“Off She Goes” for Mountain Dulcimer

Traditional Irish Jig

arranged by Mark Nelson

This energetic jig is often played in music sessions and dances in Irish, English and Scottish traditions. It is a popular tune for New England contradances as well. Here are some words that go with the A part:

Off she goes to Donnybrook Fair

She has time and money to spare

Looks like rain but she does not care

Off she goes to Donnybrook Fair

Mark Nelson suggests flatpicking or fingerpicking his arrangement, or adding notes from the chords above the music and strumming it in chord/melody style.

Mountain Dulcimer: “Aura Lee” an Easy Jamming Tune!

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…

“Grandma’s Dulcimer” for Mountain Dulcimer

by Linda Brockinton

Several years back I went into a flea market and found a dulcimer abandoned on the floor. How sad it was to see this instrument that once held so much music just tossed away after someone died. It always makes me sad to see music and instruments discarded, knowing that someone

who loved music used to play them. To me it’s like seeing little orphan children abandoned. I was wondering, “If it could talk what would that instrument say?” So I made of list of questions that the dulcimer might ask if it could talk, and after making the list I sat down and wrote “Grandma’s Dulcimer.” A year or so later I wrote the music.

Grandmas Dulcimer

Grandma’s Dulcimer


I quietly hang upon the wall, recalling days of old.

Your Grandma, she was meek and mild, your Grandpa big and bold.

Many a night when they were young she’d play a little song

On her calico lap she held me tight while he laughed and played along.


But you pass me by day by day, I call but you don’t hear.

So unlike your Grandma; she always held me near.

I feel her fingers trip my strings, and not just notes, you see.

All of her songs came from her heart, thru her fingers right into me.


I fear the songs inside of me may never again be found.

I worry every day that I’ll not make another sound.

I see the way you look at me, with longing in your eyes.

Please take me down and play me. It’s easy; don’t be shy.


Yes, take me down and play me; play what’s in your heart.

You’ll never know what real joy is if you never start.

Hold me tight and strum me; I’ll give you gifts untold.

Gifts straight from your Grandma’s heart, and from deep within her soul.


Play me when you are full of joy, and play me when you’re blue,

And all the comfort I have to give I will give to you.

Yes, play me sweetly, play me loud, or play me with a drone,

And all the love you leave with me I’ll someday pass it on.


                                                                        Linda Brockinton

The playing of this tune is simple. The verses alternate playing the A part of the music for the

first verse and the B part for the second. This continues until you get to the last verse and there

you repeat the B part. Enjoy.

Mountain Dulcimer Blues 101

By Bing Futch

Music is a language much like English, German, French or Kacipo-Balesi. If you think of 12 chromatic notes like our 26 letters of the alphabet in the western English language – those same 26 letters (sometimes with diacritical markings) can order coffee in Spanish, beer in German and pastry in French!  The song form known as blues is based in and around certain musical notes, chord progressions and phrasing, combined with a structure that reflects its African origins. The only true way to emulate the blues is to hear it, feel it and let it flow. Many bluesmen never learned to read music; they simply copied what they heard elder musicians playing and singing. The blues is like a patois, slang or dialect. The key to performing different musical styles lies within being able to “speak the language like a local” and so it is with blues music.

The blues form emerged out of African spirituals, ceremonial songs, work chants, ring shouts and field hollers, first appearing during the turn of the 18th century. The blues, or “blue devils”, refers to sadness or depression but is often used to convey great happiness or spiritual awakening. Over the years it has sprouted, grown and spun off in countless directions, resulting in sub-genres like Piedmont, Delta, swamp, west coast, Chicago, Texas, country and jazz. Without blues, there’d be no “rhythm & blues” or “rock & roll”! Truly music of the people, the blues came out of the cotton fields of the post-war South and was made popular by an ever-growing list of performers including Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Bessie Smith, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins, Little Milton, R.L. Burnside, T Model Ford, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and more. Listen to music by these artists and you’ll get a grand picture of blues history.

