iPad App Review: D550 Chromatic Hammered Dulcimer

I just downloaded this amazing hammered dulcimer app.  It really sounds amazing and there are a ton of things that you can do with it, so check it out!

The app is available HERE.

It was developed by Michael Eskin with Appcordions.com

It is modeled after the Dusty Strings D550 Hammered Dulcimer.


Developers Note: If you plug the iPad into stereo speakers, the per-bridge panning of the bridges in stereo space provides an amazingly immersive and realistic experience of standing in front of the real D550 when using the default panning settings, or you can spread it out further by playing with the controls.

Fun with I-IV-V Chords

I came up with this exercise years ago while trying to compose a piece of music (which never got composed) and have been learning from it ever since.  I'll go through a number of possibilities that I've come up with, but I really hope you are encouraged to take this exercise and make it your own.  Find ways to challenge yourself and you'll be amazed at how much you can improve.

I've taught this workshop a number of times and it has been my favorite workshop to teach because participants contribute so many interesting ideas.  In 2016 I'll be doing a workshop similar to this, but I'll include some different types of chords, some double strokes, and we'll be working in 6/8 meter.

If that is something you're interested in learning, find out if I will be at a festival or club near you. I will be releasing that video series (for a fee until I retire the workshop), or you can contact your local club or festival coordinator and let them know you're interested in having me come to teach.

Useful App: Clapping Music by Steve Reich

Ok, I'm not gonna lie.  This app is really challenging.  That being said, I think it's awesome.  Learning to ignore a metronome is a terrible thing to do, but if you have done that, practicing with a metronome might not be very helpful for you.  This app could potentially train you to mind your metronome again. So that's a big deal!

Even if you haven't learned to ignore a metronome, this app really keeps you on your toes and will get you keeping time better.  Give it a try.  It's free!  Let me know how it goes for you.  Like I said, it's tough and you'll see me struggle with it in this video too.

Preview of Chord Subs Series

Last year I taught a workshop called "introduction to chord substitutions" at most of the festivals I taught at.  If you attended that workshop, you should have a link to a page containing some support for that.  But I am in the process of doing an in-depth series introducing a couple different methods for incorporating substitutions.  It will also include some arranging tips and discuss how you can use the circle of fifths to help you derive substitutions.

My camera bit the dust while I was originally recording this series and then I got side tracked and started recording other videos.  I've replaced my camera and plan to release this tutorial soon.  The result of the series will be the arrangement played in this video.

Useful App: Cheeky Fingers Piano Chords

I downloaded this app for free through a Starbuck promotion and I'm totally impressed.

I love almost everything about it and I think it could prove to be so useful.  Sometimes I just play a D major chord, or a major 7 chord, when I haven't yet looked at all the possibilities for "weird" chords.  Obviously it's good to figure out chords on your own, but I do like the idea of using this app as a "calculator" some of the time.  We all have moments where we're stumped or uninspired...so this is cool.

Theory: The Overtone Series

This is a brief explanation of the overtone series and how important it is to hammered dulcimer players.  If you are interested in learning more, do some research on your own and also look up "equal temperament".

The overtone series can explain so much about music, for example, why pentatonic scales are so universal and so satisfying to us.  It also explains why our instruments sound so much different when they're fine-tuned vs. pretty-much-in-tune vs. totally out of tune.

Theory: Enharmonics

Enharmonic notes are pretty simple to understand.  There's a reason why I refer to the lowest note on the left side of my instrument as a D# and the note at the top right as an E flat.  It has to do with the context of their location in relation to the tuning scheme of the hammered dulcimer.

I think it's a good idea to acknowledge the enharmonics all over our instruments. You never know when a G flat might show up in your music, and knowing it is enharmonic to F# (leading tone to G) helps. :-)

Using a pickup with your iPhone Tuner

I'm not super tech savvy with this stuff, so pardon my terminology in this video.  The 1/8" output needs to be TRRS in order to work.  Most converters you buy are only TRS, which won't work with an iPhone.  The one I'm using is called "Peterson Icable Guitar to iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and Android Adapter Cable".  

I bought another converter that's supposed to do the same thing, and it did not work, so I'd just stick with the Peterson one.


Here's the link to amazon: Get it on Amazon

What's in my Dulcimer Case?

I was looking through all the stuff in my case and thought it would be fun to make a video about it.

I should really clean my case out more often!

Let me know if you have any handy tips or nifty things you like to keep in your dulcimer case. 

What I'd really like to hear is if you've managed to find a nice way to carry the things you need without putting them into your case at all.  Stuff gets lost in my big pocket, but I hate to carry one more bag with me everywhere.

A Trick for Tuning

This is a technique that seems to work for tuning across the bridge on this particular instrument. I have a few instruments, and I only do this on one of them.   This instrument has three strings per note and is strung with piano wire.  It's difficult to lift the strings up, or to adjust them along the outer rail, so this method helps me tune across the treble bridge.

I usually use a hammer that has no pair and a squishy leather side.  If you use a hammer with hard leather or just wood, it can slide off the string and you wind up knocking your knuckle on the bridge, which kinda' hurts.