E Dorian for MD (in two tunings) and HD

I’ve begun teaching hammered dulcimer lessons, as well as mountain dulcimer. Some students have been wondering whether hammered dulcimers and mountain dulcimers can play the same music, or play together. The short answer is yes, but everybody will have to be in the same key!

Let’s look at some arrangements in “E Dorian,” which is easily played on a Dorian-tuned mountain dulcimer (EBA), a DAD-tuned mountain dulcimer, and a hammered dulcimer. I think it should be easy to see how these arrangements could be easily adjusted for this trio of instruments and styles.


Dorian mode is called the “mountain minor.” E Dorian lives alongside the D Ionian (“natural major”) scale on the hammered dulcimer, because it has the same key signature: Two sharps! (F# and C#) Only you start the E Dorian scale on the second note (E) instead of on D.

D Ionian’s scale is —-> D, E, F#, G, A, B, C# D

E Dorian’s scale is —-> E, F#, G, A, B, C# D, E

Of course, each scale has its own set of chords, which my students can find on my reference maps and charts.

Here is an easy song for Hammered Dulcimer, in E Dorian, a Manx tune called, “Was Nancy in London?”

“Was Nancy in London?” for HD


For Mountain Dulcimer, E Dorian can be played on a dulcimer that is tuned to DAD, with no capo. Find the melody, then add the chords. Do not strum across; you have to play chord-melody style.

Map of the scale, and the chords

Down the Brae pg 1

Down the Brae pg 2


If you prefer to play noter-drone style, or on the melody string only, the way to tune for E Dorian is

E on the bass string

B on the middle string

A on the melody string.

Here is a map of the scale, and chords. Remember, the chords are optional; you can just fret the melody string only and strum across, in this tuning. The instrument will drone in the Dorian mode. But if you’d like to add some chords for depth and interest, they are on this chart.

And here are two Manx tunes that can be played separately, or they also work very beautifully as a medley. This is a great medley for beginners because the two tunes have the same time signature – 3/4 – as well as the same key signature.

Was Nancy in London

Oh, Kirree, Why Have You Left Me

Whichever dulcimer you play (hammered or mountain), or however you play it (modal or DAD), I hope you will enjoy these tunes. If you’d like to learn more about arranging your own music, or about playing in different keys and modes, please contact me for lessons!




Group class: “Dulcimerry” instructional jam

This class is for mountain dulcimers only. 

Are you ready to learn how to join the jam?

It all starts with knowing the songs – this is a repertoire building class. We will be playing my arrangements of traditional and old-time songs.

We will also learn how to alternate between melodies and backup chords, how to listen for chord changes, how to be aware of typical chord progressions for this kind of music…and a little about “jam etiquette.”



Dates, times, and location: This class meets on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, from 2:00 to 3:30, at Chicory Folk Music School*, for the entire 2019 year.

Cost: $10 per player, per class. Please pay at the door. (Fee is waived for current and former students of Chicory Folk Music School.)

Registration: SPACE IS LIMITED. To join the class (and to receive each month’s music via email), you must register by the 5th of the month for the first session, or by the 15th of the month for the second session. Just email me** with “Dulcimerry” in the subject line, and let me know which date(s) you plan to attend!

Other information:

  1. We will be covering exactly the same material and music on BOTH meeting days of each month. If you need more time playing with the group, come to both sessions! If you want to attend but don’t have time to come twice, you will not miss anything by only coming once per month.
  2. Prerequisite skills include being able to tune your instrument, some knowledge of chords, and the ability to follow dulcimer tablature. (If you’re not there yet, please contact me for private lessons. 🙂 )
  3. I recommend that you purchase a 3-ring binder for your “Dulcimerry” music, so you can quickly access each piece during the class. You’ll also need a pencil.
  4. This class is for beginners as well as for anyone who would just like to expand their repertoire and skills. If you are NOT a beginner, please plan to be patient…we will be starting slowly so everyone can learn.

Please join us! Learn new (old) songs, make new friends, and learn the skills to join the jam during the 2019 folk festival season!

Happy strumming,



*Chicory Folk Music School is in Indianapolis, Indiana, on the southwest side of the city. If you’ve never been here, please request the address when you register for the class.

