Sunday, January 30, 2011

Songs of the Wilderness Road - DAA - New Salem - Feb 5

Here are some video clips to supplement our workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 5, at New Salem. We'll meet at the desk in the Visitors Center and find a room.

I'm posting several YouTube clips that demonstrate basic technique ... watch for the way they silde the noter and strum across all the strings to maintain a drone. And below I'll post a couple of versions of the songs we'll cover Saturday, in case you're like me and the tab means nothing to you unless you have something to listen to. The songs are "Cripple Creek" and "Riddle Song (I Gave My Love a Cherry)" from Songs and Tunes of the Wilderness Road by Ralph Lee Smith and Madeline MacNeil, available for $11.07 from

Clips on technique, and links to websites with more tips on technique, an online dulcimer community and more ...

Ben Seymour plays "Sheep Shell Corn"

This song is a good introduction to pick-and-noter style playing. It's in a different tuning (a D unison tuning they use around Galax, Va., that fits with old-time string bands), but we can learn a lot from it. For one thing, the song is in our book - it's in a modal scale, and we'll get to it later, but it's a good old fiddle tune. Well worth knowing.

Mostly, just watch the way Ben slides the noter up and down the fretboard. Notice how he keeps his index finger on top of the noter -- that's the traditional Virgina style of holding it. He's playing a fiddle tune up to speed, and he's doing the same thing other players do with hammer-ons and pull-offs. That faint whistling sound is from the noter sliding over the metal frets. You want it! It's the authentic sound of the mountain dulcimer.

Then click on the Ferdot link and go to Ben's YouTube channel called (what else?) Ferdot. He has 37 uploads, more than half of them demonstrating instruments he's made. The Galax dulcimers and the scheitholts he plays with a noter. Click on the "see all" link and keep scrolling down to where he plays "Entre le Bouef" on Walnut Scheitholt (it's about seventh from the bottom out of 37). See how he's holding the noter, with his thumb on top? That's the Kentucky style. I started out Kentucky style (bought my first dulcimer in Kentucky, for one thing), but now I've switched to Virginia style. I prefer it. But how you hold it is entirely a matter of personal preference.

Brian and Lisa [Strumelia] play "Coal Holler"
A fiddle-and-dulcimer duo with good Virginia-style noting on a Galax-style dulcimer. That's the same type that Ben played above. The tuning is different - partly because those high unison D's can be heard against other instruments - but her technique is worth studying. But that's not the only reason I'm posting her clip.

Strumelia, as she calls herself online, administers Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer, a "fun online Appalachian dulcimer community" at and a Mountain Dulcimer Noter and Drone Blog at On her YouTube channel - click on the Strumelia link - she has a series of six- to ten-minute instruction videos on how to hold a noter, how to strum, how to play the traditional dulcimer ... and some more videos on traditional technique featuring "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." I can't recommend them highly enough.

Two Songs of the Wilderness Road we'll learn Saturday - posted here mostly so you can get the tune in your head ...

Mike Seeger plays "Cumberland Gap"
At Wintergreen, Va., in August 2007. The tune has numerous variants, especially on the B part. here Mike Seeger, folklorist and member of the New Lost City Ramblers, plays it more or less as Ralph Lee Smith tabs it out in our book.

Mary O'Hara singing "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (Riddle Song)
In concert during the mid-1980s. Mary O'Hara is an Irish soprano, sang a traditional Irish and classical repertoire, influenced Mary Black among others. (Check out "The Fairy Tree" and "An Maidirin a Rua (the Little Red Fox)", if you have any tolerance for art songs.) There are plenty of other versions of the "Riddle Song" on YouTube, including one by Sam Cooke, but O'Hara's is very close to the original(s) collected by Cecil Sharp in the 1910s. Ralph Lee has three variants of the tune, all three lovely.


Strumelia said...

Hey Pete I just stumbled on your post...thanks for the kind words! :) -'Strumelia'

Strumelia said...

The NEW link to Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer is:

Thanks for updating !