“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…

“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…

“Joy to the World”

The composer of “Joy to the World” was Isaac Watts (1674-1748). He was one of the great hymn writers, and the first to produce a modern-style hymnbook. A prolific and popular hymn writer, he was recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody,” credited with some 750 hymns. Many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into many languages. Not only did he write hymns, he wrote…

Scottish Christmas Tunes for Hammered Dulcimer

This tune book/CD combination published by Mel Bay has many lovely tunes. The CD presents the hammered dulcimer in an ensemble setting with fiddle, pipes and guitar. Mel Bay author Maggie Sansone plays hammered dulcimer the “A Scottish Christmas” recording. The CBS “Sunday Morning” show said of the CD, “One of the best selling CDs of the season, the music is ancient and infectious.” Listen to Maggie Sansone play from…

God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen Arranged for Mountain Dulcimer

The lyrics of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” author unknown, are reputed to date back to the 15thCentury, making it one of the oldest carols. It was first published in 1833, when it appeared in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys. It is believed that this carol was sung to the gentry by town watchmen, who earned additional money this way…

“Pipe on the Hob” an Irish Jig in A minor for Mountain Dulcimer

I “cut my dulcimer-playing teeth” playing in traditional Irish music sessiúns in New York City. The jigs were some of my favorite tunes, and the sound of the strummed mountain dulcimer reminded me of the ever-more-popular bouzoukis being played in well-known traditional Irish bands. There are a couple of other Irish tunes with this name, but this is the one I heard most. A “hob” is sometimes short for hobgoblin,…

“HOME-MIDDLE-OUTSIDE”: How to Accompany Music in Many Keys with the Mountain Dulcimer

Editor’s note:  At the 2011 Fiddlers Grove fiddle convention I attended a jam in their “jamming barn.” It’s known for the expert senior players who jam swing, country and other vocally-driven music. This is the territory in which a musician who joins the jam needs to be able to play in many keys. As a veteran dulcimer player I’m used to playing in different fiddle keys, but in this jam…