“Kevin Keegan’s Waltz” an Irish Waltz for Hammered Dulcimer

This is one of hammered dulcimer artist Ken Kolodner’s “signature” pieces. Ken says of this it, “Kevin Keegan’s Waltz is one of the many great tunes which I have learned from button accordion virtuoso Billy McComiskey. Billy is widely regarded in traditional music circles for his playing in the Irish Tradition and, in more recent years, Trian. Hailing originally from East Galway and later settling in San Francisco, Kevin Keegan was also a well-known box [Irish accordion] player.”

You can hear and watch Ken Kolodner play “Kevin Keegan’s Waltz” below and several other online locations.

Hammered Dulcimer: “Be Thou My Vision”

This collection of music conveys author Madeline MacNeil’s love of hymns. Many of these arrangements provide a harmony part that may be performed on another instrument such as the flute, guitar, bowed psaltery, or mountain dulcimer. The majority of these tunes can be played on a 12/11-course hammered dulcimer (with G below middle C being the lowest note on the instrument). Selections include: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God; All Beautiful the March of Days; Amazing Grace; Be Thou My Vision; Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing; Evening Hymns; For the Beauty of the Earth; He Leadeth Me; Here I Am, Lord; How Great Thou Art; and many more. Written in standard notation only with complete lyrics and suggested chord changes.

The original Old Irish text of Be Thou My Vision, Rop tú mo Baile, is often attributed to Dallan Forgaill in the 6th Century. The text had been a part of Irish monastic tradition for centuries before its setting to the tune, therefore, before it became an actual hymn. It was translated from Old Irish into English by Mary E. Byrne, M.A., in Ériu (the journal of the School of Irish Learning), in 1905. The English text was first versified by Eleanor H. Hull, in 1912, and is now the most common text used.

Christmas Carol for Hammered Dulcimer

The melody of “Ding Dong, Merrily on High” was first a secular dance tune titled “le branle de l’Official” and appeared in a sixteenth century dance book written by Jehan Tabourot. The lyrics, in somewhat antiquated language, were written much later by an English composer named George Ratcliff Woodward and was published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, and Other Seasons.

This is a fun tune not only to play but also to sing. You just have to remember to take a deep breath before you start in on the “Glo—ri-a”  part.   And don’t forget to breath when you are playing it either!

This tune lies nicely in a vertical pattern on the left side of the treble bridge with easy harmony notes falling closely on the right side.

I have included three versions other than the basic melody that I use in my arrangement recorded on my CD “Yuletide Strings”.

Listen to Cindy Ribet play “Ding Dong, Merrily on High.”

Printable Version


Simple Embellishments Version:

In the A section (verse) harmonies are added using intervals that are located across the treble bridge from the melody.  Most of the harmony notes in the B section are just a third beneath the melody. The next to the last measure is the same as in the A section and I play the harmonies on the treble-right position.


Advanced 1 version:

This version is a little harder as it utilizes some arpeggios, harmonies and syncopation.  Don’t forget that you have options on either side of the treble bridge for the harmony notes.  Try different combinations until the tune flows best for you.  For me, playing notes that are close to each other horizontally works best. So, in this version every where you see a two-note chord that is more than three steps apart I am playing the melody on the treble-left position and the harmony on the treble-right position.


Advanced 2 Version:

In this version the B section is syncopated. I happen to use a right hand lead in this tune so my syncopated notes fall on the left hand. When I play this way every beat is played with my right hand, which makes the half-beats fall to the left hand.

I also utilize the chords to the right of the treble bridge and so I have marked those notes in green.  There are some notes you can use from the bass position (the lowest notes in the measure) but do what seems best for you.  I only highlighted the notes in the measures with the syncopation.  You can make it just a little easier by leaving off the lowest note in those measures.  But remember to return to using the right hand for the next beat so the following half-beat falls on the left.


“Ding Dong Merrily on High” words:

Ding dong! merrily on high,

In heav’n the bells are ringing;

Ding dong! verily the sky

Is riv’n with angel singing.


Hosanna in excelcis!

E’en so here below, below,

Let steeple bells be swungen,

And “Io, io, io!”

By priest and people sungen.


Hosanna in excelcis!

Pray you, dutifully prive

Your matin chime, ye ringers;

May you beautifully rime

Your evetime song, ye singers.


Hosanna in excelcis!

“Spanish Lady” for Mountain Dulcimer

This traditional Irish song captured my attention on folk radio. What struck me was the beautiful melody and rhythm in conjunction with the quirky counting chorus, and the story: a young man is smitten by a woman of questionable reputation washing her feet by candlelight on a late-night street in Dublin. I’ve heard different theories about the counting chorus: that it is “mouth music” or score-keeping for a game, but mostly that she is counting money. As always with the old songs, there are many variants of “Spanish Lady,” as well as other traditional songs with the counting chorus and the floating verse of “Round and round goes the wheel of fortune.”