The Blues Form

In a nutshell, the blues form is 12 measures in 4/4 time using three chords and a melody based on elements of the pentatonic minor blues scale. Using Roman numerals, each note of the scale gets a number – I through VII (scale degree). All you need is the key to get started. A 12-bar blues in E, for example, is a I – IV – V chord progression. The root note, first note of the E Major scale, is “E (I).”  The fourth note of the scale is “A (IV)”. The fifth note of the scale is “B (V)”. Some or all of the chords may be sevenths (E7, A7, etc.)Four measures of the “I” chord, switch to the “IV” chord for two measures, then back to the “I” for two more measures and wrapping up with one measure of the “V”, one measure of the “IV” and two final measures of “I”. Lyrics typically follow an AAB form with a line sung over the first four measures, repeated over the second four measures and a concluding line over the final four measures. 16-bar blues, lyrical couplets and different time signatures are all variations on this form.

Any performer who knows the blues form could jam with a blues guitarist from out of town with only “it’s a 12-bar blues in the key of Ab, downbeat on the V” to get them started.

The Blues Scale

To speak like a local, you need to be aware not only of what alphabet you’re using, but how to spell words and then use them in a sentence so that you don’t sound like you’re reading out of a tourist phrase book. Our core “alphabets” will be the pentatonic minor scale and the pentatonic minor blues scale.

Notice below the shape of the “box” that this note pattern forms on the mountain dulcimer fretboard. You can use the “box” to play these same two scales also in the keys of E and A. Blues solos or “leads” come out of these two scales and, sometimes even notes from the major scale. There are other instances of these two scales on the mountain dulcimer, they just take different box shapes. As long as you can figure out the root of the scale (first note) and then follow through with the flat third, fourth, flat fifth, fifth and flat seventh by fretting or bending the string, you can also play the scales in C#, D, and F# quite easily. (Remember that flats take a note down a half-step or semitone while sharps raise a note up a half-step. The wide spaces between frets on your dulcimer are whole steps while the narrow spaces are half-steps. If you’re looking for a half-step and your next step up is a wide space, you’ll need to bend the string to get that half-step.)

The basic blues rhythm is a shuffling dotted eighth/sixteenth combo that is slightly swung like a heartbeat, although there are many variations on this form as well. Below is tablature for a basic blues in the key of E. It features barre chords that introduce two notes, one each from the E pentatonic minor scale (b7) and the E Major scale (6).

Say It Like You Mean It
Blues music is raw emotion, deeply quiet or highly wailing – expression drips out of each note. The key is not speed, but expressiveness. No amount of couching in Western musical language will ever beat simply hearing the blues, learning the blues and then interpreting and playing the blues. It’s like learning to talk – we emulate those around us – parents, family, friends, teachers – we absorb accents, phrases, pronunciations and vocabulary. In music, we’d call those things accents, bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, tremolos and turn arounds. Sing through your fingers, make your dulcimer talk, say it like you mean it.

Putting It All Together

“Bing’s Blues” is a Delta-style piece. Many blues players would fingerpick the tunes, getting a rolling, percussive sound out of their instruments. Much of that rolling came from a 12/8 time signature – four groups of three eighth notes – so you can count it in four, but it has the very round-sounding triplet rhythm that sounds loose played straight or with a shuffle or swing. Notice the easy ways to get a seventh out of a barre chord (drop down one fret on the melody while in barre position – works at the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6 1/2 and 7th frets.)  On the recording, I’ll play “Bing’s Blues” – once with a pick and once fingerpicking.

Listen to Bing play “Bing’s Blues.”

Performance Notes
In 12/8 time, there are twelve beats per measure and the eighth note gets the beat.

Measure 4 features a bend-and-release starting at the seventh beat – bend up a half-step to “F” and then back down to “E” before the pull-off.

Measure 6 features a wavy line that indicates vibrato. Wiggle your finger while pressing down the bass string at the fifth fret “B.”

The bend in measure 13 is a little different than the one in measure 4. Bend up and back before fretting the D on the way down the fretboard.

Take your time getting used to the fingerings and forms – have fun!

