1.  Note Positions for various 1-3-5 tunings
Printable version
2.  Chord Summary for D-F#-A Tuning

          Printable PDF: D-F#-A chart
3.  Chord Summary for E-G#-B Tuning
          Printable PDF: E-G#-B chord chart
4.  Chord Summary for F-A-C Tuning
          Printable PDF: F-A-C chord chart
5.  Generic Chordfinder

          Printable (smaller) PDF files:   Page 1  Page 2  Page 3

          or one larger all-inclusive PDF file: Generic Chord Finder

6.  Finding Our Way Around the 1-3-5 Fretboard
          Printable page: Note Positions on the DF#A fretboard

7.  “Updating” the 1-3-5 Fretboard
          Printable PDF: What new chords are added by the 1+ fret?

8.  Using the 1-3-5 Tuning for Back-up Chords
         Printable PDF: text and chart BackupChords and text in DF#A tuning

         or download just the chord chart: BackupChords in DF#A tuning

9.  How to  arrange tablature in the 1-3-5 tuning using the Learning Aids


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Some may find it helpful to locate notes on the 1-3-5 fretboard by using layout patterns showing note positions. The three most common tunings being used are D-F#-A, E-G#-B and F-A-C. The fretboard layouts for these three tunings are available for downloading by clicking on:

 Note Positions For Various 1-3-5 Tunings:

Click here for a large, printable version of this Note Position chart

Click here for Medium size file of the Note Positions


Since most players are already familiar with note patterns for the D-A-d and D-A-A tunings, it may be easier to start with the D-F#-A system. Here, the note distributions for the “D” and “A” strings remain the same, leaving the “F#” to be studied.


          Bear in mind that, since we will not be playing drone accompaniment, we are free to play in any key whose scale appears on the treble string. There are three such keys for any 1-3-5 tuning, beginning on either the open string, or the first or third fret of the treble string. For the D-F#-A tuning, these three keys are A, Bm or D.
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          Chord patterns for the 1-3-5 tuning tend to be much like the “barre –chord”, L-chord and slant-chord shapes of the D-A-d tuning. There are also several unique chord shapes and types. Bear in mind that the supply of chromatic notes allows for many more chords than with modal tunings. A listing of the more important 1-3-5 chords, by treble fret number, is given here for various tunings (click on the following):



          Chord Summary" for D-F-#A tuning (PDF)


           “Chord Summary" for E-G#-B (PDF)

            “Chord Summary" for F-A-C tuning (PDF)

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     Many folks today own mountain dulcimers that are designed for playing in higher or lower keys than those provided by the D, E or F tunings shown in our chord charts. These instruments can also be played using 1-3-5 tunings by selecting one to suit the voice range of the instrument. Rather than list all possible chord charts here, we felt it might be easier to provide information showing how a chart for a particular key could be prepared. As an example, let's show how we could make a chord chart for a G-B-D tuning.


     Without getting into chord theory about why certain note combinations form particular chords, let's just say that it depends on the relative pitches of the notes that are selected.  The difference in pitch between any two notes can be thought of in terms of half-tone separations. To explain that, we must look at the dulcimer fretboard. The illustration below shows two fretboards; the first is for a typical chromatic instrument like a guitar, having 12 notes per octave. By comparison, the second is an ordinary dulcimer fretboard with its diatonic, 7-note scale.  Here, a 6+ fret has been added since that is a feature of most of today's dulcimers (and required for the 1-3-5 tuning.) (Printable .PDF fretboards

Click for large view of fretboard comparison charts provided by www.mountaindulcimer-1-3-5.com


     The chromatic fretboard shows a continuously decreasing spacing between frets from left to right as we move upscale, with no sudden, wide gaps like those that appear on the dulcimer. On the chromatic fretboard, the note produced on each and every fret is one half-tone higher or lower than the one on its neighboring fret. By contrast, the dulcimer fretboard shows a varying pattern of narrow and wide spacings between frets. The wide spacings (five per octave) represent the five missing chromatic notes. If we ignore the 6+ fret for the moment, we see that there are five "wide" gaps and two "narrow" gaps in each octave. As shown here the narrow gaps appear only between frets 2 & 3, 5 & 6, 9 & 10 and 12 & 13. The insertion of the 6+ divides the space between 6 and 7 into two more narrow gaps. These are all half-tones, corresponding to what we see on the chromatic fretboard.  The wide gaps represent what are called whole-tones. By definition, one whole-tone equals two half-tones. To make this clear, the numbers "2" and "1" are shown along the top of the dulcimer fretboard to indicate half-tone spacings. These are the numbers we will be using in the calculation examples which follow. (Generic Chord Finder .PDF)


