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FAQ

If you have a question about the  1-3-5 tuning, please feel free to email Merv Rowley

 

 

FAQs

 

¤1.  What string gauge should I use to play in the 1-3-5 tuning?

     A.  If you are planning to re-tune frequently...
     B.  If you are planning to use one instrument for D-F#-A

¤2. How do I learn to play in 1-3-5?

 

¤3.  Suppose I am playing a song using a 1-3-5 tuning like D-F#-A;  Could others, tuned in D-A-d, play along with me?

 

¤4. I really enjoy the sound of songs played with a 1-3-5 tuning, but most of my friends in our dulcimer group play in either D-A-d or D-A-A. They feel that these are the best tunings to use. Is that correct?

 

¤5.  I’ve heard some of the music from your books of 1-3-5 arrangements. They sound OK, but I don’t know the names of most of them. How come you don’t use some of the songs we knew and sang when we were kids?


¤6.  “I am anxious to try your tuning. The only string I'm confused about is the melody A. I have a dulcimer tuned to DAd. Is the melody string “A” higher than the “D” or lower?”


Answers:


String Gauge:
 

     A.  If you are using a single instrument that you plan to use to go back and forth between the 1-5-8 (e.g. D-A-d) and 1-3-5 tunings, I might suggest you use something like F-A-C (bass-middle-melody) for your 1-3-5 tuning instead of D-F#-A . That is, you would move the bass string UP 1 1/2 steps from D to F, leave the middle string at the same A pitch, and bring the melody string DOWN 1 whole step from d to C. That way whatever string gauges you are currently using for your D-A-d tuning should work pretty well for the 1-3-5 tuning, since the notes are still pretty close to what you have on your instrument currently.

You can use all the same fingerings from any 1-3-5 tab, but of course, the note names and chord names will be different (you'll be playing in different keys from what may be shown in the tab if it's written for D-F#-A). The only reason that would matter would be if you are getting other musicians to play with you (e.g. guitar, etc) - they would need to "transpose" the chord names.

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     B.  It depends on the vibrating string length (VSL) and the particular tone you want to hear. Most people use .022 bass, .014 middle and .012 melody for a 28 1/2 inch string. Others use .024 phosphor/bronze wire wound on the bass ("D"),  .018 plain on the middle (F#), .014 plain on the melody ("A")  In this case the bass and the melody are the same size as when using the DAd tuning for the same notes ("D" & "A") but the heavier .18 on the F# is used because it sounds good without the loose, floppy sound that can happen with a .014 and, to a lesser extent, a .016.

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Tom & Missy Strothers have a useful online string gauge calculator (Click here) on their website. Tom states, "Please be aware that the results of the string gauge calculator are biased toward lighter gauge strings."

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2. How do I learn to play in 1-3-5?
 

 Learning to play in 1-3-5 is mostly a matter of becoming familiar with  where to find all the notes, especially those on the middle string with its "new" tuning. Since chord accompaniment is required, you will need to learn some new chord patterns. Many, however, are like the L-chords and "barre" used in the 1-5-8 tuning. You will find that chords sound "fuller" in 1-3-5 because of the tuning of the middle string. Also, many kinds of new-sounding chords are available, most of them easy to reach. Tables showing types and locations of available chords are listed for three different tunings, under Learning Aids   Books of music notation and tablature are already available for those who are able to learn by self-study. One book that includes learning tools as well as several 1-3-5 tablature arrangements is a book by Rosamond Campbell and is entitled " Playing Dulcimer In the Chord Melody Style". Full details are available at:
http://www.melbay.com/product.asp?ProductID=97533BCD

(Posted by permission of Rosamond Campbell - email rosamondcbell@aol.com )
Many of these selections are slow tunes that sound best when played chord/melody style.  Click here to go to our "Products" webpage for a selection of books featuring the 1-3-5 tuning. 

 

For others, we hope that soon there will be listings here for workshop schedules, teachers and, eventually, a manual giving the basics of how  to use the 1-3-5 tuning system

This website will serve as a collection center for posting more information as it develops.
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3.  Suppose I am playing a song using a 1-3-5 tuning like D-F#-A. Could others, tuned in D-A-d, play along with me?

 

The answer will depend a lot on the music itself and how experienced the D-A-d player might be in making adjustments. If the music is an ordinary diatonic tune using I, IV, V chords (and the secondary minors) for accompaniment, either tuning works just fine. The same chords from both instruments will be compatible.

