What's in a word?
Everything! Here are the most often used terms for dulcimer and autoharp. Click on any term from the list below to go to its
Got a term you think needs to be on this
list? Send it in by
references to Striking Out and Winning!
in the definitions below correspond to the 2nd
definitions ©1984, 1990, 1992, 2002, 2004 Lucille Reilly.
alternating bass—When the bass notes of boom-chick chords travel back and forth between two tones. See
Hammered Dulcimer A-Chording to Lucille Reilly, pp. 119-124, and
"amen" chords (for the benefit of autoharpists)—The chords IV-I,
which are easily found in old (pre-1980 or so) hymnbooks. They have never
been, and never will be, forever and ever, Isus4-I. So be it.
arpeggio—a chord whose tones are played one at a time, from
low to high or from high to low. See The
Hammered Dulcimer A-Chording to Lucille Reilly, pp. 50-54.
Belgian sixth—a non-existent chord Lucille and her friends
mused about in college music-theory classes. :>)
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boom-chick chords—(also known as oom-pah
chords) A single downbeat tone followed by a higher chord on the offbeat, a
pattern which continues through chord changes. It's commonly heard in
bluegrass music and is easily played on piano and guitar, as well as dulcimer
and autoharp. See The
Hammered Dulcimer A-Chording to Lucille Reilly, pp. 65-81.
chord—the simultaneous sounding of three or more tones.
See also triad and suspended chord.
(Two tones do not comprise a chord; for this, see interval and
"choreography"—a hammered dulcimer term Lucille uses to describe the
strike path of the hammers around the strings without tying one's arms into
chromatic autoharp—an autoharp whose tuning is chromatic, as on
the piano. See FAQs.
chromatic dulcimer—a diatonic hammered dulcimer whose tuning is
expanded with additional strings to include tones outside of a given scale
area. Some chromatic dulcimers are linear chromatic, meaning that
the vertical tuning within one position moves by half
steps only, instead of both whole and half steps. See FAQs.
color chord—a term used exclusively by autoharp players which refers to sixth
chords, seventh chords, pentatonic
scales and suspended chords.
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course—a group of strings tuned to the same tone, commonly seen
on hammered dulcimers.
diatonic autoharp—an autoharp tuned to play in 1-3 keys. You'll find more information in
diatonic dulcimer—a dulcimer tuning system based on the
whole-and half-tones of several major scales.
diminshed seventh chord—a chord whose tones are root-dim3-dim5-dim7 (or,
a diminished triad plus a diminished seventh). All tones a minor
third apart. This chord is an increasingly more popular
addition to chromatic autoharps.
; not to be confused with
double stop—two tones struck at the same time.
See also interval.
duplicated note—the long way around to say unison.
embellishment—variation on a theme. To read a more detailed
article about this term, click here.
12-11 dulcimer—a hammered dulcimer have 12 treble courses and 11 bass
courses. The middle range of this dulcimer is one tone away from being fully chromatic (D# is
15-14 dulcimer—a hammered dulcimer have 15 treble courses and 14 bass
courses. The central range of this dulcimer is fully chromatic.
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fifth-interval dulcimer—a hammered dulcimer with the treble string
placed the resulting interval is a perfect fifth (the first two tones of
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star). Fourth-interval dulcimers, while rare, can
be found in the United States, around West Virginia.
gauge—measurement of the thickness of string wire (ex: .016, whose gauge is
"geography"—a term Lucille uses to describe the hammered dulcimer's
pitch layout on the strings.
glissando—a long strum of all the open strings on the
hornpipe—a "hopping" dance tune characterized by the
dotted rhythm; also known in Scottish dance circles as a strathspey.
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interval—the distance between two tones. Examples of
intervals may be found in underlined words or syllables of the songs below:
second: Mary Had a Little Lamb, Frère
third: in Skip to My Lou: Lost my partner,
what'll I do?
fourth: Here Comes the Bride
fifth: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
sixth: the first two notes of the American TV network's
three-note theme: N B
seventh: There's a place for us...
("Somewhere" from "West Side Story")
octave: Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
inversion—a chord whose tones are rearranged so that lowest tone is
something other than its root. Triads have two
inversions. For example, the tones of the C major chord can be arranged
into a root-position triad (C-E-G; the tone for which the
chord is named is the lowest tone), first inversion (E-G-C; the third is the
lowest tone), and second inversion: (G-C-E; the fifth is the lowest tone).
Four-tone chords, such as sixth and seventh
chords, have three inversions. See The
Hammered Dulcimer A-Chording to Lucille Reilly, pp. 55-62.
jig—a "jumping" dance tune in 6/8 time. Slip
jigs are in 9/8 time.
lead—see strong-hand lead.
legato—smooth-sounding, connected notes.