Traditional Ballad for Mountain Dulcimer: “Barbara Allen”

by Ralph Lee Smith with Madeline MacNeil

This ballad has origins in the British Isles. The version here was collected by Cecil Sharp and published in his 19312 book, English Folk-Songs from the Southern Appalachians. The arrangement here is from the singing of Loraine Wyman. The music of Lorraine, and Josephine McGill, is presented in Mel Bay Publications’ MB98423, Folk Songs of Old Kentucky – Two Song Catchers in the Kentucky Mountains 1914 and 1916, selected and arranged by Ralph Lee Smith with Madeline MacNeil.

Loraine Wyman as pictured in May 1917 issue of Vogue magazine.

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was dwelling
Saying, “Love, there is a call for you
If your name is Barbara Allen.”   She was very slowly getting up
And very slowly going,
The only words she said to him
“Young man, I think you’re dying.”  “Don’t you remember the other day
When you were in town a-drinking,
You drank a health to the ladies ’round
And slighted Barbara Allen?”


“O yes, I remember the other day
When I was in town a-drinking,
I drank a health to the ladies ’round,
But my love to Barbara Allen.”


He turned his pale face to the wall
And death was in him dwelling; .
‘Adieu, adieu, to my friends all,
Be kind to Barbara Allen.”

When she got in two miles of town,
She heard the death bells ringing;
They rang so clear, as if to say
“Hard-hearted Barbara Allen!” “O Mother, Mother, make my bed
O make it soft and narrow.
Sweet William died for me today
And I will die tomorrow.  “O Father, Father, dig my grave
O dig it deep and narrow,
Sweet William died for love of me
And I will die in sorrow.”


Sweet William lies in the old church yard,
Barbara Allen lies in the choir:
Out of his heart grew a red, red rose,
And out of hers a brier.


They grew and grew to the old church tower
‘Til they could grow no higher;
They grew and they tied in a true love’s knot
The rose wrapped ’round the brier.

Mountain Dulcimer: Those Sparkling Harmonics!

We all may have occasions where we want to put some “dazzle” into our playing. Harmonics can add sparkle to an arrangement and also can sometimes provide a handy way to negotiate a tricky passage.

What’s a harmonic?

The easy definition is: a “clear bell-like sound” produced by lightly stopping a string at ½ (or 1/3 or ¼) of its full length along the fretboard. Explaining how this happens requires some physics. Briefly, when you press a string lightly at certain frets, you effectively divide the string into some fraction of its normal length. When the string is “shortened” in this way, it can no longer vibrate over its entire length, but can only vibrate along the length of string between your finger and the bridge. The “shortened” string can no longer sound its usual pitch (the “fundamental” tone), but instead produces a higher pitched tone (actually, this higher tone is always present when the open string is played, but is usually overshadowed by the louder “fundamental” tone).

Playing a harmonic at the 7th fret divides the string in half and produces a tone that is one octave higher than the open string. A harmonic at fret 4 or fret 11 divides the string into thirds and produces a tone that is 1 octave plus a fifth higher than the open string. A harmonic at fret 3 or fret 14 divides the string into fourths and produces a tone that is 2 octaves higher. These tones are called “natural” harmonics. As a specific example, an open D string has the following natural harmonics:

  • harmonic at fret 7 is D (one octave higher than open string D)
  • harmonic at fret 4 or 11 is A (1 octave plus a fifth above open string D)
  • harmonic at fret 3 or 14 is D (two octaves higher than open string D)

Additional natural harmonics exist, but these three (at the octave, 1/3, and ¼ string lengths) are the ones that can be played most easily and are most often used.

How do I play a “natural” harmonic?

Use a finger of your left hand to very lightly touch a string at the 7th (or 3rd, 4th, 11th, or 14th) fret. Note that this left hand finger must touch the string directly on top of the fret, not slightly to the left of the fret, as in normal fretting. With your right hand, pluck the string.  You may pluck either with a pick or with a finger (or thumb). For a clear sound, experiment with lifting your left hand finger after you pluck the string. You may also want to experiment with the position of your right hand along the fretboard; whether you pluck over the strum hollow, near the bridge, or further up the fretboard may affect the volume and clarity of the tone.  I would recommend that you take a little time and practice just playing natural harmonics before you attempt them within the context of a musical piece.

