Mountain Dulcimer 1-3-5 Tuning Home Webpage



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Welcome to the 1-3-5 Website


"Psychologically, we of today are poorly equipped to hear unaccompanied single-tone melodies, because we must instinctively and silently - and most often unconsciously - supply each heard tone with unsounded tones to support and accompany it.....Our brains, that is, hear any melody as if it were moving forward on the support of changing chords, or even as integers of such chords. In much of the most familiar music, in fact, the tones of the most prominent melody are simply the highest notes of such a succession of chords!

Herbert Weinstock, "What Music Is"
Dolphin Books, Doubleday & Co.,Inc., Garden City, NY (p.3)


(*Check our Schedule page if you are looking for 1-3-5 workshops. 

Please let us know if you hear of any, so we can publish them.)


            Within the past few years, many mountain dulcimer players have learned how to play far more than just folk music on their instruments, using nothing other than a slightly different tuning! Not only that, this tuning allows us to play dozens of exciting new chord sounds, never before possible with any of the tunings used in the past. The discovery of this 1-3-5 tuning system is absolutely the most significant factor affecting the music of the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer since the first raised-fretboard instruments appeared around 1813 - some 200 years ago.


What is a 1-3-5 tuning?


        For this tuning the three “open” (unfretted) strings are tuned to form a major chord. This is perhaps why it is sometimes referred to as an “open” tuning. Although we could choose any key we wished, consider such a tuning for the key of D major, whose scale consists of the notes as follow:


(1)    (2)     (3)     (4)     (5)     (6)     (7)     (8)


D     E        F#     G       A       B      C#      D


          If we select the first, third and fifth notes of this scale, and then tune the bass, middle and treble strings to those notes, in that order, the “open” strings when strummed will sound the notes D, F# and A (a D major chord). That’s it!…the tuning is finished. The best way to picture where all the notes are located is by means of the sketch below:

Click on picture for a larger view of the D-F#-A mountain dulcimer fretboard


         Notice that this fretboard represents a dulcimer having only three equidistant strings and a 6+ fret. There are three important and unique features seen here:


1.     Each fret (8 per octave counting the 6+) forms a major “barre” chord whose name is given by the note on the bass string. This is NOT a modal tuning; drones do not exist, and chord accompaniment is required.


2.     We are not in a fixed tuning. We can play a scale on the treble string alone in the keys of B minor, D major or A major without either retuning or using a capo.


3.     Among the three strings, we can locate 

     and play the entire 12-note array of the chromatic scale!  C - D - E - F - G - A - B 

     plus C# - D# - F# - G# - A#.


These features appear for any 1-3-5 tuning, regardless of key.


With this tuning, we can not only play songs containing “accidentals” (sharps and flats) but can also find and play a wide array of “color” chords, made possible only by these extra chromatic notes on the fretboard.



The 1-3-5 tuning offers a new and thrilling sound experience to those interested in finding out what it can do.



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  Free Mountain Dulcimer Tablature Arrangements:

Merv Rowley, Ruth Randle, Elizabeth DiPietri, and Suzanne Campling are working together to provide free mountain dulcimer tablature featuring the

 1-3-5 tuning.

They share the work... and the fun, taking turns doing the music/tab arrangements from which Ruth generates Finale and PDF files, Suzanne creates TablEdit and MIDI files, Merv does the research and composes the text, Gail and Ruth do the page layouts for the website, and Elizabeth takes care of publicity - i.e., notifying the various lists when we publish our new arrangements here.









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