** email address: chicoryfolkmusic@gmail.com






Crosspicking in DAA – “La Volta”

For those working on crosspicking in DAA, I arranged this simplified version of a section of La Volta, a tune which was long ago adapted from 16th century European lute music.

Playing tips:

  1. The music has two distinct parts, each making up half of the song. Play the first part twice, and then play the second part twice.
  2. Strum toward yourself  (  ↓ )  on each chorded note, then pluck outward  (  ↑ )  for the crosspicked notes that follow.






Free Tablature – November Song of the Month – “Life Let Us Cherish”

November’s Song of the Month is “Life Let Us Cherish,” which was written by Hans Georg Nageli, a Swiss music educator and publisher, in 1796. I learned this Victorian era parlor song from The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook.

My arrangement for mountain dulcimer is a simple chord-melody style with plucked embellishments, in DAD tuning. I think this song suits the Thanksgiving season, so I hope you’ll enjoy it!



Blue Ridge Mountain Sunday

Our family was recently given a dobro, or a resophonic guitar. Our eldest son, who lives away at college, dropped by this weekend to visit us and to try out the dobro. He’s a quick study with music – he played this song within moments of picking up the instrument! We’ve missed him so much since he moved out, so I was really glad he chose to play the Blue Ridge Mountain Blues. I guess Mike and I are now the “heads of snowy white” wondering “where is our wanderin’ boy is tonight.”

Blue Ridge Mountain Blues was written by Cliff Hess in 1924, under the pseudonym Cliff Carson. The song was first recorded by George Reneau and Gene Austin, and soon after also recorded by Bill Cox )1933) and Riley Puckett (1935). It was made famous nationally by bluegrass musicians such as Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs. More recently, the song has been revisited by John Fogerty in his 2009 album, “Comin’ Down the Road.”

I am happy to share this video of Nathaniel playing the Blue Ridge Mountain Blues. I loved it, squeaks and all. (Dobro is hard to play, y’all. Squeaks happen!)



If you’d like to do a little field research (or YouTube study) about the folk music of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you should know that the Blue Ridge Mountains were the home of the legendary Doc Watson. Here are a couple of our favorite recordings, to get you started:

Tennessee Stud

Deep River Blues

And for extra credit, here is an example of how the old songs were changed in the new world. Doc Watson is always our favorite teacher for this concept, and we’ll revisit it often on this blog.

Matty Groves (Doc Watson – this is USA, bluegrass’ed version of the Child Ballad, the Lyttle Musgrave, which dates to the early 17th century.)


Little Musgrave (This is performed by Christy Moore with Planxty. The storytelling style of the sung ballad, and the lyrics themselves, are very old. The countermelodies and musicianship are Planxty’s own addition.)



Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina (Wiki Commons)





Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

Everyone knows the chorus of this old song:
“Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting, in the sky, Lord, in the sky.”

Folk music has always been a part of my life, and since I can’t live without it, I’ve passed it on to my children. Now we are working together to share our love of heritage music with a wider audience, and we hope you’ll read (and listen) along. We will explore the value of traditional music, and try to address a few questions:

How are children changed by growing up with singing and music in the home?
How has our culture been changed by people who think in melody and stories because they grew up with timeless folk tunes?
How did the music get here, and is anybody still passing it on?
Do children still like it?
What do they gain from traditional music beyond the simple melodies and stories?
Are the songs and stories still relevant to the upcoming generation?

Maybe we should accept that the circle has been broken. Families don’t have as much of a musical and faith heritage as they once did, nobody wants to sit around singing the moon up anymore in a time when flickering screens beckon everybody away, and maybe people who collect dulcimers should just hush and let it go…

Before we get started on all those conversations and before we start really getting serious about sharing the music, I want to share a little bit of the circle that is unbroken in my family. The first song is a ballad called “Barbara Allen,” sung by my father to his own guitar accompaniment. I’ve heard him sing this song my whole life and I’m so glad I have an audio recording! The second song is “John Randall,” sung by my third son when he was only eight years old, with my husband playing the guitar for him. My father came into the world hearing music and is still singing and playing. The same is true for my son, and will be true for his children someday. This is our music. I hope you will enjoy these songs.