~ I come to the hammer dulcimer from the guitar and piano. I love playing melody but don’t always know the tune everyone else is playing. I enjoy playing chords on the guitar and piano on those tunes, almost as much as melody on those I do know. How do I play chords on a hammer dulcimer? ~Chordless Karen

Dear Chordless:

Don’t “chord less”, chord more!!  It’s easy!  Pick any key (located between any two marked courses on the treble bridge – the bridge on the left) and play up the scale – four notes up the right side then four notes up the left side – remember to stay between the two marked courses.  That’s a “diatonic scale”, known to most of us as “do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do”.  Now, change that to numbers such as “do”=1, “re”=2, “me”=3, “fa”=4, etc.  You play 1,2,3,4 up the right side of the treble bridge between the marked courses and 5,6,7,1’ up the left side of the bridge.  Both the first lower pitched “do” on the right and the last higher pitched “do” on the left are the same note only an octave apart thus they are assigned the same name and number “do”=1.   OK, now play only 1, 3, 5, 1’.  Cool, huh?  You just played a chord.  Since you can’t play all the notes simultaneously, it is officially called an arpeggio.  Now take that pattern and move it up and down the treble bridge starting on every course.  Every pattern is a new chord and its name is the name of the first note you strike, with one variation – all the patterns that begin and end on marked courses are major chords and those patterns that begin on the courses not marked are minor chords.  Now you have a bucket full of chords to play with.  And now you can leave that bulky old heavy piano at home!!!  Your friends might start inviting you to their jams again since they don’t have to help carry it up the stairs!  (You can still bring the guitar if you just have to)  Good luck.

Posted in: Ask Russell