Mountain Dulcimers with a southwestern flair from New Mexico.Mountain Dulcimers with a southwestern flair from New Mexico.Mountain Dulcimers with a southwestern flair from New Mexico.

Mountain Dulcimer Lessons

Questions and Answers


I've heard of baritone dulcimers and bass dulcimers-- how do they vary from a "regular" dulcimer (whatever that is)?


Thank you for your question! What you are referring to as a "regular" dulcimer is more commonly known as a "standard" dulcimer and they are approximately 27 inches long from nut to bridge. There are some builders who make them a little shorter and some builders make them a little longer (difference of an inch or so). The three strings are usually tuned to DAd or DAA most commonly, however there are dozens of other tunings that can be used and more and more tunings are being experimented with as time goes on. These two tunings are the ones that are usually demonstrated at workshops. Another tuning that is becoming popular is the DF#A tuning and there is a website set up for people who want to experiment with that tuning. It is also called the 1-3-5 tuning. Here is the link for the 1-3-5 Website.

The Bass dulcimer is just a little longer than the standard dulcimer, as a general rule. It is tuned in the same relationship, but an octave lower.

The Baritone dulcimer is somewhere in-between in its tuning, most commonly tuned to AEA or AEE. Just as in a choir, the different dulcimers have different voices -- the Baritone might be more like the Alto voice. If you capo the Baritone at the third fret on a diatonically fretted instrument, you would end up putting yourself into the DAd tuning as in the standard dulcimer.

I hope this has answered your questions and has made it more clear to you. If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask!


I play my baritone dulcimer in a group to lead worship. I am the only instrument but we have two very nice voices leading. I have learned some songs from them, the melody of the songs, by ear - in fact we can't find sheet music for them. But I think it would sound nicer if I could play some nice finger picking to chords along with the song.

So here's my question: If I know the melody how can I figure out what chords to play that would sound nice? I've tried playing along and playing various chords but they all sound only okay - nothing special and maybe right or maybe wrong. Part of the problem is my ears can't figure out why chords help people sing (what is a guitar doing anyway? Just keeping the beat?)
Kevin in Arkansas


One thing to remember is that for most melodies there is more than one chord progression that will work and sound good. Hymns or songs you have listened to all your life, particularly when being played from written music like from a hymnal in church, will probably only really sound "right" one way, but if you listen to recordings by different artists you will find they vary the chords quite a bit and it still sounds good. Having said that, there are some generalities that can work reasonably well.

It helps if you think of the melody in terms of its scale. By that I mean where the melody note lies in the scale. (Do, Re, Mi, etc.) Then think of the chords in terms of their number (If you are playing in the key of A, then A Major is a 1 chord, D major is a 4 chord, and E major is a 5 chord).

If the melody note isthen the chord is usually:or sometimes:

Try singing the scale and playing the chords along with it and I think you will get the idea. Remember there are lots more options than that but the above will work adequately most of the time. If it doesn't sound right, don't be afraid to try other chords.
Jim Woods
McSpadden Dulcimers


Can you give me an EASY (read KISS) explanation of how to modulate a song from one key to another, i.e., the pivot chords. I took a mini workshop on this subject a few years ago from Professor Schnauffer, but I quickly realized I was in WAY over my head. Well, a few years later, I believe I'm ready for this lesson now. I need to know.

I've gone on line and searched, but found really deep music theory stuff that would take me years to understand. I need something simple as it relates to our instrument - not a piano, etc. Just dulcimer. A neat little chart would be great!

From Schnauffer's class, I have a couple of simple notes: To modulate from D to G, use an E7 chord as the pivot, and he suggested 056 (bass to treble). To modulate from G to D use an A7 chord, and his suggestion was 443.

My notes stop there - I think I was in la-la land by then. Heck, at this point I was doing good to play a song straight through one time in the same key. Last thing I wanted to do was go and change keys!

Anyway, a simple explanation of why the certain pivot chords are used would be great, especially for those of us that really get into theory. I don't know how much I would absorb, but I'd like to sort of understand.

What I'd like would be something like a chart showing:

FromToPivot ChordSuggested Chord(s)
DGE75,6+,7; xxx; etc.
ADB75,5,5; xxx; etc.

You catch my drift. Sort of a reference card I could keep with my dulcimer paraphanalia.

Kerry, I haven't had time to read and digest all of your lessons, so I apologize if you covered this. If so, please let me know which lesson it was, and I'll pull it up and get on it pronto!
trying to modulate in cold Marietta, GA!


In my Lesson # 6 on 7th chords I posted a chart for moving from one chord to another within a song, either to use as a fill or for added color. I believe you could use these when moving from one key into the other in the middle of a song.

Notice that when you read the lists from the top down instead of from left to right, you are just saying the alphabet. Look at how they relate to each other and the ones next to them. All you have to do is menorize the first one and then you can just say the alphabet down if you wanted to know the next one. Did that make sense? (As far as David's workshop suggestions, see the chart below this one).

