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Help: Keys and scales...

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GUEST,novice 21 Jan 02 - 04:12 PM
Sorcha 21 Jan 02 - 04:28 PM
Helen 21 Jan 02 - 04:37 PM
SharonA 21 Jan 02 - 05:19 PM
SharonA 21 Jan 02 - 06:18 PM
M.Ted 21 Jan 02 - 06:19 PM
SharonA 21 Jan 02 - 06:24 PM
53 21 Jan 02 - 08:00 PM
GUEST,Guest 21 Jan 02 - 08:42 PM
Amergin 21 Jan 02 - 11:09 PM
DonMeixner 22 Jan 02 - 12:03 AM
Kaleea 22 Jan 02 - 01:42 AM
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Subject: Help: Keys and scales...
From: GUEST,novice
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 04:12 PM

Ok, I just recently took up the Mountain Dulcimer and I love it.

I am not taking any formal training, just have a couple of books (the jean ritchie book and the Larkin book). In the jean ritchie book, she talks about keys and scales (ionian and such). I do not understand them. I can play the notes (barely), but I do not know the difference between c or d or the difference in the scales. it is all greek to me.

I am hoping some one could help me with that....

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: Sorcha
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 04:28 PM

Oh dear......OK, I'll try. A note is a pitch. There are 7 of them in Western music. A--G. The eighth note is an A again. That is an octave which means that the sound wave is exactly double (For higher pitch) or half (for lower.)

Go print out Modes For Mudcatters then sit down at a piano keyboard and start reading and plunking. Oh, you don't need the whole thread, just PeterT's post......if you then have specific questions, come on back and we'll try to answer.

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: Helen
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 04:37 PM

Hi Guest, novice

Some time ago a Mudcatter (don't remember which one) recommended a really easy to understand Music Theory site. It is easy to work through, starts right at the beginning if you need the basics, but it is clearly organised so that you can skip to the part you are interested in. You work through exercises on the site and click on small sound samples to hear the music while looking at the music notation.

Gary Ewer's "Easy Music Theory"

I revisit it when I need to revise my knowledge or learn new stuff.

Check it out. It might help you to find out what you need to know.


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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: SharonA
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 05:19 PM

Do you know the "Do-Re-Mi" song from "The Sound of Music"? Well, the notes that are sung in that song as "Do - Re - Mi - Fa - So - La - Ti - Do" are what are known in the world of music theory as the "first note - second note - third note - fourth note - fifth note - sixth note - seventh note - first note again" in any scale. So when you sing "Do - Re - Mi - Fa - So - La - Ti - Do", you're singing a scale.

Play a "C" on your dulcimer, or on a piano or pitchpipe, and sing that note as the "Do" sound, then sing "Do - Re - Mi - Fa - So - La - Ti - Do" (I don't care how well or poorly you sing it; this is just a demonstration!). The letter-names that are in the scale you just sang are "C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C". And that is a "C scale" (actually a C-major scale) because it starts with "C" as the "Do" sound.

A song that is sung and/or played using that "C scale" is said to be "in the key of C".

Okay, so now you've learned a scale in the key of C. All the other notes have their own scales, too. For iinstance, sing "Do - Re - Mi - Fa - So". Stick with the note "So" (or G) for a minute and hold it (sing it for a long time). Then sing the same note (G) but pronounce it "Do". Now, start with that note and sing "Do - Re - Mi - Fa - so - La - Ti - Do" (with the note "G" as "Do" instead of the way you did it the last time).

Guess what? You've just sung a scale in the key of G!

So that's the basic idea behind keys and scales. All they really do is provide a launching point for a song – like when a group of people sing "Happy Birthday" and somebody starts the singing so everyone else can sing in the same key (otherwise everyone sings in their own keys and it sounds well-intentioned but not melodious!).

At this point in your playing, don't worry too much about terminology like "ionian" (I like your pun about it being Greek, by the way! LOL!). You will certainly learn more by using the resources you have on hand, and using the references that people put in this thread, but please don't ever let the book-learning discourage you. Remember that it is most important, above all, to keep having fun with your dulcimer! Play on!!

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: SharonA
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 06:18 PM

P.S. to Novice – I mentioned a piano in my last post here. A piano or an electronic keyboard of any size (even a small, "el cheapo" portable plastic thing) will be a great help to you in understanding notes and keys and scales, because you can visualize them on the keyboard. A small, inexpensive, battery-operated toy keyboard can be especially handy because you can label the keyboard's keys (with stick-on labels or a marker), so you can read the names of the notes as you play them... while your ear learns to recognize the tones, and differences in the tones, and match them to the names.

Also, you can play a note on the keyboard and then play the same note on the dulcimer.

By the way, a physical "key" on a keyboard (the long, white or black thing you push down to make a sound) is where we get the term of the abstract concept "key" as in "the key of C" that I talked about in my last post.

If you are at a piano or a keyboard, push down one of white keys with a finger of your left hand and hold it down. With a finger of your right hand, start playing each of the next 12 keys to the right of the key your left finger is on (including the black keys). You will end up on a white key that looks like the one you started with (oddly enough, it sorta sounds like the one you started with, too, only "higher"). Each one of those 12 notes that you played has its own "Do-Re-Mi" scale.

Oh, yes, I wanted to say one more thing about the "Do-Re-Mi" scale: You know that the bottom note is called "Do" and so is the top note. Well, when you get from the bottom "Do" to the top "Do", they call that an octave because you have to sing or play 8 notes to get there (oct=8, like an octopus has 8 legs).

