“Flop Eared Mule” an Easy and Popular Old-Time Tune for Hammered Dulcimer

arranged by Sally Hawley

This popular jamming and contra dance piece is also called the “Blue Bell Polka.” It is actually what’s called a “cotillion.” Usually with cotillions, the parts are played in A-B-A sequence. “Flop Eared Mule” is also fun because it changes key. The A part is in the key of G, and the B part is in the Key of D – both easy keys to play on the hammered dulcimer.

“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.

“Children of the Heavenly Father” – A Swedish-American Hymn

During Swedish opera star Jenny Lind’s America tour in the 1850s, the pastor of a church out on the Illinois prairie hit her up for a donation.

Known as the “Swedish nightingale,” she had a reputation for supporting good causes, and Pastor Lars Esbjorn definitely had a good one. His church had set aside enough lumber for the roof, but a cholera epidemic swept through his little prairie town of Andover, Illinois, and the lumber was sawed up for coffins instead.

Jenny Lind contributed $1,500, and the building is still known as the Jenny Lind Chapel.

About the same time, when songwriters Oskar Ahnfelt and Karolina Sandell couldn’t afford to publish a collection of their gospel songs back in Sweden, Lind fronted the money for the first edition. With that boost, they went on to publish hundreds of gospel songs that sparked a pietist revival throughout Sweden.

So out of Jenny Lind’s generosity, came a nationwide Swedish-American church organization and a beloved hymn called “Children of the Heavenly Father.”

With lyrics by Lina Sandell set to a tune by Ahnfelt, the song appeared in later editions of their songs and became a favorite American hymn, especially in the Midwest. We’ve been playing at sessions of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings, our amateur club in Springfield, Illinois.

Music was important to the Swedish pioneers who settled in the Midwest, bringing with them an old-country heritage of congregational singing. And Pastor Esbjorn was no exception. Before he had the new roof completed on the Jenny Lind Chapel, he reported he held “a singing school once or twice a week, in order to teach our people a correct and harmonious way of singing hymns.” He brought with him from Sweden a psalmodikon (a musical instrument that looked – and sounded – a lot like a one-string bowed dulcimer), and psalmodikons are still on display today in the chapel museum and the nearby Swedish colony at Bishop Hill, Illinois.

From those beginnings, Esbjorn and other Swedes went on to found an Augustana Lutheran synod and Augustana College in nearby Rock Island. As more Swedes and Norwegians poured into the Midwest after the Civil War, they established Lutheran synods, choral societies and colleges. And at Augustana, St. Olaf and a half dozen other Scandinavian-American colleges, world-class a cappella choirs contributed greatly to the American choral repertoire.

Playing a psalmodikon at Bishop Hill, Illinois

But the immigrants also had a strong pietist movement back in Norway and Sweden, which stressed piety and personal experience in religion, along with a lively tradition of gospel singing.

“Children of the Heavenly Father” came out of that movement. The text was written in 1858 by Lina Sandell, who lost her father in an accidental drowning, and the comfort she found in her religion finds expression in the song. Later it was set to a catchy Swedish folk tune in 3/4 time by Oskar Ahnfelt, a gifted melodist who accompanied himself on the guitar and was known as Sweden’s “spiritual troubadour.”

Together, Ahnfelt and Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell-Berg (to give her full married name by which her songs are often indexed) are considered Sweden’s most influential gospel hymn writers of the 19th century.

In America, “Children of the Heavenly Father” was translated in 1925 by Ernst W. Olson for an Augustana synod hymnal. Hymnologist Gracia Grindal of Luther Seminary, who has translated hymns herself, notes that Sandell’s text is “devilishly hard to translate” and credits its popularity in America partly to his graceful text.

“Olson’s brilliant [phrase] ‘Children of the heavenly Father’ is nowhere to be found in the language of the original Swedish, though it is there in spirit,” Grindal says. “His recasting of the original into fine English poetry caused the song to become a favorite of non-Swedish singers as well.”

At any rate, the hymn now appears nationwide in a variety of Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, evangelical and other denominational hymnals. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, successor to the old Augustana synod, even has it in its latest hymnal both in English and Swedish. It’s a special favorite wherever Scandinavian immigrants settled in the upper Midwest, and the Augustana College Choir has made it a signature piece.

“I once sang the bass line of ‘Children of the Heavenly Father’ in a room with about 3,000 Lutherans in it,” says Garrison Keillor of the Prairie Home Companion radio show. “And when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.”

