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May 22, 2024 - 6:19:09 PM
91 posts since 4/14/2024

So, I was wondering if there are any pickers out there who also play the mountain dulcimer and could answer a few questions?
Could it be used to play traditional bluegrass music?
I understand that generally it is a diatonic instrument but could it be adapted to be chromatic?
And if so, could it be tuned to open G like the banjo?
And if so, could some of the bluegrass banjo and/or bluegrass flatpicking guitar techniques be adapted to it?
You rolls, playing parts of the melody with rolls in between, various licks etc. OR in the case of guitar- modified Carter/Travis picking etc
In my head it sounds like it might be kinda cool if you could do all of that but not sure if its even possible

May 22, 2024 - 6:37:28 PM

3359 posts since 3/30/2008

A mountain dulcimer could definitely play bluegrass music.

May 22, 2024 - 6:44:02 PM

1725 posts since 4/29/2013

It's definitely possible. I know of a few who play dulcimers fingerstyle, myself included for some slower pieces, not in Scruggs-type rolls per se, but I imagine it could be done along with flat-picking the melody.

Some dulcimers are strung with four equidistant strings (instead of 3-single ones, 4 with a doubled melody, etc), which could be tuned to open G (DGBD), though a 3-string could be tuned DGD or GDG, depending on the gauge of strings and scale length for the latter. I would think a chromatic fretboard vs. a diatonic one would be better for the afforementioned DGBD tuning, and to reverse the strings with the bass string being closest to you as opposed to the treble/melody string as normal. 

If you would go with the diatonic fret layout, having "extra" frets (1 1/2, 6 1/2, etc) do help with blue notes. 

Edited by - Noah Cline on 05/22/2024 18:46:03

May 22, 2024 - 7:27:24 PM
like this



3083 posts since 8/30/2012

May 22, 2024 - 7:27:57 PM

4851 posts since 10/13/2005

I used to have two dulcimers. Got tired of having to look downward and also having missing notes. Now i have an octave mandolin tuned like a dulcimer. Well, tuned CGCG which works great for major and minor modes. banjered

May 23, 2024 - 2:14:13 AM

Bill H


2302 posts since 11/7/2010

Jammed with a kid many years ago who played mountain dulcimer with an electric pick up in a rock band. He was incredible.

May 23, 2024 - 3:34:09 AM

53 posts since 9/8/2017

Why not?  If you can do this with a dulcimer:

Edited by - MRichaud on 05/23/2024 03:35:00

May 23, 2024 - 4:52:04 AM

680 posts since 2/6/2018

Picked up one of these when in Asheville and they are a blast to play. Super easy and beautifully built. Have no connection to this company, just love the instrument. Easy tuning and easy to pick up. Adaptable to bluegrass too.

May 23, 2024 - 6:36:09 AM

3388 posts since 5/2/2012

Dulcimers are available with a chromatic fretboard. Dulcimers can be played "noter" style (strumming), chord-melody or finger style. There is an overlap between "bluegrass" and "old time" tunes, like Cripple Creek. Here is an example of fingerstyle playing.  I like Noah's idea of open G tuning GBD (like a Dobro), as you have the 1st, 3rd and 5th of a chord, you can barre or slant chords (or play individual strings), play licks, etc.   

May 23, 2024 - 7:09:15 AM
Players Union Member



655 posts since 3/5/2009

I've been playing the mountain dulcimer for 50 years and some of what I play is in the bluegrass genre: Liza Jane, Cripple Creek, Rocky Top, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, etc. I play a three string dulcimer most of the time. I think the only thing that stops most dulcimer players from playing with a bluegrass group is that the dulcimer can't be heard over the banjo, guitar, and mandolin without some form of amplification. If I play with bluegrass folk it is usually on guitar or banjo.

May 23, 2024 - 7:14:41 AM

1 posts since 5/23/2024

The mountain dulcimer can have extra strings and extra frets and you can tune them all kinds of ways. You can try out every style of playing you can imagine. There's lots of fun to be had. I enjoy traditional dulcimer, modern dulcimer, and everything in between. Of course there's some folks who will tell you there's all kinds of dulcimer rules and regulations, but that's not really true. The main thing is to enjoy yourself and make the best music you can. And don't forget how bluegrass players take different roles. I think it's important to respect that.

One big downside in a live bluegrass jam context is how quiet the instrument is. Good players on other instruments can bring their volume down to match, but they're not going to want to do that for the rest of the night.

"I didn't pick this instrument so I could be saddled with someone else's idea of what I should be doing with it." - Stephen Seifert

"For me, the mountain dulcimer has always been the perfect accompaniment to the more important things in life." - Jean Ritchie

May 23, 2024 - 7:58:57 AM

5790 posts since 5/29/2011

Over forty years ago, when I was a teenager, the Ingram family from Floyd County, Virginia played at the Roanoke Fiddle and Banjo Club. The father played the guitar, the mother played the bass, the sons played fiddle and banjo, and the daughters played the dulcimer and autoharp. They were a little more Old Time than Bluegrass but the son, Bobby, played three-finger style banjo and they played a lot of Bluegrass songs. The dulcimer fit just fine with their style although it was a little hard to hear.

May 23, 2024 - 6:04:51 PM

91 posts since 4/14/2024

after hearing that lady play I am more convinced than ever of just how cool it would be to turn a long time bluegrass banjo player loose on a dulcimer...applying rolls with melody and various hammerons, pulloffs and slides with some nice licks thrown in...would create some very beautiful soulful music

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