Star of the County Down, Dulcimer Alternate Tuning

I’ve been messing around with alternate tunings of the mountain dulcimer.  Typically played in the tunings of DAD or DAA, sometimes different keys require different tunings.  Although one can capo for different keys, I much prefer to retune to get a “fuller” sound.

Star of the County Down is an Irish ballad, dating back to 1870 or so.

Playing in an alternate tuning presents some fingering/chording challenges, to be sure, but, overall, I’m happy with the result.


New Toy: Concertina

Last Saturday, Holly and I had some time to kill and stopped by a local music store that specializes in used instruments.  While I was browsing the used guitar section  (I don’t really NEED a new guitar, but….)  I heard Holly call out, from across the store  “Rick…come check this out”.

I assumed she’s stumbled upon a really cool old fiddle,  so I went over, and there it was…a beautiful, red Concertina.

Red Ctina

The concertina has a fascinating history, and was developed in Germany.  It was one of those instruments that was designed to bring music to the common people…small, portable, and inexpensive.  Much like the American dulcimer, it’s use is primarily in folk music.

This particular concertina was made in Italy, and is an Anglo version, as opposed to the English version.  In the English concertina, whether you push or pull, you get the same note.  In the Angle version, you get one note when you pull, another when you push.  You get much greater versatility, but it does make it a bit more difficult to play.

As I mentioned, it’s used on lots of different types of folk music, but my two favorites are traditional American cowboy music, and Celtic music.  I stumbled upon this reel  (which I’d never heard before) and I’ll leave you with this as a taste of what this little instrument can do.


Giving something new a try

Most of you know I’m a musician.  Although I spent more than a few years as a professional keyboardist,  in the mid 70’s, while living near Branson, Missouri  (and working as a keyboardist in the theaters there) I discovered traditional American folk music and the script for the rest of my musical life was set.

Although this is an over-simplification, American Folk Music falls into two basic categories, Bluegrass and Old Timey.  There are subsets of each, to be sure.

Bluegrass is what most folks seem to be most familiar with…folks like Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, The Osborne Brothers, and more.  Bluegrass, with it’s roots in Irish, Scottish, English, and Old Timey Music, generally is accepted to have come into it’s own starting in the late 1930’s.  Of course, we know Bill Monroe as the father of Bluegrass.  Old Timey is much older, with the same roots.  One COULD say that Bluegrass is the child of Old Timey.

Some of the differences…Bluegrass, especially traditional bluegrass, has some pretty distinct rules…for example, you’ll never see a dulcimer in true Bluegrass.

Perhaps the biggest difference is in the style of banjo playing.  In Bluegrass, its 3 finger, or Scruggs style playing.  The player wears 3 picks…a thumbpick and two finger picks.

Clawhammer, the player doesn’t wear picks at all.  Scruggs style, it’s up and down picking by the fingers and down by the thumb, in clawhammer, it’s nearly always all down…the player makes his hand into a “claw” and uses it.

I’ve always been interested in clawhammer banjo, much more so than in Bluegrass style, because, to me, it’s much more raw and traditional.

This weekend, I found out about a clawhammer banjo workshop in Southern Indiana, so I’m going to take advantage of a free Saturday and go for an introduction to clawhammer banjo.

If you’re interested, here’s a demonstration of what Clawhammer looks and sounds like. Wish me luck!

In the recording studio!

Although the intent of this blog is to separate my “work” life from my real life, they can’t help but he entwined. 🙂

It’s been a near lifelong dream of mine to record an album of traditional, mountain Gospel music.  The dream began to become a reality a year ago when we first started planning this, and yesterday we spend the day at Minor Prophet Studio recording the first four tracks.

Recording is an adventure.  I’m primarily a performer,not a recording artist, and what works well on stage doesn’t always translate well into the studio, and it works the other way around too. Nevertheless, it was a GREAT time and we are off to a very goods start!  I’m having to adjust a few things I do, but life is one long learning experience, and this is just one of those!

Here are a few pictures from yesterday.

holly and morganCatrina vocalseddie and ricklistening to the playback