What’s an “artificial” harmonic?

Because natural harmonics occur only at certain places (nodes) on a string, they are limited to the pitches that occur at those nodes. But, suppose we want the bell-like sound of a harmonic at a pitch that does not occur at one of these natural nodes? That’s where artificial harmonics come in: if we “artificially” shorten the string length by fretting (fully depressing the string in the same way that we fret to play a pitch), then we can find harmonics of that shortened string length. For example, in DAD tuning:

  • If we fret (fully depress) the treble string at fret 1 (E), an octave harmonic will exist at ½ of that altered string length: the harmonic will occur at fret 8 and will have the pitch of E, one octave higher than the E at fret 1. 
  • If we fret the treble string at fret 1 (E), other harmonics occur at fret 5 and fret 12; these harmonics have the pitch of B, one octave plus a fifth higher than E at fret 1. 
  • If we fret the treble string at fret 1 (E), additional harmonics occur at fret 4 and fret 15; these harmonics have the pitch of E, two octaves higher than E at fret 1. 
  • If we fret the treble string at fret 2 (F#), an octave harmonic will exist at ½ of that altered string length: the harmonic will occur at fret 9 and will have the pitch of F#, one octave higher than the F# at fret 1.

How do I play an artificial (fretted) harmonic?

Three things must happen at once: (1) use a finger of your left hand to firmly depress a string at the fret indicated in the tab; (2) use the index finger of your RIGHT hand to lightly touch the same string at the fret that is exactly one octave higher than the note that your left hand is fretting; (3) use the thumb of your right hand to pluck the string. For example: if your left hand depresses the treble string at fret 1, you can play  an artificial harmonic that sounds one octave higher by using your right index finger to lightly touch the treble string fret 8, and simultaneously using your right thumb to pluck the string. To pluck the string, your thumb must swing under your right hand and pluck to the right (bridge side) of where your right index finger touches the string. Plucking artificial harmonics is easiest if you are fingerpicking; but, if you are using a pick, just hold the pick with the middle finger and thumb while you are playing the harmonic.

How are harmonics indicated in tablature?

Natural harmonics are indicated by “N.H.” or by an open diamond shape above or next to the note. Artificial harmonics are indicated by “A.H.” or by a filled-in diamond.

Where can I use harmonics in an arrangement?

Harmonics can be used as a beginning, as an ending, or in the middle of the piece. Many players will endan arrangement with a harmonic, usually a harmonic “sol” or perhaps a harmonic “sol-do” (octave “A” followed by octave “D”, if piece is in D major). While this ending does sparkle, I’d recommend using it sparingly, as it can become trite if used too often. Also, until a player has lots of practice, ending a piece with a harmonic can be risky: while a well-executed harmonic is one of the loveliest sounds on a dulcimer, a poorly executed one will end your piece with a noisy thud!

Harmonics can be used at the beginning of a piece in at least two different ways. As an introduction to a mournful tune, playing a few slow harmonics of the “home key” note can evoke the sound of a bell tolling. For example, if a tune is in b minor, the piece could open with several harmonic B’s (played as an artificial harmonic at fret 8 of middle string, in DAD tuning). I use this approach in “Mary’s Dream”:
Mary’s Dream.mp3

You will see this below in the tablature version of “Mary’s Dream.”

“Mary’s Dream” is a haunting song about a young woman who learns, in a dream, that her sweetheart has been killed at sea.

Another way to use harmonics at the beginning of a piece is to open with a line or two of the tune played in fretted harmonics. For an example:

If you’re practiced enough at fretted harmonics, you might even consider starting an arrangement by playing through the entire tune once in harmonics.

Finally, harmonics can be used very effectively in the middle of a piece, not only to add sparkle, but also to facilitate smooth playing of the melody line. Here’s an example from “Annie Laurie”:

Note that where the melody line for “I’ll lay me doon and dee” goes up to the high D, a harmonic is indicated instead of a fretted note. The advantage to using the harmonic here is that its bell-like tone continues to ring while the left hand negotiates the subsequent chords, and therefore the melody notes sound connected. In contrast, if we were to play the high D in the usual way, we’d have to quickly release the string at fret 7 to reach the next chord (2-3-5), leaving a noticeable gap in the melody line. Sometimes, in a tricky passage, harmonics can be useful in one more way: if there is a single high note in a melody line, try playing it as a right hand harmonic, so that the left hand does not have to jump up the fretboard but can remain free to negotiate the other (lower range) notes in the passage.

