy Carter’s Play Along CDs for Mountain Dulcimer — With these CDs you’ll have your own back up band to play with…. any time….. like having a “jam session” in your living room all by yourself — NIGHT OR DAY! BUT you can rewind it! You can’t rewind a real jam session, but you can do it with Peggy’s Play Along CDs. The sample audio files on the website just represent one of the 4 or 5 tunes on each CD. You can purchase the full CD on Peggy’s website. All the tunes are listed so you can choose which CD you want. But I need to warn you that the webpage is very “heavy” because of all the music…. and so it takes a long time to load. I hope you’ll be patient… I think its worth the wait.

Also check out her Play Along CDs for Hammer Dulcimer!”

Western North Carolina Dulcimer Collective also has a series of “Learning CD’s” (professionally duplicated – not home-recorded) containing tunes from all of the newsletters they’ve published from 1990 through 2005. Each music CD has tunes played slowly on just the mountain dulcimer melody string, and then again up to speed with chords. (Some include a third track, finger-picked.) Also available is a Tablature PC CD containing tab and lyrics for all of the tunes, plus MP3 music files of the strummed version of each tune. It’s viewable alphabetically and by CD.

Music Theory & Chord Reference for the Mountain Dulcimer
by Jerry Rockwell

Jerry Rockwell’s book covers most facets of music theory and contains a great chord reference section. The music theory consists of rhythm, meters, time signatures, clefs, octaves, accidentals, enharmonics, and building scales. Along the way he covers the circle of fifths, key signatures, sharps and flats, minor keys, relative keys, parallel keys, enharmonic keys. He covers chromatic, diatonic, Major, minor, whole-tone, and pentatonic scales. He also discusses modes and has an extensive section dealing with chords and chord charts. The book also has exercises as you move through it as well as easy to understand diagrams and charts. It is well written and easy to understand.
(Recommended by John Sackenheim, Okeana, Ohio:)

Practical Theory Stuff
by Neal Walters

This book contains charts of the chromatic scale, the diatonic major scale, the natural minor scale, the key signatures, modes and scales, how to tune to modes and transposing into other keys and much more. It is a very well-done book and very entertaining. It also contains a list of the “10 Jam-mandments” that I find entertaining and educational.
(Recommended by John Sackenheim, Okeana, Ohio:)

Other Suggestions for Beginner Books

Larkin Bryant’s book/tape combo — I swear, that book alone could take a student through the first year or so and keep ’em busy. When I teach, I usually give ’em a few starter lessons and head them towards Larkin’s book.
In Search Of The Wild Dulcimer is another “teachin’ book” I like.
(Recommended by John Blosser a.k.a. Coyote)

I may have a connection for you…..a man named Joe Sanguinette, from Branson, built MDs for several years, with his label of Elk River Dulcimers. He recently retired from building for health reasons. Many years ago, he wrote a couple of simple MD books (one for Ionian, one for Mix) that were called the Baird Mountain Method Books I and II.
(Recommended by Dennis Moran)

In my humble opinion, the best book and tape to start with is LARKIN BRYANT’S. It is perfect for beginners and most easily understood!
(Recommended by Helene)

I really like “Strum Along With Joy” By Joyce Ochs. It’s a beginner book in DAd tuning. Very easy to read and follow. Is divided into lessons. Teaches chords and how to use them very early on. Working through the book is gentle and touched with humor.
You can contact Joyce for more information.
(Recommended by Barry & Linda Evans — Sweet Sounds Dulcimer House – Texas)

My first two books were the “Best Dulcimer Book”, by Gamse. I liked it because its information on tuning and explanation made sense! One I ran across just said to tune your dulcimer to a “good note” eeek! I know lots of good notes! The other was a Mel Bay book “Fun With Your Dulcimer”, good simple tunes to start with. Then of course I added some others some of which I am not yet ready for ……but will be. Have found being a beginner just a little over a year ago, that those two books got me well started. I collected several from second-hand booksellers on the ‘net. Progress has not been steady, it seems to go in fits and starts. At times it seems I plateau then try something that was soooo hard and hey, it works now. So would advise a beginning player if a song won’t come “right”, LEAVE IT for awhile and try again in a month or 2.
(Recommended by Alice Murphy)

I started with Larkin’s Book. I kind of skipped around and worked with the songs I knew first. Everything she teaches in there is easy to understand for the beginner. I am glad however, that I did not listen to the tape right away. I didn’t get to that ’til I was ready to learn some of the tunes I had never heard before. I say this because, even though she goes slow and simple, it would have been overwhelming to hear how I was supposed to be getting it. LOL
(Recommended by April)