Jenny Lind Chapel, Andover, Illinois

The hymn is usually sung softly.

“It’s almost a lullaby, and to me it just sounds like a children’s song,” choral arranger, composer and conductor Alice Parker said during a 1998 hymn sing at Gettysburg Seminary. “How childlike can you make your voice? How gently can you sing, as if you were indeed rocking a baby in your arms?”

But it isn’t a dirge, even though it’s often heard at funerals in the Midwest. The arrangement in an 1894 Swedish-American hymnal called Hemlandssånger (songs of the homeland) sets its tempo at a fast walking beat (andantino) and pays close attention to dynamics, ranging from soft (piano) to very loud (fortissimo). Swedish pop and Christian contemporary artist Carola sings it with hushed but passionate intensity, beginning softly then swelling to a crescendo backed by an organ and a gospel choir.

With its simple Swedish folk melody, it’s a perfect song for the mountain dulcimer.

Mike Thomas of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings, our club in Springfield, has arranged it in DAD for dulcimer, and we’ve been playing it for several months now. His arrangement lends itself to several styles of chord-melody playing. And I’ve tried playing it with a fiddle bow since I’m interested in the psalmodikon, improvising a little riff when I’m tuned to DAD and can’t bow the C# in the last measure. In DAA (my preferred tuning anyway), I can play all the notes on the melody string, and my dulcimer has almost exactly the same timbre as one of those old psalmodikons.

Want to hear different interpretations? Available on YouTube are several performances, including Carola’s and a full-throated version by Swedish baritone Bertil Boo (search for both under the Swedish title, “Tryggare kan ingen vara”). The Augustana College Choir is well represented, too, singing a contemporary arrangement by choir director Jon Hurty. Be sure to watch their imprompteau sessions in Sweden’s Lund cathedral and the church in Oslättfors where Lars Paul Esbjorn served as pastor before he emigrated to Illinois. And Alice Parker’s presentation at Gettysburg, including hymns and commentary, is available on CD from the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.

Pictures of Jenny Lind by Eduard Magnus and Jenny Lind Chapel Creative Commons.

Pete Ellertsen and Mike Thomas coordinate meetings of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings, a beginner-friendly club for all sorts of acoustic instruments in Springfield. Photo by Mack Hucke of Jenny Lind Chapel and reproduction by user PKM of Jenny Lind portrait by Eduard Magus under Creative Commons license. Photo of psalmodikon by Debi Edmund-Ellertsen.

“Off to California” An Irish Hornpipe

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. It was the inspiration for many Irishmen to immigrate to seek a fortune. This tune is from that era.

“Off to California” is arranged here in mountain dulcimer tablature from Lois Hornbostel’s Mel Bay book Dulcimer Fiddle Tunes. A recording of the arrangement follows. Learning the melody first by listening can help you play the tablature. This is a play-along recording. After practicing the tablature to build speed (metronome recommended for smooth results), you can play along with the recording. The second time through the tune you’ll hear a chord back-up.

Listen to Lois Hornbostel play “Off to California.”

This piece is played by most musicians in the Key of G Major. The DGd “reverse Ionian” tuning puts you in that key and the tune “situates” well on the dulcimer’s fretboard with it. To tune to DGd, tune your dulcimer’s bass string to D below middle C. Then tune your middle string to G a fourth above that D, and your first (treble) string to d an octave above that D on the bass string.

Suggested back-up chords are listed below. They are “reversible” in DGd tuning; i.e., the same notes (fret numbers) can be played on either “outside” string (bass or first string).

Chord Name A Few Suggested Back-up Chords in DGd Tuning
G 3 5 (bass string)
2 4 (middle string)
0 3 (first string)
C 3 3 (bass string)
3 3 (middle string)
1 3 (first string)
Em 1 5 (bass string)
2 5 (middle string)
1 5 (first string)
Am 4 (bass string)
4 (middle string)
4 (first string)
D 2 4 (bass string)
1 4 (middle string)
0 2 (first string)

“Flop Eared Mule”

“Flop Eared Mule” is a popular old-time and bluegrass acoustic jam session tune. Some fiddlers call it the “Blue Bell Polka.” The form of this tune is called a “cotillion,” which means you always end the tune with the “A” part. There is an interesting key change in this tune, from the key of D Major to the Key of A Major in the “B” part.


Jeanne Page offers below two arrangements of “Flop Eared Mule” from her Mel Bay book Bluegrass on Hammered Dulcimer. The first is basic version, and the second is more like a fiddle would play.