These are just a few examples of how harmonics can add sparkle to our playing. Have fun exploring ways to use them in your own arrangements.

Interview with Jerry Rockwell, Mountain Dulcimer Player & Builder

I admire Jerry Rockwell’s mountain dulcimer playing. He’s got a generosity of spirit that manifests itself both in his music, and in the playing of other players he has taught and influenced. I’m one of them, and some others who have benefited this way from knowing Jerry are Steven K. Smith, Andy Beyer, Stephen Seifert, Bing Futch, and Molly McCormack.

Jerry’s true to the music, and that was demonstrated when he played in an ’09 concert I produced. The show was a tour de force of powerhouse players, but Jerry’s performance was the memory-maker of the evening. The audience felt it. Without words, Jerry conveyed what it means to be centered in the love of the music. The resonant comment about his performance was, “He brought us all back to the music.”

This could not have been done without mastery of the instrument. Jerry was one of the first to thoroughly explore chord theory and improvisation on the mountain dulcimer’s diatonic fretboard. He was one of the first to perform and explain “two-handed tapping.”

Jerry Rockwell’s talents as both musician and luthier have been important to the development of the mountain dulcimer. We’ll start with the music.

This video of Jerry playing the Irish air “The Fair and Charming Eileen O’Carroll” demonstrates the heartfelt way he can interpret traditional folk music:

Jerry’s written arrangement of the piece follows at the end of this article.

Now that you’ve heard his touch on traditional music, here’s Jerry performing some equally beautiful improvisation on his original composition, “Light into Darkness”:

DS: Jerry, can you explain your overall advice to people learning to play the mountain dulcimer?

Jerry: Simple playing can show you the path. Educate your ear…practice…be in love with the music and get inspired by people who play it the way you like. To me, the dulcimer’s magic has to do integrally with the drone. When you are starting out, try to use at least some of the open string drone sound when you can, and you’ll find that the dulcimer will cooperate with you to make some pleasing sounds – sounds that you and others listening will enjoy.

I think it’s a good idea to put simple folk songs you already know on the dulcimer (even starting with one string):  children’s songs, campfire songs, or whatever you grew up with. This doesn’t require any written music. With a little trial-and-error, you’ll find your way. Well-known folk tunes fit on the dulcimer extremely well in most cases. Once you have a little familiarity with picking out tunes on the instrument, there are many fine instruction materials and dulcimer-teaching events to help you at the beginning level and higher.

DS: Jerry, your own musical roots were in rock & roll guitar, weren’t they?

Jerry: Yes, like many guys my age growing up in the 60s, I took up the guitar about the time the Beatles arrived. I loved all sorts of rock guitar styles, from Chicago blues, to surf guitar, to the jingle-jangle of folk-rock. I also listened a lot to jazz guitarists: Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessell, Johnny Smith, and others. Jazz was pretty far out of my range, though, and I had nobody to mentor me at that time.


DS: How did you start playing traditional folk music?

Jerry: I became interested in traditional folk music right around the time I was leaving my first undergraduate stint (at Plattsburgh State in northern New York) around 1970. I heard the recordings of Mimi and Richard Farina about a year earlier, and the sound of Richard’s dulcimer just flipped me out! I just HAD to get my hands on one, so I took a trip down to the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area, where I found a nice all-cherry traditional dulcimer (probably made by Frank Proffitt, Sr. or Leonard Glenn) in a pawn shop for $75!

At that time I had no idea how the dulcimer worked, and I didn’t really have a book to learn from back then either, though I later got my hands on Jean Ritchie’s classic The Dulcimer Book. So I just sort of went crazy with Farina-like, freewheeling jams and improvisations. After some months, I started thinking it might be better to learn some real folk tunes, and see what some other dulcimer players were doing. It was very difficult to find recordings that featured the dulcimer. I special-ordered a few here and there, and found Paul Clayton’s “Dulcimer Songs and Solos” and maybe a few others. But it was a lonely world back then, and there weren’t any dulcimer festivals. There were some great folk festivals, though, and I did get to a few of them, like the National Folk Festival in DC, and a few others.