 

However, if the music requires “accidentals” (notes not present in the key of D), there will be complications. When a note like a D# (Eb) or an A# (Bb) appears in the melody, it can be found on the 1-3-5 fretboard. The D-A-d player, however, has only two options; either “skip” that note or “bend” the string to form the note. In the case of chords that require such notes, the D-A-d player might play only a “partial” chord, with the “accidental” note omitted. In some cases it is helpful to play from pre-arranged music. These problems are not unlike those of jamming with chromatic instruments like the guitar.

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4. I really enjoy the sound of songs played with a 1-3-5 tuning, but most of my friends in our dulcimer group play in either D-A-d or D-A-A. They feel that these are the best tunings to use. Is that correct?

 

We have to be sure we understand what we mean by “best”, in terms of what kind of music we want to play. Each dulcimer tuning has certain advantages and disadvantages for a particular kind of music, but there is really no single “best” tuning for all kinds of music (including the 1-3-5 tuning).

 

 Many players enjoy fiddle tunes and Celtic music played at brisk tempos, either with drones or chord accompaniment. This music is particularly popular with many folk groups who enjoy jamming. Group playing involves the necessity for frequent key changes by dulcimer players (whose instruments are not chromatic). To meet this challenge, dulcimer groups in the 1960’s devised a system to accomplish this. It included the selection of a 1-5-8 tuning, plus the use of a 6+ fret and a capo. At the same time, the key of D was chosen, so that this combination would allow rapid key changes to match the various keys of this type of folk music when jamming. This system resulted in the widespread popularity today’s D-A-d; it also can be used with slower tunes, of course, and with either drone or chord accompaniment. One of its disadvantages is its limited availability of full triad (3-note) chords. Many chords thus consist of only the tonic and fifth notes, and are neither truly “major” nor “minor”.

 

 By contrast, the 1-5-5 tuning (D-A-A) offers lots of triad chords, both major and minor, preferred by many players for their harmonious sound. Many use this tuning almost exclusively for the slower ballads and other folk songs. Some kinds of fast folk tunes can also be played, using either drones or partial chords, however key-changing ability is limited compared to D-A-d.

 

 This now brings us to the 1-3-5 tuning system. It combines features of both the tunings already described. The note patterns permit playing in more than one key, with neither retuning nor use of a capo. This tuning also allows us to play all the triad chords offered by D-A-A, plus a wide variety of new “color chords”, found only on chromatic instruments like the guitar. They include chords called diminished, augmented. flatted fifth, and several others.  These are some of the sounds you have found so pleasing. Lastly, the chromatic notes on the 1-3-5 fretboard allow us to play many kinds of music not possible with other tunings.  This is because we are no longer limited to music having only seven notes in an octave. A disadvantage of 1-3-5 for some players may be the lack of drones as a means of accompaniment for melodies.

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5.  I’ve heard some of the music from your books of 1-3-5 arrangements. They sound OK, but I don’t know the names of most of them. How come you don’t use some of the songs we knew and sang when we were kids?

I understand why you ask; I wish I could use a lot of the songs I knew when I was a kid. There was so much great music written in America between the 1940’s and 1980’s …. and since!

The problem in a nutshell is that nearly everything written in America since about 1923 is still under copyright. This means that such music is commercially owned by either the composers themselves or their heirs, publishing houses or others who have bought them for investment purposes. Today’s arrangers, publishers and performers must pay fees (royalties) to use them.

These costs are affordable for many kinds of music books (for piano, guitar, etc.) where there is a large market of buyers. Unfortunately, dulcimer music doesn’t fit that description, and paying royalties to use contemporary music is just too expensive! This doesn’t mean a dulcimer player couldn’t play a modern tune in 1-3-5 for personal pleasure or educational purposes, however. In fact, some are doing just that!

6. 
“I am anxious to try your tuning. The only string I'm confused about is the melody A. I have a dulcimer tuned to DAd. Is the melody string “A” higher than the “D” or lower?”


When using the 1-3-5 tuning, it is customary that the notes on the bass, middle and treble strings all be in the same octave. In other words, starting with the usual D on the bass string, find the F# on the second fret of that string and the A on the fourth fret.

 

Starting with a DAd tuning, you would lower the middle string from A to F#, then lower the treble (or “melody”) string from “d” down to A.

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