Peggy Mohr inquired about tablature for this piece and I didn't actually have it, so I whipped this together this morning. In doing so, I came up with a great topic for this week's Dulcimerica episode: harmonization and rhythm support.
This is in the key of Em for DAD tuning, so capo 1 is where you'll begin.
The harmonies that open the arrangement are a simple diagonal and partial chord shape that renders the chords Em - F#m7/E - Em - A. It's interesting to note that measure 1 could become a G major if you played a D (7th fret) instead of an open E on the bass string.
Bass - D | Middle - G | Melody - B
Though G-B-D make a G chord, technically, with D as the lowest note (root) instead of as the highest note (perfect fifth), this would be written as a G/D chord. A slash chord indicates that the chord has been altered into an inversion. The note before the slash is the actual chord name and the note after the slash is what the root note should be. Taking the perfect fifth and relocating it to the root creates what's known as a 2nd inversion. Taking the major third and relocating it to the root creates a 1st inversion. When working with four-note chords like 7th chords, relocating the minor seventh or major seventh will result in a 3rd inversion.
Bass - E | Middle - G | Melody - B
E-G-B makes an E minor chord; the root, minor third and perfect fifth aren't altered here, so this is a basic triad, also known as root position.
Em is the relative minor to G major, which means that either chord can be substituted for the other. Chord substitutions work when both chords share at least two notes. The two shared notes in these chords are B and G. Fun fact, try it out sometime!
Let's take a look at that funky chord in measure 2. The notes we're playing are:
Bass - E | Middle - F# | Melody - A
I tend to visualize a piano keyboard when I'm working with chords because it's easy to see the relationships between intervals.
If you take the highest note in the chord (E) and drop it down an octave so that it's the root (as with our chord in measure 2), you end up with this:
Now, if we were playing a mountain dulcimer with four equidistant string spacing, we could play all four of these notes, but I arranged this for three strings so one of them has to go. Since we're playing E - F# and A, that takes care of the first three red piano keys. That top key, C#, simply won't be in the picture. That's still enough to leave us with a nice-sounding F#m7 chord that's been voiced in a 3rd inversion.
What is a minor seventh chord? It's a root, minor third, perfect fifth and minor seventh. How do we still get this chord even with a note missing? It's part of a practice that makes it easier for mountain dulcimer players to get more complex-sounding chords with only three strings.
Rootless chord voicings allow you to play chords without the root note. Let's look at a 124 chord (A major). The notes are A (root) C# (major third) and E (perfect fifth.) Now, let's make it an A7 chord. When you see the number 7 after a chord name, that means you should play a dominant seventh chord, which adds a minor seventh interval to a major triad. That interval, in the case of A major, would be a G. So, A-C#-E-G will give you an A7 chord.
Now, look at your dulcimer fretboard as you play the dreaded 124 chord. E is on the bass string, C# is on the middle string and A, the root, is on the melody string. Now, move your finger from the fourth fret to the third fret where G lives. Now, you're playing E-C#-G. Everything but the root, which would be A. Despite not having the actual root of the chord, this makes a perfectly fine A7 chord. Why does that work? You could also drop the perfect fifth out of a chord and would still get something sounding really great. Again, why?
Because the root and the perfect fifth are not as important, harmonically speaking, as the third and seventh. We tend to alter the third (minor third and major third) and seventh (minor seventh and major seventh) to get different types of harmonies. You can distill the essence of a chord just by using the relationship between the third and seventh. This is a great trick.
Yeah, I know, that's a lot of information for being two measures into the piece, but I wanted to explain it fully so that you get an idea of why this measure can hold a F#m7/E chord. I promise that's all of the crazy this post will dish out.
In the recording, I play through the piece as written with no additional picks or strums. That way, you can clear get a sense of the melody and harmony movement. The second time through, however, I begin to fill out the arrangement with some arpeggios, being careful not to double up on the melody notes. So, much of what you hear is just bouncing back and forth between the bass and middle strings, only hitting the melody when it changes and, if I do hit it again before it changes once more, I hit it softly and not too soon, so as to avoid adding melody notes into the tune.
This leaves an arrangement that's nicely spacious, but has more of a forward momentum. Writing this sort of thing out would make students throw shoes at me, so I prefer to sketch out the primary melody and chordal harmony, leaving the rest for your interpretation. I also do a little rephrasing of the melody in the second pass-through with a little bass string motion to end the piece.
You'll be able to see how it all comes together this Friday on Dulcimerica!
To give you an idea of what you can do with this tune, I've included a recording of it from "Kokopelli Rising" below. Enjoy!