How to Tune a Hammered Dulcimer?

If you are aware of hammered dulcimers, the importance of tuning it is not unknown to you. This instrument which has to be played through striking of the strings using the special pairs of mallets, namely hammers, needs good tuning scheme to produce what you desire. Are you struggling to tune a hammered dulcimer? Not sure what to use ? We are here to help with our article How to Tune a Hammered Dulcimer?

However, there are several tuning schemes for the hammered dulcimer and you have options to customize schemes the way you prefer. However, this can be very confusing and complex to look at.

To help you out a bit in the process, we have compiled a guide regarding the different ways of tuning a Hammered Dulcimer. We will be mainly discussing 2 different types of tuning in this guide including the 5th interval tuning and the Chromatic Tuning.

5th Interval Tuning

If you have been looking up tuning, you will know that this is one of the most common schemes followed for tuning a hammered dulcimer. As the name suggests, this sort of tuning has something to do with the 5th interval.

The treble bridge of the hammered dulcimer, in this case, is placed in a manner that the note on the left of the bridge happens to be the precise fifth above the note that exists on the right-hand side.

In a similar manner, each of the notes on the right of the treble bridge happens to be higher by a fifth interval to the adjacent notes that come below it, on top of the bass bridge.

It follows the major scale sequence during the tuning process of the hammered dulcimer. If you are considering traditional dulcimers, this major sequence includes mostly D, G, C, F, and occasionally A and E.

Furthermore, B minor, E minor and the additional modes related to those major scales also exist here. As you can see, multiple diatonic scales are available. This also means that each of the scales come with a few chromatic notes, which has to be lent by the other scales.

This can be best depicted using an example. Take the instance of the diatonic scale for the key of G. It consists of a F#. However, you are also able to play a F natural, given the fact that the note exists in the corresponding or rather surrounding, diatonic scale for the key of C.

When you play in alternate keys, it can feel a little inconvenient. However, it is possible to play this by simply re-tuning a few courses of the strings up or down a half step.

If you are opting for styles of music like that of bluegrass, Celtic, dance music or traditional fiddle tunes, this 5th interval style of tuning will do wonders. You can also enjoy classical pieces and old-time songs in this sort of tuning style.

Chromatic Tuning

This is the sort of tuning that can fit with all fully chromatic hammered dulcimers. In all honesty, such chromatic dulcimers can use several kinds of tuning techniques to reach the position of all kinds of sharps and flats.

However, it is important to note that Chromatic tuning is special. It is more like a special variation to the previously mentioned 5th interval tuning.

The chromatic notes will either be replacing the notes which have been duplicated, or get attached to the instrument using new bridges. If you have been too used to traditional style of tuning, this can seem a little complex and might take some time to get used to.

However, it is worth the try. And, if you have just started playing a hammered dulcimer, this is pretty easy and convenient style of tuning to pick up.

The chromatic style of tuning can be relevant for a diverse range of music styles, like the jazz, classical, blues, and several other kinds of non-Western folk songs.

Some Tips for Tuning Your Hammered Dulcimer

It is important to keep a few things in mind when tuning your hammered dulcimer, whichever method you follow.

  • Try not to use strings which are overly tightened. When too tight, the strings can be prone to break and even difficult to tune sometimes. In case you are being unable to reach the note you desire, try to loosen the tension a little and go for a lower octave.
  • It is necessary to maintain uniformity in terms of tension in the strings. Hence, when tuning, it is important to tune the strings from flat to on-pitch. You must, at all times, refrain from tuning from sharp to on-pitch. This is because; it will then fail to keep the tension uniform. Moreover, it will ultimately come out as out of tune.
  • When you struggle to equalize the tensions on the two sides (the left and the right side) of the string, try to make use of your fingers. You can use the fingers to move the strings vertically (going up and down), just a little bit, over the bridge cap. You may also want to try this on the side rails.
  • You must make sure that you are very slow in turning the tuning peg while picking on the strings. This is important to keep in mind when trying to check the pitch with some e-tuner.
  • It is advised to start tuning using the lowest, and hence the longest string on the treble bridge, followed by the highest (and hence the shortest) string. This will ensure that you have these notes settled, and you can move on to tune the rest of the strings using the different tuning charts.

Concluding Remarks

Now you are well-aware of how to tune a hammered dulcimer and what to keep in mind when following the guidelines of tuning the instrument. There are several kinds of tunings available and it highly depends on what sort of music style you follow. As mentioned above, the two most popular and important sort of tuning needs to follow a few guidelines or tips as well.

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