And, again, the top "Do" sorta sounds like the bottom "Do", only higher.

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 06:19 PM

Ionian mode is another name for the major scale-Do Re Mi, etc--Sharon's synopsis of the info on the scale is good, but she forgets that you are learning mountain dulcimer--the mode names are important fundamentals of dulcimer, so do learn then--

Also, the Jean Ritchie book is the right one, and a better explanation of modes, you will not get, we have been bailed out of more than one discussion of modes with material from her book, so go there first--do your best to understand what she explains, don't expect to move too quickly though--after you have read an thought it over and re-read, it will start to make sense--

A basic thing to understand is each "mode" really corresponds to the fret on the dulcimer that a melody begins or ends on(depending)a melody that revolves around the third step in the melody, Mi, is in the Phrygian mode, the sixth, La, is Aeolian--and also, be aware that the pitches on the dulcimer are slightly different than those on a guitar or piano--

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: SharonA
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 06:24 PM

P.P.S. – And if you don't know the "Do-Re-Mi" song, I strongly suggest renting the video or DVD of "The Sound of Music" or finding a CD of the soundtrack. You may find it insipid, but it'll be useful!

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: 53
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 08:00 PM

i've been playing guitar for 37 years, and i have just recently settled down to a serious practice routine for my scales, of which ia am now working on all the major scales, it really helps, and it gives you a knowledge of the fingerboard. BOB

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 08:42 PM

For non-circular modes. Along top is number of sharps or flats on the key signature (the order of these is given at the bottom of the table). Vertical letters are keynotes, and on diagonals modes are identified.


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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: Amergin
Date: 21 Jan 02 - 11:09 PM

Ok thanks all...I will look at it more when i have a chance....(i am at work right now...)

I have a couple of more questions....

what would be more preferable? a noter or your finger?

a pick or your thumb?

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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: DonMeixner
Date: 22 Jan 02 - 12:03 AM

It depends on the style you want to play. Sally Rogers uses her fingers rather than a noter and she does some excellent O'Carolan harp tunes. She also finger picks it . Richard Farina played with a noter (I'm pretty sure from the sound of it) and he got some very powerful songs from his dulcimer.

Both of them used a pick as well.


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Subject: RE: Help: Keys and scales...
From: Kaleea
Date: 22 Jan 02 - 01:42 AM

Novice, Wherever you are, first of all, attempt to find a nearby Dulcimer organization. I do play Mountain Dulcimer myself, and attend meetings of a local dulcimer organization. If you let us know where you're from, chances are a 'catter might be able to connect you. The books are often quite sketchy about the meaning of the things they are attempting to teach. Even with degrees in Music education, sometimes I cannot understand what they think they mean. However:there are about 2-3 standard/popular tunings we use for a mountain dulcimer. The main thing to try to understand how the heck do you tune the darn thing,and then maybe you can figure out where to put your fingers to play the songs--if that's about where you are maybe I may be of assistance. Try not to worry too much about the scales and theory. Just try to get how it's tuned. The mountain dulcimer has four strings. Two of them are tuned to the exact same note and we often play the melody on them by pressing a finger up & down on the 2 strings inbetween the fretwires(those wire things which are placed across the "fretboard"), and the other two strings can be tuned in different ways. If you are playing along with other musicians in traditional music, they are most often in the key of "D" & "G". When we play in the mixolydian tuning we are most often in the key of "D". Don't worry about trying figure it out the deep music theory, just try to get how to tune it. The 2 strings together are tuned to the note D. The middle string is tuned to the note A (and will sound lower than the 2 strings together). The other string is the lowest string, and is tuned to "D" sounding like the 2 strings, only lower. When placed on your lap, the mountain dulcimer strings closest to your belly are the 2 together. then the one in the middle is a "drone" and sounds lower, and the one farthest away is also a "drone" and sounds lowest. Thus, we tune the strings to Mixolydian in the key of "D", DAD: D-------------(low string. A------------- (middle string D============= (2 strings)

One may also tune the mountain dulcimer in the Myxolydian mode in other keys, such as the key of "C" by tuning the strings to: C------------ G----------- C============

When you play in mixolydian, the "do" of "do re mi " is found then you pluck the 2 strings closest to you without pushing down your left hand finger on the fret (this is called "open"). So, if playing Doe, a deer, ... you play: "Doe": (pluck the 2 stings "open") "a": press down the 2 strings in the very first fret, "deer" press down the 2 strings in the 2nd fret.

Another popular tuning is Ionian. We often play in Ionian tuning in the key of "G" D----------- G---------- D==========

We can tune the dulcimer in an Ionian tuning in a completely different key, and the directions may be in the book. I remember when I got my dulcimer I couldn't make heads or tails about the explanations about tuning. I think the most important thing is to figure out exactly which note each string is supposed to be tuned to, & by using an electronic tuner, you may place the tuner carefully (so as not to scratch)right on the face of the mountain dulcimer and turn it on, and the tuner will direct you as to the name of the note you are plunking, and then you turn the tuning key (on the head of the dulcimer at the left end) one way or the other slowly & listen carefully to hear if turning it one way is upward or downward. Take care when turning it to make the sound go upward, you may break a string if you turn it too tightly. If you have a buddy who can assist you with a tuner (maybe a guitar player?), then perhaps you can make sense of this with the help of the buddy. Or if you have a friend who plays piano, they might be able to help you. The pianist at a church, the music teacher at a nearby school. If you choose to contact me offlist, I will endeavor to assist you. I can probably send you materials with pictures & etc to guide you. Good luck! Kaleea

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