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Re: [HD] Playing in other keys

To: hammered dulcimers <hammered_dulcimers@lists.fmp.com>
Subject: Re: [HD] Playing in other keys
From: Chuck Boody <cboody@mcfmail.net>
Date: Thu, 22 Nov 2007 09:48:47 -0600
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References: <001c01c82cc9$36cc0c90$0100a8c0@Sharon> <3B94FFBF-A400-45AA-8544-31344441D70C@mac.com>
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With ALL instruments tuning is a matter of temperament.  Most of what  
Maynard says is, as usual, spot on.  I just want to correct one  
issue.  If the tuner is tuned to equal temperament you will not have  
anomalies in the flat keys.  Equal temperament (at least in the  
modern sense of the term) means that all halfsteps within an octave  
are the same size (12th root of two if anyone cares) and hence all  
scales are equally in tune (or out of tune...your call).  So, you  
will be as well in tune in Db as in D... unless you have tweaked the  
tuning of your dulcimer.  Paul Goelz tempers his dulcimer tuning  
toward "just" intonation.  You can not completely temper the tuning  
of a hammered dulcimer without having individual chessman bridges on  
the treble bridge because adjusting one side (obviously) adjust the  
other side.

There are actually a couple of inexpensive tuners built for string  
instruments that tune perfect fifths rather than equal temperament,  
but they are built to tune four or five pitches (C G D A E) and not  
all 11.  A couple of the really spendy tuners provide all sorts of  
tempered tunings.  Most tempered tunings sound worse and worse as you  
move away from the basic note (that is if you base your tuning on D  
you'll sound pretty good in G but pretty awful in Db).  That means  
they are only useful if you know in advance what keys you will be  
playing in and also know that those you are playing with can adjust  
in a similar way.  And again, they can't be accommodated on the  
hammered dulcimer unless it has chessman bridges on the treble bridge  
(and perhaps not even then).

As an aside: there is some discussion of whether Bach meant equal  
temperament in his title "Das Wohltemperte Klavier" (Hmm did I spell  
that right??).  "Well tempered" doesn't have to mean equal tempered.   
Some of the temperaments sound acceptable in all keys but give a  
different quality to each key.  This isn't the place to discuss this  
issue in detail though.  the URL Maynard provides is a good starting  
point.

Chuck Boody

On Nov 22, 2007, at 7:53 AM, Maynard Johnson wrote:

> Messing around with songs in different keys....and practice.  Hear,
> Hear!
>
>  From years of playing with Scottish fiddlers, I've come to realize
> that some tunes just sound better in flat keys, some in sharp keys
> and some tunes sound OK in several different keys.  And with fiddle,
> cello, recorder and voice there is often a difference between G# and
> A flat, C# and D flat, and so on.  Slight difference, but real.
>
> With fixed pitch instruments like piano and dulcimer, it's a matter
> of tuning temperament.  See http://www.terryblackburn.us/music/
> temperament/stoess.htm  I suspect that our tuners are calibrated to
> equal temperament tuning, which may well mean that when you are
> perfectly in tune in G, D or A, you may have so slight anomolies with
> flat scales.  Unless you try to retune a lot, your idea of playing
> backup, or minimally is probably not only a very good idea for
> working out what to play in flat keys - it's going to sound better.
>
> J S Bach wrote "The Well Tempered Clavier", not "The Well Tempered
> Dulcimer".
>
>
> Maynard Johnson
> Kitchen Musician Website
> http://www.kitchenmusician.net/
> Jink and Diddle School of Scottish Fiddling
> http://www.kitchenmusician.net/jink/jink.html
>
>
> On Nov 22, 2007, at 12:33 AM, Sharon Gartley wrote:
>
>> I play with our church worship team, playing backup, not lead for
>> the most
>> part. If a song is in a hard key I either play very little or not
>> at all.
>> Most of the music we do is in A, C, D, F, G or their relative
>> minors. Eb and
>> Bb are okay. Ab I usually skip or play minimally. Anything beyond
>> Ab, forget
>> it. I sing. I work at learning to play in keys that aren't so easy,
>> sometimes just playing single notes in strategic places or I, V
>> patterns...it depends on the song and/or my level of motivation.
>>
>> I think it really just comes down to taking the time to work at
>> learning to
>> play in some of the harder keys. Mess around with songs in
>> different keys,
>> find the chords, figure out what you can play with it, what backup
>> patterns
>> work, etc., and practice. Some things you probably just won't be
>> able to
>> play along with, unless you want to retune your dulcimer . Maybe
>> you can
>> talk them into transposing some of the music so it's in a
>> friendlier key for
>> you. Our music director wants me to play and has been known to do
>> that. (if
>> only all the instruments could just turn a knob to transpose them!)
>>
>> I found that I had more difficulty with some keys or chords because
>> I had
>> learned a lot of my strings as either the sharp or flat and not as
>> both. For
>> instance, I learned the note as Bb not as Bb or A#. I learned D#,
>> not D# /
>> Eb. I have to stop and think ... Umm Ab, oh yeah, that's G#. I know
>> in my
>> head that it's the same note but on my dulcimer I learned that
>> string as a
>> G# so Ab doesn't instantly compute for me yet. I'm really working
>> on that so
>> the conversion is automatic in my mind. To help me get it in my
>> head I made
>> a little chart for myself showing the correct spelling for Ab, Db,
>> Eb, Fm,
>> Cm and Bb chords and in parenthesis put the note name as I learned
>> it if it
>> was different. Like:
>>
>>   Ab =            Db =         etc.
>> Ab (G#)       Db (C#)
>> C                 F
>> Eb (D#)       Ab (G#)
>>
>> Having that chart in front of me as I've practiced has helped me with
>> learning harder keys and with getting the strings names right. If I
>> were
>> learning the strings on my dulcimer now I would learn both names
>> and not one
>> or the other. If you're still learning the string names, I'd
>> recommend that.
>>
>> Sharon
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