In 1972 an LP from the English band Steeleye Span was recommended to me. This was my first real “musical epiphany,” and I have not recovered from whatever fever I caught that day! I went on from that point to get totally immersed in the English Folk and folk-rock revival, getting all the Steeleye recordings, as well as those by Fairport Convention, Richard & Linda Thompson, Pentangle, and many others. I still got goosebumps from English folk to this day. The music is a beautiful, unbroken thread that goes WAY back in history, and tells the stories of the common folk.

Irish folk music also had a strong pull for me. I can remember getting an LP by the great Irish uillean piper Seamus Ennis, probably around 1970. Planxty, the wonderful Irish folk group, had several albums out in the early 1970s. I was totally enchanted by their album, ”The Well Below the Valley.” By the mid-to-late 70s I was living in Vermont and playing all manner of traditional fiddle tunes with the lively community of folk musicians in Burlington. I always felt more connected to the jigs and hornpipes than any of the other Irish tunes.

Besides Richard Farina, the other dulcimer player who had the greatest impact on me was Roger Nicholson, the great English musician who passed away several years ago. Roger’s playing was very delicate and subtle, and that always appealed to me. Roger used the dynamic range of the dulcimer to the max. His left-hand fingering had so much precision and clarity, and he was able to execute ornaments with such grace.

As for ornamentation, I tend to use quite a bit of it in the slow airs I play. To me, they are built right into the landscape of the melody: they draw attention to certain notes, and give some extra drama when you need it. My approach is completely intuitive on the slides, trills, turns, or whatever type of ornament I’m using. I never studied any particular style, or got anything from a book. When you work hard to get maximum expression from your playing, the ornaments should come very naturally.

DS: Do you find that there are pieces of music that “want” to be played on the mountain dulcimer?

Jerry:  As a guitar player, I’m always asking myself the same question: “Why am I playing this on the mountain dulcimer and not on the guitar or uke or mandolin?”  I think I probably bring PLENTY of “guitar-style thinking” to the dulcimer, but I hope that listeners can hear something unique in my dulcimer playing – something that would NOT happen on the guitar. It is often impossible to articulate these subtleties, but the dulcimer has a delicate, very plaintive tone, and lends itself very well to the haunting, magical sound of the drones. I look for purely diatonic MODAL music when I’m looking for melodies that will work on the dulcimer. Celtic music fits this perfectly, and when I’m writing my own stuff, the Celtic influence is often very strong. If there is a hypnotic, mesmerizing dronal quality to the piece, then so much the better!


DS: Jerry, you have written several instructional and repertoire books for the mountain dulcimer, and I call the reader’s attention to the list of them at the end of this interview.


You have also taught a lot of people about dulcimer playing, both as private students and at dulcimer events. What are your feelings about the art of teaching and where you see them headed?

Jerry: Today my teaching consists of playing sparse and simple arrangements – often arranged in two parts – along with my student(s). I try hard to keep the talk and explanations to an absolute minimum. This helps keep the focus on the enjoyment of the actual process of playing music, and my students love this approach.


DS: Jerry, your methods of “two-handed tapping,” on the mountain dulcimer present a very attractive musical option for those of us who play the instrument!  With your permission I am placing here your video on tapping for our readers:

DS: Jerry, in 2007 you made a trip to Iceland with your mountain dulcimer. Please tell us about that!

Jerry: I performed in concert and taught a class on the Mountain Dulcimer-Langspil Connection at the Folk Festival in Siglufjord, Iceland. The langspil is the diatonically-fretted zither that is the Icelandic “cousin” of the mountain dulcimer. Here’s a photo of one, and of the class I taught:

Langspil built by musician/luthier Örn Magnússon.


Jerry’s workshop in Iceland.