I like Larkin’s Book, and Bonnie Carol’s “Dust Off that Dulcimer and Dance” (has tunes in 4 different tunings). I also use my “Mountain Dulcimer Workbook” which has fingering exercises to get limbered up. It really is a workbook–the students have to fill in the gaps.
(Recommended by Steve Eulberg)

John Stockard says:
“I would second Barry and Linda Evans’ recommendation of Joy Oches, “Strum along with Joy”. It is inexpensive, and comprehensive without giving the beginner more information than they can handle at one time. It is all in DAd and so that the beginner doesn’t have to learn anything particularly new to play along with most other dulcimer groups. I would also recommend as a companion book to Joy’s book… Maureen Seller’s beginner’s dulcimer book. While Maureen’s book is also a self teaching book, with Maureen’s book, the beginner will almost immediately have a good solid repertoire of well known tunes for their own personal enjoyment – all in DAd – all good, strong, clear, and relatively easy arrangements. Most all of these tunes will be heard at most jam sessions. Both books are excellent and can be used in self teaching.

Larkin’s book, while excellent … and was the book that I used to teach myself …. it is a very comprehensive book and gives a wonderful overview of the dulcimer and acquaints the student with many of the basic tunings…. but it is almost too good. I think that there is a lot of information there that the beginner isn’t quite ready for yet. Actually I would recommend all three, but if price is a problem, then go with Joy and Maureen’s two books to start with. I can’t imagine trying to teach without using these books. Joy’s book gets the beginner started… and Maureen’s book gives the beginner a good start on a repertoire.

Larkin’s book gives more of an overview of the dulcimer, musically and historically. BTW, in the back of Larkin’s book she has included the best chord charts that I have ever seen anywhere!!! These win hands down!!! For those of you with this book, I recommend Xeroxing yourself a copy of these charts … putting a layer of that clear self-sticking plastic over them and carrying them charts around in your dulcimer case.”

“I have had wonderful success teaching new players using Joy Ochs book, “Strum Along With Joy”. It is divided into lessons and by lesson 2 she is introducing chords. First learning the shapes, reinforced with chord changing exercises. Then Chord accompaniment to simple tunes. And then incorporating the chords in playing the tunes. I use sheet music hands out to supplement each lesson. In no time the students are adding in the chords whether they are tabbed out or just indicated by a chord letter.”
(Recommended by Barry & Linda Evans)

Here is my two cents for what it is worth. I like Sue Carpenters”Patches” for beginner fingerpickers, and of course all of Larry Congers’ books for fingerpickers and flatpickers. Of course I would like these, right? LOL My first book was Lois Hornbostles’ first fiddle tune book, can you believe that and I learned every one of them, WITH A PICK! LOL
(Recommended by Linda Brockinton)

My favorite, by far, is Larkin’s book AND tape. I sell it as a set, and almost insist that new players buy it. It’s the best I’ve seen.
(Recommended by Dennis Moran, Dulcimer House, Oklahoma)

Maureen’s book, “My Teaching Book for Appalachian Dulcimer”, begins with the assumption that the buyer doesn’t know basic music theory or what the parts of a dulcimer are. I know many people who began that way. She uses clear diagramed explanations and shows lots of verses to the tunes. Singing the words to familiar songs helps you learn the tunes so much quicker. Basically she tells the true beginner everything they need to get started. It does have a companion tape.
(Recommended by Rudy Ryan)

A good one if you want to be DAd oriented is “First Lessons Dulcimer DAd Tuning” by Joyce Ochs. Well organized with a logical progression.

“You Can Teach Yourself Dulcimer” by Madeline MacNeil is a well organized book that gets you very DAA oriented and give some other tunings at the end.

“Hal Leonard Dulcimer Method” by Neal Hellman is a good one if you want to start out with a not-fear-of-retuning attitude. It also addresses accompaniment.
All have CDs of the music.
(Recommended by Dave Murray, Arizona)

Dulci-BanjoOther Ideas for good instruction books:

For ideas on other good instruction books, go to my Dulcimer CD’s and Books page. You will find authors such as Bonnie Carol, Larkin Bryant Cohen, Steve Eulberg, Lorinda Jones, Dennis Lee, Jerry Rockwell, Joe Sanquinette, Neal Walters and David Schnaufer among many others to choose from. There are hot links to their web pages and also their e-mail addresses if you have any questions.
(Recommended by Gila Mountain Dulcimers)

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