Right Hand Positions For Chords On Standard Tuning Dulcimers

By David James, as used on his CD



Text Box: For this lesson, and all other of my workshops, the thumb will be finger #1, the pinkie finger #5, etc.             Rest the tip of your little finger on the bass B string near the left side of the bass bridge. The B string is usually six up from the bottom on large instruments, three up on 12/11 dulcimers. This is an anchor to keep your hand in place while we do things. Now, take finger two and rest it on the bass A string (the string before the one your pinkie is on) somewhere in the midpoint between the bass and treble bridges. Rest finger three on the string immediately above it, which will be the E coming over from the treble bridge. Now sound the A & E by lightly brushing your fingertips down, without moving your hand or lifting the pinkie anchor from the B string. A pipe-like drone! Now keep your hand in the same place. Brush your thumb up right where the G bass string intersects the D treble string. Another two-note pipey kind of drone!

What to do with them? Learn a simple march, like Brian Boru's March, or OŐNeillŐs March with the left hand only hammering the tune. A little tricky, but start slow and you'll get it. Use the above drones on the one-beat, or the one- and three-beats, to give the pieces a new and bagpipe like interpretation! Try The ChanterŐs Song with a D/a and G/c drone. Want more? Read on!


            Central to my plucking, and hammering and plucking, methods of playing the dulcimer is the use of three main hand positions. They're easy! With these positions almost all of the chords needed to accompany traditional tunes, Carolan compositions, airs, etc., can be played. The technique can be as simple as the above two-note bagpipe-like drone or as complicated as an actual guitar-like vamping back up. Learning these methods of playing will open your mind to all sorts of new and different ideas for arranging tunes and will improve your playing of other hammered dulcimer "licks" like arpeggios, hammered two-note chords, "flans," and so forth.


FIRST POSITION: the string under the thumb names the chord!

Put your thumb on the lowest bass string, your second finger on the string just above it (the second course which has passed over the treble bridge and is passing below and through the bass bridge); put your third finger on the third-from-the-bottom bass string. It should look like this:

Text Box: Pluck the strings without moving your hand.
Can you tell the difference between a major and a minor chord?

SECOND POSITION: the string under finger 2 names the chord!

Start with the thumb on the bell note, the third finger, on the third-up bass string (same as we started on the First Position). This time put your second finger on the string coming over the treble bridge, which is just below that third bass string - the third-up treble string, as in this illustration:


THIRD POSITION: finger 3 names the chord!

Starting with the thumb on the bell note (lowest bass note) put your third (or fourth if itŐs easier) finger on the fourth-up bass note, and your second finger on the treble string exactly in the center of there two (this will be the third string up from the bottom of the treble bridge). Looks like this:

Text Box: Listen to DavidŐs hammering and plucking on his latest CD,
The Lone ManŐs Path
For availability, see the artist or go to the Web:

You only have to change one finger from Position #2



David James

Tiomp‡n Alley Music

South Bend, Indiana, USA


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