Dulcimer Tuning

Dulcimers are typically tuned in a 1-5-1 pattern from low to high.  On a stick dulcimer with no frets pressed the upper (thickest) string sounds the lowest note, the middle string is the fifth note up, and the bottom (thinnest) string is one octave above the thickest string. 

The most usual tunings are (thickest-middle-thinnest) G-d-g, D-A-d, and C-g-c.  Our instruments are usually tuned D-A-d, though smaller instruments, may be tuned G-d-g.  Of course, these are folk instruments, and you're free to tune any way that pleases you.

( Notation: capital letters denote the third key of that note on a piano keyboard.  Lower-case letters represent the fourth key of that note.  Some sources use numbers to designate the note, so G-d-g would (usually) be G3-D4-G4.  If you're new to this and find it confusing, just email me.)

Traditional mountain dulcimers are strung in the opposite order.  The thickest string is farthest from the player and the thinnest string is nearest.  This arrangement is sensible for an instrument that's played on the lap, because the melody string is the most accessible at the front.



How to Tune

1.  Use an electronic tuner or tuner app.

The most accurate way to tune an instrument is with an electronic tuner or a tuner app.  Make sure that your tuner or app includes a chromatic mode (that means it can tune to any note).  A Google search for guitar tuners will turn up an impressive selection of apps for any operating system.  My favorite apps are:

iPhone/iPad     Instuner           (free from the App Store)
                     Windows           PitchPerfect  (free from www.nch.com.au/tuner   )



I have an inexpensive electronic tuner (Rowin LT-23 Mini Clip On Tuner -- $6.15 USD from Amazon as I write), and it works well.  Clip-on tuners make tuning in a noisy room much easier, because they work from the instrument's vibration, rather than ambient sound.

2.  Tune strings to each other.

You can use this method if you're playing solo.  Your instrument will sound good, but you may be up or down from the exact design key. 

Follow these steps:
            Fret the top (thickest) string at fret 8 (see fret numbering info); it's before a long space.
           Tune the bottom (thinnest) string to match the fretted top string.
            Fret the middle string at the third fret.
            Tune the fretted middle string to match the bottom (thinnest) string.