Blues on the Mountain Dulcimer, part 2

[ Keys of : A : B : F# : D | Hexatonic Scale | Scale Chart | Chord Chart | Blues Study Tab ]


In the first part of this session, we learned the basics of the twelve bar blues pattern applied to the mountain dulcimer in the key of E (while in DAd tuning). Actually, however, we can play the blues in several keys on a standard dulcimer in this tuning. Sadly, the key of D is one of the less satisfactory selections, unless you have added a 1+ fret to your instrument. More on this later.

Remember that the blues pentatonic scale consists of a root, a minor third, a perfect fourth, a perfect fifth, and a flatted seventh. I've already shown how you can get these intervals on your dulcimer in the key of E, let's look at some other possibilities.

In the key of A the notes in the blues pentatonic are A, C, D, E, and G. These are all available to you in DAd tuning. On the melody string, the A is at the 4th fret, the C at the 6th fret, the D is at the 7th fret, the E at the 8th fret, the G at the 10th fret, and the 11th fret starts over again at A. Frets 0, 1, and 3 are also in the blues pentatonic scale. The I, IV, and V chords are A, D, and E respectively. Remember, we like to use seventh chords if possible. Using the two note chord fragments as I described in part 1, you could finger an A7 chord at the 3rd fret of the bass string, and the 4th fret of the middle string while you play the melody on the top string. The IV chord (D7) can be played with 6 and 7 on the bass and middle strings respectively, and the V chord, (E7) at 7 and 8 on the bass and middle strings.

The situation is similar for the key of B blues. In this case the scale is B, D, E, F#, and A, on frets 5, 7, 8, 9, and 11. The chords are B7, E7, and F#7, and the simple positions for these chords, (the two note fragments, actually) are 4 - 5, 7 - 8, and 8 - 9.

A very interesting and quite useful key for the blues on a DAd tuned dulcimer is F#. In this case the pentatonic scale is F#, A, B, C#, and E on frets 2, 4, 5, 6+, and 8. In the next octave they are at frets 9, 11, 12, 13+ and 15, if your fret board goes up that high. The chords are F#7, B7, and C#7, with the fragments at 1 -2 , 4 - 5, and 5 - 6+.

Do you remember me mentioning the blues hexatonic scale? Well, you can play this scale on your dulcimer in the key of F#. The additional note is the Diminished fifth, which in this key is a C natural. The hexatonic scale in this key then is at frets 2, 4, 5, 6, 6+ and 8, and then starts over at frets 9, 11, 12, 13, 13+ and 15.

Get your capo out and put in on at the second fret. The open strum is now the I chord. (You can make it sound more like an F#7 by playing 0 - 4 instead of 0 - 0 for the chord fragment) Notice how nicely the scale works out now? All you have to do is ignore frets 3 and 7 to play the hexatonic scale (and frets 10 and 14 in the upper octave).

The diminished fifth adds a nice "tasty" dissonance into the scale that is very effective for blues melodies. Unfortunately, it is not available in very many keys on a standard DAd fretted dulcimer. You have the note in neither the keys of E, A nor B.

It turns out that the diminished fifth is available in the key of D on a DAd tuned dulcimer with a 6+ fret. The note is a G#, which is at the 6+ fret of the MIDDLE string. The problem with the key of D, however, is that there is no minor 3rd of the scale. (F natural) This is the reason I first put a 1+ fret on my dulcimer, it made it easier to play the blues in the key of D. If you have a 1+ fret you can play the blues hexatonic scale starting at the open melody string, frets 0, 1+, 3, m6+, 4, 6, and 7 starts the next octave. Here "m6+" means to play the middle string at the 6+ fret.

If you want to try out having a 1+ fret on your dulcimer without actually committing yourself, capo your instrument at the fourth fret. The fret pattern at least for the lower frets is the same as it would be with a 1+ fret (but you now have no equivalent to the 6+ fret).

Here is a table showing the keys I've discussed, the notes in the scale, and their locations on the fret board in DAd tuning. The key is the first entry in each row, which is also the root of the scale. Each entry has the note and the fret on which the note may be played. "na" means that that note is not available in that key.

The Blues Hexatonic Scale in several keys
 Root Minor 3rd Perf. 4th dim 5th Perf. 5th flat 7th octave
 D/0  F/1+  G/3  G#/m6+  A/4  C/6  D/7
 E/1 G/3 A/4 A#/na  B/5 D/7 E/8
 F#/2 A/4 B/5 C/6 C#/6+ E/8 F#/9
 A/4 C/6 D/7 D#/na E/8 G/10 A/11
 B/5 D/7 E/8 F/8+ F#/9 A/11 B/12

Remember, the pentatonic scale is the same, except it lacks the diminished fifth.

Here are some chord fingerings for the I, IV, V chords in these keys in DAd tuning. These are not all seventh chords, (although most of them are) and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives some starting points. Remember that in DAd tuning the chords are "reversible." That is, the chords can be read either as "Bass, Middle, Melody string" order, or "Melody, Middle, Bass string" order and it is still the same chord, just a different inversion.

 

I Chord

IV Chord

V Chord

 Key of D
(D, G, A)

 0 - 0 - 0
6 - 5 - 4
7 - 5 - 6

 0 - 1 - 1+
1+ - 3 - 3
3 - 3 - 3

 3 - 0 - 1
3 - 4 - 4
6+ - 6 - 8

 Key of E
(E, A, B)

0 - 1 - 1
1 - 1 - 1
7 - 6+ - 5 

3 - 0 - 1
3 - 4 - 4
6+ - 6 - 8 

4 - 5 - 5 
2 - 0 - 2
2 - 0 - 5

 Key of F#
(F#, B, C#)

 2 - 2 - 2
1 - 2 - 2
4 - 5 - 6+

5 - 5 - 5
4 - 5 - 5
2 - 1 - 2

 6+ - 6+ - 6+
5 - 6+ - 6+

 Key of A
(A, D, E)

 3 - 0 - 1
3 - 4 - 4
6+ - 6 - 8

 0 - 0 - 0
6 - 5 - 4
7 - 5 - 6

 0 - 1 - 1
1 - 1 - 1
7 - 6+ - 5 

 Key of B
(B, E, F#)

 4 - 5 - 5 
2 - 0 - 2
2 - 0 - 5

0 - 1 - 1
7 - 6+ - 5  

 4 - 5 - 6+
1 - 2 - 2
8 - 9 - 9

Here is a Blues Study in the key of F#, which uses the Blues hexatonic scale.

Blues Study copyright 1998 by Steven K. Smith
You may download and print one copy
For educational purposes only

I know I said I'd talk a bit about turnarounds, but this part ran longer than I'd anticipated. The next section will be pretty much devoted to turnarounds.

[ Keys of : A : B : F# : D | Hexatonic Scale | Scale Chart | Chord Chart | Blues Study Tab ]

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