The version I fell in love with is from Maighread Ní Dohmnaill, Tríona Ní Dohmnaill & Dónal Lunny. You can hear it here:


They, in turn, got it from Irish source singer Frank Harte (1933-2005):


I am now a link in this chain and you can hear and see me sing and play “Spanish Lady” here:


I have tabbed this out in D-A-D mountain dulcimer tuning, but I actually play this in C-G-C-C (bass to first string) with four equally-distant strings, one of my favorite ways to play. If you have not experimented with four equally-distant strings, this is a good opportunity to get your feet wet. I play this way a lot, letting the second string drone, forming the chord shapes like I would with three strings, but skipping over what is now the second string. There is something so haunting and lovely about that dronal effect and the rich addition of that extra string—you’ll be hooked!

The quirky rhythm escaped me until I started to tab the song for a student, realizing it is a mixture of 6/4 and 4/4. These are the kinds of fascinating nuances that make songs unique and emotionally compelling. I want to thank bandmates Heidi Cerrigione and Kevin Doyle for helping me understand this rhythm.

My strumming is percussive and strong, and the beginning instrumental part has an intentionally different chord order in one section—a way to mix things up a bit but not necessarily on a conscious level for listeners.

My vocal style, as for any singer, is an expression of my generation, heritage, and creative influences: traditional Appalachian and Celtic styles blended with influences such as Joni Mitchell, Mary Black, and of course, Jean Ritchie. Enjoy! Feel free to write to me at www.atwater-donnelly.com

Printable Version


Lyrics to “Spanish Lady”:

As I was walking through Dublin City, about the hour of twelve at night

It was there I spied a fair pretty maiden washing her feet by candlelight

First she washed them, then she dried them, over a fire of amber coals

And in all my life I never did meet a maid so neat about the soles…


She had twenty eighteen sixteen fourteen, twelve ten eight six four two none

She had nineteen seventeen fifteen thirteen, eleven nine seven five three and one


I stopped to look but the watchman passed, said he, “Young fellow, now the light is late

And away with you home or I will wrestle you, straight away to the Bridewell gate.”

I got a look from the Spanish lady, hot as a fire of amber coals

And in all my life I never did meet a maid so neat around the soles…


As I walked back through Dublin City, as the dawn of day was o’er

Who should I spy but the Spanish lady, when I was weary and footsore

She had a heart so filled with loving, and her love she longed to share

And in all my life I never did meet a maid who had so much to spare…


I’ve wandered north and I’ve wandered south, to Stoneybatter and Patrick’s Close

Up and around by the Gloucester Diamond, back by Napper Tandy’s house

Old age has laid its hand upon me, cold as a fire of ashy coals

And gone is the lovely Spanish lady, neat and sweet about the soles

‘Round and around goes the wheel of fortune, where it rests now wearies me

Oh fair young maids are so deceiving, sad experience teaches me…

“Down by the Salley Gardens” for Hammered Dulcimer

The words to this song (in Irish ‘Gort na Saileán) are from a poem composed by Irish poet William Butler Yeats and published in 1889:

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;

She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.

She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;

But I, being young and foolish, with her did not agree.

In a field by the river my love and I did stand,

And on my leaning shoulder she placed her snow-white hand.

She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;

I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

(The first verse is usually repeated at the end. First verse does use love and the second verse does use life.)

“Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” an Easy Bluegrass Melody for Mountain Dulcimer

The FIRST JAM series of Mel Bay books was created to give beginners of all ages a book of simple, common tunes to learn. Many are standard “Jam” tunes in the Bluegrass/Old Time music styles. All the books in this series are written in the same keys; they can all be played together without any problems. So get your friends or family who play guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukelele, mountain dulcimer or Dobro together, grab these books and start jamming!

Improvisation – Another idea behind writing the FIRST JAM series was to provide a number of tunes that were easy to learn, but that are also great to begin working on improvising. Each book offers the melody for that particular instrument as well as back-up chords for another instrument to accompanying you. Have fun!

This popular Bluegrass classic is set in the key of A Major. An easy way to play that is to tune to DAD tuning and put a capo at the mountain dulcimer’s 4th fret. If you do not have a mountain dulcimer capo you can fashion a temporary one by using a flat-sided chopstick or other piece of wood and fastening a strong rubber band to it, as shown in this photo:


Remember, for this piece you fasten the “capo” at the 4th fret.

Information on streamlined, manufactured capos is in the June 2005 issue.
Listen to this single-string melody of “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”:

Listen to the back-up chords to “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”:

Printable Version


FIRST JAMS for Mountain Dulcimer and the rest of the FIRST JAMS series for guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukelele, mountain dulcimer and Dobro can be ordered from MelbayXpress.