 DS: Jerry, you’ve been loving, exploring and sharing your knowledge of mountain dulcimer playing for almost 40 years now! You saw a lot of its evolution. How do you feel about current dulcimer playing and teaching, and the instrument’s path in years to come?

Jerry: Steve Seifert’s playing and teaching have always been inspirational to me: he’s really stretching the limits of what’s possible on the mountain dulcimer. I especially like his videos and DVDs. There are some fantastic younger players as well: Jeff Hames, Aaron Thornton, Josh Noe, Aaron O’Rourke, Sara Elizabeth Musgrave, and many more. These folks are a beacon of hope for the future of the mountain dulcimer, and I’d love to see them connect with a larger audience.

DS: You’re as accomplished as a luthier as you are in your playing and teaching. Can you tell us a little about your goals in building mountain dulcimers?

Jerry: I’ve always worked toward building a dulcimer that is very responsive to a delicate touch, and yet able to sustain a single note as long as possible. I’m still working in this direction – basically making dulcimers custom-designed for my own delicate and subtle approach to playing.

Welcome to the August/September 2010 Issue of DulcimerSessions®!

Hammered and mountain dulcimers are different instruments with different playing techniques, but they have a lot of music in common, and many people play both. To make mountain dulcimer music accessible to hammered dulcimer players we usually include with mountain dulcimer tablature the accompaniment chord letters and either notation or sound files. Be sure to check our 40 “Back Issues” that start with 2003 articles on the rudiments of playing both instruments. You’ll find 121 free musical articles in all – courtesy of Mel Bay Publications.

The Mel Bay Publications is the largest publisher of books for hammered and mountain dulcimers. You’ll find outstanding resources for playing techniques colorful music styles by visiting www.melbayxpress.com. Click on “Dulcimer” in the left margin. Click on “Hammered Dulcimer” or “Mountain Dulcimer” or just cruise down the page for a delightful browse of books for both.

This issue of DulcimerSessions.com begins with the following articles:

Featured Mountain Dulcimer Tunes

“Barbara Allen” 

Traditional Ballad for Mountain Dulcimer

This ballad has origins in the British Isles. The version here was collected by Cecil Sharp and published in his 19312 book, English Folk-Songs from the Southern Appalachians. The arrangement here is from the singing of Loraine Wyman. The music of Lorraine, and Josephine McGill, is presented in Mel Bay Publications’ MB98423, Folk Songs of Old Kentucky – Two Song Catchers in the Kentucky Mountains 1914 and 1916, selected and arranged by Ralph Lee Smith with Madeline MacNeil…

“Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”

by Stephen Foster

arranged for Mountain Dulcimer by Shelley Stevens

The following arrangement is from MB96543BCD, Stephen Foster for Mountain Dulcimer, by Shelley Stevens. Often sung in the Key of F, Shelley has arranged it to the key of D and the familiar DAD mountain dulcimer tuning…


Featured Hammered Dulcimer Tunes

Middle Eastern Music for the Hammered Dulcimer

by Deborah Justice

featuring “Ah Ya Zayn” (Oh, Rose)

Middle Eastern music can offer stimulating melodic and rhythmic spice to the usual dulcimer diet of reels, jigs, and waltzes.  I got into it myself back in the late 1990s when my dulcimer and I were recruited by a band of gypsies. Literally. (Okay, to clarify, this was a group of white Philadelphia-area suburbanite musicians working at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.) Forget academic arguments of authenticity – I was hooked on the sound itself. Once I wrapped my head around the exotic, challenging tunes, I couldn’t get enough of them! The music kept taking me further:  to studying Middle Eastern politics and music in college, learning Arabic, playing an Egyptian zither and flute, living briefly in Egypt, and finally to my (almost finished) doctoral work in ethnomusicology. As I taught at different dulcimer festivals, I found that many fellow hammerers were interested in expanding their musical horizons, as well…

Unhurried Hammering

by Rick Fogel, featuring Erik Satie’s

“Gymnopedia Number One”

This article presents the classical melody “Gymnopedia Number One” by Erik Satie. The name gymnopediais that of an ancient Greek festival. Since Satie was French, the French pronunciation is zheem-no-ped-ee(with no real stress on any syllable)…