playing backup on dulcimers
by Steve Eulberg
adding chords to the bass line
Hill Country Acoustic Music Camp
he feedback I’ve received from the first article in this series (Walking the Bass, Fall 2010) shows we’re on the right track. The exclamation, “I’m finally getting it!” comes from more than one correspondent. So it is time to forge ahead. After we understand the concept of playing a bass line and feel comfortable playing by walking between chords with enough notes and spaces to arrive in time for the strong beat of the measure, the next step we are going to take is to add chords to the bass line we are playing. I am going to add one wrinkle here. In the last article we added bass lines in 4/4 or common time. This time, we are going to use a waltz (¾ time) as the skeleton upon which to hang our concepts and understanding. So let’s turn our attention to the waltz form. Waltz Time “Waltz” comes from the German
word walzen which means “to roll, turn, or to glide.” Viennese waltzes such as the Blue Danube, when accompanied by the swishing of fancy fabric, seem to embody the flowing waters of the river. In this dance, the couples spin and glide across the floor, lifting just before the strong downbeat on ONE and continuing with the graceful movements on “two-three.” If you’ve ever taken dance lessons this is one of the easiest to count: it only has three beats, and ONE is always the accented beat. (Practice by saying: “ONE two three, ONE two three,” and so on.) When playing back-up for a waltz, our bass note will be the name of the chord played on ONE with the rest of the notes of the chord answering on beats two and three. I try to play the bass note in the location that gives me the lowest possible note which names the chords on my instrument. On a mountain dulcimer, this is typically the bass (or thickest) string, furthest
Teaching June 7th – 11th, 2011 at HCAMP, Kerrville, TX Sue Carpenter Sue is known for her challenging, organized and intensive teaching methods, nurturing patience, and energetic enthusiasm that make learning fun. A favorite workshop leader and performer at dulcimer festivals. Her many awards include 2003 2nd place and 2005 1st place National Mountain Dulcimer Champion at Walnut Valley. Karen aShbrooK Karen teaches and performs Celtic, contra dance, and Jewish music and works teaching Flemish, French, Irish, Appalachian and classical melodies for the instrument. Karen is considered one of the finest Irish hammered dulcimer players anywhere.
away from me. On a hammered dulcimer, this is usually in the lowest box between my bass and treble bridges. I can anticipate your next question. “OK, I get the walking bass bit, but which notes should I play to answer the bass which plays on the first beat?” The quick answer is: “the other two notes of the chord!” Remember a triad (a chord) has three different pitches by definition: the first, third and fifth steps of whatever scale the chord corresponds to. If we are playing the root (or first step of the scale) as the bass note on beat ONE, that leaves the other two notes for beats two and three. (Fig. A illustrates this for mountain dulcimer and the hammered dulcimer.) Here is a note of caution for mountain dulcimer players: because we’ve already played the bass note on beat ONE, it can sound cleaner if we don’t play it again on beats two and three, which means we will need to work on right hand accuracy with our picks. I
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