CARING FOR YOUR DULCIMER
Your dulcimer will behave itself if you care for it sensibly.
Temperature and HumidityThe dulcimer will react to changes in temperature and humidity like anyother stringed musical instrument. In hotter temperatures it will tend to go flat. Higher humidity may well sharpen the tuning.
Don't EVER leave your dulcimer in a car in sunny weather. You probably know how hot it can get. As well as affecting the tuning drastically, the heat and dryness may well damage the wood and glue joints.
If you're playing outside, try not to sit in the sun, for the same reasons. Dulcimers do not tan.
In the house, the best place for your dulcimer is away from windows or outside walls where the temperature is likely to vary a lot. You shouldn't need to take any special precautions with regard to humidification.
There's no escape from the reality of tuning. You will have to learn to do it, but it's not hard. There are electronic tuning devices which make it very easy. If you buy one of those, make sure it is chromatic, i.e. it has all the tones and semitones. Those made for guitar tuning only have the notes needed for a guitar.
Use the tuning hammer (also called a tuning wrench) with a light touch. It's a good idea to turn it so the string slackens, if you're not sure if a note is sharp or flat. You need VERY little movement of the wrench to make a big difference in the tuning.
Tuning the bass strings is easy ... you just have to match pitches to the tuner if you have one. If you don't, I'll explain another method in a minute .
The treble strings each produce two notes. They are a fifth apart. Such notes are in a harmonic relationship which helps to tune them. The third harmonic of the lower note should be in tune with the second harmonic of the upper note. You may be able to hear these high harmonics beating together, then becoming smooth as they come into tune. If not, use the tuner!
By tuning the right hand side of a treble string, the left side should pull into tune automatically. On many dulcimers, though, the bridge causes some friction which prevents the left side from achieving exactly the same tension as the right side.
Two solutions to this are:
1. Lift the string gently off the bridge and set it down again. The tension should now be equal on both sides of the bridge.
2. Gently press down on the left side. This will flatten the left side a little .
If you're using a tuner, tune all the notes of a particular value together, i.e. tune all the d's before moving to the e's. This will help equalise the strain on the instrument.
Now, if you don't have a tuner, how can you tune? You will need some reference point. An A440 tuning fork, a pitch pipe or another fixed pitch instrument will do. From the tuning chart, you can see that there are quite a few notes repeated. So start with all the a1s, (there are 3 of these), then the a and a2. The a1 second from the front on the treble bridge will mean the dl is now in tune. Check it. It might be too sharp because of the friction problem. Once you're happy, do all the d's you can find.
Now that all the d's are in tune, you will have gl on the treble bridge which should be right, but do check it. After all the g's are done, you will have the c's to do. Are you spotting a trend? C's give you the f's which give you the bb. You can use the bb to tune the eb.
Now going in the other direction, the tuned al will also mean you have an e on the treble bridge in tune. Check it. Once you have tuned all the e's, you can tune the b's which lead to f#, on to c# and g#. It's called a circle of fifth's. If you can hear perfect fourths, fifths and octaves, you'll be able to check constantly that you are not drifting. Good luck!
How often you need to tune will depend on whether you are playing with other people who can't retune to you, how much the instrument is moved about and the weather. The overall pitch will go up and down with the weather, but this is only a problem if you are playing with other people. A dulcimer will get sweeter with time if you keep it in good tune.
© Gillian Alcock 1998
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