12 Tips for Arranging on Mountain Dulcimer
Add Chords. Most music has chords written in. You simply have to find the best form of the chord to use to get the best sound & playability.
Play the melody on the bass string. Because the melody & bass strings are the same note an octave apart, you can play the same exact melody on the bass.
Play the melody an octave higher. The 7th fret is the same note as an open string, so you can play the song an octave higher by simply moving up 7 frets.
Add dynamics. Varying your volume throughout a tune can add a lot of flavor. A simple rule of thumb for dynamics is to get louder as you go up the scale & softer as you come back down.
Add hammer-ons, pull-offs, & slides. If you’re going up a note, use a hammer-on. If you’re going down a note or to 0, use a pull-off. If it is a long way to the next note, try using a slide.
Add in-between notes. If you have 2 quarter notes on the 2nd and 4th frets, for example, you can add a note at the 3rd fret to fill in the time.
Change your strum patterns. Try adding filler strums on a long note. Change your dominate strum direction (if you usually strum out, try strumming in) or strum less often (works especially well when playing on the bass string). Also try flat-picking or finger picking instead of just strumming.
Bend Strings. On long notes, you can sometimes bend the string. This generally works best on the bass string. Make sure you bend the string all the way down & then back up to get the best tone.
Add harmonics. Harmonics are generally best on slow songs. The easiest harmonics are at the 4th and 7th frets, although you can find them all over the instrument. To play a harmonic, lay your finger directly on top of the fret, but don’t press down. As you pluck the string, lift up your finger, and it should sound like a chime.
Substitute a minor chord for a major chord. This does not work on every song, but sometimes you can throw in a minor. Use the relative minor to the major chord, and make sure your accompanists know what you are doing.
Change the tempo. You should not change the tempo in the middle of a song, but sometimes you can begin or end the song at a different tempo. Sometimes it’s also fun to play a normally fast song slow, and vice-versa.
HAVE FUN! The most important thing is to always have fun with your dulcimer!
Erin Mae, President