A Sweet Fingerpicked Melody for Mountain Dulcimer – “Dream Stream”

Jan’s tips on playing “Dream Stream”: 


This is a tune that I wrote with a mystical, dreamy and arrhythmic feeling in mind. The solo recording was made with my dulcimer in a C-G-C, Mixolydian tuning. The tab is written in the standard DAD tuning and is indicated to be played with a flat-pick. It is important to hold the chord shape as long as possible in order to keep the music smooth and flowing. On the recording, I actually fingerpicked this piece with a series of harp-like strums from the bass string to the melody strings along with various, fingerpicking roll patterns. I encourage you to first listen to the sound file to get to know the piece, then take your time trying the tablature arrangement on your dulcimer. Once you know it, experiment and be creative with this tune, as it is one that I seldom play the same way twice.

“Scotland the Brave” Using Different Mountain Dulcimer Drones

The bagpipe tune, “Scotland the Brave,” probably became known around the turn of the 20th Century.  It is considered the unofficial national anthem of Scotland. Many people in the U.S. first heard this traditional melody in the 1950s, when the Ames Brothers recorded contemporary lyrics to it bearing the name “My Bonnie Lassie.”  In the following arrangement, there is a nice change of drone harmonies from playing the A part melody on the middle string, and then playing the B part melody on the two outside strings.


“Silent Night” arranged for Mountain Dulcimer

“Silent Night” was sung first as “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” in Oberndorf, Austria in 1817. Written a year earlier as a Poem by Fr. Joseph Mohr, he took it to Franz Gruber on December 24, 1818 to inquire about a melody being put to it for the Christmas Eve service. So “Silent Night” was sung first by Mohr and Gruber, backed by the church choir and accompanied by only a guitar, at midnight mass in St. Nicholas Church December 25, 1818. There were six original verses to the song. They sang the verses in unison and then repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony.

Karl Mauracher, a master organ builder and repairman working on the church organ, took a copy of “Silent Night” to his village in the Ziller Valley, and thus this carol began its trip around the world. It was performed for kings and royalty around the world and for the first time in New York City in 1839 by the Rainer Family at the Alexander Hamilton Monument outside Trinity Church.

Many stories have been passed around about the origin of this hymn and also about the real composer, but original manuscripts were found in recent years that had, in Mohr’s handwriting in the upper right corner, “Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber”. Fr. Joseph Mohr was born in 1792 and died penniless in 1848, having given all his money to the poor and helpless.


Listen to Linda Brockinton play this arrangement of “Silent Night.”

Linda’s notes on playing “Silent Night”:

My tablature arrangement below looks a little intimidating if you are not used to playing chord-melody style on your mountain dulcimer. Actually it is much simpler than it looks if you just focus on the first three numbers in each measure. These numbers make a chord, and if you put your fingertips down on the chord at the beginning of each measure and then pick the proper string, all the notes you need are there without moving until the next measure, unless of course the melody moves on the melody string.

If you look at the first measure you see that the chord is 4-3-2 or a reverse slant chord. To make this chord I use my thumb on the melody string, middle finger on the middle string, and ring finger on the bass string. Fingerings vary from player to player, so whatever you choose is fine.

Then we switch to a 2-3-4 slant chord. With my fingerings you simply drop the pinky at fret 2 on the melody string and index finger at fret 4 on the bass string, lifting the ring and thumb. By using the middle finger at fret 3, you can switch chords without lifting, and this is what allows your playing to be smooth.

Whatever fingers you use, hold all chords down until you are physically forced to move for a melody note or until it’s time to change to another chord. By doing so you will have a smooth, sustained playing style similar to the piano with the pedal down.

Slower practice is also recommended, as it is all about muscle memory. So go over each measure until it sounds like “Silent Night” and there is no hesitation. Adding one measure at a time helps you to learn the finger movements and helps you to memorize. You can also focus on looking at your hand and what you are doing instead of just concentrating on the numbers on the page.

“Auld Lang Syne” for Mountain Dulcimer

by Madeline MacNeil

This book and companion CD offer a very simple and reliable introduction for new mountain dulcimer players. The following sample from the book is a simple one-string arrangement, along with a recording. Author Madeline MacNeil is using the DAA (‘Ionian’) tuning, which places the tune comfortably on the fretboard; however, if you like to play in DAD tuning, just play the melody on the middle string. It will still play the same melody notes as the recording included below.

If you wanted to play it along with Jeanne Page’s hammered dulcimer arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne” in this issue of DulcimerSessions, you can re-tune your DAD dulcimer DGD (loosen middle string one whole step), and play the melody on the first (treble) string just as the music shows you.

Ed note: Bill Taylor built the dulcimer on the right on the cover for me and it’s for sale!

Listen to Madeline MacNeil play “Auld Lang Syne.”