D goes to D7 goes to G
E goes to E7 goes to A
F goes to F7 goes to B
G goes to G7 goes to C
A goes to A7 goes to D
B goes to B7 goes to E
C goes to C7 goes to F

The following chart is what David was refering to (I think, just from what you told me). I have never taken this workshop from him, but just using the above logic, I would assume the same thing would work, so I built you a chart. Again, look at how you are just saying the alphabet when you read it from top to bottom and you can see that all you have to do is memorize the first one and then when you wanted to know the next one, all you have to do is go up (or down) the alphabet. Also notice that E comes after D in the alphabet (A, B, C, D, E..... ) logically, the next one would be the same -- F comes after E, etc.

D goes to E7 goes to G
E goes to F7 goes to A
F goes to G7 goes to B
G goes to A7 goes to C
A goes to B7 goes to D
B goes to C7 goes to E
C goes to D7 goes to F

As for the fingerings, I think it would depend on where you are coming from and where you are going. You would have to take this into consideration when deciding where to finger your 7th chord. The fingering for your 7th chord would preferably be somewhere inbetween the chord you are leaving and the next chord you would go to. (E7 would have to be somewhere inbetween D and G, etc.) It wouldn't always be necessary, but more comfortable most of the time.

David uses a lot of two note chord fingering positions (partial chords) in most of his tunes. These are easier to move to and from. You don't always have to play a full three fret chord -- allow yourself the drones here and there. Your ear will tell you instantly if it is "right" or not!

I don't really like to get into "charting" the fret numbers for you. The reason is that there are several fingerings for most chords. Which fingering works in one place might not work in another when you are moving up or down to a different place.

Did you get all my Chord Lessons for Newbies or just some of them? I have explained how to find your chords (just the simple chords) just by counting the alphabet up from the nut. You can use different combinations of barre chords, "L" chords, "X" chords and slant chords to achieve a progression like in the chart above. You could just use all barre chords .... moving from a D to a E7 to a G would be 0, 0, 0, / 1, 1, 1, /3, 3, 3. That is pretty "bland" sounding, but it would work if your tune moved from the open to the 3 fret. You have to look at your tune and see where it is coming from and where it is going and then work out a progression of fingerings using the different chord "forms".

I hope the chart helps you achieve what you are looking for.


I have 2 dulcimers and decided to use one for DAd and keep the newer one for DAA. I do not know how long the present strings have been on them and have no idea what size gauges they are. One is about 10 years old (never had strings changed, etc.) and they other is used and I have had it 1 year. How often should strings be changed and what type of string /gauge, etc.? Went looking at a catalog and discovered there are:

Darco for Ionian
McSpadden for Ionian and Mixolydian
Riverlark Special squeakless Mixolydian
Riverlark Squeakless Lights for mixolydian

I am completely confused. What is a good recommendation? Is DAd mixolydian?
Thanks in advance for your imput!


Some companies make buying strings really complicated. I think they put them in "Mixolydian" and "Ionian" sets to try to make it easier when it makes it more confusing to some folks.

My dulcimers have a 27" fretboard and I use two .010 for the treble and a .012 for the middle and a .024 (or a .022, depends on what's around) for the bass. You can use .009, .011, and .022 if you want to for this string length also.

I tune DAd for these strings on my dulcimers.

A lot of the string differences are personal opinion or taste. Different strokes for different folks. Strings aren't that expensive and if you change them about once every other month, you can try different combinations each time until you hit on one you are comfortable with.

I use GHS strings and they work just fine (for me). Check out the dulcimer accessories page.

You can also buy guitar strings locally at your own music store and save the shipping, Some places will sell them to you individually. If they don't sell dulcimers or are unfamiliar with dulcimers, then they most likely will not have dulcimer "sets".


Can anyone recommed tab books written in DGd? And maybe include an address and price so a body might order them? I, for one, would be much more inclined to try different tunings if I had something to go by.


My book of English Songs and Ballads has several songs in DGd and in CFc (same tuning, one step down). I've really found it useful to be able to play in the key of F and G. The book comes with a CD of several of the songs and sells for $24.95. I'll ship for free.
Lance's Website


I recently joined a band our youth group formed and I'm having some trouble figuring out how to play some of the chords the music calls for. Maybe some of you music theory buffs can help me. For starters, what note is it that's suspended in any kind of suspended chord, like Dsus or Gsus? And so how would you accomplish that on a dulcimer? I've got an idea about this, but I'm not sure it's right. Also, what about chords like D2 or G2? I think that means, in the case of G2, instead of playing your typical G, B, D, you'd play G, A, D.
Am I right???
Huffman, TX


For sus 4 chords, get rid of the 3rd and add the 4th. C major (C E G)would become C sus 4 (C F G). On the dulcimer, find the 3rd in the chord and raise it a half-step.

For sus 2 chords, get rid of the 3rd and add the 4th. C major (C E G) would become C sus 2 (C D G). On the dulcimer, find the 3rd and lower it a whole-step.