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lift—the continuous, upward motion of the hand between hammer
strikes on the dulcimer or right-hand plucks on the autoharp. Lift occurs
in the spaces of rhythms.
lockbar—found on a diatonic
autoharp tuned to 2 or 3
keys. On a GDA autoharp, the G lockbar damps out all C# and G# strings so
that only strings tuned to the tones of the G-major scale are open.
mode—a scale composed of a prescribed set of whole-
and-half-tones (see pp. 38-41 of The
Hammered Dulcimer A-Chording to Lucille Reilly).
multiple-bounce stroke—A dulcimer technique,
using one arm stroke with a
firm hammer hold that causes the hammer to bounce on the strings more than
once. Two multiple- bounce strokes comprise a two-stroke roll.
See Striking Out and Winning!,
partial chord—no such term; see interval
and double stop.
pentatonic scale—a five-tone scale of
1-2-3-5-6. Nowadays such scales are "rigged" into the chord bars
of chromatic, diatonic
and ultratonic autoharps.
phrase—a musical sentence, generally (but not always) four
pinblock—a thick, laminated piece of wood into which the tuning
pins of dulcimers and autoharps are driven. The reason for laminated wood
(of up to 13 layers) is that, after the pinholes are drilled, the wood fibers meeting the hole
vertically come into the hole from all directions and act like fingers to hold
the pin snugly so it won't slip.
position—on the hammered dulcimer, the three vertical playing
areas on treble and bass strings. First position (I) is the right
side of the treble bridge, second position (II) is the left side of the
treble bridge, and bass position is all of the bass strings.
For an example showing how positions are used in written music, click here.
reel—a running type of dance tune written in cut time (
) or 2/4 time.
roll—; a sequence of two or more multiple-bounce
rolled chord—a piano technique, where a chord's tones are
played quickly from low to high. The main way to play three- and four-tone
chords (well, more than that, too) on the hammered dulcimer.
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Roman numerals—These are used in place of letters to name chords.
Unlike letter names, Roman numerals remain constant for any key. I use
them to write autoharp chords, because all keys tend to feel the same in the
button hand, which means transposing keys becomes much simpler to do.
sequence—a short melodic motif which then repeats higher or
lower than written. (Ex.: see m.1-2 of the B section to Arkansas
Traveller in Striking Out and Winning!, page 134.)
seventh chord—a four-tone chord consisting of root-3-5-7. A common
seventh chord is V7, whose root is the fifth tone of the major scale. It's
considered a "major-minor" seventh chord because the triad is major
(root-M3-5) topped by a minor seventh from the root; hence, the V7 chord in G major is D7
sixth chord—a four-tone chord consisting of root-3-5-6. A
"major-major" sixth chord (such as G6, G-B-D-E) is also the third inversion
of the Em7 chord (E-G-B-D). (Minor seventh chords are beginning to work
their way into diatonic autoharp chord sets.)
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strong-hand lead—when playing the hammered dulcimer, the strong hand
(usually the hand the player writes with) continually strikes the downbeats in a
tune's rhythm, regardless of where the notes fall on the dulcimer's strings.
staccato—short, detached notes, indicated in music by a dot over or under
suspended chord—chords that create
tension and usually resolve to a major or minor chord. The suspended
fourth chord (sus4) is root-4-5; Asus4 is spelled A-D-E. The
suspended-second (sus2) is root-2-5; Gsus2 is spelled G-A-D.
syncopation—often confused with the dotted
syncopation, a normally unaccented beat, or part of a beat, becomes
accented. Syncopation can look like this:
(see Turkey in the Straw, B
section, in Striking Out and Winning!, page
135), but it can also be written
into the melody, as you can find in the tunes "Sandy River Belle,"
tablature—a graphic system of writing music notation. While they
exist for dulcimer (I have a file folder full of them!), they cancel the ear
from the learning process and is therefore counterproductive to playing by ear?
transpose—to change the key of a tune. On the dulcimer, this
is easily done by transferring all the playing patterns to another area of the
strings. On the autoharp, the best way to transpose is to write all chords
as Roman numerals and arrange the chord buttons so that Roman positions are the
same for all keys.
triad—a three-note chord
consisting of a root (which can be any tone), plus the third and fifth above
that tone (also known as a root-position triad; therefore, A is the root of
the A major chord). A major third (M3) sounds a major chord, while a minor
third (m3) sounds a minor chord. See The
Hammered Dulcimer A-Chording to Lucille Reilly, pp. 18-42.
two-note chord—no such thing! See interval
and double stop.
ultratonic autoharp—Go to FAQs
for an explanation.
unison—on the autoharp and dulcimer, two or more strings or
courses tuned to the
same pitch. See Striking Out and Winning!,
walking bass—When the bass notes of boom-chick
chords move by steps ("walk") between chords, or move by steps and
replace offbeat chords. For examples, listen to the guitar back-up
for "Stand Up for Jesus" and
"Fisher's Hornpipe" on Thus
Sings My Soul.
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Copyright ©2004 Lucille Reilly. All rights reserved.
Last revised: October 11, 2006.
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