     The "Generic Chord Finder" included with this Learning Aid lists various kinds of chords that can be found on any 1-3-5 fretboard (hence the name "generic"). By following the instructions on the lower portion of the chart, you can convert any of these chord designations to a group of numbers which will be the tablature designation for the chord. If you wish to assign the chord a name, you will need to refer to note locations on a fretboard tuned to the key you are working with. In our example, this is the key of G, and the fretboard will appear like the one below: (printable .PDF)

Click for larger view of GBD Fretboard provided by www.mountaindulcimer-1-3-5.com


     This is how we are able to show that a 3/2/3 chord on this fretboard is really a C/Eb/G, or a C minor. Similarly the 2/3/3 chord translates to B/E/G, or E minor. Notice that the third possibility for forming a minor chord, according to the Chordfinder chart, is one that doesn't apply to treble fret #3 (there is no way to locate an (x-2) fret location on either the middle or bass string, since there is no 1+ fret).

     If there are any questions about use of this Learning Aid, contact Merv Rowley at Daa4me@aol.com .

Merv Rowley



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Finding Our Way Around the 1-3-5 Fretboard

Whenever we change tunings on the dulcimer it’s like moving to a new neighborhood; we have to learn “new street and building locations”. It takes time before we become familiar with the new addresses. Perhaps one way to speed up the process might be to study a map of our surroundings. Let’s take a close look at the charts of Note Positions for Various 1-3-5 Tunings and select the one for D-F#-A for study:

<Click here> for the rest of the article.  It has been programmed to a printable page.


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“Updating” the 1-3-5 Fretboard

            In the previous Learning Aid (#6) we showed that there was a scarcity of certain chromatic notes on the 1-3-5 fretboard.  In the D-F#-A tuning, for example, we can find only one location in each octave for the notes A#, D#, C and F. That situation isn’t necessarily the way we want things to be; that’s just the way it is because of the diatonic fret spacing of dulcimers.


            The same sort of problem has been seen for many years with the modal D tunings like D-A-A and D-A-d.  For this reason, nearly all dulcimers today have the 6+ fret, and growing numbers of players are insisting on the 1+ fret as well. Both of these frets, basically, have been added to provide new notes and chords that are more easily reached.


            In recent months, several of our tab offerings have been arranged using the 1+ fret, in order to make the notes F-natural and C-natural more easily available. We plan to continue using the 1+ in some of our future arrangements, since many players already have that fret. It is not a necessity here; merely a help (just as it is for other tunings.) In fact, those having the 1+ fret will find that it adds many more chord positions than are found in our present 1-3-5 chord tables.  Here we have listed a summary of 22 such new chords. (You may wish to insert these in the regular chord tables found elsewhere).


(Printable PDF chart: What new chords are added by the 1+ fret?


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Using the 1-3-5 Tuning for Back-up Chords


The chromatic nature of each 1-3-5 tuning permits us to play melodies and chords in several different keys without a capo or further manipulation. The various selections in our Archives of musical arrangements have shown, for example that the D-F#-A tuning can be used to arrange music in the keys of D, A, G, and E plus all their corresponding minors. All these key selections have resulted in easily playable arrangements, many with color chords not available in conventional tunings.

We likewise can play the old familiar folk tunes, using primarily the traditional I, IV, V and V7 chords and the secondary minor chords when necessary. Since this is the case, it is logical to consider using the 1-3-5 tuning system for playing back-up chords to accompany chromatic instruments during folk music jamming. The main advantage here, of course, is to permit rapid changing of keys without capos.


 In the following table we have listed the common I, IV, V and V7 chords, plus the secondary minors for G, D, A and E, four different keys commonly used with folk tunes, These can all be handled with a D-F#-A tuning.


If this approach proves helpful for jamming, we can easily add more using F-A-C or other tunings!


Prepared by Merv Rowley© 2005


Back-Up Chords

in DF#A Tuning


 Printable: text and chart BackupChords and text in DF#A.pdf 

 or download just the chord chart: BackupChords in DF#A.pdf


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