I'm not sure about a G2. That might mean add the 2 to the G major triad. That would make G A B D. Since a G9 would imply a flat 7, I'm sure this either represents a G sus 2 or a G add 2. On the dulcimer, to be safe, just play a G sus 2.
Stephen Seifert
Stephen Seifert's Website


I'm interested in tips on flying and carrying on a mountain dulcimer. Although I've done this several times with no problem, I always feel like I'm going to be stopped by some "rule-book waving" airline person because my dulcimer really doesn't fit inside the boundaries of the baggage check stand. The last time I flew, the flight attendants were nice enough to let me put my instrument up in a closet near the cockpit.

In a couple of weeks I'm flying and I would like to carry a more expensive dulcimer than I've ever flown with before but I don't won't to risk injury to the instrment. Any ideas would be appreciated.
Johnny Ray


I'm paranoid when it comes to what the airlines will let you carry on - so I always pack mine to be checked. I bought a hard shell plastic double rifle case (at any sporting goods store - about $40) and took out the eggshell foam. I bought one inch foam, lined the top and bottom of the case, then took more foam and cut around my dulcimer so it fits snugly into it. Then I use packing tape (the kind with the nylon thread in it) wrapped around two or three times around the case (the locks on those things are very cheaply made).

I also tell them at the check in that it's an instrument and usually they will have it hand carried down to the loading carts, and not trust the conveyor belt. And usually it comes to the "large" claim area, not the general pickup.

I know that some others have put their quilted cases in hard shell golf bag carriers - good if you are flying with more than one dulcimer (and if you've got a lot of extra cash - those things are expensive). Good luck!


Could you please recommend an instructional video for the lap dulcimer that goes a bit beyond the basics? I can do a basic strum on a tune and some chording. If possible, I'd like one that goes into depth on finger picking.


Many years ago, I purchased David Schnaufer's instructional video thru Homespun Tapes.

I haven't looked at it in quite awhile, but recall it was very good. "Wildwood Flower", "Yellow Rose of Texas", and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" are taught on it. Better yet, you get a fabulous look at David's technique.

It has some downsides though. Main one being the camera angle. I remember wanting the camera angle to come down over his shoulder so I could view the fretboard as a player would see it. Also, I think it was supposed to come with tab, but didn't.
Newton Jct, NH


Last week I was searching Napster for songs from my various dulcimer books and I came across a Scottish folk duo called The Corries. I loved their music and I noticed that on the Digital Tradition webpage there were quite a few of the songs that the Corries did. Unfortunately, they all seemed to be in the CGc tuning.

Can they be converted in any way to DAA or DAd and still sound O.K? I really don't want to have to send off for another dulcimer so I can have one in each tuning.


If you find a tune tabbed out in CGc, you can tune your dulcimer to DAd and play the tune just as if you were tuned to CGc. You will be playing in the key of D instead of the key of C is all. The relationships of the notes are all the same, just a step up.


I hope someone out there can shed a little light on a problem that I have. I have several dulcimer cassette tapes that I would like to put on a CD. Is there a program or sound card that will allow this to be done. I have a CD burner but none of the programs that I have will except cassett tape music.
Hargeo in Florida


I use MusicMatch Jukebox, a free download from You can record through the line in jack from your tape recorder and save as mp3. It will "burn" a cd for you, too since you already have a cdr drive. Of course, you can convert the mp3 files to wave files and let the software you got with your cd drive turn those wave files into a regular audio cd. It's just that MusicMatch Jukebox should be able to handle it all, and it's free. Hey, I liked the price.
Clayton E. Samels


I have a question about chords. My music background is all self-taught but I have a fair knowledge of the basics of music theory. With that said, here's what I am having trouble with. When I have a piece of music with no chords and I want to add them I don't understand how to determine where to place the chords.
Bill Testerman


Sooner or later nearly every dulcimer player decides to learn to play chords instead of drones, and asks the same question you have just asked. As a teacher, I found that those who have learned to play by tablature become quite confused by the idea of having to learn chord theory, inversions, etc. Another complication is that the names of the chords change with each key you are tuned to.

After several years, I decided to develop of system of teaching how to substitute chords for single melody notes, based not upon the NAMES of the chords, but according to the FRET POSITION of the melody notes. In other words, it is a system involving what I call "chord scales". There is a "major" chord scale and a "minor" chord scale (with chords left over to use as you wish). Learn to play these and you can substitute any time you wish. Normally, if the music is written in time, the chord goes on the first beat of each measure; for 4/4, it is often added for the first and third beat, etc. These are just general rules. You can mix-and-match to suit your playing style.

I'm not going to give a lesson on chord theory here. Let me just say that I have developed these chords scales for 1-5-5 tunings like D-A-A, and have offered them to those on dulcimer-list from time to time, Several dozen of you already have this list. Anyone else who wants one can send me a SASE and I'll send it to you. Merv Rowley
665 Lakeview Court
Roselle, IL 60172


What can you tell me about Modes? I have heard a lot of talk about them but don't understand what they are!
A Newbie!


We had quite a conversation about Modes and Pentatonic scales on the dulcimer discussion list a while back and it caused me to do some studying. The result is on my website. You might find it to be of interest.
Dave Murray

Also check out the Frequently Asked Questions page here.

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